Please help the Philippines

I first flew in an airplane in the year 2000, when I was 16 years old. I flew from Manila to a city in the Visayas called Tacloban. It was the first time I’d ever been outside the island of my birth, and this place could not have been more different from my hometown. Although I only have vague memories of this trip (this was before iPhones and Instagram), I do remember peace, quiet, a warm welcome, an unforgettable rainy crossing of San Juanico Bridge, and the sea, always there, glinting in the sunlight.

But now that city is unrecognizable, destroyed by the same sea I had so admired. The statistics after typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan are horrifying: billions of dollars worth of damage, thousands feared dead, millions displaced. The images on the news are even more heartbreaking, as the survivors struggle to live even as they mourn their dead.

I really have no words to describe the scale of the disaster, but perhaps there is no need for any words apart from: please help. Please help Tacloban, please help the Visayas, please help the Philippines. Here are some ways you can.

Philippine Red Cross

British Red Cross

Cruz Roja Española

Croix Rouge Française

Other organizations

Tulungan po natin ang mga biktima ng bagyong Yolanda sa Pilipinas. Please help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Ayuden a víctimas del tifón Haiyan en Filipinas. Aidez les victimes du typhon Haiyan aux Philippines.



The Philippines (and Philippine English) on the BBC

The BBC recently aired an hour-long documentary with the title “World’s Busiest Maternity Ward”. Unsurprisingly, this maternity ward is located in the Philippines, and what I thought was going to be a Midwives-style, life-in-the-delivery-room reality special was in fact an examination of the huge divide between the rich and the poor in the great city of Manila, and the burgeoning middle class poised to close this gap and thus provide a better future for the tens of thousands of new Filipinos born each year.

For those who are in the UK and have access to BBC iPlayer, you can watch the documentary in its entirety here. For everyone else, I do hope this makes it way to Youtube someday soon, but for now here is a short clip.

What is most interesting for me as a linguist is of course the language. It should be noted that the people interviewed by the host Anita Rani in the slums of Tondo, people who represented Manila’s poorest of the poor and could hardly be expected to be highly educated, had a good enough grasp of English to understand Rani’s questions with no translation, and to even answer some of them in perfectly coherent sentences. The documentary also shows just how central the English language is to the socioeconomic advancement of many Filipinos: from the British-accented call center agents working in posh offices in Makati to Junalyn, a young girl from Tondo hoping to get a much dreamed-of job in the local office of a multinational bank. All these people recognized that in order to do well in their chosen careers, they had to speak good English. in Junalyn’s case, the stakes were even higher: she needed a job in Makati to lift her family out of poverty, and doing this required English-language skills.

And of course, the documentary provides the perfect opportunity to hear the Filipino accent for those who are not familiar with it, and to see some very good examples of Philippine English usage. In the clip above is one example. Ana Apruebo, the most senior nurse in the maternity ward of Fabella Hospital, tells a flabbergasted Anita Rani that she has delivered around 200,000 babies in her career. To justify such a mind-boggling number, she says, “Because I’m already here since 1986!” A classic Philippine English construction, where the English adverb already is used as a substitute for the untranslatable Tagalog particle na.

The show even gives a glimpse of the unflappable Filipino spirit. Rani, standing in the middle of the Fabella maternity ward, surrounded by women delivering babies left and right, could not help but comment on the calm, controlled atmosphere in such a high-tension situation. No screaming, no panicking, just matter-of-fact efficiency, “maternity in an industrial scale”.

And as a human-interest story, the documentary can be quite touching in parts. I must admit that by the end, when an overjoyed Junalyn announced that she got the job at the bank, I could feel the tears well up.