Monday, December 18, 2006

Language Lessons

Recently, a task was given to me as a prerequisite in getting employed as a freelance writer for a not-too-small publishing house. The task at hand was to write three chapters of what to be a novel in the long run. The project was a romance pulp fiction – the kind stereotypically known as the pocketbook maids and helpers read. Not that there is something wrong with it except that the language that I would employ is Pilipino.

For a stubborn writer like me who sticks with the strength of a benny addict to the English language as his preferred vehicle of expression, this was an alien, almost unimaginable, task that I would venture in. I never in my whole writing career wrote in Pilipino. Nor I have secretly dreamt of getting a career in writing in Pilipino. But I needed the extra money so I thought why not give it a try.

Gauging by the writing style expected of the job, I estimated that I could easily whip up, not just three chapters, but the whole novel in a week. That was how confidence I was regarding the matter.

Another underlying purpose as to why I wanted to try my hands in the project was to loosen up my stiff tongue in telling a story. With the casual, formulatic style needed to accomplish the work, I deemed it a good venue to practice making my writing stamina stronger.

But unknown to me, there were lessons, valuable lessons, that I would learn while carried out the task.

First, I was able to connect with the Pilipino language, as if finally finding my true self, my own language, my own voice. Writing in Pilipino is so natural for me it seems I was just merely chatting with a neighbor, telling him a story about matters of the heart.

I have been writing for more than a decade in English and never did I automatically, on the first try, felt at ease with the language the same way I experienced writing in Pilipino. God knows what a backbreaking labor I had undergone just to acquire this relative proficiency in the English language.

I can still recall those desperate, almost hopeless, days when I would scout a corner in our old house to set up a table with my papers and pen and get on toiling for long hours trying to write a decent, simple sentence in English. Those days were difficult and hard – I usually ended up mentally exhausted and sleepy.

This lesson was followed up with a clearer perspective regarding both languages and the inherent tendency of Filipino writers when he uses either of the two.

Probably this tendency is best summed up by the late Rolando Tinio when he described his relationship with the two languages. It went something like this: “When I write in English, I tend to be flowery. But when I write in Pilipino, I write simple and true.”

The late writer could not say it better than that.

When I scanned my electronic copy of some parts of the short fictions that were recently published by a new literary magazine and I could not help but notice the glaring similarity on how those featured writers used the English language in telling their stories.

They all used big, heavy words and their sentences are almost a forest of flowery sentences that can only reek of hyterical artificiality. If by any chance these fictions will be read by natural-born speakers of the language, I don’t blame them if they all throw-up because of the stories’ excessive wordiness.

With these new insights, I appreciate once again my native tongue and at the same time looking at the English language as no different animal altogether.

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