Motherless Tongues: The Insurgency of Language amid Wars of Translation
Vicente L. Rafael is Professor of History at the University of Washington. His books include The Promise of the Foreign, White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, and Contracting Colonialism, all also published by Duke University Press.
Wars of Translation: American English, Colonial Schooling, and Tagalog Slang
In its occupation of the Philippines, the United States conceived of education as an essential counterinsurgent measure necessary for quelling Filipino revolutionary energies at the turn of the twentieth century, and so the colonial government established English as the sole medium of instruction. However, learning English required the simultaneous repression of myriad vernacular languages in the archipelago, resulting in a war of as well as a war on translation. Writing in the 1960s, Renato Constantino faults English for the “mis-education” of Filipinos, in effect keeping them in the depths of their colonial stupor. Much of this nationalist critique was anticipated by American colonial writings on the inability of Filipinos to learn English properly, thanks largely to the insurgent recalcitrance of the vernaculars. The chapter asks if there is an alternative to this conception of translation as war by turning to the question of Tagalog slang, theorized by Nick Joaquin. What emerges in the history of Tagalog slang is a different politics of language, based on translation not as war but as play. It also entails the conversion of history into language. Language thus is less a tool of decolonization than a way of expanding the possibilities for a literary democracy.