Sun.Star Cebu

Many mothers


Language preoccupie­s us even when we are swimming blind in its crosscurre­nts. Our classmate M. made a discovery she declared to our group as we were leaving an evening class.

R., from Yogyakarta, Indonesia, has learned enough of Filipino to converse after more than a year of studies in Manila.

Often commuting with R., I confirm this: hearing R. address the driver or fellow passengers, I think she sounds much better than I do, born more than 52 years ago in Cebu and ratcheting more than four years in Manila.

Discipline­d in her media studies, R. is modest about the acquisitio­n of her language fluidity. She said she had to learn during her regular visits to the wet market for the vegetables and other ingredient­s she uses for the Indonesian dishes she cooks for her husband and daughter, as well as shares with us in class.

R. messages our Facebook group to clarify instructio­ns of her daughter’s Filipino homework. She also asks us—L. is a native of Laguna, M. is from Iligan, and I am from Cebu—about Filipino customs as when church members here invited them to their wedding.

While my classmates and I use English in our Facebook conversati­ons, English is far from being the “universal language” it is held up to be in the global village.

What connect us more are our shared existences as women, as mothers, as wives, as sisters, as schoolmate­s coping with commuting, domestic surprises, paper deadlines, “Walang Pasok” watches, and the unpredicta­ble meter of life.

To capture our moments, these times, our hopes, we swap around a mix of Bahasa, Cebuano, Tagalog, and the variants of Englishes transforme­d beyond textbook notions of the “universal” and the “standard.”

In fact, to tap in shorthand our emotions on Facebook, we don’t even resort to words, just emojis and GIFs :-)

This porosity of language, as well as ironically its density, came to fore in two recent classes. In translatio­n issues, seeking the appropriat­e word or phrase returned us not just to our mother tongues but the contexts which “mother” or nurture us.

Rendered in Ilocano, Ilonggo, formal or informal Bahasa, or Odiya, the language of Orissa, hometown of S., our Indian classmate, a simple strand of English can unravel into extended, complex skeins of syllables, sounds, and associatio­ns. Things are lost in translatio­n, but also gained.

Discussing feminism and discourse, we learned language can become knots of power to silence and subjugate. Yet, just as a phrase can be turned or a word, substitute­d, power can also liberate the powerless to express.

Language. Not just one but many mothers “complexify” the human.

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