Multilingual education in the Philippines

31 July 2009 at 4:14 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

You might be interested to know what’s going on in the Philippines that touches on multilingual criticism. I wrote two columns on the latest major reform in the educational system. Here are the opening paragraphs of the columns:

One of the most significant and far-reaching contributions of Philippine Department of Education (DepEd) Secretary Jesli Lapus to the history of Philippine education is DepEd Order No. 74, series of 2009, entitled “Institutionalizing Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MLE).” The change in languages of instruction is probably the most radically new thing in the 2010 curriculum for elementary school. The Order will change the mediums or languages of instruction in basic education from the present bilingual system (Filipino and English) to a trilingual one (mother tongue, Filipino, and English). (Philippine Star, 23 July 2009)

DepEd Order No. 74, series of 2009, entitled “Institutionalizing Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MLE),” is the latest in a series of attempts since 1863 by the government to improve basic education by mandating the mediums or languages of instruction. Last week, I listed the efforts from 1863 to 1970. Let me continue the list. (Philippine Star, 30 July 2009)

You have to register with Philippine Star to read old columns, but registration is free anyway.

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English as a Multi-Language

30 July 2009 at 3:59 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Those afflicted with what I call tempocentricism (the tendency to think that our times are the best of all times or even that there are no other times at all except ours) think of those that speak only English as monolingual. That would be true of most of humanity, but certainly not of serious literary writers. Serious writers know the history of every word they use in their works (of course, poets are more deliberate than prose writers, because they have fewer words to worry about).

An account of how a serious writer deliberately uses the multilingual character of the English language can be found in the Introduction by Gavin Alexander to the Penguin edition of Sidney’s ‘The Defence of Poesy’ and Selected Renaissance Literary Criticism (2004):

“[George] Puttenham’s prose style merits some consideration. … One stylistic habit is seen everywhere: like many of his contemporaries he is fond of proceeding by twos. To take an example: ‘implying thereby how, by his discreet and wholesome lessons uttered in harmony and with melodious instruments, he brought the rude and savage people to a more civil and orderly life, nothing, as it seemeth, more prevailing or fit to redress and edify the cruel and sturdy courage of man than it.’ Many of the words which face each other across Puttenham’s conjunctions are synonyms. The technique belonged in the mixed language which Puttenham had written a history of. For most things English had an Anglo-Saxon term and an Anglo-Norman one; and the Latinate element represented by the influence of French was being fortified by the many borrowings from Latin which expanded the English lexicon in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.” (p. lxvi)

In 20th-century and 21st-century English texts written by writers whose mother tongue is English, we can find the same mixing of British (or American) English with some other variety of English (Philippine, Indian, Singaporean, or others). It will take a thorough literary critic to go through even a short poem and show how the poet (assuming that the poet knows what s/he is doing) mixes different varieties of English for some aesthetic effect. Of course, as a theoretician, I can say that quite easily, but to put that in practice is an altogether different matter. A practical way to help both writers and readers is Alexander’s: take only one sentence as an example to show how a writer uses various varieties (or registers or dialects) of the same language.

29 July 2009 at 5:08 AM | Posted in News | 1 Comment

BAYANI NG WIKA 2009

Gagawaran ng Wika sa Kultura at Agham, Inc., (WIKA) ang limang tao na maituturing na Bayani ng Wika dahil sa kanilang katangi-tanging nagawa sa nakaraang taon (2008).

Heto ang mga gagawaran:

1. GURO SA FILIPINO – isang guro sa alinmang level na nagtuturo ng agham, matematika, enhenyeriya, o iba pang sabjek na hindi karaniwang tinuturo sa wikang Filipino. Kailangang maipakita ng nominee sa gawad na ito na siya ay magaling na guro (ang ebidensya ay ang ebalwasyon na ginawa ng kanyang estudyante nitong nakaraang taon).
2. GURO NG FILIPINO – isang guro sa alinmang level na nagtuturo ng sabjek na Filipino, na may ambag na katangi-tanging paraan ng pagtuturo ng wika. Kailangang maipakita ng nominee sa gawad na ito na siya ay magaling na guro (ang ebidensya ay ang ebalwasyon na ginawa ng kanyang estudyante nitong nakaraang taon).
3. MANGANGALAKAL – isang kapitalista, empleyado, o anupamang posisyon o level sa isang kompanya, korporasyon man o sariling kompanya, na katangi-tangi ang gamit ng wikang Filipino sa pang-araw-araw na komunikasyon at sa opisyal na komunikasyon.
4. BLOGGER – isang may blog na nakasulat sa Filipino. Kailangang malinaw na ang blog ay binabago kahit na minsan isang linggo.
5. WEBSAYT – isang may-ari ng websayt na katangi-tangi ang gamit ng wikang Filipino.

Ibibigay ang gawad sa ika-20 ng Agosto, Buwan ng Wika, 2009.

Kung mayroon kayong maimumungkahing bayani ng wika, mangyari po lamang na iemail ang lahat ng dokumento sa amigolibro@ yahoo.com bago ika-31 ng Hulyo, 2009.

Yoko Tawada on a word

29 July 2009 at 4:07 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

In an interview by Bettina Brandt in April, 2005, talking about her novel Das Nackte Auge, Yoko Tawada showed why even a single word is important for writers:

BB: Can you tell us something about your work method?

YT: A single word can inspire me. When this happens, I want to create a whole text out of that one word, which seems to contain the entire microcosm. That is my dream, and it is how I often start writing. I use variations of this word, place associations next to each other, create word chains like branches of a tree, and play with different forms and shapes. Finally, I realize that I have to create an ending, but I don’t find an ending because I don’t want to and cannot have a result. A text is a weird and wonderful plant that has grown in all directions out of a single word knot.”

When that single word knot comes from a language other than the writer’s mother tongue (which most likely happens with Tawada, since she is multilingual), literary critics have the obligation to recreate or to retrace the journey of that word through various languages. That is the least that readers of literary criticism expect.

Forum Play

28 July 2009 at 3:50 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Can multilingual literary criticism be interdisciplinary? It should be, and yes, it can be.

First, it should be, because the boundaries of disciplines disappeared with critical theory: intellectuals such as Michel Foucault are routinely cited not just by literary critics (Foucault was not even a literary critic) but by just about everyone else in academe. With the world going global, intellectual life has also gone global, in the sense that one can no longer stay within a very small specialized field.

Second, it can be, because there are many areas where it obviously benefits from other fields of human interest. Take the Forum Play, for example. Katrin Byreus‘s role-playing teaching exercise (derived from Augusto Boal), meant to make students directly involved in solving real-life problems, works with mixed-language groups, where the role players can speak in different languages to each other, even if the other players do not speak these other languages. Multilingual literary critics can help illuminate the dynamics of the Forum Play and help teachers use it more effectively. Listening to someone speaking in a language you don’t understand is like reading a literary text with words from a language we don’t read. The theoretical insights will be the same, even if the practical applications are clearly different. The Forum Play is interdisciplinary, involving theater, education, psychology, and so on; we cannot do multilingual literary criticism on the Forum Play without invoking or using these other fields.

Forum Play

28 July 2009 at 3:50 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Can multilingual literary criticism be interdisciplinary? It should be, and yes, it can be.

First, it should be, because the boundaries of disciplines disappeared with critical theory: intellectuals such as Michel Foucault are routinely cited not just by literary critics (Foucault was not even a literary critic) but by just about everyone else in academe. With the world going global, intellectual life has also gone global, in the sense that one can no longer stay within a very small specialized field.

Second, it can be, because there are many areas where it obviously benefits from other fields of human interest. Take the Forum Play, for example. Katrin Byreus’s role-playing teaching exercise (derived from Augusto Boal), meant to make students directly involved in solving real-life problems, works with mixed-language groups, where the role players can speak in different languages to each other, even if the other players do not speak these other languages. Multilingual literary critics can help illuminate the dynamics of the Forum Play and help teachers use it more effectively. Listening to someone speaking in a language you don’t understand is like reading a literary text with words from a language we don’t read. The theoretical insights will be the same, even if the practical applications are clearly different. The Forum Play is interdisciplinary, involving theater, education, psychology, and so on; we cannot do multilingual literary criticism on the Forum Play without invoking or using these other fields.

Out of context means a new context

27 July 2009 at 8:36 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Yoko Tawada hits it right on the head. She says: “You can give a word more depth by listening to its history. Then we can ask ourselves, within one culture, what a certain word meant for Goethe or for Schiller. Or we could ask, more generally, what a particular word meant in the eighteenth century, or, say, in the fifteenth century. That is one method of giving a word more depth. What I am doing now in my writing, however, is to ask what a particular word means when it is inserted in the context of a multicultural and multilingual world where words from different languages create purely poetic correspondences.”

When a word is used in a context that is not exclusively mother-tongue, i.e., if one or both the writer and reader are not mother-tongue speakers of the language in which that word occurs, then the word carries meanings that the methods of the historical critics or even New Critics will not be able to uncover. Using insights developed by literary theory (such as those from Reader-Response theories), multilingual literary criticism can unlock many meanings previously unknown to readers even in what we thought were already-overread texts.

Bakhtin

26 July 2009 at 5:08 AM | Posted in News | Leave a comment

Very useful is the insight of Mikhail Bakhtin that all literary texts have multiple speakers or voices (the technical terms are dialogics and heteroglossia). A single line of poetry, contrary to the view of critics earlier than him, has more than one voice that we the readers can hear. A single line of second-language poetry, then, can be said to have the voice of the second language plus the voice of the mother tongue, in addition to the voices that Bakhtin identified. If we are to fully understand and appreciate the single line of poetry (and, of course, entire poems and works of literature), we must listen and hear these two voices, as well as all the other voices identified by dialogics.

Syntactic and lexical competence

25 July 2009 at 4:43 AM | Posted in News | 2 Comments

The Statement on Second-Language Writing and Writers of the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) has implications for multilingual literary criticism:

“Second-language writers include international visa students, refugees, and permanent residents as well as naturalized and native-born citizens of the United States and Canada. Many of them have grown up speaking languages other than English at home, in their communities, and in schools; others began to acquire English at a very young age and have used it alongside their native language. To many, English may be the third, fourth or fifth language. Many second-language writers are highly literate in their first language, while others have never learned to write in their mother tongue. Some are even native speakers of languages without a written form.”

Here is what CCCC says about these second-language writers: “Most second-language writers are still in the process of acquiring syntactic and lexical competence — a process that will take a lifetime.”

Does this apply to second-language literary writers? Is it possible that the “peculiarities” we find in second-language literary texts are due to syntactic and lexical incompetence? That would be indeed a disturbing possibility.

Principles 4

23 July 2009 at 3:34 AM | Posted in News | 1 Comment

This is the fourth principle of multilingual literary criticism:

(4) The multilingual work is the general case; the apparently monolingual work is the special case.

I use the analogy of the relationship between Einsteinian and Newtonian physics. In treating things that we encounter every day, we do very well just using Newtonian physics, because the quantities that make a difference are pretty small. But these small, seemingly insignificant quantities are there; they are just ignored. The multilingual literary critic focuses on these seemingly insignificant items and shows why they are not insignificant after all. Still pursuing the analogy with physics, we could say that multilingual literary criticism is the Theory of Everything. It is primarily of theoretical interest. We cannot use it all the time because we would never do anything else nor read much more than what we are reading at the moment. Nevertheless, as we know from the enormous amount of work the critics used to do in the first half of the last century, there is a place in the intellectual world for such dedication to detail. By highlighting (or foregrounding, as literary critics like to say) the linguistic elements that are normally ignored, we help the reader appreciate more deeply the writer’s craft.

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