Archive for February, 2011

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A few days ago, while at a friend’s presentation on the historic Edsa 1 People Power Revolution, I saw an interview clip of someone surnamed Nathanielsz, and wondered why my parents didn’t go for that instead. It was the latest of many ways that the collision of two languages and cultures has entertained us since we arrived in Manila last July.  Whether it’s extra letters (Dhon the plumber? Margareth the councilwoman?), hilarious Taglish grammar, or unintentional sexual innuendoes, we wanted to share in this photo gallery some of our favorite examples of creative uses of English.

But we also wanted to comment on the broadening experience it’s been tackling a foreign language ourselves. Based on multiple conversations with polyglots, we think learning Filipino* (which shares our alphabet and only has a few sounds English doesn’t) is harder for English speakers than Romance or Germanic languages, but easier than Mandarin or Arabic.

As this fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal points out, language influences how we see the world–and thus learning a new language is to learn a new worldview. Over the past six months learning Filipino, we’ve seen multiple examples of this:

“Ngayon” means both “now” and “today.” If you inferred from this that Filipino culture is not very time-oriented, you’d be correct. (Conversely, fellow Americans, have you realized how many sayings and expressions we have that implicitly value time and direct communication? Straight shooter, get to the point, spit it out, stop beating around the bush, means what she says and says what she means, and more.)

In the Philippines, everyone’s part of the family: they use the terms twofold affectionate/respectful terms “kuya” (older brother), and “ate” (older sister) not only with family members, but with strangers, because everything in the Philippines is about relationships. Unlike western countries, you rarely have an interaction here that is completely anonymous or transactional.

Age- and status-consciousness is built right into Filipino speech: anyone who’s being polite will add the marker “po” to a sentence any time they’re addressing someone older or in a position of authority, or in business settings. (E.g. I’d say thanks “salamat” to a younger person, but “salamat po” to an older one.) Unlike the U.S., where everyone tries to pretend they’re equal, in the Philippines there’s always hierarchy and respect–which in relation to America’s obsession with youth, seems healthy. (“Po” also produces some hilarity in hybrid Taglish common in the Manila area; we’ve heard everything from “hello po” to “scuse me po” to “God bless you po.”)

Finally, passive verbs are more commonly spoken than active ones: in the U.S. we’d say “What are you doing?” but in the Philippines they’d say “What is being done by you?” Unlike me-first Americans, they place the emphasis on the activity, because actions and groups are more important. Sadly, passive verbs are twice as complicated and three times as long as active ones (e.g. “salita” is speak, but “nakakapagsalita” is “able to be spoken”), so at this point, according to our tutor, we sound like six-year-olds with our active verbs. But we’re trying . . . or as Filipinos would say, it’s being tried by us: sinusubukan namin.

— Nate

* Tagalog is the original name of the language, based in Luzon, that along with English is one of the national languages here. It is officially referred to as Filipino in an attempt to be more inclusive of the other regions; unlike many linguistically and geographically monolithic countries, the Philippines (with around 90 million people) has twelve languages with over a million speakers, so the choice of Tagalog as the national language is a sore subject with Cebuano speakers, which are almost equal in number to native Tagalog speakers.

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I’ve worked in advertising for over six years, and when I’m employed, it’s the best job I’ve ever had: I get paid to learn new things, keep up with technology, surf the web, brainstorm ideas, and write. But if you asked me, “So Nate, can you look me in the eye and say that advertising makes the world a better place?” I’d probably have to say no; scads of ads contribute to the epidemic of female objectification. Sex sells, right? Ditto MTV; whether it was the old days of actual music videos, or the current crop of commendable cultural institutions like The Real World or Jersey Shore, MTV has been a major purveyor of women as sex objects.

All of the above makes the following video all the more remarkable and commendable: turns out there are some people in advertising and MTV with both big hearts–and great creative skills! A team at NY ad agency Y & R teamed up with the MTV Exit campaign to produce this fresh, evocative video, which in two minutes of haunting music and imaginative illustrations depicts the typical story of a woman being trafficked:

To see the rest of the campaign, including downloadable materials, general trafficking info, other organizations to get involved with, and more, head over to their site here. (Available in multiple languages to pass along to your overseas friends!)

— Nate

Whether you’re a Cheesehead, Steelers fan, or just watching for the ads, here’s something we can all get behind: stopping the buying and selling of women and children during our nation’s biggest sporting event. Take a few minutes in the third or fourth quarter (when the ads are all repeats, and the nachos are reduced to multi-colored crumbs) to read this, and keep our country’s women and children in your thoughts and prayers today.

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What can you do to help? Several things, right from the comfort of your own internet connection:

  1. Sign this petition to the Super Bowl host committee.
  2. Sign this petition on IJM’s web site to President Obama.
  3. Paste any of these links as your facebook status.