Correct-shun, Please

William Deresiewicz, in a recent essay (“You Talkin’ To Me?”) published in The New York Times (January 9, 2005), problematized the relations between class and language, especially in what he observed as the apparent equivalence of upper-class English with what the grammarians “prescribed” as Correct English, marginalizing the other englishes (meaning, the english spoken by the non-ruling classes) from the Center.

Of course, this issue is not totally foreign for us here in the Philippines, where in many occasions, intellectual faculty is being equated with one’s ability to speak well in English. This kind of judgment is not without basis, however. Within an education system that promotes the use of English over the national language, it is quite easy to acknowledge that the people who use the former are really the ones who had the advantage of a “good” education.

Meanwhile, wrong grammar usage and mispronounced words in English remain to be the Filipinos’ idea of humor, typically evident in Philippine TV, and some continue to laugh at them, not realizing (or admitting to themselves) that there can never be a “wrong” way to use a language or to pronouce words, only always a variety, because every utterance is necessarily individual.

While many don’t care about their Filipino (except when in an urgent need to curse), not a single person would want to slip into an “incorrect” syntax while conversing in English. And yes, I am sadly speaking here mostly of present-day Filipino “intellectuals.” See, we’ve been good apprentices, I now speak to the World. But what was I really trying to say?

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