31 March 2009


I got a lesson in accents once when I was in Bacolod, a Southern city in the Philippines where people speak a language called Ilonggo (technically called Hiligaynon). I had just come from Cebu, a nearby Southern city where people (called Cebuanos) speak a language called Cebuano (Sugbuhanon in older books). Since I was in Bacolod for more than a week to teach an extension class, I learned some sentences to get me through buying dinner in the local food places. (It was cheaper, of course, to eat where the people eat, rather than where the tourists eat.) After I said my well-practised sentences in Ilonggo, the storekeeper said to me with a wide grin (of course, in Ilonggo), "You speak Ilonggo like a Cebuano!" I think the same thing happens when a writer writes in a second language. The second language sounds like the first language. (Btw, I know just a little bit more Cebuano than Ilonggo. My mother tongue is Filipino - not Tagalog. My second language is Tagalog. My third language is English. My other languages are mainly for tourist, research, lecturing, or bragging purposes.)


  1. It isn't just accents. I saw a video of "Caregiver," starring Sharon Cuneta aboard an Emirates flight from Dubai to New York. The film is moving in its scenes of goodbye. More interesting to me was the dialogue of the actors speaking English. It didn't sound English at all, They seemed to be speaking translations of Filipino sentiments and platitudes. So, perhaps, it isn't just accent that betrays a speaker's tongue, but syntax as well.

  2. Syntax is one of the things a bilingual or multilingual critic can help explicate in a second-language literary text that is written (where the role of accents is necessarily reduced).