Monday, September 02, 2013

Differences in American and Filipino English When it Comes to Nation-related Terms

If one carries on online discussions about nations and nationhood with Filipino people, misunderstandings often seem to take place. Even though both Americans and Filipinos use the same language, the terminology has different meanings depending whether it's an American or a Filipino speaking. This causes discussions to end in confusion, and even conflicts to ensue. However, the difference is often in what is implied by each term. Let's look at them one by one: Nationalism ( and derived words). In American English ( and often in British English) this term is very often seen as a negative one. It implies thinking one's country as superior to others and a dislike of other nationalities, their cultures, values and even such things as music . An example of this would be someone who would walk out of the room hearing a foreign language or seeing a foreign TV show. Or someone who refuses to sit next to a person of a different nationality at a social event. Such nationalists often see it as an insult that a person tries to speak their language, sing their songs or display their national symbols. To say that a person or a country are nationalistic is to mean exactly that-- they will not like you if you go there and will discriminate against you if you are not one of them. Nationalism in US English is often used on par with racism although in the former, the discrimination is by nationality, not race. For example, a Singaporean who thinks that Malaysians are inferior is being nationalistic, not racist because both belong to arguably the same race. In Europe, nationalism caused untold numbers of wars and deaths, that is why even in local languages, that term is seen as a negative one. The positive equivalent in the American English would be Patriotism. This means that one truly loves one's country but he/she does not exclude or discriminate against other countries. On the contrary, one is happy to share one's country with others, and praises those who admire its culture and its people. Patriotism is an inclusive and friendly term. In Filipino English; however, there is generally no difference between the words nationalism and patriotism. Both just mean love for one's country and are interchangeable. If any exclusion is implied it is only to defend the country against colonial powers and protect its resources. No social or cultural exclusion is meant. Therefore, if there is a rare Filipino who, for example, sees foreigners speaking Tagalog as violators of his culture, there's no term in Filipino English to describe him/her. If you call him a nationalist, he will just see it as a compliment. Nationality. In popular American parlance and when Americans talk to each other, nationality often means ancestry or ethnicity. Since almost all Americans descend from immigrants, an American will say- "I'm Irish". "I'm Polish". "I'm German". "I am African-American", etc. Saying "I am American" in social situations may often seen as naive. In Filipino English. Nationality generally means citizenship and nothing else. There's usually no difference. A Filipino citizen is Filipino by nationality and an American citizen is American. End of the story. It is also socially acceptable to ask someone his or her nationality as a way to have that person introduce him/herself. In fact, that is often the first question Filipinos ask a foreigner. In American English, it is not very polite to ask people's nationality as it is seen as something that can lead to discrimination. This is only generally asked by embassies and immigration authorities but not so much socially. The same goes for British English. You generally don't walk up to people asking their nationality. Seen as very rude. The alternatives are to ask "Where is your family from?" or "What is your ethnic heritage"? or if a person has an accent- "Where are you from originally?" Citizenship is hardly ever mentioned in such questions. Filipinos often get confused when they ask an American- "What is your nationality?' and an American answers: "I am Italian". I remember when I was in Saudi Arabia, our Filipino clerk asked our American teacher who was a Lousiana Creole about the nationality of his wife, to which the latter answered : "Anglo-Saxon". The clerk was fretting for days after that- "Why did he have to talk in riddles? What is Anglo-Saxon? Why couldn't he just say- My wife is American, my wife is Canadian or something like that?" Filipinos also become confused about the British informal "nationalities". If a Brit says "I'm English" a Filipino may just understand it as "English-speaking" and again ask about the person's nationality. Nativism. In American English it means - favoring people who were born in the country for jobs, social interactions, and other purposes while rejecting those who were not born there even if they are already citizens. A law that does not allow a foreign-born person to become president is an example of such a sentiment. Many view it as a form of discrimination but it is still very strong not only in the USA but also in many countries in the Americas. In Filipino English, Nativism means interest and favoring of pre-Columbian, pre-Magellan cultures, music, traditions and languages. A nativist in the Philippines is one studying old artefacts, scripts, music, and literature of the islands before the European colonization. For example, someone who goes and lives with Igorots and/or T'bolis and becomes fluent in their language is such a Nativist. Just as Britain and the US are said to have been separated by the same language, often this is the case with the Philippines and this is why engaging in discussions with Filipinos often leads to confusion on both sides of those.

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