05 April 2009

Deciding on which language to write in

"You've written creatively in both English and Tagalog," a friend emailed me. "When you sit down to write, how do you decide which language to write in?"

That's a question that readers of this blog surely have different answers to.

My own answer is simple: I use the language of whoever is going to read what I write.

When I was still joining literary contests (I got "kicked upstairs" when I was named to the Hall of Fame of the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in Literature, which then made it awkward for me to join future national literary competitions), I would look for categories where I had more of a chance of winning (where there were fewer good writers). As I hoped, I won in less-explored areas, such as the one-act play in English (theatre groups in the Philippines prefer to stage full-length plays in vernacular languages), the formal essay in English (most literary writers would rather write personal essays), the full-length play in Filipino (most dramatists would rather make money with screenplays), the musical in Filipino (though I can't write genuine poetry if my life depended on it, I can spew out rhymed and metered lyrics on demand).

I earn quite a bit by being commissioned to do books. I write biographies and company histories, which clients prefer to be in English. I write for newspapers and magazines, which can be in either Filipino or English. The play I love to boast about is Josephine, which I wrote for over three years for my own pleasure (I used Filipino, Spanish, and English extensively and a few more languages in isolated lines); it never won anything nor made me any real money, though it's been staged several times by various professional and amateur theatre groups.

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