THERE’S been such a surfeit of commentaries on politics, especially on the citizenship of presidential hopeful Sen. Grace Poe, that I decided to write something lighter like problems of many Filipinos in oral communication. I hope readers wouldn’t mind. Here goes:
Question: What is a bicker?
Answer: A bicker is a pirson who bicks kicks.
Filipinos may immediately recognize what the definition is but probably, not English-speaking foreigners. I don’t know why but many Filipinos have difficulty with the short “e,” pronouncing it as short “i” instead. There’s the anecdote about a sweet young receptionist in a small hotel in the province greeting a guest.
“Tsik-in sir?” she asked with a smile.
“De-hins. Noy-pi,” the guest replied.
This difficulty can be traced to one fact — our language is phonetic. Our tongue has been “regimented” to pronounce all vowels in a word, like “Niagara.” Our nephew Benny Sabado once took my wife Lynn and me to the famous Niagara Falls. Listening to recorded information about this tourist attraction, I noted that the speaker pronounced it with a long “i” and with the second “a” silent. Thus, when a friend mentioned “Niagara,” pronouncing it as most Filipinos do, I immediately corrected him.
“Ah, like Viagra,” my friend remarked.
Search me why my friend immediately thought of the blue pill in discussing the waterfalls, but that’s another story.
They say that the true measure of a linguist is the ability to pronounce a word as a native using it as a first language would do. So, when we speak English, why don’t we do so like the native English speaker? Ah, but if they do, they’ll be immediately mocked. Filipinos are expected to speak English like a Filipino and not like an American. Filipinos may mispronounce some English words but at least, fellow Filipinos understand them, and that’s what’s important.
Maybe, this is okay when we talk in English with fellow Filipinos but how do we make ourselves understood when we talk with Americans? Or, how could we understand what Americans are saying? We may be using the same language but we could barely communicate orally with each other.
Former Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos once famously said that he was fond of “hamburgers,” pronouncing the “g” as “j.” This spawned an anecdote about his visit to a fast food center on his first trip to America.
“I want hamburger,” he said, again pronouncing the “g” as “j.”
“This is America and we pronounce it ‘hamburger,” the bartender corrected him.
“Sorry, I’m a stranger here,” Abalos supposedly replied, using the hard “g” sound.
This brings us to the puzzle of American pronunciation. A letter has different pronunciations, unlike our language where it is pronounced as written. The variances in the pronunciation of English words could befuddle Filipinos who use English as a second or third language, thus the difficulty of speaking the language like a native English speaker.
Hey, did I say that a true measure of a linguist is the ability to pronounce a word like a native does? Come to think of it, this may disqualify many Americans from being considered linguists. You see, they use many foreign words but pronounce them the way they want to.
Very often, I hear television commentator mentioning “Eye-rock,” when referring to Iraq. Spanish words should be pronounced the Latino way but not to Americans. Filipinos and Latinos all pronounce “mesa” the same way but Americans wouldn’t be able to understand it. Pronounce “e” as a long “a” and they’ll know what you’re saying.
We all know the correct pronunciation of “padre,” a Spanish word but not Americans who insist on pronouncing the “e” as long “a,” as in “pad-ray.”
My daughter Irene, a pharmacist at Walgreens in Las Vegas, was once stomped by an American customer who said her family name as “Agwire.” Irene wasn’t sure that she heard the customer correctly.
“Can you spell that please?” she said.
“A-g-u-i-r-r-e,” the customer answered.
Hey, what’s that again that I said about oral communication?