Wednesday, August 08, 2007

On our Alphabet, the Nationalistic Ego Has the Face of a Hypocrite

Following is a list of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature who wrote in Spanish [country, year he/she won and citation]:
1. José Echegaray, Spain, 1904. Citation: "in recognition of the numerous and brilliant compositions which, in an individual and original manner, have revived the great traditions of the Spanish drama."
2. Jacinto Benavente, Spain, 1922. Citation: "for the happy manner in which he has continued the illustrious traditions of the Spanish drama."
3. Gabriela Mistral, Chile, 1945. Citation: "for her lyric poetry which, inspired by powerful emotions, has made her name a symbol of the idealistic aspirations of the entire Latin American world."
4. Juan Ramón Jiménez, Spain, 1956. Citation: "for his lyrical poetry, which in Spanish language constitutes an example of high spirit and artistical purity."
5. Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemala, 1967. Citation: "for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin America."
6. Pablo Neruda, Chile, 1971. Citation: "for a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent's destiny and dreams."
7. Vicente Aleixandre, Spain, 1977. Citation: "for a creative poetic writing which illuminates man's condition in the cosmos and in present-day society, at the same time representing the great renewal of the traditions of Spanish poetry between the wars."
8. Gabriel García Márquez, Colombia, 1982. Citation: "for his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent's life and conflicts."
9. Camilo José Cela, Spain, 1989. Citation: "for a rich and intensive prose, which with restrained compassion forms a challenging vision of man's vulnerability."
10. Octavio Paz, Mexico, 1990. Citation: "for impassioned writing with wide horizons, characterized by sensuous intelligence and humanistic integrity."
There are more than twice the above number who wrote in English and are winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature as well. There are no winners who wrote in Ilocano or Filipino. There is no Thai winner. There is no Vietnamese winner. There’s a host of other countries who haven’t won either.
I submit that the orthography and language used is not necessarily an absolute index of the intelligence of a people, or their ability to write. The winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature are adjudged by a select few who, being humans, may have their choices filtered through their own prejudices or political leanings.
But for these 30 or so winners of the literature prize who wrote their works in English or Spanish, it just proves that using the English or Spanish alphabets is no handicap or disadvantage to write well and have a chance to win the prize. Contrary to the thinking of some ultra-nationalists in the Philippines who, for anti-colonial reasons, are out to thrash the use of the Spanish and English alphabets—using the 20-letter ABAKADA instead--on regular words in Filipino but do subscribe to a double standard allowing the continued use of both English and Spanish alphabets on their names and other proper nouns, there has to be some confusion in the mind of the uninitiated trying to attain a certain level of literacy.
Considering that English is the other national language, in addition to Filipino, in the Philippines, and considering that English is the primary medium of instruction from grade school to the tertiary level, and considering further the rampant code-switching phenomenon on the street, in the media, in school and at home, the continued use of the 20-letter ABAKADA to spell regular words in Filipino [or Ilocano and the other regional languages, except Chavacano, Ivatan] including loan words from English or Spanish is pretty confusing for our young students.
Aren’t we simply so stupid to let our learning process be more complicated than it should be because of our nationalistic ego?

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