Verbal Infusion

By Richter Leoric Berlin

Language is like soup, composed of different ingredients that come together to make a coherent meal. There are all types of soups, and your soup becomes a reflection of who you are. Our country prides itself on the diversity of regional soups. Growing up, I never liked the local soup. The flavors were too complex for my taste, and I preferred Western soups to the ones being served around me. Even at home, my family didn’t have one definitive type of soup. Eventually, learning the native recipes became a hassle because I had grown too accustomed to the taste of English soup.

The style in which my parents cooked their soup was different from that of my grandparents. Living in an ancestral home with extended family meant living with my paternal grandparents. I was raised in a multilingual household. There was a mountain between me and my grandfather, whom we lovingly called “Dad”. In the society he grew up in, he wasn’t the type to show verbal affirmation. He never directly tells you he loves you, but you could tell from the way he gave you the ingredients for the soup. Conversations, similar to soup, take time and effort, requiring you to invest in ingredients and spices.

When the pandemic first crashed like a wave, I never had time to talk with him anymore. His memory started gradually fading, and we couldn’t let him out of the house. The soup he made slowly started becoming distorted and jumbled. It was coherent, but the flavors left bitterness in my family’s mouths. At the end of 2020, he returned to the universe. I never realized how much you miss soup when it’s not being served anymore. The flavors I once took for granted became distant aftertastes in my mouth.

Out of all his grandchildren, I was the only one still in Iloilo. Living in the same household meant I got to taste the soup he made every day firsthand. The flavors my cousins could only yearn for were on my table every day. Yet I overlooked the value that a simple bowl could have. It’s been 4 years, and I’m slowly forgetting.

Forgetting shouldn’t be an option. In 2021, my parents and I traveled to Mindoro for my father’s business trip. As a non-native Tagalog speaker, I struggled a lot with communication. I could only talk in simple Filipino or a mix of Taglish, not so the locals would understand me but so that I could take myself seriously. We would ask for directions from locals in Filipino. Although most of the experience wasn’t difficult, it was certainly an eye-opener to the inner workings of code-switching and dynamics. Language is a home away from home. In an unknown land, it becomes a refuge and a lighthouse of guidance. Preserving language means preserving culture. Being trapped in a car for 10 hours forced us as a family to talk about whatever crossed our minds. We were a boat of Ilonggos in a sea of Filipino speakers.

This experience revealed the many layers of language, each one representing a facet of identity. That car ride became a window to the side-view mirror, a view of how family affects your speech. It becomes a reminder that every person you meet is living a life just as vivid as yours, with happiness and struggle and their way of communicating with the world. The struggle to express myself in my native tongue became a stench, reflecting the complexities of my evolving identity. Language is like an onion; you peel it for the soup, one layer at a time, and sometimes you weep.

I am an onion, and I am missing my core. I left it in front of a TV all those years ago when my parents decided that it was more useful to show me English children’s programming. Although learning English at a young age helped me connect to the world around me, it disconnected me from myself and my culture. They say every child is born an artist. There was always a need to perform at my best, but being the best takes away from authenticity. If language reflects who you are, then I still don’t know who I am.

As a teenager navigating the labyrinth of high school and the humanities, I find myself entangled in the threads of my linguistic journey. Language is alive. It is a living, breathing entity that shapes the narrative of my existence. The nuances of Hiligaynon and Filipino are not lost on me anymore. They are the flavors that define the cultural soup I find myself savoring now. I reminisce about my grandfather’s struggle with Alzheimer’s, a silent battle that reshaped the contours of our communication. Like a book with one ending, I revisit the inevitable. The once vivid conversations became fragmented, slipping through the cracks of memory. Yet, in those fleeting moments of connection, I realized the power of language as a bridge between generations. It became a beacon, guiding us through the maze of forgetfulness.

In the closet of my linguistic identity, language was the Ukay-Ukay from which I bought my speech. Just like those second-hand clothes waiting to be rediscovered, languages, too, yearn to be worn and celebrated. The diversity in a closet is expected, but the coherence in style is what ties a person to the style and choice of clothing. A representation of who they are. The queerness of a linguistic journey, the dance between Hiligaynon, Filipino, and English, reflects the kaleidoscope of identities within me. Although worn out and pre-loved, language can be a tradition. Something once loved is being passed on to be worn and embraced. The closets are not just physical spaces but realms of expression, where the garments of language are stitched with the threads of my evolving self. In a place where we hide ourselves, some things are better worn outside.

In racks and piles of clothing, bilingualism became my discount aisle. The feeling of it being a cheaper alternative to the lack of commitment to one language made me guilty of code-switching because of convenience. It took me a long time to realize that these were not merely clearance section options but rather a personal way for me to navigate the diverse landscapes of language. In a world where English often took center stage, I learned to thrift, seamlessly switching between the languages that painted the tapestry of my thoughts. It was not just a survival skill; it was an assertion of my identity, a refusal to be confined by the limitations of a single linguistic lens.

With this growth, I discovered that language is not just a means of communication; it is a weapon for empathy. It has the power to bridge gaps and weave narratives that resonate across cultural boundaries. In Mindoro, struggling to articulate my thoughts in Tagalog, I realized the importance of linguistic diversity. It was not about conforming; it was about embracing the richness of expression that each language offers. It was about recognizing the unique flavor each language adds to the communal pot of shared understanding. If soup needs to be complex to be persuasive, then persuade me with a dash of wit and a sprinkle of simplicity. It is the brushstroke that paints emotions and the melody that composes symphonies of meaning. As someone immersed in the humanities, I found myself drawn to the canvas of words, each stroke creating a masterpiece of expression. Again, a reflection of myself. Yet I grappled with the paradox of perfection and authenticity. The pressure to be the best often overshadows the beauty of genuine self-expression. It was a tightrope walk between proficiency and sincerity. How does one make a perfect soup when everyone’s standards are different?

As I reflect on the complexities of language, I am reminded of the fragility of cultural heritage. Just like the fading memories of my grandfather, languages can slip away into the primordial soup if not nurtured and celebrated. The urgency to preserve our soups is not just a call to nostalgia; it is a commitment to the continuity of our cultural narrative. It is a plea to resist the homogenizing forces that threaten the diverse linguistic recipes of our nation.

The importance of using and preserving language goes beyond the boundaries of communication. It is a celebration of identity and a testament to the richness of our cultural heritage. Just as soup becomes a reminder of home, language becomes the anchor that grounds us in the ever-changing currents of life. Let us savor the flavors of Hiligaynon and Filipino, adding our unique ingredients to the cultural pot and ensuring that the linguistic soup of our nation remains vibrant and alive.

In the thrift shop that is language, we find not only our wants but also the threads of a future where diversity is cherished and every voice contributes to the symphony of understanding. In a world that moves forward and expects you to move with it, soup becomes a reminder of home. An anchor to who you are in a sea of communication. Just like people, languages come and go; unlike people, a language only dies if it’s forgotten. It is such a shame that languages disappear, but what is grief if not love persevering? The tongue remembers what the mind forgets.

Richner Leoric Berlin is a student from U.P. High School in Iloilo and is currently enrolled in the course “Komunikasyon at Pananaliksik sa Wika at Kulturang Filipino” under the supervision of Prof. Noel Galon de Leon. This essay is a class assignment reflecting on the importance and power of language in their personal experiences.


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