THIS ARTICLE IS AN EXCERPT FROM THE FIRST EDITION (the prototype) book entitled “How do you say it in English?, 2010 Edition, Enhanced” being published by National Book Store. The author is speaking herein.
Pinoy beginner style of translating
“Nagagandahan ako kay Mika.” In English, is it “I’m beautifuling of Mika”? No! You wouldn’t accept such a pointless translation. It’s absolutely out of
order. How about this, “Ikaw kasi”? Would it be, “You because”? Again, no. It’s senselessly awkward. And never attempt to say “Because of you” since it sounds quite deep, charged with heavily intense meaning, as in the song “Dahil sa iyo.” Now try this, “Kaysa mahirapan ka ng kaiisip kung paano ito i-inglesin, mabuti pang tumigil ka muna.”…………………………… All right, please fill up the space with your translation. What then? You’re at a loss!
By the way, I remember during a group conversation when a friend of mine threw us a Filipino specimen for translation. He asked, “How do you say ‘Pang-ilan si Colico sa magkakapatid?’ in English?” Nang pare-parehas kami mahirapan at sirit na, he tried out this translation as an option, sabi niya:
“Colico is the xth child. Can you find the x?”
Trouble is, he’s a lawyer. His translation is one by engineers! Okay, he’s just joking!
Pinoy Dilemma of speaking English
But just how do we convey these and other common Filipino expressions into English that could sound not just correct and accurate but may dating as well? This must be the language dilemma of many Filipinos who strive hard to justify the popular impression about us being the second largest English-speaking folks outside of the U.K.
Can we, indeed, speak English competently or, at least, satisfactorily? The truth is most of us cannot, only tolerably, perhaps. In fact, there are many professionals, from subordinates to executives, from engineers to lawyers, and from trainers to teachers, who can hardly knit straight English. You would hear some constrained speaker mutter blunt and clumsy English and then flinch. You would observe some mentor babble “ahm! ahm!” in his speaking attempt until you feel like rescuing him if only to complete the sentence. We go through the same upset when compelled by an occasion. And what? Chances are that we falter in our desperate word hunt. Or worse, we end up drowning in embarrassment for our reckless word catch.Or no catch at all.
Just how do we say it in English?
We gladly take the challenge. As we see, being able to deliver good English makes a good impression that we want. But how do we achieve the skill?
Dictionaries and grammar books not sufficient
Dictionaries, lexicons, and grammar books are not the total solution. Rather, there have to be some other instructional materials to complement them, to which job, this book volunteers to fill up. I should explain my side why I said that dictionaries, etc., are not enough; and that there has to be some other form of reference, based on two concerns: one, the matter of syntax; and two, the fact that we are Filipinos who speak the Filipino language on our own syntax.
The problem lies in the syntax
Syntax is the arrangement of words in a sentence showing their constructional relationship. Every language maintains its unique syntax distinct from the rest. French has its recognized syntax. Chinese has its own so has Japanese, English, Spanish, Filipino, etc. If we are to translate one language into another, say from Japanese to Spanish, we are not supposed to model the Spanish translation from the Japanese syntax and vice versa. If we do, we would lose, ending up in a messy translation, as those given in examples for Filipino to English at the first paragraph of this introduction. And a verbatim translation would definitely come up, which is not good, because then the syntax gets ruined.
Sorry to say, while there are grammar and syntax rules for every language, there are no hard and fast rules whatsoever for translating one language into another. There is not even a comprehensive guidebook for it discussing the pattern, except such few bits of advice and guide as fortunately discussed here. It is rigid to make an attempt. Why? Because every language has its independent and
unique syntax, as has been clarified. So what do we need?
So what do we need?
The answer is: for us to make out standard translations, we would first need to have a well-grounded study of the whole context of grammar, meaning, and usage of the two languages taken up for translation so we could find out how one should be said in the other. That is if we have the opportunity to do so. But since we may not have anymore the chance to do the study, some of them have to be done for us. Yet, while there may have been plenty of sources of such study, we don’t find time to make the actual translating. And so I would announce that it may be highly desired if a prepared and finished material about it would be offered to us. Here’s my book!
It requires mastery over phrasal patterns or collocations
Take note once more that for us to speak English straightly, it requires mastery over translated terms in phrases or combinations of words. Hence, the dictionary is not necessarily the word machine to help us achieve the skill even if the entire content of a bulky one is memorized because it is only the source of mostly base-form or core-word meanings.
Except for idiomatic expressions, the dictionary tells only the equivalent to single terms or multi-worded single terms, such as balat ─ skin (single term) and balat-sibuyas ─ onion-skinned (multi-worded single term). Quite the opposite, it does not offer the reciprocal for terms or words assuming their actual meaning or sense only when taken in phrases and non-base forms, as those previously given at the start of this discussion. In fact, in the dictionary, we could look up the equation of ganda and maganda, that is, beauty and beautiful, respectively. Nowhere, however, does it point to us the match for nagagandahan. And even if we chance upon some such examples, certainly we would find no deliberate examples with emphases on such models of word construction.
Again and again [please pardon my emphasis], we can comb in the dictionary the meaning of single terms or composite-single terms such as bawang, langit, pag-ibig, palo, punta, kibit-balikat, taong-bahay, etc.; but we fail to find the equal for phrasal or non-base expressions such as magkaproblema and nagpakahirap sa pag … (any action word). Try again, if you want to.
Mahirap di ba?
The problem really is we are not native English speakers
Unless we speak in a choppy manner, then maybe we wouldn’t have this much trouble translating. But we talk about construction and arrangement of words called syntax!
It’s tough because we were not born and raised in the United States or the United Kingdom where English is the everyday medium of blabbering from childhood to adulthood and, yes, to expiration.
Americans find no trouble with it because when they speak, the mental process that takes place is: the idea first playing up in their mind; next, the idea spoke out by them in English to which they have been inured.
The problem, really, is, we are adapted to our own syntax, the Filipino way. Now if we try knitting a translation tending to fashion it from the syntax of the language to be translated, as from Filipino to English, the resulting translation would be awkward, funny, or even bizarre. In fact, we have the tendency to commit such a wrong method when we speak English because the first idea playing in our mind is the Filipino term or phrase. It instantly snaps on, right there suspended in our mind ahead of the English, of course. Next, the thing we do is to figure out this time for the English equivalent while the Filipino form still flashes on. That being the case, the Filipino syntax overwhelms, influences, and cheats the translator’s mind to think that it should be obeyed by the English construction, which should not be the case. Naturally then, the end-product we get is an out-of-tune, direct, or verbatim translation.
What reference do we need more?
So, certainly, we are aware that even if we have memorized every single term in the dictionary or lexicon and mastered the grammar rules, it is not an assurance that we will gain the ability to speak in straight English.
Along with the dictionary and grammar materials, we need another reference work to clinch what we have been discussing. My book wouldn’t serve as a replacement for those resources. It is but the humble supplement, relatively speaking for the Filipino reader. You see, even though those dictionary and grammar stuff are plentiful in libraries and bookstores, we can hardly find one that guides us to convert Filipino into English, or vice versa, in molded (assembled or shaped together) words or in phrases, with any emphasized discussion. My book does the job.
What’s the irony in our study and use of the English language?
What’s the use of having English as our well-loved language aside from Filipino if we do not use it effectively and well? Furthermore, what’s the justification for requiring it as the medium for vital transactions if only a few can understand and ably apply it? How will important transactions flow smoothly and efficiently?
Personally, I would rather English be made a regular medium of communication aside from Filipino. Or else, reject it altogether except for optional or very special reasons. That way, we would not commit blunders and go in circles when dealing with one another on many important transactions, interactions, and most activities.
In fact, most people would not bear the irony of the following things as I would ask: What’s the justification in the courtrooms for the practice of interpreting or of those interpreters when everybody there could understand Filipino? What’s the logic in schools for having to fine the students for not speaking English, when, growing up they were not exposed to the language as a matter of household or everyday medium? When, in truth, the very few who finally have achieved fluency in it become so only after they have matured enough, having acquired relatively sufficient education. Also, our instructional sources of English are usually books that are too formal or fundamental, lacking the essential features as the excellent reference for articulating straight English. Another thing, there has been no declaration, not even an initiative to make English speaking as our everyday tongue. Executive Order 210 merely declares it to be the official medium of instruction.
Indeed, if we insist on the English language being that highly required, couldn’t we as well suggest it be made the universal language for communication from childhood onwards and for an everyday official transaction? If not, let’s throw it away [except in certain cases].
Why this book ‘How do you say it in English?’
This endeavor of mine grew out of my persistent effort to offer a modest contribution for filling up such language shortage I’ve been observing around, of which I was once both culprit and victim. Also, this is partly to make up for my failure on the same subject matter sometime in the past.
Moreover, I am held in concern for the academe who might find it tiresome to be “Englishing.” Students would tremble and shrink when asked to recite. They might know the answer to the question asked by the professor but the trouble is they cannot express their answer in valid English or even forgivable English, not to mention the downright faultless. Hence, they would just withdraw in their seats, fearing they might get into trouble for their Carabao English or English Barok, if further urged to recite.
With this unrelieved burden during college days, one classmate was heard to groan, “Mas mabuti pang pumutak ang kalabaw ‘wag lang mag-English.”
Continuation and more articles are coming up.