03 March 2009


To my comment on 19 December 2008 that "One of the most difficult aspects of English for those not born to the language is pronunciation," Albert B. Casuga replies, "Somewhere along the way, ineptitude in spoken language (corrupted intonations, pronunciations, accentuations etc.) killed the aural/oral tradition of poetry. Second languages as media for poets who have not mastered the 'adopted and adapted' language contributed to this aberration." (1 March 2009)

In reciting poetry, a key question is which variety of the language should be chosen? When reciting a poem written in English by a Filipino poet whose first language is Tagalog, for instance, should the reader (who may or may not be the poet) pronounce the words the way a British person or an American would pronounce them?

Cirilo F. Bautista is, if awards are to be believed, the foremost Filipino poet writing in English (he also writes in Tagalog). In one of my favorite poems of his, entitled "Pedagogic," he rhymes men with mien. Paulino Lim, commenting on my post of 20 December 2008 about that poem, asks, "Isn't there such a concept as 'visual rhyme' to account for men and mien?" (10 January 2009)

Yes, there is visual rhyme, but when we are talking of reciting a poem, visual rhyme doesn't figure in. Most Filipinos pronounce mien as mi-en, justifying Bautista's rhyme, but only if you recite the poem using Philippine English rather than British or American English. How can Bautista's choice of Philippine English when it comes to rhyme be an "aberration"? (Incidentally, before he had his heart bypass, Bautista was very visible in poetry readings and, in fact, co-founded the Philippine Literary Arts Council, one of the objectives of which was to return to pre-print poetry, that is, poetry recited rather than read. Bautista has always regarded print as something bad that happened to poetry.)


  1. Perhaps, pronunciation is not the issue as much as "accent," which includes pacing, stress, intonation, etc. British actors like Christopher Lee and Rufus Sewell can speak American English. American Gwyneth Paltrow and Renee Zellweger can speak British, or at least try to. These actors have undergone special training in diction to so, something a Filipino speaker may not have taken. If a choice has to be made, the Filipino reading his English poem should articulate consonants clearly but be mindful that the vowels carry the soul of the speech. This idea comes from THE ACTOR SPEAKS, a actor's primer for Britain's National Theater. Incidentally, to my Filipino ear, Michael York's reading of "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam" sounds terrible.

  2. When we use rhyme as a sound unit to organize poetic meter and stanzaic structure, it could take the form of either masculine or feminine rhyme. The words "men" and "mien" cannot qualify as either. More adventurous versifiers have introduced rhymes like assonance and reverse assonance. "Men" and "mien" might qualify as "reverse assonance" (the former with a short e sound--as in "ken" and the latter with a long e sound as in "keen"). The question is: Was this rhyme purposeful? Did it contribute to "shaping up" the context in which they are being used?

    Oh, if by "visual rhyme" here is a term for structurally-organizing "similar spelling" (or close) in the stanzas, then maybe the sound-that-makes-sense should not be alluded to. Rhyme is a system of sounds primarily.

    Even assuming that Filipino English does not recognize the difference between the long e and short e sounds, of what use is it to create this type of rhyme? Did it mean to create an objective correlative between the human bearing/attitude and the personified bearing of the tree?

    Philippine English will have to create a whole system of sounds and meaning to supplant the American or British English. The use of "Filipino English" cannot be a justification for what could ultimately be a confusing usage of a second language based on either the American or British model.

    English derivatives like Jamaican patois have not gone far in the world of literary art. The best Indian writers (Naipaul, Vassanji, for instance) have persevered with the British English they have "adapted".

    The danger of supplanting original English sounds with disparate Filipino dialect sounds will not serve Philippine Literature in English (particularly poetry) well. Can one imagine listening to a Romeo and Juliet line thus in the Filipino English (pronunciation supplied):

    "Et es da Est, an Joolyate es da san,
    Arays pir san, an kell da enbyos mon!"

    (It is the East, and Juliet is the sun,
    Arise fair sun, and kill the envious moon.)

    A dialect in the Southern Philippines offers a sound system (exemplified above) that could mangle the romance out of the Bard's lines. The dialect does not have the American or British short I sound in "kill", the th sound can become a "d", long o sounds become short o's. etcetera. Disastrous! A graduate student's thesis could be written about this. Has anybody done that yet?

    There is a long tradition of oral poetry in the Philippines (in almost all of the dialects -- Tagalog, Ilocano, Visayan, Pampangan, Pangasinan, Ibaloy, Cebuano, even the indigenous languages of the Igolots, the Ibanags, the Hiligaynons, etc. The energies of this oral poetry could be translated into
    Pilipino (the national language). By all means, recite Pilipino poetry in Plaza Miranda -- Filipino poetry in English may not have the same vigour nor mass appeal. I dread to realize from this distance, and time, that poetry readings in English have been confined to the coteries, the soirees, the mutual-admiration societies of wannabe's...

    Is it the better part of valour (national honour)at this point to abandon Philippine Writing in English? Or, does it make better sense to improve the use of English since the country has chosen it as its medium of instruction, government, and commerce?--ALBERT B. CASUGA