By Oliver Geronilla
Language is power, isn't it? Well, George Orwell affirmed that many years ago, and that still holds true.
In the Philippines and perhaps the world over, people's social standing is not just determined by how much material wealth they have. More often than not, they are judged based on how they measure up to the existing social norms; and not surprisingly, socio-linguistic competence, being one of the easiest to spot, remains one of the benchmarks.
Given this situation, it is important that we speak and write our national or official language with a certain level of mastery so that we can function well in the society where we live, which regards language proficiency as a vital factor in moving up the social ladder.
Koreans, as we all know, go a notch higher by learning English through language immersion. That accounts for the increasing number of Koreans who flock to many English-speaking countries year in and year out despite the economic crisis. The good news is that in the span of 10 years, there's been a noticeable improvement in their ability to use the language both pragmatically and strategically.
With that added skill, their future looks bright. But there are some who are skeptical about it, and would rather not pin their hopes on this bandwagon. Things need to be taken with a grain of salt for there are always two sides to every question.
Somehow, it's easy to believe that being well-versed in the English language does not necessarily mean guaranteed success. Take the case of the thousands and thousands of Filipinos who speak decent English. Have they really discovered the recipe for success? Perhaps not.
Based on experience, I know that most Filipinos can speak, write and understand English, but that ``edge" ― if we can call it that ― has not significantly made their lives economically better. Nonetheless, they still put a premium on communicative competence. After all, having the gift of the gab remains a plus point for anyone desiring upward social mobility.
During the upcoming national and local elections this ``gift" will come alive as political candidates will once again have a chance, as George Orwell aptly termed it, ``to defend the indefensible" through the power of language. In the previous elections, we heard most if not all of candidates using euphemism and question-begging either to obfuscate certain issues or to follow socio-linguistic norms. On the other side of the spectrum, was the coup de grace employed by the linguistically-challenged candidates: dysphemism.
Yes, verbal warfare characterizes the election season in the Philippines.
What perhaps makes our election campaign period entirely different from that of Korea's is that Filipino candidates have options as to which language to use in putting across their message in order to convince the electorate to vote for them. The only downside is that these aspirants usually cannot express themselves in English or Filipino without resorting to code mixing and code switching. Seldom can you see or hear a Filipino engaging in a political discourse without these linguistic ``flaws." It is, of course, to some extent, tolerable. But it becomes annoying when a person does it just because he does not have a mastery of either of the two official languages.
I do not have any preference. Either language is fine as long as they can use it effectively and persuasively. The main point is: use each of them separately. Advocating language purism is far from what I have in mind for we all know that language is arbitrary and dynamic. It evolves.
It'll be a big change to see Filipino politicians engaging in debates minus the linguistic imperfections that characterize their brand of language.
The writer is a language instructor at Han Maum Academy Philippines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.