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December 01, 2003


As an aftermath of the aborted impeachment trial of President Joseph Estrada, we as a people have reaffirmed our belief in a time-honored human virtue—that the law was created by God and man to uphold justice and truth. We are still in the process, however, of discovering where such reaffirmation will lead. Be that as it may, this article is about a most probable winner in the trial.

Subjecting Ms. Menchu Ancheta Inchon to cross-examination on December 14, 2000, defense lawyer Atty. Raul Daza said, “Magsasalita ako sa Tagalog o Filipino. Ilokana ka, Visaya ako. Palagay ko nama’y magkakaintindihan tayo.”

Earlier, a member of the prosecution panel wanted to ask for an interpreter when a witness, Ms. Yolanda Ricaforte, said she wanted to use Filipino in her testimony. Senate President Aquilino Pimentel as chair had to manifest to the presiding officer, Chief Justice Hilario Davide, that the Senate stenographers were capable of taking notes in Filipino. That the impeachment court combines the efforts of the two highest branches of government, the Senate and the Supreme Court, one can say that the trial underscores the fact that the national language has become a most effective means of official communication in our country. This early, Filipino is emerging as one of the winners in the process.

Frankly, Filipinos have shown ambivalence to using any of the native dialects as a language of intellectual discourse. In Rizal’s El Filibusterismo (1891), Basilio is supposed to represent quite a number of confused Filipino youth in colonial society. He goes along with his classmates to plead the teaching of Spanish, believing that “the knowledge of Castilian may bind us to the government,” and “may also unite the islands” (Translation by Charles E. Derbyshire, The Reign of Greed, p. 60). Simoun has to admonish him, saying that to acquire basic knowledge in a foreign language is to “kill your own originality, subordinate your thoughts to other brains, and instead of freeing yourselves, make yourselves slaves indeed!” (p. 61). More than 281 years earlier than Fili, Tomas Pinpin wrote enthusiastically about the need to study Spanish. He writes, “manga capatid co… yayamang na man tayo,y nanga casama na nang manga Castilang dating manga Christiano… ay diyata, magpilit tayong magaral nang canilang manga uica.”

It is from the ranks of the colonial other that we read the feasibility of a native common language. In Chapter 15 of his Relacion de las Islas Filipinas, published in Rome in 1604, Fr. Pedro Chirino made this observation: “There is more than one language in the Philippines, and there is no single language that is spoken throughout the islands.” An attempt by early Spanish priests to make an artificial language based on Latin grammar and Philippine vocabulary failed. Chirino, on the other hand, found Tagalog to be the most pleasing and most admirable, having the qualities of the four greatest languages of the world: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Spanish. He continues, “but though the dialects are numerous and quite distinct from one another they are all so similar that within a few days the people can understand each other and converse, so that to know one [dialect] is almost like knowing them all.” (Translated by Ramon Echevarria, Makati: Historical Conservation Society of the Philippines, 1969). Furthermore, “they are to each other like the Tuscan, Lombard, and Sicilian dialects of Italia, or the Castilian, Portuguese, and Galician in Espana.” (Translated by Frederic W. Morrison and Emma Blair, Blair & Robertson, Vol. 12, pp. 235ff). Almost two centuries later, Fray Juan de la Concepcion, in his Historia General de Philipinas, wrote, “Since the Tagal is the most general (of the tongues spoken in the Philippines), their most careful study was given to it”

“Most pleasing,” “most admirable,” and “most general” as it already was, political and economic considerations conspired to further develop the language of the national capital region and the surrounding provinces and islands. Grammar books and dictionaries, religious treatises, literary works, and translations were published in Tagalog more than any other Filipino dialects combined.

I was asked to write about the state of the Filipino language in the year 2000, more specifically focusing on translation. It is supposed to help us situate our future work in this regard. I have to ask for the reader’s indulgence, however, if I write about the topic in longer historical terms. A historical perspective indicates the work that has been done so far. It helps us set a clearer direction for our specific tasks of translation. Translation work into the common language of a nation helps define that nation’s cultural level and socio-political maturity. In our case, since the translation work into Filipino was for centuries defined by our colonial experience, a longer view also helps us define more objectively our colonial other in relation to our definition of ourselves as a nation. It helps us find our bearings and be more confident in formulating a translation program.

The first book published in the Philippines is also the first published translation work—the Doctrina Christiana en lengua espanola y tagala corregida por los Religiosos de las ordenes. Prayers were translated into Tagalog (most probably from Latin and Spanish), juxtaposing the same, in another simultaneous edition, with Chinese. The Doctrina is the repository of the most authoritative and popular translations into Filipino of Christian prayers even after 400 years. In Juan de Oliver’s Declaracion de la Doctrina Christiana en Idioma Tagalog, a rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer,” both in alibata and Roman letters, is as follows:

Ama Namin

Sungmasalangit ca

Sambahin ang ngalan mo

Mapasaamin ang caharian mo.

Sundin ang loob mo.

Dito sa lupa, paran sa langit.

Bigyan mo cami ngaion

nang aming canin sa arao arao.

At patauarin mo cami nang

aming manga otang,

para nang pagpapatauar namin,

sa nagcacaotang sa amin.

Houag mo caming ypahintolot

sa tocso. At yadya mo cami

sa dilan masama.


Compare the above to the most recent translation made in 1984 by the Philippine Bible Society:

Ama naming nasa langit,

Sambahin nawa

ang pangalan mo,

Ikaw nawa ang maghari

sa amin, Sundin nawa

ang iyong kalooban dito sa lupa

tulad ng sa langit.

Bigyan mo kami ng pagkaing

kailangan namin

sa araw na ito;

At patawarin mo kami sa aming

mga kasalanan, Tulad ng aming

pagpapatawad sa

mga nagkakasala sa amin.

At huwag mo kaming iharap

sa mahigpit na pagsubok,

Kundi ilayo mo kami sa


Through translation, an entirely new realm of ideas was introduced into our hitherto carefree, tropical Pacific, Malayo-Polynesian culture. A polytheistic hierarchy of bathala, mga diwata, and mga nuno was overwhelmed by a monotheistic kingdom of God with its compliment of saints, angels, and prophets. The secular world, meanwhile, faced drastic adjustments. Note the translation made by Tomas Pinpin of the Filipino numerals into Spanish in his Librong Pagaaralan nang manga Tagalog nang uicang Castilla:

Ysa, uno; dalaua, dos; tatlo, tres; apat, quatro; lima, cinco; anim, seis; pito, siete; ualo, ocho; siyam, nueve; sampouo, diez; Labin ysa… labin siyam… dalauang pouo, veinte; May catlong isa, veinte y uno; maycatlonsiyam veinte nueve; tatlong pouo, treinta; Maycapat isa, treinta y uno…maycapat siyam, treinta y nueve, apat na pouo, quarenta… siyam na pouo, noventa; sandaan, ciento… labi sa daan isa, ciento y uno… maycatlong [daan] isa, dos cientos y uno; at gayon din ang lahat, hangan tatlong daan, tres cientos… labi sa libon isa, mil y uno… labi sa libon sang puou, mil diez; labi sa libon maycatlong isa, mil y veinte y ciento… hangan sa macadating sa sang lacsa, diez mil… At ang pagtotoloy doon, ay camocha din nang na ona, hangan din macarating sa sang yuta, cien mil. Sang puoung yuta, unquento.

Note how the decimal concept of early Filipinos differed from that of the Spanish or from that of most of the known world. Ysa until sampouo constitute a set. The second set of tens is considered an excess of the first set, thus, labin ysa until labin siyam and includes dalauang pouo. Now, the third set of one to 10, rightly referred to as may catlong ysa (mai-katlong isa) logically culminates in tatlong pouo. The fourth set, as a matter of course, starts with maycapat isa and ends in apat na pouo, quarenta. So, maycapat siyam, lit., the fourth set nine, referring to number nine in the fourth set, simply refer to the Roman numeral XXXIX, or Hindu-Arabic 39.

In the same manner, going further up, the number one in the third set of hundreds, may catlong [daan] ysa, refer to CCI, not to CCCI. It simply follows the earlier logic that maycatlong daan ysa goes up to maycatlong daan siyam na pouo’t siyam and includes tatlong daan, i.e., beginning with dos cientos y uno ending in tatlong daan, tres cientos.

A logical concept for our ancestors is such a confounding numerical goobledygook for this present generation. In such a system, there would be no confusion as to the start of a millennium. The first millennium is ysa up to sang libo, the second, from labi sa may calwang libo ysa up to dalawang libo, and the third starts with labi sa may catlong libo isa (our present year). Confusing? As a non-mathematician, I would dare surmise that the confusing element here is the introduction into our system of the concept of zero. Zero to nine belongs to the first set, 11 to 19 belongs to the second, and the third set starts with the symbol for the second whole number, which would transform may catlong isa into the new concept dalawampu’t isa.

Thanks and no thanks to our first translators, the so-called ladinos such as Tomas Pinpin, we could now imagine the great adjustment our people had to make when we were forced open to a whole new world, so to say.

We see now that the past efforts at translation had a more or less definite purpose of changing our world. If the very concept of numbers changes, should the set of values also change? Would not an ordinary Filipino receiving a promise that he would be paid may catlong lima feel betrayed if he receives only two X’s and a V? Or if he finally agreed that there were two sets of numerical systems, the verbal Filipino and the written Roman or Hindu-Arabic, should he not keep the option of having two sets of values also? The oral traditions embodying, let’s say, Ynang Bayan, hiya, tampo, higanti and the like, as opposed to the written law concerning machismo and sin, crime and punishment?

Let us segue to the present. The latest translation into Filipino is Lewis Caroll’s Si Alice sa Daigdig ng Hiwaga published by the UP Sentro ng Wikang Filipino of the UP System (UP-SWF) under its Aklat Bahandi series, year 2000. Translator Aurora E. Batnag chose not to include in the translation the mathematical implications of the wonderland experience.

In September 1999, the UP Press published this author’s translation into Filipino from the original Chinese of Cao Yu’s modern play, Taong Yungib ng Peking. What lies between these two modern books on the one hand and the Doctrina Christiana and Pinpin’s Libro on the other? No more than 1,060 titles of books and pamphlets of prayers, morality and ethics, as well as poems, plays, short stories, novels and essays (see Lilia Francisco Antonio, Apat na Siglo ng Pagsasalin: Bibliograpiya ng mga Pagsasalin sa Filipinas [1593-1998] Quezon City: Sentro ng Filipino Sistemang Unibersidad ng Pilipinas, 1999). Not counting those destroyed by fire, flood, earthquakes or other calamities such as wars and revolution, the number implies a measly average of two titles a year in a long period encompassing 400 years.

The impetus provided by Spanish colonialism from the sixteenth century to transform our culture culminated in further Westernization during the American period from the first to the fifth decade of the last century. The period witnessed the most heated debate on the development of the national language. Translation works into Filipino flourished in different fields as can be gleaned in Antonio’s bibliography. However, the book listed only 114 titles of novels translated to Filipino.

Heartwarming to note is a three-volume translation of the classic Ang Konde ng Monte Cristo by Alejandro Dumas made by Pascual H. Poblete. Also translated in various versions were Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo. It is unfortunate, though, that many of the works done were mere adaptations rather than full-blown translations. Also, there were titles which, if bestsellers during the period, could not stand the test of time. On the other hand, nowhere can one find in the list for 400 years any translation to Filipino of the Spanish, nay world, classic Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, even as we are supposed to have been deeply influenced by Spanish culture.

Europeans have traditionally made translations into a language as one of the measures of the richness and maturity of that language. A language is favorably viewed with regard to its translations of the Bible, the Q’uran, the Oriental classics, Shakespeare, or Omar Khayyam.

Translation also played an important factor in the development of the West. In 300 BC, the Romans wholly and fully adopted many elements of Greek culture, including its whole religious apparatus. Meanwhile, Islam and the West met in Moorish Spain in the twelfth century. According to Newmark’s Approaches to Translation, two major conditions contributed favorably to full-scale translation works. One, a qualitative difference between two cultures where the inferior West intensely desires to learn science and new ideas from the superior East. Two, a continuous interaction between two peoples with two different languages.

After the Moors fell in Spain, various Toledo schools started translating Arab versions of Greek classical science and philosophy into different European languages. Luther’s translation of the Bible in 1522 laid the foundations of modern German. King James’ version of the Bible had an initial effect on the development of the English language and its literature. Translation also played a role in the development of French classicism and the Romantic Movement.

Germans knew Shakespeare through the translations of August Wilhelm von Schlegel, an outstanding poet, critic, lecturer, and the most influential literary figure in Germany in the late eighteenth century. During Schlegel’s time, however, it was still impossible to give German equivalents to many Shakespearean words and phrases. In the 1920s, the German language academy initiated the preparation of a new translation in keeping with the new cultural level already reached by the German people, reflecting the poetic subtlety of the original words and ideas. The new translations by Friedrich Gundolf and Stefan George were made possible, according to their preface, by a new poetic spirit in German, which can no longer be limited to the level of understanding by the average educated people. The new translation was based on the intellectual capacity of a most advanced intellectual community which had at last risen in Germany (see Paul Selver, The Art of Translating Poetry, London, John Baker Publishers Ltd., 1966).

A similar experience may be said about the literary development of Shqip, the national language of Albania, a country I visited in 1975, then referred to as a hermit state because of its isolationist foreign policy. Naim Frasheri (1846-1900) is considered the greatest poet by the nationalist cultural movement of Albania. One of his greatest contributions to modern Albanian literature was his translations of Shakespeare. His translations, according to our host professor, attest to the fact that the Shqip language has attained world literary level. Our host said, any language able to translate Shakespeare is a great language. I had to proudly declare to him that Tagalog had had a long history of quality poetry, including the great awit about Cahariang Albania by Francisco Balagtas.

Translation also contributed to the development of other languages. Selver states that early English poetry made no use of the hexameter as a form. Americans started using this form in their translation of German works. Subsequently, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82) used this form in “Evangeline” (1846) and “The Courtship of Miles Standish” (1858). The two poems proved popular, the latter selling 15,000 copies on the first day of publication. Such appropriation also happened in German when translators derived the hexameter of Greek and Latin classics such as Homer, Theocritus, Horace, and Virgil. Selver further noted that it was also through translation that the hexameter as a form spread in Slavic literature following its use by Pushkin in Russian.

Even as a language as a whole is enriched by translation, it cannot be denied that in the translation of specific works, something in the source language is lost in the target language. Max Beerbohn (Saturday Review, June 17, 1899) believes that the French language, nay the French genius, could not possibly express things beyond the denotation of words. If French is a better instrument than English in defining meanings, it is not as good in using implications and connotations which add a sense of mystery, let us say, in poetry.

In the case of China and Japan, a massive program to translate books of science, philosophy and political-economic thought brought about Westernization/modernization. Following China’s defeat in the Sino-Japanese War of 1895, many Chinese at that time saw the effectiveness of Japan’s Westernization program to transform itself into a powerful state.

To strengthen China, Chang Chih-tung, in his Exhortation to Learning (1898), called for the modernization of its educational system. To do this, he suggested, and the government implemented, these measures: study abroad, preferably in Japan by mature and experienced men; establishment of a school system in China; (3) translation of Western books especially from Japanese sources because ‘some selection had been done and the less important and unsuitable books have been weeded out. (Y.C. Wang, “Intelectuals and Society in China 1860-1949” Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol III, October 1960/July 1961, The Hague: Morsiton & Co., pp. 396-97).

A 1999 report of the Komite sa Wika at Salin (KWS) of the Subcommission on Cultural Dissemination of NCCA states that there is no coordination among individuals or institutions doing translation work. Quite a number of quality (“maramihang de-kalidad”) translations have already been done, according to the report. During the ‘60s and ‘70s, a number of professors and students started using the national language in disciplines and fields which traditionally used a foreign language. Examples were in psychology (UP), philosophy (UP and Ateneo), chemistry (UP and UST) agronomy (UP Los Baños and Araneta University), and political-economy (the first quarter stormers). They and the succeeding generations started producing “quite a number” of quality translations.

Now, how many are “quite a number” compared to the needs of the nation? Antonio’s 400-year list represents far too small a number compared to the hundreds and thousands of works in regional and world literature produced during the period. Pity the language where the annual output in translation work can be counted by 10 fingers. Lazy the nation which resorts to meetings and conferences on how to do good translations instead of producing actual translations. In such meetings, I fear that papers and talks, instead of resulting from past experiences, come from alien theories reflecting experiences of other languages not necessarily of use to our needs.

The NCCA KWS article on translation work sees the need for “a national translation program that would define the direction of translation work, monitor the finished works, set standards and policies, and in general serve as guide for individuals and institutions wanting to do translation work. It is through such a program that would indicate which fields need more attention, and which fields are already rich in literature.” Sad to say, no field is yet as rich in literature as needed. A lot remains to be done. But what should guide us in this task?

From the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, the colonial other defined our translation needs. By means fair or foul, we saw the virtue of a new religion, became confused with a new mathematics, and kept our values, be they supportive or disruptive of the regnant Roman Law. If translation was used to serve the purpose of the colonial power at that time, should it not be used now to serve our own purposes as a people? Having defined the Other, we have defined ourselves. Having defined ourselves, we should by now be clear about our intellectual needs. It will be a pity if a hundred years after our birth as a nation, we still could not define our translation needs.

Such is the general situation of translation work in Filipino by the year 2000.