I have quite a strong interest – and strong opinions (but hey, who doesn’t?) – in languages. My own native languages are Tagalog and Ilocano, and I’ve somewhat acquired a bit of skill in writing in English although when you listen to me speak in English, you will instantly know I’m no American.
All three languages were spoken at home when we were kids.
Our parents and other members of the household (and we had a huge household!) talked to us mostly in Ilokano. We understood, but talked back to them mostly in Tagalog. (Yes, we talked back to them, you have a problem with that?)
Tagalog was of course the language of the region and of its melting-pot people, so when we walked through that door into the outside world, to the mean and lean streets of our youth, Tagalog was king. (Not to mention the influence of radio, TV, and comic books.) So gradually, my Ilocano atrophied to an ugly parody – a ridiculous parody, actually – of my parents’ mother tongue. I’m lucky to have recovered it much later.
English, on the other hand, was the language of schools and print media. We had to grapple with it from Grade 1 onwards, and what’s more, the public elementary school I attended from Grade 4 to Grade 6 required that we speak English at all times, even during recess and at play, on pain of being listed by the class monitor and penalized with extra coin contributions to the Red Cross if we were heard speaking as much as even one word of Tagalog.
(Of course, what actually happened was less sanguine: we promptly called to each other’s lapses and exclaimed “Aha, I’ll have you listed down!” in a ritual manner, but actually did nothing to ruin our class friendships.)
Since a mastery of English was considered a must for all-round academic excellence, we shrugged and said matter-of-factly, all right, we’ll speak it, no big deal. It was only later, in high school and college, as part of the generalized youth rebellion and the revolutionary protest movement in particular, that we rediscovered Tagalog and became more critical of blind admiration for English. And for me, personally, I had to rediscover my own Ilocano roots and language skills.
Decades later, I was to find out that it was to my advantage to speak all three, and that something inside told me I needed to learn more about other languages. I may not be able to speak other languages fluently, but a linguistic meta-understanding helps develop tolerance, appreciation, and perhaps, even a survival-level usage, of these foreign languages.
So take note of this blog section, and have a peek every so often. (RSS. Duh. Okay.) It will have quite a few surprises for you, dear readers.
One year later… 29 April 2012: This is not an afterthought. I just thought you might like to know that I set up a cute little wiki on language-related topics. Here: IRAIA Language Wiki.