Youâve come to the right place, paul_nato! The Studentsâ Sounding Board is the place to discuss anything about English that baffles youâand 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 EnglishâŠ
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 âSa Aking Mga Kababataâ (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, Iâm 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 âhe was seriously trying to win the love of an Englishwomanâ (possibly Gertrude Beckett, Jose Rizalâs 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 didnât 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 languagesâGerman, English, and Frenchâto 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:
Hereâs a transcription of the English portion of that letter:
âYou 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. Hirschâs translation?[From here he begins to write in French]
âMy 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
âMy 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.
âThis 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!â
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 âEnglishâ when he told his friend that he was teaching the language, and when, apropos about nothing, he abruptly writes âHow do you find my English?â He also committed a spelling error in one instance (âfiendâ for âfriendâ).
As to his English grammar, hereâs how I would have advised Rizal had he consulted me about the English of his draft letter:
1. âDo you remember that Mr. Hirschâs translation
?â This is an awkward use of the adjective âthatâ for emphasis. Better: âDo you remember that translation of Mr. Hirsch
?â Alternatively: âDo you remember the translation of that Mr. Hirsch
2. âMy grammar about the Tagal is long ago finished
.â The use of the present tense âisâ in this sentence is in error. Corrected: âMy grammar about the Tagal was long ago finished
.â Much better in the active voice: âI long ago finished
my grammar about the Tagal.â
3. âI teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English!
Mathematics and Geometry, moreover I teach
them how to behave like men.â Rizal doesnât seem to know how to deal with the conjunctive adverb, particularly âmorever.â Structurally, âmoreoverâ needs a semicolon before it and a comma after it. That sentence as corrected: âI teach here the poor but intelligent boys reading, Spanish, English, Mathematics and Geometry; moreover, I teach
them how to behave like men.â (Stylistically, so that the flow of the exposition wonât be disrupted, it would be much better to set off the exclamation mark after âEnglishâ with parenthesis: âEnglish (!)â.
4. âWe have begun and the success crowned our trials
.â This sentence suffers from the rather awkward phrasing of âthe success crowned our trials.â It will read much better if the definite article âtheâ is dropped and the present perfect is sustained for the second clause: âWe have begun and success has crowned our trials
5. âThis Gewaltthat exerted upon me
gave me a new languageâŠâ Here, Rizalâs use of the word âexertedâ wasnât very well-chosen; âimposedâ would have been more appropriate semantically: âThis Gewaltthat imposed upon me
gave me a new languageâŠâ
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 â German for âact of violence, atrocityâ; an oblique reference to Rizalâs 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 âlittle bad boyâ (June 17, 2011)
By Howie Severino, GMA News*THE WOMEN IN RIZAL'S LOVE LIFE:JosĂ© Rizalâs Loves: An Analyzed, Revised View (2013)
By Dr. PenĂ©lope V. FloresRECENT BOOK ON JOSE RIZAL:Rizal Invigorated Southeast Asiaâs 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)âUnhappy wife of Jose Rizalâ
By Ambeth R. Ocampo, @inquirerdotnet