Language Attitudes Growing Up

I was supposed to submit a short essay about language attitudes I experienced growing up. This is what I turned in tonight. I think it’s appropriate.

I spent the first twelve years of my life in the Philippines. I learned two languages simultaneously while growing up – English and Tagalog. Most of the people in my family also spoke both.

At my elementary school, everyone was expected to speak English at all times, by rule. This was meant to help everyone learn the language. People needed to learn English…because it was English. Naturally, since it wasn’t everyone’s native language, the rule was broken all the time.

At one point (I think this was the fourth or fifth grade), someone came up with a system of fining people a small amount (a few cents) for breaking the “English only” rule. I’m not really sure where the money was supposed to go. Anyway, this worked only for a very brief period of time. When the rule first started, kids in class would tattle on others by saying “So and so said ‘such and such’, he should be fined.” Eventually, smart alecks would say “Hey wait a minute, you just said ‘such and such’ yourself, you should be fined too!” The tattler would of course respond, “Example only!” This was meant to excuse them from the fact that they used some Tagalog words.

Well, after a while, everyone started having full conversations in Tagalog, being careful to preface their Tagalog speech with “Example only” even if they weren’t quoting anybody. Soon enough, the system of fining people got dumped.

When we moved to California, I had no accent at all. (Or maybe I had a California accent.) I think this was because of all the American television I watched growing up. People were always surprised when they found out how recently I had moved here. I have always been more comfortable speaking, reading and writing in English than in Tagalog. And actually, I think I’m fairly illiterate in Tagalog at this point.