Posted: 30 Oct 2008 01:41 PM CDT
carabao English n. Whenever you hear a non-native English speaker, a Filipino specifically, uttering broken “carabao” English, or a version you are not used to hearing, please reserve your criticism. —“World has more than one English” by Eric Ariel Salas in South Dakota State University Collegian (
© 1999-2008 by Grant Barrett, Double-Tongued Dictionary, New York City.
This gives me an excuse to trot out a couple of old columns of mine. I mentioned "Carabao English," a.k.a. "Bamboo English," twice in a language column I wrote more than a decade ago. The column was called "Carabeef Lengua"--literally, carabao-meat tongue, a play on beef lengua or lengua estofada, which is how stew made from ox-tongue appears on Philippine menus.
Unfortunately, this was before we had the Web in the Philippines, and I lost my clipping of the first column while transferring from apartment to townhouse, so I still need to research the actual date of publication.
That language column has since transmogrified into "Showbiz Lengua," which still appears in the glossy monthly entertainment magazine YES! My book publisher has been after me to put together my "Lengua" columns in book form, but I happen to be a great procrastinator, so... Maybe next year... maybe next year...
Below are the two columns where the phrase "Carabao English" gets mentioned. [The parts enclosed in brackets are 2008 additions and will probably appear as endnotes in the book, for the benefit of non-Filipino readers.]
FROM: “Carabeef Lengua,” The Manila Chronicle, 1994 ???
Written under the pen name Felix Culpa
What to watch (out) for
THIS being the inaugural column, a little introduction is in order.
This is going to be a column on language—primarily, the foreign language this column is written in. From time to time I might touch on aspects of another language with which I have more than a nodding acquaintance, namely, Tagalog; but for the most part I will be making sundry notes and comments on English.
Now I am not a native speaker of English. I was an English major in college, I have been speaking and hearing the language all my life (which is nearly half a century), and as writer, editor and translator these past 30 years I have made a living out of what I know of the language. But English is, has been, and always will be a second language.
So what gives me the right to make like William Safire or Jean Edades? Nothing. [The late Jean Edades was an American professor married to a famous Filipino painter. She wrote a daily language column in the 1960s and 1970s.)
Am I then, in launching this column, being presumptuous? Yes.
The only thing I can say in my defense is that I am a very, very insecure wordsmith. That sense of insecurity works in my favor. I am never sure if I am getting the nuance or the idiom right, so I keep looking things up in dictionaries and in manuals of style and usage.
Another point in my defense is that I intend to concern myself mostly with Filipino English, including its poor country cousins, Carabao English and Bamboo English. On this variety of English I suppose I can set myself up as some kind of authority. As we say in these parts: hindi naman walang K. [Note, 2008: In essence: not that I don’t have a right to speak.]
These days there are linguists who argue that English is no longer just one language. The more orthodox view is that English is a single language with a variety of dialects. British English and American English are “superdialects,” and all other varieties fall into either one of these two categories. According to this theory, Filipino English—along with Canadian English—can be classed with American English.
But state-of-the-art linguists, I am told, now speak of “Englishes.” The analogy here, I suppose, is with the Romance languages—French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, among others—that are all descended from Latin but now have separate identities. According to this theory, Filipino English is now a separate language, like Australian English.
Those who take the newer view probably belong to the school of descriptive, or anti-prescriptive, linguists and lexicographers. That means they don’t believe it’s their job to prescribe standards of correctness in matters of grammar, syntax, usage, idiom, and pronunciation. Their job is simply to describe, document, record the shape of the language at any given time.
As the permissive school sees it, in language there is no right or wrong, only appropriate and inappropriate. Whatever is, is right. If enough people use ain’t, then ain’t is a word that exists, a word that is usable and acceptable in certain contexts, whatever the purists might say. If enough people use alibi loosely and informally as a synonym for excuse, then alibi will come to mean excuse and not be limited to its strict, formal, original meaning as “the defense by an accused person that he was elsewhere at the time the offense with which he is charged was committed.”
Myself, I tend to vacillate between the permissive and the conservative schools of thought. At times I can be flexible and liberal. More often I find myself on the side of the hecklers, hooting off the stage all instances of careless, awkward, inelegant, patently ludicrous, and linguistically incorrect writing.
Poets worry when words “slip, slide, perish, decay with imprecision.” Their concern impels them “to purify the dialect of the tribe.” I think even journalists, and especially editors, should exhibit the same scrupulous regard for language.
This column, as its title suggests, accepts the notion that there is such a thing as Filipino English, associated with American English by the accident of history, yet in many ways distinct from it. Thus, I will not look too harshly on words like aggrupation and fiscalize. These are not to be found in any standard dictionary of the English language, whether British or American, but they have come into Filipino English by way of the Spanish agrupacíon and fiscalizar. [Note, 2008: Agrupacion, group, aggregation. Fiscalizar, to prosecute, to criticize in a public forum, such as Congress.]
At the same time, this column will operate on the assumption that English is English, whatever its permutations in various parts of the globe. Which means that English has internal mechanisms that must be respected by Filipinos using it as a vehicle for communication.
So, if a sidewalk toy vendor puts up a sign like the one I saw a few Christmases ago—FREE GIFT RAPING—I will go prescriptive and rap the hand that scrawled the misspelling.
And when the Ateneo de Manila University, formerly famed for its Arrneow accent, now comes out with a brochure saying WATCH OUT FOR THE OPENING OF ALIWW IN 1995!— ALIWW being the Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings—I will go ballistic and remind the copywriter that you watch for, or wait expectantly, for something that could be pleasurable (“Watch for our coming attractions!”), but you watch out for, or are on guard against, something that could be dangerous or threatening (“Watch out for falling bricks!”).
Now I shall take my leave, while watching out for the raps and brickbats that are sure to come my way.
FROM: “Carabeef Lengua,” Sunday Times Magazine, 1995 May 1
Using my regular byline, Jose F. Lacaba
THIS COLUMN originally debuted in another publication, under a pen name. I have discarded the pen name for two reasons. The first is purely mercenary: it has been impressed upon me that the real name carries a certain cachet that translates into extra cash. I was going to say I forgot the second, but that is a hoary joke. Still, it bears repeating: I forgot the second.
I must publicly acknowledge a moral debt to Celin Cristobal, whose idea it was for me to do a language column. The title of the column itself, however, is mine. I take full responsibility for it and hereby exercise my inalienable right to it. At any rate, I am sure Celin will forgive me if I now rehash my original inaugural column.
This column is called “Carabeef Lengua” because it is concerned with the hybrid tongue that we have developed in these parts. This little lengua, this slip of a tongue, is recognizably English, but in many ways it has as much relation to the original as carabeef has to beef.
Carabeef, or carabao meat, is a word that is not to be found in any of my nine or so English dictionaries lying around the house. But, hey, we all know what it means, right? And we all know that the word exists—the dictionaries just don’t know that yet. It exists as a word in Filipino English. It has a life, in spite of what language purists might say.
Myself, I’m no language purist. I’m not even a linguist or a language maven. I’m just your run-of-the-mill, bush-league language loony, a pop philologist, a garden-variety grammarian, a workaday wordwatcher, a babble dabbler. I have no credentials to offer, except that I majored in English back in college—and dropped out after the first semester of my senior year.
Half of the time these days, I find myself being swayed by the school of descriptivist or permissive linguists and lexicographers. These people rail against what they call the “hypercorrectness” of the opposing prescriptivist school. They don’t believe it’s the job of linguists and lexicographers to prescribe standards of correctness in matters of grammar, syntax, usage, idiom, and pronunciation. Their job is simply to describe, document, record the shape of the language at any given time.
As the permissive school sees it, in language there is no right or wrong, only appropriate and inappropriate. Whatever is, is right. If enough people use ain’t, then ain’t is a word that exists, a word that is usable and acceptable in certain contexts.
Taking the permissive concept one step farther, I am not unduly exercised by the existence and persistence of filanglicisms (if I may be allowed to coin a term) such as aggrupation and fiscalize and oppositor, not to mention chicken relleno [stuffed chicken] and bananacue [bananas rolled in sugar, deep-fried, and served on a barbecue stick; these are a variety of bananas that need to be cooked to be eaten] and, of course, carabeef.
As I was saying before I digressed, I am no language purist. Or I try not to be—half of the time. The other half of the time, however, I vacillate. Along with T.S. Eliot, I worry when words “slip, slide, perish, decay with imprecision,” and even if I have given up writing poetry in English I still sometimes hunger “to purify the dialect of the tribe.”
That is why I tend to stick to the rules of the language as they have been handed down to us by native speakers, from the Thomasites [American schoolteachers who came to the Philippines at the end of the Filipino-American War, after American troops crushed the Philippine Revolution] to Strunk and White to William Safire. In fact—like many users of ESL and EFL (the initials mean English as a Second Language and English as a Foreign Language, terms that native speakers use to put us down)—I can be more popish than the Pope, more safirish that Safire.
So, you can’t get me to use media in the singular—although I have learned to tolerate it in other people’s prose ever since I learned from the permissive Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage that the singular media, like the singular agenda and stamina, is gaining in respectability and is viewed “without great alarm” by perfectly respectable native-speaking linguists. “You should remember,” the WDEU reminds me, “that media and medium are English words, even if naturalized, and are no longer subject to the rules of Latin.”
Also, in my own writing you can’t make me blur the distinction between ensure and insure, between convince and persuade—even if the otherwise helpful Collins Cobuild English Language Dictionary (“Helping Learners with Real English”) assures me that insure in the sense of ensure is acceptable in American English, and that convince can now be used in the sense of persuade. Interestingly enough, Collins has the following example for the newly acceptable sense of convince: “a massive attempt to convince Filipinos to boycott the polls.”
Which makes me wonder if Filipino English is making inroads into real English.
Filipino English—with its poor country cousins, Carabao English and Bamboo English—has become a recognized variety of English. You will find an entry on “Philippine English” in The Oxford Companion to the English Language (edited by Tom McArthur, Oxford University Press, 1992).
As the title of this column suggests, I accept the notion that there is such a thing as Filipino English, associated with American English by the accident of history, yet in many ways distinct from it.
Still, this column will operate on the assumption that English is English, whatever its permutations in this part of the globe, and that it has internal mechanisms that must be respected by Filipinos using it as a vehicle for communication.
Which means that if you deal on words, or if you presume to dictate upon me, or if you hold that English remains to be an infuriating language—and 90 percent of this country’s English-speaking population, including a slew of journalists, insist on perpetuating such unidiomatic locutions—you will find me going into hypercorrect mode, heckling and hooting off the stage all instances of careless, awkward, inelegant, patently ludicrous, and linguistically incorrect writing.