Can We Retire Carabao English?

I mean, like, please?

As if it weren’t bad enough that even people who try to make news reporting their living mangle the English language something awful, or that school kids are either incapable or unwilling to exert effort enough to carry on a conversation in English, do we really have to put up with primetime comedy like this?

These two entertainers are plenty talented, I’m sure. And I’m assuming they can belt out songs with the best of them. But recourse to comedy which consists of nothing more than uninspired puns intended to capitalize on erroneous interpretations and to set-up derision of the ‘other’ just isn’t funny anymore.

But this appeal to steer away from carabao english as a comedy routine isn’t about what I find funny, or don’t. De gustibus and all that. And like I said, I’ve got nothing against the Donita Nose or Tekla. Rather, my issue is with what I fear this continuing normalization of near-illiteracy might be doing to the viewing public.

In 2004, the National Literacy Trust – a British NGO – published a review of the literature on Television and Language Development in the Early Years. The review found that the available research indicated that vocabulary development is directly related to television content, and that “viewing by children of programming aimed at a general or adult audience is correlated with poor language development in pre-schoolers. Evidence suggests that children who are frequently exposed to such programmes tend to have a lower vocabulary, poorer expressive language and to engage in less TV-talk (i.e. talking about television) with adults. This is attributable to both the quality of the content on offer and the quantity of exposure to television more generally.”

Not that we actually need scientific studies to intuitively understand that children and pre-teens learn language – both in terms of comprehension and in expression – by example or, some would say, mimicry. So, this leads me to worry what the kids who watch these kinds of comedy routines are taking away from them. That bad English can be excused because it is funny?

Ordinarily,  I would say that parental supervision – as most of these comedy routines can be found in variety shows that carry PG ratings from the MTRCB – ought to have some sort of balancing effect. Unfortunately, how many parents actually take that sort of caveat seriously (Yes, YOU do. And you’re friends probably do too. But the audience reached by television is much much larger than just you and your friends, so put your hand down)? And anyway, the problem is that sometimes the parents themselves see nothing wrong with the example being shown and even embrace it. Sure it’s hilarious, but all they’re doing is reinforcing the negative examples that their children would be much better off not emulating.

In fact, one Filipino ex-pat has even written about the hazards posed by our broken english.

For us immigrants, our skill in speaking the English language is doubly important, not only in our job as we communicate with English speaking clients and co-workers, but also in our everyday life. In some hospitals where there is a proliferation of Filipino nurses, the use of non-English language is forbidden since it might mean life and death to some patients due to miscommunication, especially in the discharge of medication or operation of some medical equipments. The same is true in the military service where many Filipinos have enlisted. I was told that for one to be assigned to a torpedo room, one must be able to speak good and clear English, for a torpedo might be released erroneously towards a wrong target!

All good observations and true. Unfortunately, the rest of the article resorts to the kind of normalization thru humor that is all too depressingly familiar and which is precisely the point of this post.

I’m aware that pretty much the same objections can be raised against everything on television nowadays – from the casual sexism of news anchors to the black face used in some locally produced tv series. That’s certainly something that the appropriate agencies ought to be concerning themselves with. And when they do, I sure hope they start by retiring carabao english.


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