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.