17 February 2009

Errors or features?

Here is an excerpt from linguist Andrew Gonzalez's "Distinctive Grammatical Features of Philippine Literature in English: Influencing or Influenced?" in Linguistics and Language Education in the Philippines and Beyond: A Festschrift in Honor of Ma. Lourdes S. Bautista (2005):

"From the point of view of linguistic study, F. Sionil Jose presents unusual features in his sentential and grammatical constructions. For personal reasons, F. Sionil Jose does his own editing and publication of his fiction. Even edited, it exhibits the traits now associated with distinctive grammatical characteristics of Philippine prose writing, which may be summarized as follows: (1) lack of tense sequence within the complex sentence, switching from present to past and vice versa; (2) lack of tense harmony in the whole paragraph (a variation of the above in extended discourse); (3) lack of agreement between subject and predicate especially where a clause is inserted between subject and predicate; (4) non-native American English uses of the article; (5) non-native American uses of modals especially the use of modals in the past tense which usually demand a modal in the present tense; (6) non-native American uses of the perfect tenses (present perfect and past perfect); and (7) non-native uses of two-word verbs or verb plus preposition combinations with participle complementation. In traditional grammar classes in the Philippine classroom, these features would be considered errors."

Gonzalez asks the question (which he asked several times earlier in his too brief lifetime) whether these are really errors or features. He even cites me (referring to the book A Dictionary of Philippine English, that I wrote together with Bautista in 1995) to justify labelling these "errors" as "features." I don't think all of the items he lists are features of Philippine English, particularly the lack of subject-verb agreement and the non-native American English use of the perfect tenses.

1 comment:

  1. May the soul of the late Dr. Andrew Gonzalez rest in peace after these remarks about National Artist Francisco Sionil Jose's grammatical constructions in his fiction. Gonzalez did contribute much to the development of Philippine education in English either as an educator or government official that I will not begrudge his scholarly legacy from being diplomatically "excoriating" about Mr. Jose's English.

    Did Gonzalez concede at all that a "Filipino English" language existed? Did he accept a Filipino English that has its own "peculiar vocabulary, syntax, and grammar" much like other "bastardized" English from all over the world? Did he posit that American English is a better medium than "Philippinized English" for the Filipino's purposes? Has Filipino English matured with its own linguistic system that any author would supplant original English grammatical structure, syntax or even vocabulary with native pidgin? Gonzalez softened his analysis of Jose's English by creating a distinction between "feature" and error". Gonzalez did not need to hide behind "traditional grammar classes" to call attention to the grammatical errors of Mr. Jose. After all, if he was exercising some form of "literary criticism" through linguistic hermeneutics, his effort was legitimate criticism albeit narrow. Does the use of an adopted and "adapted" second language detract from the achieved content of literature? Does literature cease to be literature when grammatically imperfect? Of course, students of English literature would recall that if D.H. Lawrence did not have a good editor, his grammatical lapses might have doomed him as a second-rate fiction writer. Or is he? I wonder then if anyone should come to the rescue of a Filipino National Artist. But if Filipino English (warts and all) is now an acceptable literary medium, would
    anyone cavil about Jose's grammatical constructions? Would this be useful?

    I owe these two gentlemen a great deal of personal gratitude (both having seen to my growth as a poet and literary critic -- Gonzalez sponsored through Asia Foundation my writing a book on literary theory and criticism, and Jose accepted my first collection of poems for "consignment" at his bookstore "Solidaridad" without scrutinizing my literary credentials before displaying the thin volumes "Narra Poems and Others" and "Still Points" in his shelves).

    I will, however, call a grammatical error an "error" wherever I find them -- but call "feature" a linguistic feature if it has been proven to work with disparate audiences. But can scholarly courage save Filipino Literature in English? -- ALBERT B. CASUGA