No earthly reason why the clergy should be bad in English grammar

9

(THIS is a condensation of a 936-word essay that I wrote for this column in 2003 regarding the need to improve the English proficiency of the country’s Roman Catholic priests.I believe that the forthcoming visit of Pope Francis to the Philippines makes this essay even morerelevant reading today.)

Advertisements

A few Sundays ago, my two sons and I attended Holy Mass in one of those improvised worship halls put up inside Metro Manila malls. The priest, in his late thirties or early forties, read the opening lines of the Eucharist in pleasantly modulated English, his voice rippling the familiar words and phrases like the chords of a well-tuned piano. I thus settled down on my chair confident of hearing a well-delivered homily that could strengthen my resolve as a believer for the week ahead.

That expectation was soon dashed to pieces, however, for when the priest started speaking extemporaneously, it became clear that his command of English left a lot to be desired. He could not even make the form of his verbs agree with the number of his nouns and pronouns, and his grammar was so gender-blind as to be irritating (“The woman walked in the storm and go under the tree to deliver his baby.”). His command of the prepositions was likewise disturbingly inadequate, and he stumbled on his English phrases and idioms far too often for comfort.

I therefore listened to the rest of his homily with increasing distress. I couldn’t presume that the rest of the congregation shared my discomfort, however; perhaps I was just too exacting in my English grammar that I tended to magnify what could really be minor mistakes. I therefore asked one of my sons to validate my impressions of that homily. Having attended grade school in a Jesuit-run university, he would be squeamish about criticizing priests about anything, but he told me without batting an eyelash that the priest’s English was bad because he kept on messing up his subject-verb agreement and gender usage.

Looking back to that incident, I think that the country’s priests need better than just average English-language skills to effectively practice their vocation. We take it for granted that TV and radio broadcasters, classroom teachers, and lawyers should have good English to practice their respective earthly professions. But this doesn’t seem to be demanded of priests even if they obviously have a much tougher communication job,which is to teach us modes of belief and behavior that are matters not of fact but of faith. Their mission is to help us experience the sublime, to make us shape our lives according to the hallowed precepts of prophets or sages of a bygone age.

I have always thought that priests stay in school for as long as ten to eleven years because they have to master the craft of language and persuasion better than most everybody else. That education should give them a truly strong foundation in English grammar and usage. However, as shown by the fractured English of that priest at the mall and of not a few others I have listened to over the years, that foundation has been resting on shaky ground indeed.

I therefore think it’s high time that the church hierarchy took steps to remedy this problem. If nothing is done about this, I’m afraid that the Roman Catholic Church would lose more and more of its faithful to other religious groups with more English-savvy preachers whose gift of tongue and powers of elocution get honed to a much higher degree. I therefore suggest that all seminarians and even full-fledged priests be given much more rigorous grounding in English grammar and usage to make them more able promoters and defenders of the faith.

As the old saying goes, God helps only those who help themselves.

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com. Visit me on Facebook. Follow me at Twitter.com @J8Carillo.

j8carillo@yahoo.com

Share.
loading...
Loading...

Please follow our commenting guidelines.

9 Comments

  1. We Filipinos have difficulty with English since we are used to genderless pronouns for he and she. It is both “siya”. Filipino language is more advanced in terms of political correctness. Interstingly enough, the Filipino language has a definite pronoun for in inanimate object, “ito”.

    Therefore, we must be very conscious of not mixing up he and she. Like Spanish, the Filipino language has more definite terms for certain words without reliance on the prepositions. We have “ibalik” for “turn in”; “isara” for “turn off”; “itumba” for “turn up”, etc. Turn can have different meanings depending on the preposition used. That is difficult to understand by Spanish speaking people. They can only hear TURN, not the preposition that defines the word “turn”.

    In Filipino, we do not have agreement of noun and verb number. We only have “ay” for is or are. In Filipino, we say mayroon sila or siya, unlike in English “they have” or “he or she or it has”. Theregire, We Filipinos have to strive to think in English rather than translate Filipino to English literally.

    Thus, Filipinos must be very conscious about prepositions and pronouns. Thus we must be patient with others who are weak in English. Let us not be smug about others’ poor English. I agree, more emphases on the proper use the English grammar must be be taught.

    • lakingSariaya on

      Bakit hindi na lang po tagalog ang misa sa kamaynilaan? Sa lalawigan ay tagalog (o ang salita ng mga tao doon) lagi ang misa. Kung gusto ninyo Filipino (tagalog at ingles) ayos lang.

      Kapag tagalog, mas marami ang makakaintindi.

    • Tutoo ngang mas marami ang makakaintindi kapag ang misa ay gaganapin sa wikang Tagalog. Pero sa ilang malalaking mall sa Maynila tulad ng nabanggit sa salaysay ko, karaniwang ginaganap ang mga hiwa-hiwalay na misa sa iba-ibang wika. May Tagalog, may Inggles, at may Tsino. Hindi naman kasi lahat ng mga Katoliko ay lubos na nakakaintindi ng Tagalog, lalo na ang mga taga probinsiya sa labas ng Luzon at ang mga dayuhang bumibisita sa Pilipinas.

  2. We Filipinos have difficulty with English since we are used to genderless pronouns for he and she. It is both “siya”. Filipino language is mire advanced in terms of political correctness. Interstingly enough, the Filipino language has a definite pronoun for in inanimate object, “ito”.

    Therefore, we must be very conscious of not mixing up he and she. Like Spanish, the Filipino language has more definite terms for certain words without reliance on the prepositions. We have “ibalik” for “turn in”; “isara” for “turn off”; “itumba” for “turn up”, etc. Turn can have different meanings depending on the prepositio used. That was difficult to understand by Spanish speaking people. They can only hear TURN, not the preposition that defines the word “turn”.

    In Filipino, we do not have agreement of noun and verb number. We only have “ay” for is or are. We Filipinos have to strive to think in English.

    Thus, Filipinos must be very conscious about prepositions and pronouns. Thus we must be patient with others who are weak in English. Let us not be smug about others’ poor English. I agree, more emphases on the proper use the English grammar must be be taught.

  3. speak simple english to express your ideas and enunciate your words and there you go every creature on earth will understand what you’re saying.

  4. vagoneto rieles on

    I had written a piece related to the topic..to myself..earlier. I check this ‘column’ now-and-then, and, sure enough, something about ‘English’ comes on.

    “Singapore and India have two remarkable things in common. They, both, have ‘tiger economies’ and have ‘English’ as their official language. Japan, China and South Korea have a similar kinship themselves. They are industrialized and are aggressive economies; and, all three are pursuing programs that would install English as their second language. All these Asian countries accept the fact that English is the ‘lingua franca’ of today’s world. The Philippines, for her part, seems to be going the other way. Where we had an educational system, through ‘college’, with English as its staple, up until the 1960s, we have, since, pushed it to the back burner, practically eradicating ‘English’ from our primary and secondary school curricula. We did have, up until the early 1980s, a strong toe-hold on overseas employment..a toe-hold that has been slipping incrementally since then. In pursuing blind ‘nationalism’, we have probably “thrown the baby out the window with the bath water”. “

  5. Hi, Mr. Carillo! Happy New year and I hope you’re doing great! Haven’t really read any of your articles but I do know it entails making sure people, especially the Filipino people, know their grammar. What made me finally decide to write this letter is today’s headline about some of the clergy’s faulty grammar. For your information, there are other segments of the professional population that do make errors but the surprising fact is that even Americans and possibly the British, also commit the same errors, but most likely not as rampant as the Filipinos. I hope you get the point. Have a wonderful year and more power to you!

    • I perfectly get your point. We must make a clear distinction though between native and nonnative speakers of English, with Filipinos in the latter category.

      Thanks for your best wishes! A Happy and Prosperous New Year, too!

  6. a product of the tagalog initiative started in the 1970’s, which made filipinos
    intellectual impotents.

    the real challenge is to answer the question “where do we go from here?”,
    keep implementing the same programs that denuded the bright minds of
    aspiring filipinos, or admit the failure and destructive nature of the tagalog initiative.

    and by the way congratulations to the dept of education who was able to destroy the future of countless filipinos, more destrucitve than the spaniards and japanese in invaders.