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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Is Philippine English legit? On the History and Legitimacy of Philippine English

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In my previous article, I discussed the paradigm of World Englishes and Kachru’s Concentric Circle of English. Based on Kachru’s framework, native English speaking countries like the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand belong to the inner circle, whereas countries that use English as a Second Language (ESL) such as the Philippines, Singapore, and Hong Kong, are part of the outer circle. Lastly, countries like Japan, Korea, Germany, and France that use English as a Foreign Language belong to the expanding circle. Our variety of English is called Philippine English (PhE), which has distinct lexical, syntactical, and phonological features.

Kachru’s three concentric circle model. Image c/o Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons 4.0 License).

​Before discussing the issues and implications of Philippine English to English Language Teaching (ELT), let me give you its brief history. The PhE was transplanted to our country when Americans colonized us at the beginning of the 20th century. They established the American government and made English as the medium of instructions at schools. Additionally, to properly govern their new colony, they sent teachers, known as Thomasites, to teach English in the Philippines. During this time, many Filipinos learned English, and eventually, these Filipino teachers taught English to other Filipino students. When Filipino teachers started teaching English to Filipinos, there and then, Philippine English was born. Since then, we use English as a second language and it became one of the official languages of our country. Today, we use English at school, government, law, science, and other parts of our society.  

Philippine English is considered to be a legitimate variety of English and as Filipinos; we must celebrate and be proud of it. This variety of English like any other World Englishes has unique lexical, phonological, and syntactical features. For instance, in our Philippine English, we refer to the toilet as Comfort Room (CR), refrigerator as ref, and the air conditioning unit as aircon. Furthermore, due to the influence of our first language or mother tongue, Filipinos tend to pronounce f as p, b as v, and th as d. Correspondingly, there are many scholars and linguists here and abroad that studied and described the features of Philippine English. We have Gonzalez, Llamzon, Bautista, Madrunio, Martin, Dita, Borlongan, and Bernardo to name a few. These linguists have done extensive research on Philippine English, and they claim that Philippine English is a legitimate variety of English. In our context, Philippine English refers to the educated Standard Philippine English.  This is the English that is being used by educated people in the academe, government, and business. 

​Nonetheless, despite many studies conducted on describing the features of Philippine English and its legitimacy, there are still several issues looming in our country. There are traditional teachers that do not recognize the legitimacy of Philippine English. For them American and British English are the only legitimate and standard English. They believe that the goal of ELT is to sound and speak like a native speaker which is criticized by several Filipino linguists. This incognizance is probably connected to the lack of training and awareness of the new paradigm. In the same vein, the elitist and monolithic view of English is still present in our society. For example, there was a tiktok video that went viral last June. In that video, the girl was correcting the pronunciation of some English words. She believes the words should be pronounced the American way. This tiktok video received a lot of criticisms due to her elitist and monolithic view of English. In this example, we can say that there is, indeed, a lack of awareness of the new paradigm of World Englishes and Philippine English in our country.  

Photo from Tiktok

​There are several implications of World Englishes paradigm and Philippine English to English language teaching in the country. Since Philippine English is considered as a legitimate variety of English, many scholars claim that we should teach the Standard Philippine English to our students and the goal of ELT should not focus on sounding and speaking like a native speaker like Americans and British, but instead be able to communicate effectively using the English language. Teaching the students Standard American English is an outdated approach to ELT. Many scholars argue that we should teach our students the Standard Philippine English; and also, expose them not just to American and British English, but also to other varieties of World Englishes, thus developing their competencies and language awareness.  

As claimed by many linguists, English no longer belongs to the inner circle. It now belongs to the people and countries that use it. In our context, as Borlongan claims, we already own English and that’s the Philippine English, one of the languages spoken by many Filipinos. In this regard, we should embrace it and be proud of it, because it is the reflection of our identity as a Filipino.  

Persieus Balog is an instructor at the Far Eastern University. He finished his MA in Language Studies (cum laude) at the University of Santo Tomas. He is currently doing his PHD in Language Studies: English at the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

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