How Good was Dr. José Rizal’s English?

POSTED: Saturday, September 17th, 2011

Dr. José Rizal‘s Spanish is pure beauty.  Just read his Noli me tangere novel.   It is idiomatic, smooth, funny, nuanced, contextually apppropriate and as all Castilian language standards go, very  metaphorical and literary.   To us,  writing in straightforward contemporary style, we can say he was quite flowery.

In his personal letters to his family he sometimes changed from Tagalog, to Spanish.  To Paciano, it was always in Spanish.  To his sisters, he occasionally wrote in Tagalog.

To Blumentritt, he wrote first in Spanish but later mostly in German, occasionally in French and once in English (he explains so that he won’t forget the language.) We know that José Rizal went to London, first to learn English and second, †o study about pre-colonial Philippines through the historical report of Antonio Morga’s Sucessos.

His French greatly improved when he visited with the Indios Bravos, among them Filipino students in Paris, i.e. Baldomero Roxas, Gregorio Aguilera, Guillermo Puato and Lauro Dimayuga.  So were his friends Juan Luna, Valentin Ventura,  the Paterno brothers and the Pardo de Taveras .  I sent my friend Colin, a Parisian,  a specimen of his written French.   He declared, “His French is passable.”  When Rizal was a resident in the British colony of Hongkong, he wrote  Blumentritt a letter which contained one page  in English.

So,  how was Dr. José Rizal’s English?

I found a letter he wrote in English to Blumentritt  from Dapitan, Zamboanga, Philippines, dated  31, July 1898.  He wrote:  (original;  copied from a handwritten facsimile)

“You would certainly oblige me my dear, if you send me a copy of that interesting account of the Chinese about my country.  Do you remember that Mr Hirsch’s translation?

My grammar about the Tagal I long ago finished.  I intend to published  it as soon as I shall be set at liberty.  It will bring to light so many things that I believe nobody thought of.  I make references to Bisaya, Malay and Madecassi’s, according to Dr. Grandstetter.  Greet him, if you ever write to him.


My life now is quiet, peaceful, retired and without glory, but I think it is useful too. I teach here the poor but intelligent boys, reading, Spanish, English! Mathematics and Geometry, moreover I teach them to behave like men.  I taught the men here how to get a better way of earning their living and they think I am right.  We have begun and the success crowned our trials.

PS.  I got operated my Mother of cataract.  Thank God she is perfectly well now and can write and read with easy.  She and my young sister send you their best friendship and to your dear family too.

RIZAL

I gave a copy of Rizal’s letter to an English teacher at a  San Francisco high school.  I told Marc that the writer was a Filipino novelist who wrote in Spanish and had no formal lessons in English.  Marc gave Rizal’s letter a grade of B +.  How this English teacher arrived at this grade are the following points:

  • Rizal  expressed himself very well in the language with  90% grammatical correctness,
  • He wrote with clarity of thought.
  • There are absolutely no spelling errors.
  • His noun and  verb agreements were at a high proficiency level.
  • As a beginning English learner he knew how to use transitions: i.e. but, moreover,
  • Rizal used correct forms of linguistic politeness and decorum, i.e.  certainly oblige me my dear…Greet him if you ever write…(they) send their best friendship…
Marc, who teaches a bilingual Latino Sophomore class,  noted Rizal’s few Spanishmos– dangling modifiers, adjectives after the subject or noun phrase.  For example Rizal wrote:



My grammar (Rizal is referring to his Tagalog grammar book) I long ago finished.

Again Rizal used the same Spanish sentence structure:  I got operated, my mother…

One error occurred, this was when Rizal wrote,  “I intend to published…” In the original script, Rizal attached the “ed” in small letters at the end of the word publish as if he was not too sure of his grammar.   Understandably, this is an error many beginning English learners make .

It was however, very good English;  better than many college graduates  I know in our many public colleges here and abroad. (by : Penelope V. Flores)

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