Tilman Baumgaertel on Tue, 23 Nov 2004 17:58:19 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Txting culture in the Philippines, pt 2

Interview with Prof. Milagros Carreon-Laurel, University of the Philippines

Milagros Carreon-Laurel is Professor for English at the University of the 
Philippines and is currently doing research on the development of 
English(es) in SMS-exchanges among Filippinos

?: Please point out some instances in which the use of cell phones in the 
Philippines is different from other countries.

Laurel: I have read that in some foreign countries people make more voice 
calls on their mobile phones than here. In countries where the writing 
system requires a different script or character which the phone probably 
does not provide for, for example, the message must first be encoded in 
the Roman alphabet. This would require more time than just simply making a 
voice call. Filipino phone users do not have a problem with this. In 
countries where voice calls are not so expensive, people do not mind 
paying a little more for the convenience. In the Philippines, texting 
became popular because of economic reasons. It costs only one peso to send 
a message, while a voice call can cost 6 pesos and more. The overseas 
workers, I understand, do spend a regular part of their income to buy 
pre-paid cards to be able to get in touch with their family through 
texting.  Then they don't have to make expensive long-distance calls. A 
lot of our young kids use their cell phones in very noisy places too, like 
at parties or on the bus, and by texting they can continue to talk with 
their friends via the mobile. And nobody else would hear what they are 
talking about. So apart from the fact that text messaging is cheaper, it 
also allows for private communication in public places.  Even the person 
next to you won't have hear the "conversation" taking place on the phone.

?: So apart from the fact that it is cheaper you would also say that it 
caters to a need for privacy?

Laurel: Yes. Some people have been able to tell other people things that 
they might not be able to tell them face to face. Not with their voices, 
because texting "hides" the message sender. I read from a magazine article 
that in some instances cell phones have been used to fire people. They are 
being used for break ups or make ups. Another thing that attracts people 
to texting is that they can use language in a creative way. Text messages 
come between oral and written discourse. And because you can only type 160 
characters on most phones, you have to use abbreviations and shortcuts. 
And since only eight letters of the alphabet appear on the screen with 
just one stroke on the keypad, everything that saves you time writing is 
welcome. People see these limitations as a challenge. It allows for 
creativity and playfulness and it gives people the opportunity to say 
ordinary things in new ways. My own children first took to the cell phone, 
when they discovered the fancy graphics, such as this (shows some 
ASCII-art-style text-images on her phone). These are mostly forwarded 
messages. They are interesting. The phone companies themselves must have 
produced a number of these in order to make more money.  And there are 
dozens of books that publish just these types of messages. Many of them do 
not work on the new phones though, because they have a different screen. 
The ones on my phone were made for the good old 3210, but they are not the 
same on the screens of the new phones.

?: In a paper you wrote on texting in the Philippines you remarked that 
this playful way of using language in texting is a way of "colonizing" the 
English language. Could you elaborate on that?

Laurel: I was quoting from a colleague who said that during a forum at the 
De La Salle University. There are several Englishes existing side by side. 
There are Asian Englishes - Hongkong English, Singapore English, Indian 
English, Philippine English. Even without text messaging, we use the 
language the way we see fit. Even the native speakers of English would be 
quick to say, that "ours is no longer the only English." For example, in 
the Philippines the word "salvage" is often used in tabloids not to mean 
that somebody was saved, as in Standard English. In the Philippines it 
means that somebody was killed, exactly the opposite of its original 
dictionary meaning.  But the Filipinos understand each other.

We are expressing ourselves in the language the way we see fit and in a 
way we find convenient. In text messaging we are not very conscious about 
grammar and spelling and things like that. In this way, text messaging is 
almost like oral communication, because it is so spontaneous. I mean, how 
many text senders actually edit their messages? Do you bother to go 
through the message again to correct a mistake?

?: So do you think that "texting English" will sooner or later influence 
the spoken English in the Philippines?

Laurel: I teach a course on the history of the English language. 
Considering all the changes that English had gone through from 449 we 
wouldn't even recognize many of the words they used then, which at that 
time was THE English. Modern English continues to change, in the same way 
that some of the words that were informal usage then have become standard 
usage. It is not impossible that terms that we now classify as just "text 
message words" might show up in more formal use later.

?: Do you see any signs of that already?

Laurel: Yesterday I looked at a new "Cambridge Dictionary" at the 
bookstore, and I found three interesting new entries. First there was 
"CU", and it said "Internet abbreviation for 'See you', a way of saying 
good-bye in email and text messages." It also contained "BTW" which means 
"by the way" and "FYI," "for your information". What is curious about 
this, is that the University Press Syndicate of Cambridge is the publisher 
of this dictionary. The entries have therefore been, in a way, 


Interview with Niel de Mesa

Niel de Mesa is the author of the play "SubText", which has been running 
at the Koine Theater for more than two years. The play, that deals with 
the way people interact with each other in texting and face-to-face, won 
the Don Carlos Palanca Award for Literature, an important price for 
writers in the Philippines

?: Why is texting so popular in the Philippines?

De Massa: The first reason is of course because it is much cheaper than 
making voice calls. The second reasons is that we Filipinos love to stay 
in touch with everybody that we know almost constantly. That goes for 
people in Manila, but even more for those who are in the provinces or 
abroad. A lot of people are working overseas, and for them texting is the 
cheapest way to communicate with their families at home. And thirdly, we 
Filipinos love to meet new people and texting gives us the opportunity to 
do so.

?: How does that work?

De Massa: Well, very much like on the Internet, you don't have to give 
away too much information about yourself at first. You can just chat away 
with total strangers, and if you do not like the way the conversation 
goes, you can just get rid of them with one push of a button. I think that 
is really sad because it allows for very superficial relations and a lot 
of subtext is lost in these exchanges, which is very important in 
communication among Filipinos.

?: I have the impression that here it is very important to be introduced 
to other people. Filipinos are not used to get in contact with total 
strangers, they prefer to get to know them via common friends. What role 
does texting play in that?

De Massa: Texting is a way to get in touch with people, that you do not 
know. It is called text mates. We consider it to be rude if somebody who 
you do not know just addresses you like that in public. Filipinos also 
prefer indirect messages in conversations. If you want to invite somebody 
to have dinner for example, you have to invite him thrice! If you ask for 
the first and second time, people assume that you are just being polite. 
Only if you ask for the third time, they take the invitation serious. If 
you ask a friend, if he wants to come to your party, and he cannot come, 
he will not say "No." He will say: "I'll try." That is a way of 
being considerate. You show that you at least will make an attempt to 
come, even though if they say "I'll try", it is 99 percent safe that 
they will not come. That makes the communication here sometimes very 
difficult for foreigners, because they cannot read the subtle hints. If 
you ask an American, for instance: "How are you doing?", he might just 
say: "Well, I feel bad." Filipinos would not say something like 

?: Your play "Subtext" is about the way people understand and 
misunderstand each other on the cell phone.

De Massa:  We do not like to be frank. We use what anthropologist would 
call "the soft approach". You have to be able to read what a person is 
saying, because they are not telling you directly into your face, what 
they are thinking. Especially on the cell phone and with texting, that can 
create a lot of problems. Because even though we do not say directly what 
we think, we are quick to react and go off on something that we hear. Some 
people do not even bother to ask if what we said is really what we meant 
and that can create a lot of miscommunication. That is what my play is 
about. I think a lot of Filipinos are really artists and poets at heart, 
and the only reason, why they do not make a profession out of it, is 
because they cannot make a living out of it. But we love to use metaphors 
and say things in a poetic way.

?: But with text messages, you only have 160 characters to say what you 
want to say. That makes it a little hard to be poetic.

De Massa: Well, you have to be creative. There are a lot of abbreviations. 
I am also a professor at De La Salle university, and I notice that 
students increasingly use these abbreviations in their papers. "B4" is 
"before= " etcetera. The way we write on the cell phone is also influenced 
by the way we speak. We say "tenk your" instead of "Thank you", because we 
do not have the "th" in Tagalog. So if people want to abbreviate "thanks", 
they might write "tenks" instead of "thx".

You might have noticed that we use the Umlaut U (=DC) a lot in our texting 
communications. We call it the "Smiling face". It is a way of making the 
messages a little softer, a little less in your face. Then again this can 
also lead to misunderstandings. So you have to be very careful with what 
you write, because it can make people upset without you even noticing it.

?: Well, I hope, I haven't offended too many people with my text messages. 
Do you think that Filipino culture is an oral or a literal culture?

De Massa: I would think it is primarily oral. People do not read a lot, 
and word of mouth is very important. But texting is somewhere in between 
speaking and literature. Because of the storage capacity of the cell 
phones, people also like to keep important messages. We are nostalgic 
people, we like to keep stuff. So the inbox of the cell phone has become 
like this little file cabinet, where people keep their most private 
conversations. It can also serve to remind people of what they said: "Here 
look, you wrote this to me." Looking at the inbox of your partner is one 
of the worst intrusions into his or her private life.

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