As someone with a lifelong fascination with words, I feel fortunate for two things. First, that I was born in the Philippines, a country whose rich indigenous heritage and colorful colonial past are reflected in the multiplicity of its languages. I grew up in a society where multilingualism is a way of life, and this has given me a profound appreciation for cultural and linguistic diversity, as well as a wider perspective on how different languages work.
All this has served me well in my career as an applied linguist, a career that has led me to specialize in lexicography—the science of dictionary making—and eventually to a postdoctoral position at Oxford University. And this job is the other thing I feel lucky to have, as it enables me to actually make a living out of doing something I feel passionate about: studying English words and how Filipinos use them.
As a research fellow in lexicography, my work involves the identification and analysis of words that characterize the Philippine variety of English. I am a member of the English Faculty and of Hertford College, but I also do part of my research at the dictionary section of Oxford University Press (OUP), one of the world’s leading publishers of English dictionaries, and home of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), a historical dictionary widely considered to be the foremost authority on the English language.
Another important dimension of my research project is the study of how Philippine English is represented in the OED. At OUP, I use Oxford Dictionaries’ tools and databases to investigate words and meanings of Philippine origin that are not yet in the OED, so that those that meet the dictionary’s selection criteria may be considered for inclusion. In addition, I analyze existing OED entries in order to trace the historical evolution of Philippine English words. Working at Oxford Dictionaries also gives me the opportunity to observe the practical realities of such a huge lexicographical endeavor as the OED, at a very interesting point in its history, as the dictionary is currently undergoing its first comprehensive revision since it first saw print in 1884.
I achieve my research results through the usual linguistic methods: analyzing digital language corpora, reading Philippine literature in English, consulting paper and online regional dictionaries and previous surveys of the Philippine English lexicon. However, a brief visit to the Philippines early this year made me realize the potential of another research source: the Filipino people themselves. Like most human beings, Pinoys love to talk about the way they talk. After a Rappler feature on my OED work, I received not only a very positive response, but also a lot of very useful suggestions from Filipinos who have read it. This reaction should not have surprised me—after all, the OED would not be the dictionary it is today if not for the contributions of the British public throughout the years. This blog is a way for me to tap an immensely valuable resource and include public input in my research. This blog’s comments section will always be open to your polite suggestions.
Multilingualism enriches a culture, but it also gives rise to a number of very thorny issues. Questions of national and regional identity, educational policy, language politics: all these have hounded us since the very early days of the Filipino nation. What really is a national language? What language should we use to educate our children? In which language should Filipino literature be written? Is English really ours now, or are we still borrowing it from the Americans? There are no simple, black-and-white answers to these questions, but that is all the more reason for us to engage in intelligent discussion about them, and this blog aims to be a venue for such discussion.
I will also be writing about words I am working on, articles I am writing, and books I am reading. You can expect posts about the OED, and my work at Oxford University, as well as interesting articles on dictionaries, languages and linguistics. But most of all, I will be sharing my thoughts on Pinoys and their words.