The Philippines is composed of more than a thousand islands, and the language and dialect differs from one place to another, resulting to approximately 150 languages within the country. However, the official languages of the Philippines are English and Filipino–sometimes referred to as Tagalog–and the average Filipino is fluent in both languages. People like me who come from regions outside of the Tagalog-speaking ones–namely Metro Manila, Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog–are likely to possess a third language aside from English and Filipino as their mother tongue. I have been speaking three languages since childhood, but it was only recently that I noticed the differences when I use these languages.
I first noticed it when I started to create fiction and poetry in college. To start off, the writing activity throughout my life was like this: during elementary school, from when I was five to ten years old, I wrote poems in both English and Filipino, but I wrote more in English; in high school, from when I was eleven to thirteen years old, I wrote short stories in English; and from the age of fourteen, I have been writing prose and poetry in both English and Filipino upon entering college. When I entered college though, my creative writing output has been reduced to pay attention to academics. I used to create at least one output per month before college, but I can only write once every three months at most ever since. Whenever I do, there is a strict segregation–short stories in Filipino and poems in English. My latest short story in English was written more than one and a half years ago, and my latest poem in Filipino dates back to my elementary school days (if a very short rhyme I created this September is not counted). No matter how I try to write a short story in English, I would just end up telling myself that it would be easier to do in Filipino, and it goes vice versa with my attempts of writing poems in Filipino. Unfortunately, I do not write in my first language, Waray, since I haven’t read any Waray literature ever, and this makes me feel like an ingrate.
The troubles I encounter expressing myself in English is almost the same as my troubles in expressing myself in straight Filipino (meaning without using English words that actually have Filipino equivalent). Expressing myself in Waray, though, is the most difficult. I understand the difficulty in my usage of Waray is because I do not get to speak it as much after living away from the Waray-speaking region for most of my life. The only people whom I get to converse in Waray with are my parents and relatives from the province. When I speak Waray, though, I notice that I tend to reflect the snarky character that both my parents possess. When I speak in Tagalog or Filipino, I find myself brusque, sarcastic, and always spitting out curses like a pirate. I know this is because I learned Tagalog from playing in the gutter. Having learned English from literature, I think I am most refined in using English. People say I sound dreamy, poetic, borderline romantic and too formal when I communicate in English, whereas I’m more aggressive in Filipino. Perhaps I can attribute this to the people who taught me English and Filipino. My English might be feminine because my mother was the one who guided me in learning proper English. In turn, my Tagalog/Filipino is masculine because my father is the one whom I speak the language with most of the time.
In studying linguistics, I learned that people who speak more than one language tend to switch personalities as they switch between languages. I always thought of this as a mere theory, but I exist as conscious proof to that. There sure are many sides to a person, but it’s funny how each side may speak a different language.