Like Pig-Latin But Make It Fashion: Why Plurilingualism is a Form of Verbal Artistry (by John Wayne N. dela Cruz)

This week’s blog post includes a linked audio file. Just click on the link below if you would like to hear the post read aloud. Scroll down to read the text.

After just a little over a year of doing research on plurilingual practices and identities of second language (L2) speakers, I can’t seem to “un-see” it anymore. By it I mean the various forms of plurilingualism with which L2 users engage every day. Here in Montréal for instance, my friends and I would commonly code-switch between English and French as we see fit, while also consuming (literally!) bits and pieces of Mandarin, Japanese, Punjabi, Italian, Spanish, and other languages every time we find ourselves in the many ethnic restaurants that have found a home on the island of Tiohtià:ke.

More recently, I also had the chance to speak a lot of Tagalog during a fellow Filipino friend’s visit from Toronto. It was quite exciting and surprising since I never use Tagalog here! Indeed, I’ve never really seen Tagalog as something that is a part of my plurilingual reality when I’m in Montréal. But the hotter tea is this: it took my friend and me no time at all to find ourselves in a nostalgic space as we started to plurilingually engage in English, Tagalog, and… Filipino gay lingo or swardspeak!

Or as I like to put it, pig-latin but make it fashion. Let me give you some examples:

You can take a Tagalog (Filipino) word and make it sound more feminine using made up bound morphemes as in:

Sino [ˈsinɔ] Sinetch [siˈnetʃ] (English gloss: pronoun “who”)             

You can replace a less feminine-sounding word in Tagalog in favour of a more feminine-sounding word in another Filipino language as in:

Pasyal (Tagalog) [pɑˈʃɑl  Lamyerda (Kapampangan) [lɑˈmjɛrdɑ]  (to gallavant)

You can take a word or phrase from English (which is an official language in the Philippines; perhaps this is why my “English is so good!” 😉) to replace a Tagalog equivalent, with or without adding “feminine” morphemes as in the following:

Go (English) Gora[ˈɡɔrɑ] (rolled /r/) (“let’s go”)

Bata (Tagalog) [ˈbɑtɑ], [t] not flapped    Butter toast/s*           (child/children)

*The morphing of “bata” to “butter” lends itself naturally in Tagalog because Philippine English would pronounce the latter as [bɑtɛr], where the [t] is not flapped, instead of [bʌtər].

Now I’m not at all an academic expert on queer argots, a term which scholars like Barrett (2018) would use to refer to Filipino gay lingo. Personally, I’m not sure if I would call it an argot because based on my experience, swardspeak doesn’t focus as much on having a secret vocabulary and idiom. Its typically gay speakers would teach it all the time to their non-gay peers (this blog could be considered an example). But as someone who had used this lingo consistently during my 4 years in an all-boys high school back in the Philippines, I do agree with Barrett (2018) that queer argots such as swardspeak have provided its speakers opportunities for speech play, gender play, and most importantly, verbal artistry

Further, I would argue as a researcher of plurilingualism that such kinds of speech and gender play—this level of verbal artistry—is a wonderful display of L2 speakers’ plurilingualism. Specifically, it is a manifestation of how speakers of various languages can use their agency to flexibly draw, as they see fit, from the various languages and dialects in their plurilingual repertoire in order to facilitate different ways of communication (Marshall & Moore, 2018). Further, I would argue that the examples above beautifully illustrate how the languages that we know don’t simply exist in separate compartments in our brains (Kroll, Gullifer, & Rossi, 2013). Instead, one’s known languages are intricately and inextricably interrelated, such that plurilingual practices are not only possible but inevitable when encouraged in particular circumstances and environments.

In retrospect, I very much agree with the message of the TEDTalk from Jennifer Burton’s post 2 weeks back: non-standard varieties such as swardspeak are not improper forms of the standard variety of the language where they are based. Rather, these varieties are perfect demonstrations of how mono, bi, and plurilingual speakers can speak articulately using variations of the languages in their repertoire. If you watch RuPaul’s Drag Race like me, you’re correct to think that such form of articulate non-standard speech (i.e., drag queen speech) also exists in English among monolingual speakers! Interestingly, this drag-speak is rapidly spreading from TV to daily life as the show becomes more and more mainstream (my use of teaabove is but one example).

Speaking of daily life, I want to close with a parting question inspired by my day-to-day reality as a language teacher: How could I further encourage such verbal artistry, linguistic creativity, plurilingual code-switching and translanguaging in my L2 classroom? That’s some piping hot tea we language educators, researchers, and professionals should keep on sipping on.

References

Barrett, R. (2018). Speech play, gender play, and the verbal artistry of queer argots. Suvremena Lingvistika, 44(86), 215–242.

Kroll, J., Gullifer, J., & Rossi, E. (2013). The multilingual lexicon: The cognitive and neural basis of lexical comprehension and production in two or more languages. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 33, 102–127.

Marshall, S. & Moore, D. (2018). Plurilingualism amid the panoply of lingualisms: Addressing critiques and misconceptions in education. International Journal of Multilingualism,15(1), 19–34. 

2 thoughts on “Like Pig-Latin But Make It Fashion: Why Plurilingualism is a Form of Verbal Artistry (by John Wayne N. dela Cruz)

  1. One other thing I find amazing about swardspeak is that it’s continually evolving, as it makes use of pop culture references e.g . Haggardo Versoza (reference to local actor Gardo Versoza, meaning “haggard”) or Stress Drilon (reference to local newscaster Ces Drilon, meaning “stressed”), and so not only do speakers move across languages in a sentence, but even the terms themselves are transcultural / translingual neologisms. I’ve heard people refer to swardspeak as bexspeak (which seems to have evolved from bakla [gay] – baks – bex). I think the adoption of swardspeak/bexspeak into the mainstream contributes to greater social inclusion in the Philippines.

    1. Exactly! It’s amazing what language users can do with the languages/cultures in their repertoire when given ample creative rein!! Ah, I’ve never heard of bexspeak but I love it. My friends and I used to refer to each other as “beki” (same way gay men in North America would use “girl” or “sis” to address people), or “beks” if we were to address the entire group. I totally agree—it’s turning the discourse of exclusion on its own head by using an exclusive speech to welcome non-excluded outsiders into an excluded community.

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