THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT Copyright (c) 1995, Landmark Communications, Inc. DATE: Sunday, July 30, 1995 TAG: 9507280165 SECTION: VIRGINIA BEACH BEACON PAGE: 14 EDITION: FINAL SOURCE: BY MICHELLE MIZAL, STAFF WRITER LENGTH: Long : 115 lines
When Mae Wlazlinski started work on her doctoral dissertation, she bit off a mouthful - ``Social and Psychological Determinants of Language Shift: The Case of the Filipino Community of Virginia Beach, Virginia, U.S.A.''
Wlazlinski, a linguist, is interested in what comes out of people's mouths; specifically, how and why immigrants make the transition from their native language to English and whether they pass on their original tongue to their children.
Wlazlinski, 46, who was born in Paranaque, Rizal, in the Philippines, came to the United States in 1981. It was natural, therefore, that she chose the Filipino community for her dissertation. But some of her findings surprised even her: English proved to be more dominant than she expected.
Jim Cummings, a professor of education at the University of Toronto, said the document is ``an outstanding piece of work. It's the first entire community document on language shift within the generations in a thorough and insightful way.'' The dissertation is available at the Kempsville library.
Wlazlinski began her research in 1986 while attending the University of Toronto.
When she was looking for a community to study, she learned through the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, in Alexandria, that Hampton Roads had a large Filipino population. So she moved to Virginia Beach to begin her research.
The move, however, led to an unexpected delay. She met a fourth-generation Polish American - Patrick Wlazlinski - whom she married later that year. They have five children. After seven years, in January she finally completed her Ph.D.
She resumed the research in 1993. During the day, Wlazlinski studied Filipino American children who attended middle and elementary schools. She spent her evenings at the parents' houses.
Because most Filipino Canadians speak both English and a Philippine dialect, Wlazlinski expected to find a bilingual community in Virginia Beach also. She said that Canada supports bilingualism. Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, is even taught at high schools.
But in Hampton Roads, she found instead that local Filipinos spoke English more than Pilipino.
Wlazlinski interviewed and tested 100 Filipino children from Kempsville Middle School, Providence Elementary and Centerville Elementary schools. None needed help in English, she said.
All but eight of the children were born in America. Teachers told Wlazlinski that English was not the children's first language because it was not the language at home. But, in fact, English was the children's primary language.
``I noticed parents would speak in Pilipino and English among themselves and then automatically shift to English when they would speak to the children.''
Wlazlinski tested both English and Tagalog proficiency. When she asked questions in Tagalog, most of the children could not answer more than three questions and, if they did answer, it was in English.
``They could understand just the basic Pilipino questions,'' Wlazlinski said.
Questions such as:
Ano ang gusto mong nakita sa Pilipinas? (What do you want to see in the Philippines?); and
Ano ang iyaw mo sa mga kaklase Americano? (What do you not like about your American classmates?)
Wlazlinski also found that most of the 100 parents maintained Pilipino among themselves, but improved their English proficiency.
Outside the home, she discovered some interesting social patterns.
Observing Filipinos at work, she found that when they spoke with one another on the phone they would look for non-Asians nearby. If any were in hearing range, the Filipinos would speak English.
Wlazlinski also found that some workplaces banned the use of Pilipino. She said that one hospital told Filipino lab technicians they were not allowed to speak their native language, even among themselves, for ``efficiency purposes.'' Wlazlinski said she saw documents prohibiting the use of Pilipino.
She said that first-generation Filipinos begin to lose their native vocabulary because they spend more time at work, where they speak English.
They shifted to the dominant language for various reasons.
``English has become a means of survival,'' Wlazlinski said. Knowing English has helped in finding jobs and getting promoted.
``Another reason is because of the really good inter-group relationship among Filipinos and Americans,'' Wlazlinski said. ``Filipinos don't feel discriminated against, so they're fully prone to speak English.'' She said most Filipinos are very sociable and ``have a lot of American associates in their social network.''
Wlazlinski also said that the Filipinos who have immigrated to Virginia Beach generally have a high level of education. In the Philippines, a Filipino speaking English is an educated Filipino, so most arrive with basic communications skills.
For second-generation Filipinos, the transition to English occurs mainly because of peers and school.
Wlazlinski said that second-generation Filipinos are accepted in the American social network and feel equal to their friends, so they speak English.
``Also there is no effort to teach the Pilipino language in public schools,'' Wlazlinski said, so children have no formal way to learn the language.
Wlazlinski also found interesting interaction between the Filipino community the surrounding society.
She said public schools and the armed forces are ``the best social institutions for English language transmission'' because they foster a lot of interaction.
``I've also found out that the ones (Filipino Americans) I interviewed were mostly professionals . . . the children are high achievers at school,'' Wlazlinski said. ``I think the Filipinos are coming of age; things will happen and they will be recognized as vital members in the society.'' ILLUSTRATION: Photo by MICHELLE MIZAL
When Mae Wlazlinski questioned the children in Tagalog, most could
answer no more than three, and then they responded in English.