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Socio-Cultural Milieu Relevant To Treatment Mixed Language

A comfortable medium in which the middle or upper class individual in Manila communicates at the present time is that of English, admixed in varying degrees with Tagalog. This “mixed” language was the medium of verbal exchange in therapy. Many patients learned English very early in life and very often spoke it ahead of Tagalog. However, the adolescent patients, boys and girls, were self-conscious about speaking English and spoke more Tagalog than English. Adolescent “slang” was expressed mostly in Tagalog. Young people also do not speak English as well as the older group I teredTëPat1eflts who spoke only one language and none of the other. One was a boy of 14 years from Bulacan, who talked in deep, literary Tagalog. At the other extreme was a young housewife who, although she grew up in Manila, spoke English all her life; she reacted with faint amusement whenever the therapist spoke a Tagalog word or phrase. It was as if the language ‘was completely foreign to her.

One might ask which language is more rich in affect. One may think English to be an intellectualized, less emotionally charged language for Filipinos which would then conveniently conceal emotions too raw to be handled in Tagalog. This did not appear to be so with these patients. Except for adolescents, these patients were quite effective and comfortable in their use of English. They made love, quarreled, complained, criticized, gossiped, - mourned, grieved, boasted, expressed fright, anger or happiness primarily in English, with an assist from Tagalog. “Tagalized” English (rather than Anglicized Tagalog), in which adolescents seem to be also quite proficient, is what urban Filipinos in Manila who have been instructed in English all through school utilize in daily conversation. It represents a comfortable shifting back and forth in the two languages.

One reason for the recourse to English is found in the limitations of Tagalog. There seems to be relatively few Tagalog words readily available to these patients to describe feelings. The Tagalog vocabulary at the present time, as known to these patients, does not provide words for differences in nuance with regard to feeling tones. Tagalog expressions seem to be most deficient in the areas of sex and aggression. There re no polite words for sexual intercourse, or genitals, for example. Words denoting aggression, aside from slang expressions, are often ambiguous. Thus “matapang” may mean brave, daring; it may also mean an undesirable trait, denoting brashness, rudeness, or even readiness to provoke fights. There are certain expressions in Tagalog which defy translation and which patients use often. “Nakakainis!” depending on the tone of voice may mean feeling mildly irritated or feeling nauseated by what another person did. The word “narnan” or “yata” euphemistically dilutes the emotion expressed. “Huwag naman” is quite different from “Huwag.” “Yata” when affixed to a statement likewise delivers the message gently, almost akin to “if you please.”

Even English words denoting sexual activity caused discomfort. The word “rape,” for example, tended to be used with great hesitation and trepidation; the mere utterance of the word seemed shocking. Yet these patients could not find the Tagalog word for it (although in deep or basic Tagalog, such words do exist). They would then resort to English euphemisms: “I was taken advantage of,” “I am afraid to be attacked,” etc. It seems that their bilinguality enabled patients not so much to exchange one language for another but to turn conveniently to linguistic handles in each one, suitable for the particular moment, to express the particular perceptual or affective experience. At the present time, with this particular group of patients, English afforded more choice of such linguistic handles than Tagalog.

 

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