Spanish: Our lost official language

By: Ambeth R. Ocampo - @inquirerdotnet - Columnist/Philippine Daily Inquirer | April 19,2023 - 08:00 AM

The Philippines is a young nation with an old history, and it is unfortunate that language separates young Filipinos from 333 years of their past. When the 1987 Constitution named Filipino and English as official languages of the Philippines, Spanish was dropped from the college curriculum. Unlike students who endured mind-numbing exams that required memorizing Rizal’s “Mi Ultimo Adios,” I was quite happy with my teachers and our textbook on the adventures of Ana West as she traveled from the US and Mexico to Spain. Though he was two batches ahead of me, the late President Noynoy Aquino and I had the same teachers and used the same textbook. He recounted how he impressed the visiting Mexican president by mentioning landmarks like the Avenida de la Reforma and the Parque de Chapultepec, even if he had not visited Mexico City. We learned how to count in Spanish, and even order “un vaso de jugo de naranja” in a restaurant, but never reached the modules of Ana West in Spain.

All I remember from my Spanish classes are grammar drills—and I hated grammar. Had we been taught to communicate rather than conjugate verbs, as they do at the Instituto Cervantes, we would probably be Spanish-speaking today. Had we been taught to read and appreciate literature rather than unravel the complexities of the subjunctive, many Filipinos would be comfortable with Spanish today. I learned Spanish after college by reading Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” in the original, making sense of a storyline already familiar from studying the novels in Filipino from high school and in English from college. Aside from this, I also took some units in French. Reading proficiency in these languages enabled me to unlock primary source documentation in libraries and archives. However, this was not enough for the British historian C.R. Boxer, who asked after we were introduced: “what Oriental languages do you speak?”

Some knowledge of Spanish made me understand this negative campaign against Cory Aquino during the 1986 snap elections. The speaker pointed to the heart asking: “Corazon? Si.” Then pointing to the head declaring: “Aqui? No.”

In Philippine cinema, the villain is called “kontrabida” from the Spanish “contra” (against) “vida” (life). The round rubber inflatable floaties used in pools and the beach are known as “salbabida” that is Spanish for “salva” (save) and “vida” (lives). This brings us to the term “salvage” an English word that literally means to save or recover but in the Philippines is used to refer to a victim of extrajudicial killings. “Salvaje” is the Spanish word for savage, when used as a verb in Filipino as in “sinalbahe,” it means to savage or brutalize. Salvaje when written in Spanish but read as English became “salvage.”

In colloquial Filipino, the word for going out for a walk is “pasyal,” obviously from the Spanish verb “pasear.” But what is more intriguing is that there is another term for pasyal and it is, pardon the expression, “lamierda.” Spelled as one word and used as a verb, “Mag-lamierda tayo” is an invitation to chill or eat outside the home. How did this vulgar Spanish term for excrement or sh*t change its meaning after being transplanted to a new land and a new culture? That is a question we leave for the philologists and linguists.

While we are at it, one of Manila’s most sought-after fashion designers of the past was Jose Moreno more popularly known by his nickname “Pitoy” and his social and professional name “Pitoy Moreno” that was a byword in Philippine fashion. Pitoy Moreno can be declared casually and without malice in Manila, but in Madrid it was something else. Pitoy would neither confirm nor deny that during his first fashion show in Madrid. People fell off their seats laughing when he was introduced because “moreno” means dark or brown, when he was fair-complexioned, and “pito” is the vulgar word for penis. Pitoy Moreno in Spanish was “little brown penis.”

Spanish is a global language. It is the world’s second most spoken native language by population after Mandarin, with English coming in a mere third. But in case of languages with the most speakers: Spanish is in the fourth place after English, Mandarin, and Hindi. The more languages, aside from English and Filipino, that one can speak or read equip them to deal with the challenges in a global and globalizing world.

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TAGS: English, language, Spanish

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