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paul_nato
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« on: January 28, 2010, 07:12:48 PM »

I don’t know if this is the right place to ask this question, but…

I know our national hero Jose Rizal wrote and spoke many different languages, such as Spanish, German, and French, but I was wondering if he also spoke and wrote in English.

I don’t remember reading or hearing anything about it in class. Admittedly, I might have been absent, or I was asleep when it was discussed.
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #1 on: January 29, 2010, 07:34:15 AM »

You’ve come to the right place, paul_nato! The Students’ Sounding Board is the place to discuss anything about English that baffles you—and that includes not just English grammar and usage but also vignettes in the history of the English language, its literature, and its acquisition and use by nonnative English speakers.

Now to your question on whether Jose Rizal also spoke and wrote in English…

Most of his writings were in Spanish, of course, and several others were in Tagalog. He used Spanish to write his landmark novels Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, the poem A La Juventud Filipina (To the Filipino Youth) that he wrote when he was 18 and the poem Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell) that he wrote on the eve of his execution, and many of his essays and articles for periodicals. And he used Tagalog to write the poem Sa Aking Mga Kababata” (To My Fellow Youth) when he was only eight years old, some essays, and many of his letters to family members, friends, and associates in the Philippines. I think we can confidently say that Rizal was not only very fluent but very prolific as well in both Spanish and Tagalog.

As to English, I’m not aware of any major work that Rizal originally wrote in English. My understanding, though, is that he spoke a smattering of English and French, particularly during his studies in Spain and his sojourns in various places in Europe. I came across a passing mention in an account of his life--probably apocryphal--that Rizal had told some foreign acquaintances in Europe that he had begun to study English seriously. According to the account, he wanted to polish his English at the time because “he was seriously trying to win the love of an Englishwoman” (possibly Gertrude Beckett, Jose Rizal’s fling in London). This was most likely during his stay in London from 1888-1889.*

Jose Rizal (left) wears a mischievous smile in this group photo in Paris in the late
1880s, with his pretty girlfriend Nelly Boustead (fourth from left).

Although I gather that he didn’t write professionally in English, I came across convincing evidence that he was adequately proficient in using it at least for personal correspondence with friends who were conversant in English. Below is a portion of a facsimile of a letter he wrote in beautiful longhand in three languages—German, English, and French—to express his condolences to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt, a German teacher and secondary school principal, on the death of Ferdinand's father. The letter was written on July 31, 1894 in Dapitan, where Rizal was then on exile for alleged subversive activities against the Spanish government.

In the letter, Rizal first writes in German to express his condolences, then shifts to English at some point:





Here’s a transcription of the English portion of that letter:

Quote
“You would certainly oblige me, my dear, if you send me a copy of that interesting account of the Chinese about my country. Do you remember that Mr. Hirsch’s translation?

“My grammar about the Tagal is long ago finished. I intend to publish it as soon as I shall be set at liberty. It will bring to light so many things that I believe nobody thought of. I make references to bisaya, Malay, and Madecassis* according to Dr. Brandstetter.** Greet him, if you ever write to him

“My life now is quiet, peaceful, retired and without glory, but I think it is useful too. I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English! Mathematics and Geometry, moreover I teach them how to behave like men. I taught the men here how to get a better way of earning their living and they think that I am right. We have begun and the success crowned our trials.

“This Gewaltthat*** exerted upon me gave me a new language, the bisaya; taught me how to steer a vessel and to manage a canoe; made me better acquainted with my country and presented me with some thousands of dollars! God can send you your fortune amidst the persecutions of your fiends! How do you find my English!”
[From here he begins to write in French]

Based solely on this letter to his friend Blumentritt, my opinion is that Rizal was quite proficient in English, comfortable using some of its idioms, and competent in constructing even oblique expressions in English. He was evidently still self-conscious with his English; we can see this in his use of the exclamation mark after the word “English” when he told his friend that he was teaching the language, and when, apropos about nothing, he abruptly writes “How do you find my English?” He also committed a spelling error in one instance (“fiend” for “friend”).

As to his English grammar, here’s how I would have advised Rizal had he consulted me about the English of his draft letter:

1.   “Do you remember that Mr. Hirsch’s translation?” This is an awkward use of the adjective “that” for emphasis. Better: “Do you remember that translation of Mr. Hirsch?” Alternatively: “Do you remember the translation of that Mr. Hirsch?”
2.   “My grammar about the Tagal is long ago finished.” The use of the present tense “is” in this sentence is in error. Corrected: “My grammar about the Tagal was long ago finished.”  Much better in the active voice: “I long ago finished my grammar about the Tagal.”
3.   “I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English! Mathematics and Geometry, moreover I teach them how to behave like men.” Rizal doesn’t seem to know how to deal with the conjunctive adverb, particularly “morever.” Structurally, “moreover” needs a semicolon before it and a comma after it. That sentence as corrected: “I teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English, Mathematics and Geometry; moreover, I teach them how to behave like men.” (Stylistically, so that the flow of the exposition won’t be disrupted, it would be much better to set off the exclamation mark after “English” with parenthesis: “English (!)”.
4.   “We have begun and the success crowned our trials.” This sentence suffers from the rather awkward phrasing of “the success crowned our trials.” It will read much better if the definite article “the” is dropped and the present perfect is sustained for the second clause: “We have begun and success has crowned our trials.”
5.   “This Gewaltthat exerted upon me gave me a new language…” Here, Rizal’s use of the word “exerted” wasn’t very well-chosen; “imposed” would have been more appropriate semantically: “This Gewaltthat imposed upon me gave me a new language…”

Overall, though, Rizal was definitely above-average in his written English. His facility with written English could put many of us to shame considering that he was essentially self-taught in English while we are formally taught English grammar and usage from grade school onwards.

-------
*According to some historians, Rizal probably meant the Malagasy language here.
** Dr. Renward Brandstetter (1860-1942) was a Swiss linguist who studied the insular Malayo-Polynesian languages
***Gewaltthat – German for “act of violence, atrocity”; an oblique reference to Rizal’s exile in Dapitan by the Spanish authorities.


Primary source: Lineage, Life and Labors of Jose Rizal: Philippine Patriot by Austin Craig

LINKS:
A La Juventud Filipina (To My Fellow Youth)
Mi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell)
Sa Aking Mga Kababata (To My Fellow Youth)

RELATED READING ON JOSE RIZAL IN EUROPE:
Looking for Rizal in Europe, finding a “little bad boy” (June 17, 2011)
By Howie Severino, GMA News

*THE WOMEN IN RIZAL'S LOVE LIFE:

José Rizal’s Loves: An Analyzed, Revised View (2013)
By Dr. Penélope V. Flores

RECENT BOOK ON JOSE RIZAL:
Rizal Invigorated Southeast Asia’s Revolutionary Spirit
My review of John Nery's book Revolutionary Spirit: Jose Rizal in Southeast Asia (2011)

RELATED FEATURE THAT JUST CAME OUT TODAY (December 30, 2016)

“Unhappy wife of Jose Rizal”
By Ambeth R. Ocampo, @inquirerdotnet
« Last Edit: December 30, 2016, 02:34:58 PM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2010, 09:56:29 AM »

Eddie AAA Calderon, PhD, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, e-mailed early today this response to my quick research about Jose Rizal’s English proficiency level:

“Regarding Dr. Rizal's knowledge of English, it was not as good as that of Spanish and French. His knowledge of English can be described in Spanish as puede pasar.”

I e-mailed Eddie back to ask if I can quote him on that appraisal of his, and invited him to join Jose Carillo’s English Forum to explain it himself. He said yes, I can quote him. He has gone over the Forum website in the meantime and sent me this follow-through note just now:

“I read Rizal’s English usage and writings when I was a student at the UP. His English was very formal and he did not have excellent command of the language; in contrast, he was very proficient with the languages of Moliere and Don Miguel de Cervantes. But this is explainable by the fact that his English was self-taught; in the case of the other languages, he learnt them formallly.
 
“The written Spanish of our national hero—best exemplified in his two novels, in particular in the chapter entitled “Idilio en la Azotea” [Idyll in the Balcony] in Noli Me Tangere—was elegant and flowery; even a pihikan* woman would have fallen in love with him upon hearing him talk.
 
“His Spanish in the “Mi Ultimo Adios” is, again, excellent.”
 
----
*Pihikan – Tagalog for “finicky,” “persnickety,” “very meticulous.”
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2010, 10:08:04 AM »

I’ve just received another e-mailed response to my appraisal of Jose Rizal’s English proficiency. It came from the Reverend Dr. Robert L. Yoder, who maintains a website on the Philippine national hero, “The Life and Writings of Dr. Jose Rizal.”

“For what it is worth, Rizal taught classes in Dapitan in English as well as in Spanish. One usage that is important is when he told his sister that 'there is something inside' the alcohol burner where he had hid his last poem. I know that he wrote a few articles for publication in English. One was the Tagalog story of the monkey and turtle. I’m doing this from memory so I could be wrong about some of these things.”
« Last Edit: January 31, 2010, 10:49:56 AM by Joe Carillo » Logged

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« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2010, 06:26:56 PM »

I was copied the exchange of e-mails below between Eddie AAA Calderon of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and his “Lolo” Bobby M. Reyes, editor of MabuhayRadio.com.

In his e-mail, Dr. Calderon was asking for English-language articles of Jose Rizal that might have been posted in Mr. Reyes’s website:

“Do you have the English articles in your website? Do you mind giving me a citation in the website? Dr. Rizal spoke English to his Irish wife who called him 'Joe' and that, of course, made him improve more his English speaking capability. As he was a polyglot or a multilingual, he would learn any language with facilities better than those who had limited language proficiency.
 
“Apolinario Mabini, the brain of the Philippine Revolution, learnt English on his own when he was exiled in Guam. I read his English essays but they were written as though they were translated directly from Spanish.”

Here’s Mr. Reyes’s reply:

“Dear Dr. Eddie:
 
“Per my grandfather-in-law, Isabelo 'Don Belong' de los Reyes, Jose P. Rizal and many other Ilustrado* students in Spain could speak (and even teach) English but did not write at all in the King's language as they were just experts in conversational English. Don Belong himself wrote in Spanish for the same reason. (Don Belong was exiled twice in the Iberian Peninsula—both by the Spaniards and the Americans.) Why? He said that good writers have to know by heart the idiomatic expressions of any language to really write well. And, therefore, almost nobody among the Filipinos in Spain in the 1800s wrote their important works in English. Because writers use only the language that they are most comfortable with.
 
“To understand what Don Belong meant, just look at our English teachers in high school and/or college; very few of them ended up as celebrated or award-winning writers.
 
“Perhaps those interested in reading (my corrected version of) Don Belong's biography (as found in the Philippine Senate archive) can click on this link, “Isabelo de los Reyes, Founder of the Philippine Labor Movement, Among Other Titles.”

“Lolo Bobby M. Reyes”
 
--------
*Ilustrado – A Spanish and Filipino word that means the “enlightened one.” Philippine Ilustrados were the Filipino elite during the Spanish colonial period. They were the middle-class who were educated and exposed to European liberal and nationalist ideals. The Filipino Ilustrados sought reform through “a more equitable arrangement of both political and economic power” under Spanish tutelage. (Wikipedia)

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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #5 on: February 02, 2010, 06:28:54 AM »

I was copied by Dr. Placido Calderon this morning with the e-mail below from “Ka Tasio” on the question, “Did Jose Rizal write and speak in English—and if he did, was he any good at it?”

“In the whole of Epistolario Rizalino, there is only one letter in English, a letter to his nephew, in the form of an advice. Maybe Dr. Yoder* can help us on this matter.
 
“Of course, his command of English had much to be desired. He seldom used it.  He used the English language reportedly when he told his sister, “‘There is something inside the lamp?’”

-----
*The Reverend Dr. Robert L. Yoder, who maintains a website on the Philippine national hero, “The Life and Writings of Dr. Jose Rizal.”
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paul_nato
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« Reply #6 on: February 02, 2010, 06:44:43 AM »

Wow...so much stuff to read.  Grin

Speaking of stuff to read, after finding out that he did speak/write in English, I went to look for stuff he may have written. I came across this:

http://www.univie.ac.at/Voelkerkunde/apsis/aufi/rizal/craig51.htm

Quite interesting in that he got published by a British mag.

How's his English in this piece?
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #7 on: February 02, 2010, 10:27:01 AM »

Following the link that you provided, paul_nato, I have reproduced below “The Tale of the Tortoise and the Monkey,” Rizal’s English-language anecdote as published in a London publication, Trubner’s Oriental Record, in 1889.

You asked me how’s the English of Rizal in this piece. I would say that its English is competent. Being a professional editor, though, I would have made a few refinements in the prose. In particular, in the very first sentence, I would have put the adverb “once” before the verb “found”—not after—for more fluid, effortless reading. I would have also knocked off the phrase “amidst the waves of a river” as an overfastidious superfluity; simply saying “in the river” would have made that sentence read much better and more naturally. Also, the narrative’s use of the verb phrase “climb up” three times is grammatically incorrect; the verb “climb” already conveys the idea of going “up,” so “up” is redundant in each case. Otherwise, the English of the story is grammatically and semantically aboveboard.

Overall, though, I couldn’t make a judgment of how good Rizal’s English was based on this published story. You see, then as now, practically all of the published stories people get to read are edited beforehand before they are printed. Editors routinely correct them for grammar, syntax, and structure as well as for style; some publications even rewrite them so they will better suit its editorial policy or ideological orientation. So, we really have no way of knowing how good the English of Rizal’s original manuscript was, and how much editing it had to bear before getting published. All I can say for sure is that Rizal had a great talent for storytelling and story adaptation (the tale below is actually his retelling of a popular fable at that time). Can you imagine, if he weren't executed by the Spanish authorities in 1896 at the age of 35, how many more stories and novels he could have written—whether in Spanish, Tagalog, or English—had he lived to the ripe age of, say, 60 to 70?    

Here’s Rizal’s story as published in Trubner’s Oriental Record in 1889:

The Tale of the Tortoise and the Monkey
By Jose P. Rizal

The tortoise and the monkey found once a banana tree floating amidst the waves of a river. It was a very fine tree, with large green leaves, and with roots just as if it had been pulled off by a storm. They took it ashore. "Let us divide it," said the tortoise, "and plant each its portion." They cut it in the middle, and the monkey, as the stronger, took for himself the upper part of the tree, thinking that it would grow quicker for it had leaves. The tortoise, as the weaker, had the lower part, that looked ugly, although it had roots. After some days, they met.

"Hello, Mr. Monkey," said the tortoise, "how are you getting on with your banana tree?"

"Alas," said the monkey, "it has been dead a long time! And yours, Miss Tortoise?"

"Very nice indeed, with leaves and fruits. I cannot climb up to gather them."

"Never mind," said the malicious monkey, "I will climb up and pick them for you."

"Do, Mr. Monkey," replied the tortoise gratefully. And so they walked toward the tortoise's house.

As soon as the monkey saw the bright yellow fruits hanging between the large green leaves, he climbed up and began plundering, munching and gobbling, as quick as he could.

"But give me some, too," said the tortoise, seeing that the monkey did not take the slightest notice of her.

"Not even a bit of the skin, if it is eatable," rejoined the monkey, both his cheeks crammed with bananas.

The tortoise meditated revenge. She went to the river, picked up some pointed shells, planted them around the banana tree, and hid herself under a coconut shell. When the monkey came down, he hurt himself and began to bleed.

After a long search he found the tortoise.

"You must pay now for your wickedness; You must die. But as I am very generous, I will leave to you the choice of your death. Shall I pound you in a mortar, or shall I throw you into the water? Which do you prefer?"

"The mortar, the mortar," answered the tortoise; "I am so afraid of getting drowned."

"O ho!" laughed the monkey; "indeed! You are afraid of getting drowned! Now I will drown you!"
And going to the shore, he slung the tortoise and threw it in the water. But soon the tortoise reappeared swimming and laughing at the deceived, artful monkey.

COMIC STRIP BY JOSE RIZAL:
Rizal's Monkey and the Tortoise
This may very well be the first comic strip by a Filipino
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« Reply #8 on: February 03, 2010, 07:01:04 AM »

The Rev. Dr. Robert Yoder copied me an e-mail he sent this morning to Mr. Max Fabella regarding Jose Rizal’s writings in English:

“You can find in one of the Gutenberg electronic book collections a picture of one of Rizal’s letters to one of his nephews:

“Look for:

“‘Letter to his nephew Mauricio Cruz written from Dapitan by Rizal’

“Part of the letter is in Spanish and the last words are in English in which he wishes him a happy new year and asks him to be good.

“There is also a letter that looks like it could have been written originally in English to ‘Master Alfredo Hidalgo’.

Go to:
joserizal.info/Writings/Letters/Family

Look for # 183. The letter looks like Rizal is correcting his nephew’s grammar. I don’t know about Spanish grammar but his correction does fit English grammar.

I don’t have time to look into the matter more at the moment.
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« Reply #9 on: February 03, 2010, 07:07:18 AM »

Following the link provided by the Rev. Dr. Yoder, I found the transcription below of Jose Rizal’s letter to his nephew Alfredo Hidalgo. As Dr. Yoder has indicated in his e-mail, we can’t be sure if this letter was originally written by Rizal in English. There’s a possibility that it’s an English translation from Spanish. I would say, though, that its advice on grammar is valid whether for English or Spanish and its encouragement to a student to study harder is timeless and very well-meaning.

Here’s the transcription of the letter:

Quote
Master Alfredo Hidalgo
My dear Alfredo,

Your letter pleased me very much and I see that you are very much advanced. I congratulate you on it and on your excellent grade.

I believe it is my duty to call to your attention to a little mistake you have committed in your letter, a mistake that many commit in society. One does not say, "I and my brother greet you" but "My brothers and I greet you". You must always put yourself in the last place, you should say, "Emilio and I; You and I; My friend and I." etc.

As to the rest, your letter leaves nothing to be desired with respect to clarity, conciseness, and orthography. Go ahead then; study, study, and meditate well what you study. Life is a very serious thing and only those with intelligence and heart go through it worthily. To live is to be among men and to be among men is to struggle. But this struggle is not a brutal and material struggle with men alone; it is a struggle with them and one's self, with their passions and one's own, with errors and preoccupations. It is an eternal struggle with a smile on the lips and tears in the heart. On this battlefield man has no better weapon than his intelligence, no other force but his heart. Sharpen, perfect, polish then your mind and fortify and educate your heart.

[I have written] enough for the present. I wish you Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

[I am] your uncle who loves you,

José Rizal
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arjine06
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« Reply #10 on: May 03, 2010, 06:44:28 PM »

I was copied by Dr. Placido Calderon this morning with the e-mail below from “Ka Tasio” on the question, “Did Jose Rizal write and speak in English—and if he did, was he any good at it?”

“In the whole of Epistolario Rizalino, there is only one letter in English, a letter to his nephew, in the form of an advice. Maybe Dr. Yoder* can help us on this matter.
 
“Of course, his command of English had much to be desired. He seldom used it.  He used the English language reportedly when he told his sister, “‘There is something inside the lamp?’”

-----
*The Reverend Dr. Robert L. Yoder, who maintains a website on the Philippine national hero, “The Life and Writings of Dr. Jose Rizal.”


Yup, I also heard that Rizal, once wrote a letter in an English language.I hope Dr. Yoder have a time to help us, to answers all our questions. May you give us that website so that we can get more information? Thanks a lot. Wink
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2010, 08:56:08 AM »

Arjine06, the website of Dr. Yoder is http://joserizal.info/index.html. You can reach him at DrRobertL_Yoder@excite.com. Good luck on your Rizaliana research!
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hill roberts
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« Reply #12 on: June 23, 2013, 05:22:54 PM »

How can this be shared to Facebook? This is such a great topic, Joe. Thank you so much!
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hill roberts
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« Reply #13 on: June 23, 2013, 05:41:17 PM »

I was able to share it to Eduphil (Education in the Philippines: Facing up to the Challenges) on facebook. thanks again, Joe! Smiley
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melvinhate
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« Reply #14 on: July 05, 2013, 08:41:11 PM »

This is very interesting, and I am glad to share this piece of information to my junior students. Thank you.
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