Issues Of Language

The receiver oriented and relatively indirect style of most Asian languages is characteristic of communication patterns. These patterns are integrally related to primary values such as family, authority, interpersonal harmony, concern for others' well-being, and the importance of saving face. Similar to other Asian ethnic groups, Filipinos typically employ formality and honorific language that conveys proper respect for authority, status, and positions by terms of address and titles. For example, a physician or a lawyer will continue to be addressed as Dr. Cruz or Attorney Ramos by clients, friends, and colleagues well after more personalized and informal relationships have been established (in contrast to the American tendency to move more rapidly toward a first name basis) (Santos, 1983).

Respect for authority and concern for face-saving further reinforce the frequent use of euphemisms, third parties, and saying yes when the opposite is meant (Santos, 1983). Filipinos often will go to great lengths to avoid making a direct appeal when they have encountered a problem or wish to convey an important request. They instead prefer to introduce a go between to cushion the transaction and escape the embarrassment that might result from presenting the matter face-to-face with the other person (Gochenour, 1990, p. 50). In their wish to be accommodating,

Filipinos also may find it impolite or embarrassing to decline social invitations or to respond directly to other requests that might elicit a negative answer or contrary opinion. Although apparently concurring in some manner (through failure to express or defend an alternative point of view) or ostensibly indicating agreement, Filipinos may actually be privately opposed to the issue or question at hand. They generally will make an ambiguous statement rather than say No, or say Yes, but mean No, Maybe, or I don't know. They find it hard to reject or disagree, especially when conversing with someone considered superior. When they feel the truth will offend or embarrass, they answer indirectly. The purpose of an evasive reply is not to deceive but to please or avoid confrontation (Harper and Fullerton, 1994). Thus, as a result of values such as paki kisama and amor propio, mistakes will go unmentioned, questions unasked, and issues unsettled (PAPEP, 1982). This communication style obviously may challenge a more Eurocentric orientation that values frankness, directness, honesty, and sincerity and potentially contributes to a perception of Filipinos as being two-faced (Gochenour, 1990).

Consistent with other high context cultures, Filipinos have a highly developed sensitivity to the nonverbal aspects of communication (Gochenour, 1990). Filipinos are considerably less dependent on spoken words than are European Americans; they watch their listeners carefully and identify body language cues to assess what the person is feeling. The essence of this more intuitive and affective sense that guides nonverbal communication is captured in the phrase talking with one's eyes (PAPEP, 1982). Pilipino sensitivity to context thus extends from a keen awareness of appropriate speech and behavior in a given situation to a well developed instinct for what is implied and not stated (Gochenour, 1990, p. 61). This sensitivity is further complemented by a high tolerance for ambiguity that enables Filipinos to respond calmly to uncertainty or lack of information. Again, however, this orientation may conflict with the characteristically Eurocentric utilitarian emphasis on forthrightness and achieving and results in the least amount of time (Gochenour,1900).

Throughout the 7,100 island archipelagos, Filipinos speak nearly 90 languages and dialects. The three major dialects are Ilocano (northern Luzon, also the dialect spoken most commonly by Filipinos in Hawaii and on the U.S. mainland); Tagalog (central and southern Luzon); and Cebuano (southern islands) (BYU, 1986). Linguistically, these three dialects and all major indigenous languages are historically related ; they derve from Original Indonesian as a subfamily of the Austronesian or Malayo-Polynesian languages and share most of their basic grammatical features (Harper and Fullerton, 1994; Li, 1983). Despite their similarities in grammar and pronunciation, centuries of isolation have produced distinct and mutually unintelligible native languages (Gochenour, 1990). Regional divisions and linguistic differences and barriers have thus endured to the present; they have created major difficulties in promoting educational and cultural development (PAPEP, 1982).

For a period of time during the Marcos regime, there was a popular movement to establish and mandate the use of a national language called Pilipino.Pilipino is primarily Tagalog, the language spoken by a minority of people in the Manila region. It is highly structured grammatically and has a rich vocabulary, with words invented or borrowed from Spanish, English, and other native dialects. More than half of the populations understand (Harper and Fullerton, 1994). However, because of its main basis in Tagalog, has never gained full acceptance by speakers of other dialects, although it is a required subject of study in the public schools throughout the islands and is used as a language of business (BYU, 1986; Gochenour, 1990).

With so many dialects, English has been and continues to be the unifying language. In fact, the Philippines has the third largest English speaking population in the world, after the United States and the United Kingdom (BYU, 1986). English is the language of the public schools (from fourth grade through college) and is the de facto national language of business, commerce, law, government, and often the mass media and popular entertainment. It is the language of the elite with status, wealth, and authority. The power of English and its selective usage is exemplified in the home environment. Members of a family will typically speak to one another in their particular regional dialect, with an added sprinkling of English words. Yet it is very possible for the father, when admonishing a child, to summon up a tone of authority by employing a few English words or shifting entirely into English if he can. Similarly, educated friends may typically converse in their local dialect but gradually shift into English if the subject becomes technical or especially serious. This shifting may be related to vocabulary, but it often reflects the way s feel about the language. Things may be easier to say in English, or the use of English may serve to emphasize the importance of the topic. The speakers may feel that they can be more precise in English or that English is less personal and not as potentially threatening (Gochenour, 1990, p. 38).

The use of English also can affect sensitivities. If, for example, in an ordinary transaction between two s, one of them addresses the other in English, it may be viewed as an attempt to show off and put down the other. Moreover, the tendency to equate facility in English with social class and intelligence may foster self-consciousness and insecurity in dialogues with native English speaking Americans. Many immigrants pride themselves on being English speakers and may have demeaned those in the Philippines who speak carabao (water buffalo) or bamboo English. However, once in the United States, they may find their own version of English to be unacceptable and a cause for embarrassment (Santos, 1983). Furthermore, when speaking to immigrants who appear to be fluent in English, Americans usually presume that their English language comprehension is extensive, whereas often it is not. This expectation obviously contributes strain in American interactions, tension which the American is certain to feel much less than the, who is typically his or her own harshest critic (Gochenour, 1990, p. 40). Such sensitivity needs to be considered when communicating with Filipinos whose English comprehension is better than their expressive English and who may be insulted when addressed in childlike English (Harper and Fullerton, 1994).

English in the Philippines often contains an admixture of indigenous language elements. A Filipino's first language or native dialect significantly influences his or her accent, intonation, vocabulary, syntax, and idiomatic expressions when he or she speaks English (Santos, 1983). The phonological systems of the various languages also are a factor. For example, because Tagalog distinguishes more vowel sounds than do other dialects, a from Manila finds it naturally easier to make the distinction in English between, say, bit and bet than would someone from Cebu. As previously noted, the sound of f does not occur in most of the indigenous languages of the islands; thus, Filipino commonly substitutes the p sound for f. The native English speaker hearing the sentence, I prepared this report, could easily be uncertain whether the speaker meant I preferred this report or I prepared this report (Gochenour, 1990, p. 39).

Indigenous Philippine languages are prepositional, verb initial (i.e., basic sentences have their verbs in the sentence initial position), and regularly stress the next-to-last syllable in most words (Li, 1983). Like many other Asian languages, they also have a single word for the gender pronouns him and her. Apart from grammatical and phonological characteristics, it is noteworthy that one particular dialect called Chabacano (a local language spoken in the area around the city of Zamboanga in Mindanao) is heavily mixed with Spanish. Other Filipinos know a fair number of Spanish words that have entered their particular regional dialects, and many people and places have Spanish names. However, as a functional language, Spanish is clearly peripheral, and a relatively small number of Filipinos (primarily Spanish mestizos) speak it fluently (particularly because it was used exclusively by the wealthy, land owning families during the period of Spanish rule, and no more than 10% of the population ever spoke it). In fact, despite nearly 4 centuries of Spanish dominion, the Philippines is one of the few former colonies of Spain where Spanish did not become the national language (Gochenour, 1990; Harper and Fullerton, 1994; Winter, 1988).

The Philippines is regarded as the only nation in Asia that is predominantly English speaking, and Filipinos often are assumed fully proficient in the English language. The preceding discussion, however, serves to illustrate the reality of an extremely multilingual country where English is a second language. It also offers cautions and considerations regarding the dynamics of communication with English-speaking.