The War of Translation: Colonial Education, American English, and Tagalog Slang in the Philippines

JASVicente L. Rafael
The Journal of Asian Studies / FirstView Article / March 2015, pp 1 – 20
DOI: 10.1017/S0021911814002241, Published online: 24 March 2015
This paper examines the role of language in nationalist attempts at decolonization. In the case of the Philippines, American colonial education imposed English as the sole medium of instruction. Native students were required to suppress their vernacular languages so that the classroom became the site for a kind of linguistic war, or better yet, the war of translation. Nationalists have routinely denounced the continued use of English as a morbid symptom of colonial mentality. Yet, such a view was deeply tied to the colonial notion of the sheer instrumentality of language and the notion that translation was a means for the speaker to dominate language as such. However, other practices of translation existed based not on domination but play seen in the classroom and the streets. Popular practices of translation undercut colonial and nationalist ideas about language, providing us with an alternative understanding of translation in democratizing expression in a postcolonial context.

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