Civics lessons from 1913

Here are a few quotes from “The Philippine Citizen”, a 1913 reader on civics for students of secondary schools in The Philippines under American colonial rule.

Popular government. Since the Unites States is a representative democracy and is attempting to create a government of this kind in the Philippines, it becomes necessary to study this form of government with great care.

In the phrase of Abraham Lincoln, the government of the United States is a “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” that is, popular government. It is important to remember that not all the people in any democracy take part in the election of public officers and the making of laws. In the most liberal of democracies women, with few exceptions, are excluded from a share in the government. Even in the United States only about one fifth of the whole population is entitled to vote. Popular government differs in degree in different democracies. What constitutes a democracy is not the number of people who vote but the fact that the people are the source of the laws.
It is sometimes difficult to say just how much one should know to be qualified to vote. In the United States, where popular education is so efficient and widespread, some states grant the suffrage to all males over twenty-one years of age. In many of the states, however, an educational or property qualification is also required. This often greatly reduces the number of electors. In the opinion of many, the suffrage should be still further restricted in the United States. It would certainly be a very foolish step to grant unlimited suffrage to people like some of the negroes of Africa, who in many cases know hardly enough to build a hut over their heads.

Woman suffrage. Even in the United States the full rights of suffrage are not granted to women, except in nine states. Many of the women are exceedingly intelligent and possess every qualification of mind and character that the male voters have, but they are not allowed to vote, because the suffrage is not a right but a privilege. This privilege it is not usually considered necessary to extend to women at present. If their votes were necessary to secure civil liberties to the people it would be entirely proper to grant them the suffrage.

CSIS scholar: An aging Japan will lose any hope of controlling its effective sovereignty

Brad Glosserman, a former member of the Japan Times editorial board now with CSIS*,  has a WSJ op-ed (link here just in case) on Japan’s national security situation as its society ages and population declines, taken from a US strategic perspective. It’s pretty grim stuff:

The strategic implications of this shift are equally important. Japan’s demographic transition will act as a guillotine, cutting off the country’s policy options. Most simply, budget priorities will shift. Health care, currently underfunded, will become a considerable drain on the government purse. Defense spending — always a tough sell in Japan — will feel a tighter pinch. Recruitment for the Self Defense Forces, already difficult, will get harder. The reluctance of some Japanese to see their country assume a higher security role will be intensified as the population gets older and more risk averse. Japan will be reluctant to send its most precious asset — its youth — into combat.

Other forces will reinforce Japan’s increasingly inward-orientation. Foreign aid and investment have laid the foundation for Japanese engagement with Asia (and the world). But as the domestic economy dwindles, official development assistance and the investment capital that lubricated foreign relations will shrink. This will diminish Japan’s status in the region as other countries replace Japanese funds.

All won’t be negative: The demographic transition will make it difficult, if not impossible, for other regional powers to demonize Japan as in the past. The bogeyman of remilitarization could be laid to rest for good. This will help eliminate one of the most important obstacles to regional cooperation and provide a real impetus for Asian solutions to Asian problems.

Then he wraps up with some recommendations for how the US can respond to Japan’s demographic changes:

The U.S. needs to be prepared for these contradictory impulses and adjust how it engages Japan accordingly. First, it must abandon the quid pro quo mindset that often characterizes alliance discussions. Japan will have considerably less to contribute to the alliance, but that should not mean the alliance is less important. Discussion should focus on how Japanese contributions serve larger public and regional interests. Japan must do its part and come up with creative ways to share burdens and responsibilities.

Second, the U.S. should shift the alliance’s center of gravity away from military issues. Japanese engagement in this area will become more problematic. If Washington pushes Tokyo harder to make military contributions, it risks politicizing the alliance and undermining its support in Japan.

Third, the U.S. should create and strengthen regional institutions. Regional security mechanisms can pick up the slack as the U.S.-Japan alliance evolves. Other economic and political organizations can minimize tensions in the region. This process should begin soon, while Japan has more influence to maximize its leverage during the creation process. Washington and Tokyo should stop seeing their bilateral alliance and multilateral institutions as zero-sum alternatives. The U.S. should not see this process as a threat to its interests; instead, it should trust Tokyo to see that its interests are respected in these discussions. That would constitute a new form of burden sharing.

Finally, the U.S. has to get its own economic house in order. Washington has relied on Japanese savings — along with those of China and other Asian nations — to finance its profligacy. As Japan ages, it will no longer have those funds to lend to the U.S. This is a potentially wrenching adjustment for America — one that might produce some premature aging of its own.

Typically for op-eds by think-tank people, Glosserman is less interested in making his thoughts clear to the general public than he is in reaching a more sophisticated audience of policymakers. This strategy makes for just this sort of opaque, “wonkish” writing style.

So as the title of this post suggests, I’ll offer the clarity that Glosserman won’t. At the risk of mischaracterizing his argument, here are the points I think he is trying to make:

  • The demographic situation means Japan will get weaker and weaker to the point that it’s too old and financially crippled to credibly defend itself or economically engage with countries in the region.
  • This means the US cannot stop providing a strong defense presence in Japan or else “other countries” will replace Japan as a power in Asia.
  • To get this done, the US needs to pursue a strategy of (1) Pretending the US-Japan alliance is reciprocal by making reasonable demands for Japanese contributions and by not making military issues an explicit focus of the alliance, i.e. stop making loud public demands, (2) Building up regional institutions on terms the US can accept, and do it now before Japan really starts to look bad, (3) Keeping China (and to a lesser extent South Korea) on board as friendly powers so Japan and China can work together on the second piece of the strategy (though he doesn’t outline how to do this); and (4) End the US “reliance on Japanese savings” (that part is light on details as well; I suspect it’s a hastily added reference to the economics topic du jour).
  • If this can be accomplished, a “Beijing-Tokyo axis” can lead efforts to build EU-style integration of the region which will lead to a lasting peace. And they all lived happily ever after.

Got that, Japan? You’re doomed to live out the 21st century as a paralyzed dementia victim, and CSIS is ready to have the US start manipulating you like a ventriloquist’s dummy in America’s efforts to reshape the region.

My brief reaction is that Japan shouldn’t be counted out quite so easily, but America would be foolish not to think realistically in this direction. Funnily enough, he seems to more or less describe America’s existing policy toward Japan (maintain the alliance no matter what), except for a reminder to US leadership that they shouldn’t expect too much of Japan considering where its demographics are headed.

* Glosserman is affiliated with the “Pacific Forum CSIS” located in Honolulu of all places. Sounds like a much more comfortable post than the real CSIS on K Street in Washington.

On the future of Asia, ca. 1935

From the journal of Dr. Austin Craig, then professor of history at University of the Philippines who first moved there from the US around 1902. May 10, 1935.

I want self-government here because that is the next step due, the Filipinos have advanced to it, and there has to be progress. But I don’t want these fourteen millions of Christians – European trained, just as we – to be submerged in the hundreds of millions of heathens that surround them. I believe the Filipinos are the hope of Asia, and no less important to Europe and America, who want this world Europeanized, or Christian-civilized, which is the same thing, and is what we mean when we talk about white people. The Filipino, by Indian inheritance and European association, is European, and I hope the United States is going to protect him against the pan-Asiatic heathen influence – which means Japan.

Of Course Japan is no permanent menace, for the strictly repressed discontent – with all Japanese liberals talked of as Koreans – is going to bring an explosion, sooner or later, and with it the Japanese Republic. The old fetish of a God-like Emperor was ended when an emperor died of tuberculosis, and the special protection of the God has been discredited by earthquakes and a succession of other great alamities.

But until the day of Japanese Emancipation comes, the United States ought, in my opinion, to keep this outpost in the Orient and the Filipinos can be relied upon, with American backing, to hold their own land against any neighbor.

It’s a goodly land, worth keeping, and the people are as good, with “comely faces,” as the old Oriental writer long ago wrote of his native country and his countrymen. I have liked both land and people, or I wouldn’t have stayed here nearly thirty-one years.

I am glad that the Filipinos’ long-cherished dream of freedom is coming true. Only let men deam of teh possibility of anything and, no matter how frequently the failuers by trials, eventually comes triumph!

(Source: Bearers of Benevolence: The Thomasites and Public Education in the Philippines ed. Mary Racelis and Judy Celine Ick)

North Korean propaganda posters

imperialist wolves

“Do not forget the US imperialist wolves!”

ess_north_korean_39 extensive goats

“Let’s extensively raise goats in all families!”

Check these amazing samples of NK propaganda posters, with an interesting analysis:

Stylistically, North Korean art is far more than a mere copy of Soviet Russian socialist realism. As was the case with the revolution itself, North Korean socialist realist art had to accord with Korea’s specific historical conditions and cultural traditions. Kim Il Sung pronounced that “Korean Painting” [Chosonhwa], the indigenous post-revolutionary development of traditional ink painting, was the best representative of Korean styles and emotions. He made the essential features of Korean painting the model for all fine arts. Kim Jong Il in his Treatise on Art (Misullon, 1992) described the qualities of Korean Painting as clarity, compactness, and delicacy. These characteristics have become the standard applied to all art produced in North Korea. As such, they also form the basis and model for poster art. On the latter, Kim Jong Il had more to say in his treatise on art. As important tools in the mobilization of the masses, posters have to have an instantaneous impact on the viewers’ understanding and their desire to act upon this understanding. Their message has to be accessible, clear and direct; informative and explanatory, as well as exhortative. The link between contemplation and action is crucial. A poster artist is ultimately an agitator, who, familiar with the party line and endowed with a sharp analysis and judgment of reality produces a rousing depiction of policies and initiatives that stimulate the people into action. Only if the poster appeals to the ideological and aesthetic sentiments of the people will it succeed in truly rousing the people. Kim Jong Il refers to poster painters as standard bearers of their times, submerged in the overwhelming reality and in touch with the revolutionary zeal and creative power of the people, leading the way from a position among the people.

Posters are visual illustrations of the slogans that surround the people of North Korea constantly. North Korean society is in a permanent mobilization. Party and government declarations are stripped down to single-line catchphrases. Through their endless repetition in banners, newspaper headlines, and media reports, these compact slogans become self-explanatory, simultaneously interpreting and constructing reality.

Koen de Ceuster

(thanks to @cominganarchy)

Which Japanese prefectures sell the most lottery tickets per person?

Ever wonder which parts of Japan gamble the most? No? Well, stick with me and you might learn something about which prefectures are most willing to line up and pay the poor tax.

Each year, Mizuho Bank (which has a special relationship with the lottery from its days as a government bank) tallies the total number of lottery (Takarakuji) tickets sold and divides that number into each prefecture’s population to obtain an average per capita spending total. According to their numbers for fiscal 2007 (as reported in the Nikkei), the top ticket buyers were Tokyo, Osaka, and Kochi prefecture in Shikoku. There was a huge gap between the top of the list (Tokyo’s 12,933 yen) versus the bottom (Yamagata’s 5,328 yen). The top prefectures tended be prefectures that house large cities, such as Aichi.

UPDATE: A typical lottery ticket in Japan costs around 300 yen, meaning that Tokyo residents buy around 43 tickets a year or just about one every week.

Prefectures with the lowest home ownership rates tended to buy more lottery tickets. Tokyo and Osaka, the first and second highest per-capita lottery players, also have the two lowest home ownership ratios, in the same order.  Okinawa has the third lowest, and its residents are Japan’s sixth biggest lottery gamblers. On the other hand, Aichi, another prefecture full of takarakuji hopefuls, had the seventh lowest home ownership ratio. (Bonus fact: Toyama prefecture had the highest home ownership rate in 2003 (around 80%). Toyama residents play it relatively safe with a middling per capita lottery spend of between 7,000-7,999 yen).

The outlier was Kochi prefecture, however, indicating that low home ownership, a signifier of relative poverty, does not make up the only factor explaining the results. An official from Kochi prefecture’s budget division speculated, “Perhaps the prefecture residents’ nature of determination and love of gambling had an impact.”

A brief overview of Japan’s lottery system

Though it only brings in about 1/20 the revenue of the almighty pachinko, Japan’s lottery, with its estimated 15,000 or so ticket booths outside train stations (more booths than pachinko parlors, one for every 8,600 people), has been a highly visible form of legal gambling in Japan throughout the postwar era, along with horse racing, yacht speedboat racing, bicycle racing, and mahjong.

According to Wiki Japan, lottery-style gambling in Japan got its start in the Edo period as Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples offered tomikuji (essentially the same as a lottery) in order to raise funds for repairs. Over the years, tomikuji faced various bans from the authorities, and private-sector lotteries remain criminalized to this day. In July 1945, a desperate wartime government instituted a lottery, but Japan surrendered and chaos reigned before a drawing could even be held. A national government-backed lottery was re-instituted during the US occupation in 1948, though it was abandoned in 1954, leaving only regional lotteries. Takarakuji took its current form in 1964 with the foundation of the Japan Lottery Association, a grouping of the regional lotteries.

According to association data, in fiscal 2007 (the period covered by the above survey) Japanese gamblers bought 1.0442 trillion yen in tickets, or about 8,200 yen per person. The US doesn’t have a national lottery per se, but the UK does – on average, UK residents spent 80 pounds (12,905 yen by the current exchange rate) per capita on national Lotto in 2008. The UK lottery’s press kit (PDF) claims that 70% of adults are regular players (but doesn’t cite a source), while a 2007 poll from Japan’s lottery association found that 55% of those polled had purchased at ticket at least once in the past year. The UK system, in which operations are contracted to a private company, appears to be more efficient than the one in Japan. According to the UK press kit, 10% of every pound spent on lottery tickets goes to operations and expenses (5% in dealer commission, 4.5% in operating costs, and 0.5% in shareholder dividends), versus 14.4% of each ticket in Japan (with 45.8% going to paying winners and 39.8% going into the general accounts of each prefecture and major cities).

The odds of winning a current popular Japanese game Loto 6 is 1 in 6 million, which is comparable to other lotteries I am familiar with in the US (and of course less likely than getting hit by lightning).

See the full list after the jump!

Continue reading Which Japanese prefectures sell the most lottery tickets per person?

“After death cometh judgment” – Why are there so many Christian signs in provincial Japan?

(Updated mistranslation “regional” based on reader comment)

In his liveblog of Murakami’s new novel 1Q84, Daniel Morales of Howtojaponese challenged the folks at MFT to find something out for him (emphasis added):

 17:03 Done with Chapter 12. No topics on the Aum yet, but religion does come up. Will be interesting to see where he takes it. One question I’d like to see someone answer (maybe someone at Mutantfrog?) is why do so many houses in Japan have signs with Christian quotes on the side? I haven’t seen too many in Tokyo, but they were all over the town where I spent three years. Always the same color pattern – dark brown with yellow lettering. They said things like “The blood of Christ forgives all” or “He died for our sins.” Can’t seem to find a picture anywhere. (Update: Matt provided this link in the comments.)

We at MFT love a good challenge, and thankfully this one wasn’t all that challenging. Thanks to Matt‘s link, I was able to Google my way to the name of the group responsible: It is the Miyagi-based “Bible Distribution Cooperation Society” a loosely organized association of Christians at least partly led by American missionaries. This is one of the same groups who uses soundtrucks and bullhorns in the Shinjuku station area to get out the message of Christ, so those in the know might not be surprised that these signs also come from the American missionaries.

The short answer to Daniel’s question is that this group asks the owners of the house or any other public facade to let them post the signs, and the owners say yes. What follows is the same answer in much more detail, but first let’s give a little background of what we are talking about in case some readers haven’t seen the signs.

The signs

So if you’ve never been to Japan or just not to a part of Japan where the signs are visible, let me clue you in – in various places, mostly in areas outside the major urban centers, you will often see signs that look something like this:


This one reads “After death cometh judgment- The Bible.” According to the site, it is posted on a bus stop near a middle school in Iwate Prefecture. Or this:


“God is watching, even in your private life – The Bible.” (Taken in Akita Prefecture). Or this:


“The wages of sin is death — The Bible” (Akita Prefecture)

(This site has LOTS more of the signs along with some Jack Chick-style pamphlets and a heaping helping of snarky commentary)

As you can see, they are written in white and yellow text on a black background in uneven, ransom-note fonts and usually contain the starkest of messages about what the God will do to you if you fail to accept Christ. If their intent is to scare the living crap out of people then they are remarkably effective as the signs are truly the stuff of nightmares (or at least a scene out of Carrie or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre). These are not the only public displays in Japan that appear to be judging you on the spot, but they are by far the creepiest I’ve seen.  I just don’t understand the point of making these signs so creepy. If you want to make Christianity appealing wouldn’t you try and make people feel welcome instead of scolding them like this?

My personal encounters with the signs come during regular trips to visit inlaws in Tochigi Prefecture, near the Gunma border. Mrs. Adamu, her parents and I usually take backroads to avoid the high tolls, so we get to see several of these signs en route.

At any rate, the placement of these signs on cracked concrete structures and rusted out corrugated aluminum bus stops and storefronts reinforces the general theme of depression and stagnation that dominates the areas I’ve visited. Whenever I see another of these white-on-black reminders that God is watching, it makes me  wonder if it is meant as a protest against all the rust and malaise of Tochigi and Gunma.

The group

Now that we know what these signs are, let’s try and answer the next question: who is doing this and why?

According to Wikipedia, these signs are mainly the work of the Bible Distribution Cooperation Society, founded around 1950 in part by an American ex-soldier named Paul Broman who has dedicted his life to spreading the word of God using this unusual method. According to this now-defunct blog of a Japanese Christian minister, Broman took Japanese citizenship in 1970 and funds the activities of the group through his IT services business GrapeCity Inc (UPDATE: Though Broman would be about 82 right now, I haven’t seen an obituary anywhere so I assume he is still alive). According to the group’s website, they initially started their activities in Iwate and Aomori but in the late 1950s expanded internationally. According to Wikipedia, other activities of the group include sound trucks (you may have heard them in Shinjuku) and a Christian school based in Miyagi. They are an independent evangelist group not affiliated with Mormons, Unification Church or any other of the major groups.

Also according to Wikipedia, the signs are posted with the permission of the building/structure owners, and often they are neither a member of the association nor even Christian. They simply allow their real estate to be used for ads, similar to political posters and some other ad schemes, though apparently the association is either not allowed or does not offer to pay in exchange for the permission.

(An aside: This willingness to ugly up the neighborhood I think speaks to the owners’ complete lack of anything resembling taste or the basic decency to maintain an appealing public space. The towns, for their part, also seem to have no interest in keeping their neighborhoods nice. I am sure someone will tell me to shut up and stop making Alex Kerr-style arguments to legislate taste, but in cases like this I have to side with those who’d rather see fewer eyesores) 
The association’s official homepage, true to its funder’s background, is well-designed and contains a lot of information, though an uninformed viewer might not immediately recognize that this is the group behind the odd signs and the loud, judgmental announcements in Shinjuku (I’ll accept that maybe the cartoon sound truck at the top of the page gives it away). 

On the “About” page, the group’s stated objective is to “directly communicate the word of The Bible” (「聖書のことば」をそのまま伝える」). Their listed activities are distribution of free literature at primary/middle/high schools, “broadcasting” the word of The Bible in areas where many people congregate, individual proselytizing by Christians, and communication of the word of The Bible on placards and signs. They are not a membership organization and do not solicit members. Though the group lends “mutual help” and coordination, each member is individually responsible for his or her activities. Wikipedia indicated that there are apparently other groups who are not affiliated with the original society who have imitated their style. Based on this mission statement I don’t think they would mind imitators.

The group’s activities are completely self-funded and seek no charity. They boast that they have distributed 60 million Bibles to 18 countries throughout their history. They claim to pass out 1 million Bibles in Japan each year.

It is hard to know how many people are involved with these efforts. I am still waiting for an email response from an affiliated group, the Church and Home Educators Association Japan (CHEA Japan). For reference, various estimates count between 1 and 3 million of Japan’s people as at least nominally Christian. Protestants, for their part, comprise around half a million or 0.4% of the population (this is a Wikipedia figure apparently taken from Like all such estimates it is probably pretty unreliable).

Vintage evangelism

 The site also features a photo gallery of the group’s work that includes some vintage signs (unfortunately undated!). Some of these are really cool so I’ll post the best of them:


“Jesus is the way, truth, life.”


“Christ died for the sinners.”


“God is not in the shrine.”


“After death cometh judgment.”



Front: “I am the way.”



John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”


“The blood of Christ, God’s only son, purifies all our sins – The Bible.”

There are lots more on the site, so I advise you to check them out! 

Fun with Christian signs

These signs have become something of an underground social phenomenon due their sheer ubiquity (in Japanese some refer to them as キリスト看板 or roughly “those Christian signs”). One site (linked from Wikipedia) lets you create your own scary signs in HTML. Here is my version of Nietsche’s “God is dead” quote:

South Africa’s rand is the world’s best performing – and best looking – currency

This was some interesting news (via Bloomberg):

South Africa’s rand, the world’s best-performing major currency this year, may rally another 4 percent if it breaks through 8.23 per dollar and stays there, based on technical analysis by Barclays Plc-owned Absa Capital.

Candlestick charting shows the rand closed stronger than its opening levels everyday last week, suggesting it’s “fighting” to appreciate further, said Judy Padayachee, a technical analyst at Johannesburg-based Absa. Even so, it has yet to remain stronger than the so-called “resistance” level of 8.23 per dollar, according to Padayachee.

Good for them. But thanks to this news I was pleasantly surprised at how awesome the rand looks. Buffalo power!


The notes were redesigned after the end of apartheid in 1994. Here is what the old notes looked like:


You can find out more about South Africa’s currency (with similarly intense drawings of lions and rhinos) here.

Shocker: Japanese people prefer “Japanese food”

The Nielsen research company has conducted a global survey on dining out preferences (Japanese PDF). The Nikkei presents the results from Japan. When asked what type of food they prefer when dining out, Japanese respondents said:

  1. Japanese (48%)
  2. Italian (20%)
  3. Chinese (12%)
  4. French (7%)

Globally, Japanese food was the fifth most preferred food. Surprisingly, the 46% of Japanese people who eat out more than three times per week is only marginally above the 44% global average.

Japanese people have a comparatively high level of what I would term “gastronomic nationalism” – that is, their preference for their own food far exceeds the global rate of 27%.

Anyone who has spent any time in this country will not be surprised to see Japanese food topping the results. Inside Japan, Japanese food is simply everywhere. The children are raised on government-supplied lunches and mother’s obento box lunches, on TV there is an endless parade of B-list celebrities fawning over the latest restaurant, and on the street the vast majority of eateries are nominally Japanese. On top of that, Japanese food is objectively scrumptious and awesome, a fact not lost on people.

But what exactly is Japanese food? The survey was apparently taken based on the respondents’ own definitions of what “Japanese food” means, but this is not always so clear-cut. Under such conditions, food that might otherwise be considered foreign must have been included under the “Japanese” rubric. “Japanese food” spans a very wide variety – from obviously Japanese foods like sushi, pickled radishes, and soba buckwheat noodles to more complicated foods that blur the lines between “pure” Japanese food and fusion dishes that have developed over the years. Other foods that may have foreign origins might not be perceived as foreign by some of the consumers (yakiniku aka Korean barbecue comes to mind as I have heard some tell me it is Japanese).

For example, it’s hard to tell whether ramen would be considered Chinese or Japanese (though the recipe is distinctly Japanese, many ramen shops advertise themselves as chuuka (Chinese) and also sell gyoza, which are more or less Japanized versions of Chinese dumplings), or for that matter whether Japanese-style curry can be called Indian (it was apparently adapted from Britain, which itself adapted it from the Indian dish). And then there is the plethora of dishes that are considered youshoku (Western/occidental food) in Japan but would be hard to find on a table anywhere in the actual West. These include omuraisu (ketchup rice wrapped in an omelette) and hambaagu (a bunless hamburger often seasoned and stuffed with onions, served with a variety of toppings such as grated daikon radish (oroshi) and ponzu, a kind of  citrus/soy/vinegar sauce).

Conversely, much so-called Italian food has been considerably Japanized as well (think mentaiko spaghetti), but I doubt many respondents who go into their local Capricciosa to order noodles drowned in spicy fish eggs and mayonnaise would consider themselves to be eating at a “Japanese food” establishment. Confusing things further, many “retro Showa era” restaurants serve a “Neapolitan” spaghetti-and-ketchup dishes, but in a very Japanese izakaya atmosphere. And then there are the “rice burgers” served at Mos Burger, the new  soy sauce-enhanced fried chicken at KFC, and Okinawa-style taco rice (this unlike the other two would be likely termed “Japanese”). I could go on, but it’s getting close to dinner time.

So all that said, the data could be kind of biased in Japan’s case (and the same probably goes for other countries) since Japan has co-opted so much of the Western menu into its own native cuisine. As far as I am concerned, the world is all the richer for it.


Check the Adamukun blog for Adamu’s shared articles and recommended links.

Language in The Philippines

Speech in Manila, the capitol, is a continuum from nearly pure Tagalog (if you count long established Spanish and English loan words as actually Tagalog words)  to pure English, with vast fuzzy region in the middle known as “Taglish.” No Filipinos actually speak pure English to communicate with each other, outside of certain government or academic settings, (English, along with Filipino-the official name of the national language which is more or less the same as Tagalog-are both official languages of the Republic of The Philippines) but basically all formal writing is in proper English. Newspapers and magazines  are also mostly in English, and virtually all books are. Lower class newspapers or magazines, such as celebrity tabloids, may be in Tagalog or other regional languages, and even entirely English language daily newspapers have the most peculiar practice of leaving direct quotes that were spoken in Tagalog in the original language, with no translation or explanation in English. This is because the audience, even for English language newspapers, is assumed to be entirely domestic and bilingual, unlike the English language newspapers in most countries, which are at least partly intended for a foreign or international audience.

The language continuum is strongly correlated with class and education, with better educated Manileños peppering their speech with more English words, phrases, and often, incongruously, entire clauses or sub-sentences of grammatically correct English embedded into the larger context of a Tagalog sentence. English words inserted into Tagalog speech are pronounced-and spelled, if written-as English words, and not adapted to the phonetic or phonological patterns of Tagalog, as actual loan words are in most cases. This is because English words are still considered English words, as opposed to words borrowed from English, and there is conscious code-switching occurring in such mixed speech, as opposed to a creolization of the  two languages. (I’m sure there may also be exceptional English words that have been Tagalog-ized as loan words, but this code-switching is more common.) There are also certain English phrases of Philippine origin, such as the famous “Comfort Room” or CR for restroom or lavatory, or “buy one take one” instead of the more common American English expression of “buy one, get one free.” Aside from exceptions which are purely local usage, Philippine English follows American English norms and rules, and never British.

Here is an illustrative example I overheard on the radio while getting a haircut last week. A DJ was interviewing a musician who was playing some live songs on the show. The musician said something in Tagalog ending with the phrase “diverse acoustic alternative rock.” The DJ responded by saying, in English, “Now how do you say that in Tagalog?” The musician was left nonplussed, pausing for a moment before they both burst into laughter.