Search This Blog

Friday, March 14, 2008

Janina San Miguel & Philippine English

A big fuss has been raised by some quarters over 2008 "Bb. Pilipinas" (Ms. Philippines) Janina San Miguel's "atrocious grammar" in the Q & A portion of the recently held beauty tilt. One commentator alluded to a parallel "beauty's blooper," in a 2007 pageant in the USA, by noting that San Miguel's response "is a classic that could go viral and surpass the interview boo boos of Miss Teen South Carolina Lauren Caitlin Upton."

Here's the transcript of San Miguel's response to a judge's question (lifted from this site):

Vivian Tan (judge): The question is, what role did your family play to you as candidate to Binibining Pilipinas?

Janina San Miguel: Well, my family’s role for me is so important because there was the wa- their, they was the one whose… very… Hahahaha… Oh I’m so sorry, Ahhmm… My pamily… My family… Oh my god.. I’m… Ok, I’m so sorry… I… I told you that I’m so conpident… Eto, Ahhmm, Wait… Hahahaha! Ahmmm, Sorry guys because this was really my first pagent ever because I’m only 17 years old and hahaha! I, I did not expect that I came from, I came from one of the top 10. Hmmm, so… but I said that my family is the most important persons in my life. Thank you.

As I listened to and read the different reactions of people to Janina's greatly talked-about lines, I couldn't help wondering why it's such a big deal among many of us Filipinos that she would commit such multiple phonetical and grammatical (Read SITEL Academy Comms Trainers: PAFABAVA... BUPLAS <chuckle>) -- as if the beauty contest were largely a test of ESL competence or an exercise in some Toastmasters International affair, and as if one's talent or IQ is reducible to a polished English conversational skill.

Is it such a big deal because we are such one great "English-speaking (Asian) nation"? But what does this grand phrase "English-speaking nation" supposed to mean? That we speak (or are expected to speak) impeccable American or British English? Come on, admit it or not, many -- if not most -- of us cannot really successfully fake sounding American or British, much less speak with razor-sharp diction or with flawless syntax. For most of us the English that we write or speak is, as many language teachers have pointed out, distinctively "Philippine English." That is why we appropriate some English terms (e.g., "salvage" to mean summary execution), verbalize nouns (e.g., "Come on, let's coffee/tea") or even pronouns (e.g., he did like th/datting like th/datting to me!), or display signs like these for all the world to see:




See? Viewing it against these backdrops ("backdrafts," to some of our kababayan), Janina's English is not really that bad after all, eh?

"But she's Bb. Pilipinas!" one might be tempted to retort. So what? And if one's going to be pushy about this, why, wouldn't it be more appropriate to test her competence in Filipino instead? Further, even if I know little about beauty pageants, I somehow got the idea that you can still become a Ms. Universe sans the sash of Churchillan oratory or Chomskyan grammar.

The fact is, when it comes to English grammar many of us are more unforgiving than native English speakers themselves. Many of our American/British/Australian/Canadian friends don't really mind if we spell our "its" as "it's," put "this is for gentlemens'" on our signboards, use "lay" instead of "lie" or vice versa, pronounce the ch in "chasm" as in "charm," say "chumber" for "chamber" or "Syox" for "Sioux," write "the people is" or "did travelled," etc. -- that is, unless they are our TOEFL/TOEIC/IELTS/SAT/ACT examiners.

And don't forget, even the Big Guy from the Lone Star State has not escaped the purists of grammar who have had their heydays poking fun at his "Bushisms" [spoonerisms, malapropisms, neologisms - click here or here for some examples. See also Paul Begala's "Is Our Children Learning?" The Case Against George W. Bush (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), pp. 115-125].

This is not to say that we should not be conscious of our use of the English language; this is to say that we should not be blind to our own misuse or abuse of the language, that our ultimate goal as English L2 (2nd language) learners is not really to imitate accents or develop such smugness as to be overly critical of other L2 speakers' grammatical lapses, but to be able to speak a fairly understandable English and help others improve their competence in this area of learning.

I have been teaching ESL for some years now, and one of the delights I find in teaching English is that I get more opportunities to learn the intricacies of the language and correct my mistakes in the process than my students do!

Hans Finzel writes in his outstanding book, The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, "Top-flight leaders aren't born. They learn by bad example." I guess the same is true to us as ESL learners/teachers: Top-flight grammarians aren't born. They learn by bad example (their own and that of others).

Granted, Janina had a badly mangled English in that much talked about interview. But you've got to give her credit for her confidence, her poise. And for this and other qualities, she got the nod of the judges.

Go ahead, boo her grammar, but make sure you clap for her grace.


jerondio encienzo said...

I watched the most talked Janina's Q&A but it doesn't bother me because she is just gorgeous, beautiful woman and the confidence and poise, she's a beauty queen! She can polish her English or we could send with her an interpreter.She might get the "Miss World Crown 2008"...jun

scott saboy said...

righto kapatid! dapat siyang bigyan ng parangal hindi sampal, sinusoportahan hindi pinagtatawanan...

lynnie ann said...

This is interesting. I also reacted to Janina's answer to that interview which I learned from others - like you. My concern is not really her grammatical lapses but rather her ability to comprehend the question. I think her answer lack both comprehensibility and comprehension. Okey, so performance variables affected her ability to answer the question but she did try to get to her point which was amiss...
More important than "fluency" is the ability to get one's thoughts across... that's what other pageants who possess beauty but not the English glib... and they are appreciated for that. My only wish is that she could have at least answered the question then I'd appreciate more her grace under pressure.

scott saboy said...

Thanks for the insight prof, and thanks for visiting.:>

kristine said...

hi sir!! nakita ko na ang about kay janina., but hnd ko p nababasa.. nagview p lng.. nakit ako ung mga pictures n may mga nakakalokang pinagsasasabi... parang ung pinag aralan dn nmin noon!! this is interesting po!

scott saboy said...

salamat sa pagbisita kristine. :) am sure marami tayong mapag-aaralan sa class patungkol dito. c ya!

radz said...

Uhm.. Hi sir.. RAdz here, student nyo po sa Eng1.
Sir, I think you have a point, I mean we should not judge or label Janina as a moron just because she can't speak English
fluently. She's a beauty queen and she's confident enough to face those judges though she's just 17. Moreover, she can learn and develop her skills pa naman eh.
Sana nga lang sinagot nya ng medyo mas maaus yung tanong. AHAHA..

scott saboy said...

righto, Radz. and we'll see in class how we can better express what janina wanted to say :)

aljon banayat said...

sir aljon po right here, student nyo ng englishI . i think tama nga na sabihing mas lamang sa beauty pageant ang beauty at poise kesa sa talino. sa tingin ko po, hindi QUIZ BEE or EXAM ang beauty pageants para mas timbangin ang pagiging matalino ng contestant dahil dapat mas isaalang-alang ang pagtingin kung paano napapanatili ng contestant ang kanyang poise sa pageant. and i think Janina deserves naman to be the Miss World kasi she has the beauty and poise which must be possessed by a real beauty queen. at isa pa, she can polish her english fluency kc meron namang 7 months pa bago sya makipag compete sa miss world.

scott saboy said...

at maganda siguro na yung mga magagaling na grammar purists jan mag-isip ng paraan upang matulungan ang mga gaya ni janina na mahasa ang kanilang paggamit ng wikang ingles. mas maigi ata yun kaysa yung puro lang sila batikos. me mga nabasa nga akong mga kritiko ni janina na may mga grammatical errors din ang kanilang mga articles e hehe.

anyways, sa aking palagay, kailangan din naman ng talino sa mga ganyang mga timpalak. yun nga lang, ang sinasabi natin, hindi ata makatarungan na sukatin natin ang katalinuhan ng isang tao base lamang sa kaniyang wasto o hindi wasto na paggamit ng wikang ingles. kung filipino ang ginamit sa pagtatanong, at kung filipino rin and ginamit ni janina sa pagsagot sa tanong, sa tingin ko naging maayos naman sana ang tinurang Q&A portion.

isa pa, sana hindi makaligtaan ng iba ang katotohanan na ang katalinuhan ay hindi naman limitado lamang sa linguistic o verbal. alam natin na me iba pang uri ng intelligence -- logical/mathematical, spatial/visual, bodily-kinesthetic, naturalistic, intrapersonal, at interpersonal. kaya sa ganang akin lang, mali ata ang sinasabi ng ilan na "bobo" si janina sa kadahilanang hindi "intelligible" ang naging sagot niya sa tanong... :) sa tingin ko kung "bodily-kinesthetic intelligence" ang batayan, malayong mas matalino si janina kaysa sa mga ilang mag-aaral ng UP, Ateneo, La Salle, o SLU... :) peace!

jonpatrick said...

hello to all... this is the first time i've visited this forum and i must say i've been enlightened with the issue surrounding miss janina san miguel. i saw on tv and in youtube how she answered the question and i was disappointed in her. frankly speaking, i didnt think she deserved to win. but whatever the judges had deliberated and decided is beyond me. i'm sure they have good reasons for handing her the title. after reading the title, i came into a realization that miss san miguel making mistakes in the use of the english language shouldn't create a big fuss among us filipinos. we aren't native english speakers and many of us have done worse than miss san miguel. so at this point, i'd like to apologize to miss san miguel for undermining her and i express my full support for her in the 2008 miss world pageant. and i'd really would really love it if she answers the questions in Filipino; it's a beautiful language and we should show pride in it by using it in international pageants. candidates in latin america speak in their native tongues all the time, and they always do good in pageants. i hope this idea will be considered,