Overheard in the Grocery Checkout Lane

Cashier 1 to Cashier 2: “May customer akong bata, English lang ang alam.Di marunong mag-Tagalog. Yung kapatid kong three years old, tinuturuan kong mag-English. Diba Bisaya lang kami. Sabi ko ‘bawal ang Bisaya, English at Tagalog lang.’ Ngayon ang galing nang mag-English. Sabi nya sa tatay ko ‘wash your hands before you eat.’”

My first instinct was to snap at her and deliver an indignant rebuke on her appalling attitude towards my native language. I’m also a Bisaya and I didn’t appreciate the condescension. But then I figured it probably wasn’t the best setting for an extemporaneous speech on regionalist pride so I kept my mouth shut. And to be honest, I was just too lazy and jaded to bother.

The hierarchy of languages in this country is nothing new, of course. Bisaya, as the stereotype goes, is the native tongue of maids and nannies. Tagalog is the language of Metro Manila, the Mecca of urban living for the fortune-seeking probinsiyano. English is the mark of high society, the social-climbing middle class, and call center agents. English with a grating twang goes for pretentious DJs. And coño Taglish (e.g. let’s make tusok the fishball) is the distinct verbal skill of kolehiyalas and yuppies from expensive schools.

With this social structure in place, how then can we blame a supermarket cashier for her linguistic preferences? She just wants her younger sibling to adapt well to their newfound city life and get a shot at upward mobility. Never mind high society, landing a call center job is already a good deal.

Why shouldn’t her little brother or sister be like that English-speaking kid, whose own parents probably instituted a strict Tagalog ban along with a rigorous teaching of English? And who am I to talk anyway. I’m also just a part of the social-climbing middle class typing away in the glorious language of high society, call center agents, and pretentious DJs.

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