The Social Dimension of Textual Interrogation in the Classroom, by Jose Jason L. Chancoco

It was Stephen Krashen who pointed out the importance of exposure in the context of second language acquisition-learning. We remember some of our grandparents here in the Philippines who studied under the Thomasites and we marvel at their English proficiency given that some of them did not even finish tertiary education due to the economic and social disruptions brought by the war. We need not wonder because of the fact that they had Americans, native speakers of the language, as teachers. Needless to say, they had some sort of an edge, learning the grammar and acquiring the nuances of the language directly from its owners.

This brings me to my topic. Since poetry is language to the nth power, I think it can be used as material in L2/L3 learning. With poetry, we do not only get to examine syntax and semantics, we also get the ‘feel’ of the language. And since literature is culture, it also becomes a chance for us to take a peek inside the language’s culture base by means of its poetics. Also, poetry like music is meant to be heard and by reciting the material, we get to practice our diction.

I am of course, presupposing that we will be using English and/or American poems. Studying works by Filipino authors will showcase to some extent our brand of English. It is quite an issue really. Postcolonial theorists say that we have many englishes. Even that the so-called ‘colonial project’ appeals to structuralism by means of an imposition of the construct of the colonizer to the colony. Only to encounter ‘difference’, a junction that somewhat becomes a source of power by both parties. The former maintaining the so-called ‘master narrative’ and by means of political subjugation, make themselves ‘poster boys and girls’ of how to become better humans; while the latter would resort to calling them names like malungsing bangus (pale milkfish) or ‘coño’.

It was National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario who narrated to us a story about a Spanish friar who gave his all to write Tagalog verses. The Spaniard presented his work to a native expert and got the reply: “Mahusay datapwat hindi tula (It is good but not quite poetry).” I wonder if that priest still pursued his ambition of becoming a makata (Tagalog poet) after such criticism.

Top rank poet Cirilo F. Bautista also wrote about the problems of Filipino poets in the US. They are sort of being discriminated upon despite their mastery of the English language and the craft of poetry. It is more than the language and the craft, it is a cultural issue, he would say. Or maybe again, it is all about politics.

Discussing poetry in an L2/L3 class also has that conversational nature and the classroom setting, in essence, is a dialogue between the teacher and the students. Thus we can also say that it has a sociolinguistic facet. Courtney B. Cazden says that any social institution can be considered a “communication system” by virtue of its existence. Michel Foucault would say that we all are designed to enter into discourse, thus the necessity for language.

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