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A Pinay Englisher

(Article published in the May 27, 2009 issue of Manila Standard Today)

I thought I knew English.  After all, though technically my “second language”, English was the tongue I grew up in and is the habitual idiom of my advanced years.  English was my competitive edge over my deep Tagalog talking classmates at Lakan Dula Elementary School and Torres High School of Tondo. It was the secret handshake that made me one with the native Ateneans of Loyola Heights. And it has always been the tool of my trade at my legal workplace. Comfortable and complacent was I with my command of English.

Until last week when I chanced upon Gloria Azul Agas, who holds a Ph. D from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA., in the office of Professor Eduardo Aro Labitag at the UP Law Center in Diliman, Quezon City.  Professor Labitag commended to my reading a book Dr. Agas recently authored, “An Englisher” subtitled “Some Bits of Basic English Matters.”  At one fell swoop, on account of just the visual impact of the title boldly written on the glossy cover, my once straight standing English crumpled into graceless body English.

I was clueless as to what an “Englisher” was. So too, apparently, my word processor; it redlined “Englisher” everytime it showed up in my text.  And my handy Pocket Oxford Dictionary and the larger Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary were just as benighted; “Englisher” was not an entry in either.  Only after Google had led me to an online dictionary did I learn what “Englisher” meant.  And that Dr. Agas simply meant to be a Henry Higgins of sorts. Her book was to teach English to those who are not.

As Professor Labitag, in the Foreword, states, “An Englisher” is “designed to help students of English, be they bar reviewees, undergraduates or anyone wanting a handy pocketbook about some basic bits of English matters: grammar, punctuation, word usage, word order, spelling and parallelism.”


The mention of “bar reviewees” at the head of the enumeration of the book’s beneficiaries was not accidental.  Bar reviewees are famous for mangling English. I should know. In the two years, 2001 and 2003, that I was the examiner of Taxation, not an hour of correcting passed without my encountering a fragment or two of  fractured English.

But aside from explicitly teaching bar reviewees how to properly articulate their answers to the questions in the crucial examinations they need to pass in order to become lawyers, An Englisher also helps them remember the legal rules and principles  that are likely to be of great help to them in formulating their responses.  Copious quotes, illustrative of, for instance, correct usage, are taken from the bar review handouts, reading materials, and reviewers of Professors Labitag, Emiterio C. Cui, Froilan M. Bacungan, Antonio R. Bautista, Carlos M. Ortega, Domingo P. Disini, Jr., to mention only a few.  Through this and the device of using statutory provisions and snippets from jurisprudence, the reader of An Englisher is subliminally given a “soft” review without his being too conscious of it.

And even those not reviewing for the bar examinations will find An Englisher a useful source book.  For instance, it was a surprise to me that some words can be viewed as a unit, and thus take a singular verb (e.g. The family is…) as well as used to mean or refer to the members of the group, thereby taking a plural verb (e.g. The family are…)

Familiar to many are the errors commonly made in the use of modifiers.  Thus, most are aware of “dangling modifiers” and “misplaced modifiers.”  But, how many are aware of the error of a “squinting modifier”?  For the many, including myself who would not have learned of its existence were it not for An Englisher, a “squinting modifier” is one placed between words or word groups, either one of which may possibly be that which is referred to.  Because of this ambiguity, the meaning intended by the writer becomes very obscure. 

An example given: “My ‘Property’ professor only teaches in pure English.”  The word “only” is a squinting modifier since it could possibly refer to the Property professor (as in “Only my ‘Property’ professor teaches…) or to “pure English” (thus,…professor teaches in pure English only.”)  Obviously, it is preferable to avoid the squint, unless the writer deliberate intends to be playful, and, through the squint, convey a wink.

Another eye opener, at least for me.  There are in fact three kinds of dashes, of varying lengths and for different uses. There is the “hyphen” which is the shortest and is used, among other uses, to connect words that are closely connected (e.g. one-quarter pound of meat).  Another is the “en dash”, a bit longer than the hyphen and connects words that are related to each other by distance (e.g. pages 10--13 of the transcript of stenographic notes).  And the third is the “em dash”, the longest of the three.  Its function is to signal a break in the thought (e.g. the First Party may---not must---decide…), or in speech, to indicate, for example, that while someone was speaking, another butted in. Often, the em dash is also used as a bullet point in an enumeration presented in columns.

           Aside from dishing out interesting information about the English language, An Englisher invites the reader to do the exercises designed to test his comprehension of what was presented.  Of various grades of ease and difficulty, the exercises at times teach and at times test, and always challenges.  If only for those many chances to see in a new light what one thought he had already learned by heart, An Englisher is a good book to have and read.