Will Filipino Literature in English Endure?
By Carlos P. Romulo
I wish to congratulate the Philippine Writers' League for holding this, the First Filipino Writers'
Conference on Modern Literary Objectives. The holding of this conference and
the use of three languages in its deliberations is consclusive proof that Filipino
writers have come of age. The very subject of the conference itself shows that
Filipino writers have definitely passed the period of apprenticeship. It shows that
their main pre-occupation is no longer the question of technique but rather the
question of purpose.
It is true, of course, that the achievement of excellence in writing purely as an
art, as a personal problem of the individual writer, is never at an end. Each writer
must meet and solve the problem of technique by himself with such aids and
means as he can master. Literary genius is inborn but literary craftmanship can
be acquired, and every man has it within himself to acquire such technical skills
as his ability and application will enable him to develop.
As it is with the individual writer, so it is with literature in general. A literature must, like an infant
child, first begin to learn to walk. There is no disgrace in those first fitful effort, for they are wholly
dedicated to the mastery of physical circumstance. But there is will and determination in those efforts
-- the will to achieve mastery over material conditions and the determination to overcome physical
handicaps. In much the same manner, the Filipino writer in English had had to undergo a period of
technical preparation. Barely 40 years have passed since the Filipino writer first came in contact with
the English language. For more than half of that period he has had to devote his whole effort to the
learning of the tongue purely as a means of communication. He has had to grapple with the difficult
problem of idiom. Yet, even after he had mastered the mechanics of English sufficiently to wield it
with ease and with force, he still had to overcome an even more difficult problem: the problem of using
the English language not merely as a means of ordinary communication but as a medium of powerful
and beautiful expression.
Roughly, we might say that the Filipino writer has had barely 20 years within which to accomplish the
second stage of his literary development. That the Filipino writer has passed through this stage with
admirable success everybody will conceded. This success is, of course, by no means complete, for
there are factors, both temporary and permanent in character, that will always tend to render a
Filipino's mastery of so difficult a tongue as English short of perfect. But he has made progress such
as few other peoples in the world have made towards a similar end and under identical conditions.
But now, as we look back through the first 40 years of English in the Philippines, the question
suggests itself: will Filipino Literature in English endure? This question gives rise to others related to
it: Have we so far developed a literature in English that will enable it to endure adverse conditions?
And since literature must not only be written but read, is Filipino writing in English assured of a
readership that will enable it to last?
It is proper for this conference to direct part of its attention to the problem of the national language, for
its attitude towards this problem will in great measure determine also its attitude towards the status
and the preservation here of English ad Spanish. Furthermore, the manner in which the government
will carry out its announced policy on the national language will, to a considerable extent, determine
the future of both English and Spanish as languages and as media of literary expression among the
Filipinos. Before the national language problem intruded into the scene, there was little to fear
concerning the future of English in this country. Now, however, the position of English has been
radically altered. For as time goes on, it is inevitable that the emphasis will be placed upon the
teaching of the national language at the expense of any other tongue, however well entrenched the
latter may be. I personally don't believe that English will endure among us because we have proved to
our satisfaction its enormous advantage as a means not only of communicating with each other but
also of retaining a point of contact with the outside world. There will always be a place for English in
the Philippines, but to say this is not also to that Filipino literature in English will survive. For, as I
said in the beginning, writing to be literature must be more than mere communication; it must be
artistic in expression. And artistic expression requires more than the learning and the use of language
as a vehicle of ideas.
The danger, therefore, will be that once the compulsory teaching of English has be been withdrawn,
the inducement from the use and the appreciation of English as a medium of artistic expression will
be minimized accordingly. This is a problem that is more serious than we perhaps realize at present.
It is serious because the endurance of Filipino literature in English must ultimately depend, as I have
already said, on the intense application of those who write this language and upon the preparation of
the mass of readers that alone can give this literature following and, hence, permanance.
But the question of endurance is more than a matter of government policy. Another question which
Filipino writers in English must face is this: Does Filipino literature in English have in itself qualities of
endurance, and do Filipino writers have the capacity to put these into their work? For apart from the
fortunes of the English language in the Philippines, we must consider the question of whether Filipino
literature in English has already developed, during the brief period of its existence, qualities that will
enable it to endure. The answer to these questions is decidedly in the affirmative.
For despite the briefness of its existence, Filipino literature in English has shown every evidence of
strength and vigor. Twenty years may not be a fair measure of the strength and vigor of a new
literature, but if its future is to be judged on the basis of its past, then there is every reason to fell that
we can have in the Philippines today a body of writing that can successfully past the test of criticism
and of time.
The first and most important test of literature is the test of continued growth and development. If we
apply this test to Filipino literature in English, then certainly it is safe to say that no literature written
in any other language in this country can pass this test as successfully as English. Filipino literature
in English in general, but particularly in the fields of fiction, poetry, the essay, and the drama, has
exhibited an enormous capacity for rapid growth and development and for the achievement not only of
technical competence but of artistic expression. So spectacular has been this growth that it may well
be the model for the growth and development of our literature in the other two major languages of the
country test of adaptation; that is, whether the Filipino writer has been able to adapt his native genius
to the genius of the English language. Here, again, I venture to say that Filipino literature in English
has succeeded in bringing about a marriage of the two vital factors in literary production. The Filipino
writer has already overcome the resistance which a language is bound to offer to a writer who is not
born to it. In the hands of the more competent Filipino writers, the English language has become
acclimated to the tropical land with all its Oriental-Spanish background. It has modified the manner of
expression which this dual inheritance has produced: a florid, sentimental and ardent speech. English
in the hands of the Filipino writer has preserved its fundamental qualities of force, clarity, and
reasonableness. At the same time, it has been bent to the uses of people who have sought to
express through it ideas and emotions peculiar to the race.
The result is the development of a literature that belongs by every external mark to the great universal
body of Anglo-Saxon culture, and yet belongs also by internal evidence to the tradition of Filipino
culture and civilization.
The enduring qualities of Filipino literature in English are inherent in the language and those who are
its creators. The enormous resources of this marvelous tongue and its adaptability to all sorts of men
and all conditions of society will always be there awaiting the fructifying touch of the Filipino writer. In
this language, if it is to live among us as one of our dearest possessions, and particularly as our most
precious inheritance from America, must be written the stirring drama of our struggle for freedom, and
the noble history of our nation. It must be woven inextricably into our culture till it has become colored
by the aspirations and dreams of our people. Only then will Filipino literature in English endure.