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PHILIPPINE ENGLISHAlso Filipino English. The English language as used in the Philippines, a state of South-East Asia consisting of more than 7,000 islands. The 1980 census counted the number of Filipinos with some competence in English as around 65%: some 35m people. Ability ranges from a smattering of words and phrases through passive comprehension to near-native mastery.


Filipino experience of Western colonialism and its linguistic effects has been unique, in that there have been two colonizers in succession: Spain from the 16c and the US from 1898, when English arrived in the islands. It spread rapidly, to the detriment of SPANISH, because it was the new language of government, preferment, and education. Incentives to learn English, included recruitment into the civil service and study in the US. In 1935, US-educated pensionados (scholars) became leaders of the Senate and the House of Representatives as well as members of the cabinet. English was used universally in the elementary-school system set up by the colonial government, which brought in American teachers. Education was the last government department to be indigenized, with US superintendents still functioning under the Commonwealth government before the outbreak of World War II. In the Philippines there are some 85 mutually unintelligible though genetically related languages of the Malayo-Polynesian family, such as TAGALOG, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, Waray, and Bicol. These languages of the home serve as SUBSTRATES whose features have variously influenced the development of Philippine English.


(1) Philippine English is RHOTIC, but the local /r/ is an alveolar flap, not an AmE retroflex. (2) It is syllabletimed, following the rhythm of the local languages; full value is therefore given to unstressed syllables and SCHWA is usually realized as a full vowel. (3) Certain polysyllables have distinctive stress patterns, as with elígible, establísh, cerémony. (4) Intonation is widely characterized as ‘singsong’. (5) Educated Filipinos aim at an AmE accent, but have varying success with the vowel contrasts in sheep/ship, full/fool, and boat/bought. (6) Few Filipinos have the /æ/ in AmE mask; instead, they use /ɑ/ as in AmE father. (7) The distinction between /s, z/ and /ʃ, ʒ/ is not made: azure is ‘ayshure’, pleasure ‘pleshure’, seize ‘sees’, cars ‘karss’. (8) Interdental /ɵ, ð/ are often rendered as /t, d/, so that three of these is spoken as ‘tree of dese’.


The following features occur at all social levels: (1) Loss of the singular inflection of verbs: The family home rest on the bluff of a hill; One of the boys give a report to the teacher every morning. (2) Use of present perfect for simple past (I have seen her yesterday I saw her yesterday) and past perfect for present perfect (He had already gone home He has already gone home). (3) Use of the continuous tenses for habitual aspect: He is going to school regularly He goes to school regularly. (4) Use of the present forms of auxiliary verbs in subordinate noun clauses rather than past forms, and vice versa: He said he has already seen you He said he had already seen you; She hoped that she can visit you tomorrow She hoped that she could visit you tomorrow; He says that he could visit you tomorrow He says that he can visit you tomorrow. (5) An apparent reversal of the norms for the use of the definite article: He is studying at the Manuel Quezon University; I am going to visit United States. (6) Verbs that are generally transitive used intransitively: Did you enjoy?; I cannot afford; I don't like.

Vocabulary and idioms

(1) Loans from Spanish: asalto a surprise party, bienvenida a welcome party, despedida a farewell party, Don/Doña title for a prominent man/woman, estafa a fraud, scandal, merienda mid-afternoon tea, plantilla faculty assignments and deployment in an academic department, querida a mistress, viand (from vianda provisions for a journey) a dish served to accompany rice in a Filipino meal. (2) LOAN-WORDS from Tagalog: boondock (from bundok) mountain (compare the AmE extension: the boondocks), carabao (from kalabaw) a water buffalo, kundiman a love song, sampaloc (from sampalok) the fruit of the tamarind, tao man (as in the common tao). (3) LOAN TRANSLATIONS from local usages: open the light/radio turn on the light/radio (also found in IndE), since before yet for a long time, joke only I'm teasing you, you don't only know you just don't realize, he is playing and playing he keeps on playing, making foolishness (of children) misbehaving, I am ashamed to you I am embarrassed because I have been asking you so many favours. (4) Local NEOLOGISMS: agrupation (from Spanish agrupación) a group, captain-ball team captain in basketball, carnap to steal (kidnap) a car, cope up to keep up and cope with (something), hold-upper someone who engages in armed holdups, jeepney (blending jeep and jitney, AmE a small bus) a jeep converted into a passenger vehicle.

Written models

Because of the influence of reading and writing and the academic context in which English is learned, local speech tends to be based on written models. Filipinos generally speak the way they write, in a formal style based on Victorian prose models. Because of this, spelling pronunciations are common, such as ‘lee-o-pard’ for leopard, ‘subtill’ for subtle, and ‘worsester-shire sauce’ for Worcestershire sauce. Style is not differentiated and the formal style in general use has been called the classroom compositional style. When style differentiation is attempted there may be effects that are comical from the point of view of a native speaker of English: ‘The commissioners are all horse owners, who at the same time will appoint the racing stewards who will adjudicate disputes involving horses. Neat no?’ (from a newspaper column).


A register has developed for rapport and intimacy that depends on CODE-MIXING AND CODE-SWITCHING between Filipino and English. It is largely confined to Metro Manila and other urban centres and used extensively in motion pictures and on television and radio as well as in certain types of informal writing in daily newspapers and weekly magazines. Examples:(1) ‘Peks man,’ she swears, ‘Wala pang nangyayari sa amin ni Marlon. We want to surprise each other on our honeymoon.’ [‘Cross my heart,’ she swears. ‘Nothing yet has happened between Marlon and me …’] (from a movie gossip column).(2) Donna reveals that since she turned producer in 1986, her dream was to produce a movie for children: ‘Kaya, nang mabasa ko ang Tuklaw sa Aliwan Komiks, sabi ko, this is it. And I had the festival in mind when finally I decided to produce it. Pambata talaga kasi ang Pasko,’ Donna says. [‘That is why when I read the story “Snake-Bite” in the Aliwan Comic Book, I told myself, this is it …. Because Christmas is really for children’] (from a movie gossip column).

Social issues

Philippine English is currently competing in certain domains with the rapidly spreading and developing Filipino, which is in a process of register-building sometimes called intellectualization. Filipino is not fully developed for academic discourse, especially in the sciences, and there is an ongoing debate on the use of Filipino instead of English for school work and official purposes. There is also conflict between the learning of Filipino for symbolic purposes and the learning of English for utilitarian, largely economic, purposes. The two official languages are propagated through a bilingual education scheme begun in 1974: mathematics and science continue to be taught in English although it is envisaged that when possible the teaching of these subjects at certain grade levels shall be in Filipino. The print media are dominated by English, but television, radio, and local movies are dominated by Filipino.

English in the Philippines shares patterns of development and constriction with English in Malaysia. From a situation similar to that of Singapore, where a premium is placed on learning English and using it extensively, the Philippines has now moved on to a stage at which English is used only in such domains as academic discourse and international relations. Philippine English has developed a vigorous literature. It is in the process of standardization, with a variety no longer marked by regional accents associated with regional languages, but a converging variety that originates in Manila. This form is propagated largely through the school system, the mass media, and tourism. Because of code-switching, it seems unlikely that a colloquial variety of English alone will develop. The future is open, without clear trends. On the one hand, code-switching may end up in code-mixing, resulting in a local creole. On the other hand, the need for international relations, the dominance of the print media, and the continued use of English in education may exercise a standardizing role, making it possible for the Philippine variety to be mutually intelligible with other varieties of English. It is also possible that the present system of bilingual education will be converted into a purely monolingual Filipino scheme in which English is taught as a foreign language and becomes available only to an élite. See FILIPINISM, SOUTH-EAST ASIAN ENGLISH, TAGLISH.

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