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Nose Bleed Nose Bleed

Nose Bleed

‘Nose bleed’ is an expression you soon hear as an expat when mixing with Filipino friends or the family of your spouse or girlfriend.

Many of your Filipino acquaintances will make an effort to speak in English with you, assuming you as the foreigner, are from an English speaking nation. However, don’t be at all surprised after thirty minutes or so they revert to speaking in their regional or national tongue. Occasionally, the odd Filipino will make zero effort to speak in English in your company.

I noticed this within a few short weeks of arriving on the shores of the archipelago. Every time I was socializing surrounded by Filipinos all would speak in English for a time before reverting to Ilonggo; the language of Negros Island also known as Hiligaynon. Except for one guy, who flat refused to talk in English.

After a few months I decided to query this phenomenon in a most pleasant way. Laughing and joking with a smile on my face, I asked two of the family group about this. They laughed and simply said, “Nose bleed”.

Essentially the expression is used whenever Filipinos encounter somebody that speaks English fluently. Alternatively, it is used by Filipinos when they encounter something difficult like an exam, an interview, when trying to solve complex problems, or when reading a document containing technical words. Examples of those types of documents would be those found in the medical or legal professions where English is the lingua franca.

Personally, it does not faze me when experiencing the sudden switch from English to the native tongue. I know of one expat [no one connected with this site] who finds it annoying and even interprets it as a sign of rudeness. I don’t agree with that – it’s simply a Filipino thing just like surfing Facebook on their cell phones even during a meal! Vive la difference!

Filipino or Tagalog?

The use of language in the Philippines is an interesting subject. For example, from my own reading I am still uncertain whether Filipino or Tagalog is the official language of the country. It depends on the source of your information.

And, did you know that there are some 120 to 175 languages in the Philippines, depending on the method of classification? []

It also appears that the subject of language is capable of causing spleens to vent. A recent article in the Inquirer titled “Filipino is no longer Tagalog” by Marne Kilates, deals with the evolution of Filipino, the national language, since it was proclaimed as the basis for the development of the national language in 1937. Much of this piece is about a misconception among Filipinos that the national language is “out to kill [off] the native and regional languages”.

Living Language

In the same article, Almario, one of the prominent defenders of the national language extolled its virtues owing to it being a “living language”. The article then goes on to explain in detail about the history of the Filipino alphabet (abakada) with its addition of consonants such as F and V. Then later as Rizal added the vowels E and O to the native 3-vowel, 17-sound vocabulary the argument runs that abakada was “no longer ‘pure’ Tagalog”.

It was the 1987 Constitution of the Republic that first called the national language Filipino. It also added 8 letters to the abakada so it became more “inclusive of the sounds occurring in the Philippines’ other native languages”. This marked the change from the Tagalog/Pilipino abakada to the Filipino “alpabeto”. Almario concludes with the proposition “[T]hat’s why the Filipino language is no longer Tagalog”.

Venting of Spleens

The venting of spleens was to be found in the comments section of the article –

Bull! Filipino is still Tagalog, pure and simple, not this kind of stupidity fostered by Almario and his gang. What are the sounds this megalomaniac is talking about? KWF has no strategy/program for developing Filipino. The F and V sounds and the orthographies they are developing for the other languages do not make Filipino. But the structure, the syntax, the vocabulary of Filipino should define the national language. What words, idiomatic expressions, phrases in the other languages have been incorporated in Filipino? For one, where is balay that is common to Ilokano and other Visayan languages?

Followed by –

Listen to UKG or TV Patrol for a minute or two and you’ll be amazed at the words they have introduced into Pilipino, new words like “problemado”, “tensionado”, “inorderan”, “klnumpirmahan”, etc. I suggest the anchors and support personnel take some time to read “Florante at Laura”, “Banaag at Sikat” or “Ibong Mandaaragit”. It’s a shame.

It all reminds me firstly of why Latin is now a ‘dead language’; secondly it is also harking back to the days when the ‘language police’ in England used to wring their collective hands at such Americanisms as “alphabetize”.

It’s what people who collect records do to their collection. Until relatively recently, British people would have just called that putting the records in alphabetical order, or having a tidy-up, but now many of them use this apt expression for it, even if it does come with that troublesome z on the end.

Anyway (if you are British, anyways if American) a living language, whether Filipino or English, has to be better than a dead one, even if it all gives us nose bleed!

PS in case any of you notice, yes, I am a Brit but my spell checker is U.S. English 🙂

This post written by me first appeared on the Retiring To The Philippines. It now appears there without my permission owing to an alleged breach of copyright licence.

The operator of that website refuses to respond to my emails.

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  1. Tony Bushell Tony Bushell

    An interesting and somewhat amusing piece Steve, i find that many love to test their English skills on you but retreat quickly when they don’t understand you…lol. It could be my regional accent that throws them or it could be that they understand a Home Counties accent more? Of course, many have limited skills regarding speaking English and i understand that so if they don’t understand me i try to smile and not get angry – we are here as guests and the fact that many attempt to speak to you in English is a good feeling. It amuses me when watching news programmes on tv that i try to listen for English words to get the gist of what the story is about and feeling achieved that i “got it”…lol.
    Having just spent a week in Davao it was interesting to hear my partner converse with locals and confessing that she doesn’t understand some of their dialect.
    Being here in the Philippines is culturally different but not as much as i had imagined – most tend to do the things that i do and think along the same lines as myself, its only when you travel to the country, mountain area like Kabankalan that you notice the “real” Philippines. They may come down from the mountain area into Kabankalan or wherever to shop etc but their life is something us British would not have sampled previously – which leads onto how the Philippines (and other South East Asian countries i guess) are hurtling towards the 21st century at a great rate. Let us hope President-elect Duterte brings a better life for ordinary filipinos by means of housing, schools, hospitals and general infrastructure, maybe then filipino will appeal to the majority and aid a united Philippines.

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