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August 30, 2004

Deaf also mark Nat'l Language Month

Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippines - Aug 30, 2004

By Volt Contreras
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the August 30, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

OF ALL the schools in the country, this one might be the least expected to put much thought and effort into the celebration of "Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa," or National Language Month, which the country marks every August.

But they do take the commemoration seriously at the Southeast Asian Institute for the Deaf (Said), a special learning center in Miriam College in Quezon City.

While the government constantly urges the youth to improve their English, the students--who communicate and receive instructions through sign language based on English--wish they could be as good in comprehending Filipino.

The Inquirer visited the school last Friday in line with a "Buwan ng Wika" program that it is staging today. With one of the teachers serving as an interpreter, an interview with some high school students proved to be quite a revelation:

Jemima, 16, said simple phone text or Internet chat room messages in Filipino had sent her "running to my sister for a translation."

She said phrases, such as "Ano gusto mo (What do you want)?" or "Saan ka (Where are you)?" had been quite a hurdle the first time she encountered them. Until now, she said, she would sometimes ask for English "re-sends" of certain Filipino messages.

Mark, 14, admitted that he understood "only some of the words" of the national anthem, "Lupang Hinirang."

When the teacher once asked her to finger-spell a common street sign, "Bawal Tumawid (Do Not Cross)," Andrea, 16, said she could make out the first half, but "Tumawid" she grasped only when the corresponding English hand sign was given.

Two other street signs, "Mapanganib" and "Nakamamatay," were just as alien to the students in finger-spelling. The teachers had to give them the translation, "dangerous."

A more telling experience was shared by an alumnus, Karl Limson, 22. He recounted that, travelling unaccompanied one day when he was still in high school, he was arrested for jaywalking at the Edsa-Shaw crossing because the sign "Bawal Tumawid Dito" meant nothing to him.

The traffic officer realized soon enough that he was dealing with a deaf person. So he slapped no fines on Karl, but merely scribbled something on a piece of paper and gave it to the boy by way of pardoning him.

"Problem was, he also wrote it in Filipino!" a smiling Karl said in sign language.

Gertie Fermin, the teacher facilitating the interview, recounted a disturbing incident. "Years ago, I heard about a Grade 6 pupil who entered somebody else's yard without understanding the sign on the gate."

The sign was "Mag-ingat sa Aso (Beware of Dog)," she said. "Naturally, the dog chased her."

Help on the way

According to Fermin, educators for the deaf have already devised Filipino Sign Language or FSL, which she hoped would help.

She said FSL would help in making basic Filipino terms readily comprehensible, including words for ugly or beautiful, expensive or cheap, many or none, empty or full. Also, the equivalents of such common phrases, such as "Good morning" and "Thank you."

But, Fermin lamented, try to convey Filipino synonyms for "love," such as "pag-ibig" and especially the more poetic "pag-irog" or "pagsinta," and the students would surely have a hard time.

Only recently, she said, she also found that some of the children didn't know the meaning of "pinggan(plate)" and "baso (drinking glass)."

Sure, they can read even multisyllabic Filipino words, but only "phonetically and with poor comprehension," said Fermin's fellow teacher, Jojie Alcantara.

The two warned that this could pose "some difficulties," as the students' experiences had illustrated.

And so today, according to Fermin, Said students will mark "Buwan ng Wika" and show their appreciation of the national language through some sort of a talent show.

They will act out comic strips that they themselves drew and wrote in a presentation dubbed "Karikatura." The performers will depict campus life--secret crushes, classroom pranks, teenage problems--and deliver the all-Filipino dialogue in sign language.

That's definitely more than paying lip service to the nationwide exaltation of the native tongue.

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