Filipina wants to shake up Oxford dictionary

Alcuin Papa
A Filipina is part of the team currently working on the Oxford English Dictionary and is pushing to include Filipino-coined words like 'presidentiable' and 'senatoriable' in the venerable dictionary

Danica Salazar

MANILA, Philippines – Grammar Nazis take note!

A Filipina is part of the team currently working on the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) and is pushing to include Filipino-coined words like “presidentiable” and “senatoriable” in the venerable dictionary.

Danica Salazar, PhD, 28, got her job at the OED last year after she was awarded a Mellon Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in lexicography, working with both the Oxford’s Hertford College, one of the colleges of the University of Oxford, and the Oxford University Press which publishes the OED. Her proposal for the fellowship included the search, systematization and possible inclusion in the OED of English words uniquely coined and used in the Philippines.

Part of her job is also to look for “extensions of meaning” of some English words which have taken on a different usage in the Philippines, like “salvage,” which she says has taken on a different meaning in the country that is the “opposite to its original meaning.”

After earning her European Languages degree from the University of the Philippines, Salazar went to Spain for her Masters and PhD degrees, giving talks and publishing papers on lexicography and languages. Her current work straddles both the theoretical, in the form of the deeply traditional Oxford academe (writers Tobias Wolff and Evelyn Waugh were past students of the Hertford College), and the practical with her work at the Oxford University Press (J.R.R. Tolkien once worked on the OED, she notes).

“The Oxford English Dictionary is more than a dictionary. It’s also a historical document because it is a record of the English language as it is spoken all over the world, not just in the UK and the US,” she tells Rappler during her recent trip to the country.

Salazar also believes in the importance of preserving the use of some English words that are no longer widely used in the UK and US but are still used by Filipinos, words like “solon,” “thrice,” and “viand.” She also wants to include into the OED uniquely Filipino acronyms like “T.Y.” and “C.R.” or “comfort room” which incidentally also does not exist in the dictionary.

Changing attitude

Salazar’s main goal is the official recognition of Philippine English and the publication of a Philippine English dictionary by the Oxford University Press, which recently released a South African English Dictionary.

From her perspective, the way Filipinos speak and use English can enrich the language. “In the US, the integration of Latinos is leading to the introduction of new words into their lexicon. But in the Philippines, that kind of integration has already happened. We talk in a rich mix of American, Spanish and Malay influences.”

She shrugs off criticisms from other academics who insist Filipino-coined English words don’t need inclusion in the OED to gain acceptance. “But that’s the reality.”

What Danica is aiming for is a change of attitude. “A dictionary plays an important role in legitimizing language,” she says. “I would like to change the perception that for English to be spoken correctly, it has to be spoken like the Americans or the British.”

At present, the OED is undergoing a comprehensive revision and Salazar is ready and waiting with her list of words for possible inclusion.

“The inclusion of these words is a validation of our language and our culture. We should be proud and not ashamed to speak English anywhere in the world in the way we do,” Salazar says.

In her recent trip to the country, Salazar gave lectures and speeches on languages and lexicography. She also immersed herself in Philippine society to look for other possible words to include in the OED, an immersion that eventually led her to “bekispeak.”

“If I can include ‘chorva’ in the OED, maybe my life would have not been in vain,” she says with a smile. –

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