Lugar Lang: The stragol is trifling

Let’s face it. Most of us have, at one point or another, made fun of someone’s use of a language, and not just English. My own children make fun of the way I speak Binisaya, saying it is “lain paminawon” or hard to listen to. I never feel offended by this observation. And it doesn’t stop me trying. I think journalist Raissa Robles was genuinely surprised when a Twitter frenzy arose from her seemingly innocuous tweet on September 11: “Duterte just now said that the communists are engaged in ‘armed stragol’.” She didn’t see it coming.


She was inundated with replies offended by her insulting the Bisaya communities because she is a Tagalog and from (imperial) Manila. She was accused of making fun of the “accent” of all the Filipinos from the Visayas and Mindanao who speak Cebuano or dialects of Cebuano by pointing out the way the president from Davao pronounced the word ‘struggle.’ I silently witnessed the brutal exchanges, shaking my head, especially when the DDS trolls jumped in with their usual barrage of meaningless ad hominem attacks not even related to the issue. I commiserated with Robles, who had to explain that she did not intend to offend the Bisaya communities, and even later apologized for her tweet.


To be honest, I myself cannot stand listening to any of Duterte’s speeches. Yes, because of his diction in English, which is so distinct, I can barely understand it. I wish news coverages would provide subtitles for him. But more so because of the substance (or lack of), which I always disagree with entirely. Not to mention the violent misogyny he spews, and which the adoring crowd laps up and even applauds. It is excruciating to witness. So I agree with the Twitter user who was surprised at the “faux outrage” inspired by the tweet of Robles, but not by the rape jokes attributed by Duterte defenders consistently to ‘Bisaya humor’.


Why the outrage over diction? Why did those people, especially those who noted that they were not supporters of Duterte, suddenly identify with him in his struggle with the schwa in English? The fact is, no Filipino languages have the schwa sound naturally, so when we encounter it in our second language, English, we enunciate it as a full vowel, /stragol/ or /stragel/, depending on our first language. Only those who have won the struggle of neutralizing their regional accents for some pragmatic reason or other will pronounce it in the standard way. But what a trifling matter, this unstressed syllable.


What is not a trifle, on the other hand, is how language is in fact connected to cultural identity. All language users draw pride and strength and power from the distinct ways that we use language: accent, vocabulary, discourse patterns. It gives us a sense of belonging and social importance when we use the language of our community. In fact, Filipino-Canadian entertainer Mikee Bustos (among others) has built his entire career on making fun of the peculiar “Filipino accent” and culture as it plays out abroad in immigrant communities. And don’t we find him adorable? (Or is it just me?) We know we don’t all speak that way or think that way as Filipinos, but we like the idea that we get the joke. We belong. And he is able to make fun of it because he, too, belongs.


The so-called Bisaya outrage against the Robles tweet arose from the sense that Robles is an outsider who just doesn’t get it, thus ascribing to her the intention of “cultural totemization,” by which one dominant language group imposes its standards on others. It is totally overblown, I think. But it is also possible Duterte deliberately uses this distinct ‘Bisaya accent’ in order to assert his cultural identity and show solidarity with the greater number of Filipinos who do not speak Filipino as a first language. But if this were the case, I really wish he would just do his speeches in Binisaya, instead of English. It really doesn’t make sense for a Philippine president to deliver his addresses to the nation in English anyhow. And for those who don’t understand Binisaya, the PCOO can simply and immediately publish online an English translation.


Speaking of which, where is the public outrage against the latest video posted by Assistant Secretary for Communications Mocha Uson featuring Drew Olivar mocking sign language? The deaf community has spoken up about how offensive and discriminatory the video is, where Olivar uses monkey sounds to mimic the sounds deaf/mute persons make when they communicate and even signs profanities. Shouldn’t the rest of us be speaking up in outrage over this, instead?


Follow or message me on Twitter @jhoannalynncruz



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