An Attempt at a Sociolinguistic Analysis: How Language is Used by Filipinos on Twitter with #Marcos

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The relationship between the structure of society and language use are the focus of Sociolinguists, who incorporate into their analysis (1.) the backgrounds of the speaker and the addressee such as age, sex, class, race, religion, sexuality, etc., (2.) the relationship between the two such as mother-daughter, classmates, etc., and (3.) the context of the interaction such as Facebook message, face to face, while fighting, etc. (Radford et. al. 2009). This analysis is an attempt to use the sociolinguistic framework and use such concept from the field as diglossia, orthography, phonology, and morphology. The analysis will be done on Tweets from #Marcos.

On September 21 in 1972, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos infamously signed Proclamation 1081 thus declaring a state of martial law in the Philippines. He did this in order to extend his presidency beyond just the two terms he is constitutionally allowed. During his 20 years as president of the Philippines, his administration was greatly marred by human rights violations, corruption, and political oppression that reached a climax when he was implicated in the murder of his primary political opponent, Benigno Aquino. His dictatorship ended in 1986 through the People Power Revolution, which ended his power and forced him into exile in Hawaii. Until today, there are billions of dollars of embezzled public funds that are in Swiss and American banks. Though Marcos has died whilst in exile in Hawaii, his wife Imelda (who holds the infamous title of woman with the world’s most pairs of shoes) still lives and is a governor while all his children are in the Senate. What is unique about the Twitter hashtag “Marcos” is not only that today marks the anniversary of the signing of the document that abolished the checks on Marcos’s power, but that the current President of the Philippines is the son of Benigno Aquino.

When reading the tweets with hash tag Marcos, the linguistic differences are based on location (urban vs. rural; capital city Manila elitism vs. provincialism; and Marcos political family ties in the province of Leyte), which is closely linked to class (English-speaking educated elites vs. Pure-Tagalog-speaking educated elites vs. “Tagalish”-speaking masses), and opinion of Marcos (nostalgia for Martial Law vs. bitterness).

There is a pattern in the way those tweeting from Manila, Cebu, and other metropolitan areas tweet about Marcos. The tweets are usually written fully in un-slanged English or un-slanged Tagalog, which are the two high, formal forms of Filipino diglossia. For example, one person from Manila (the Philippine capital) tweets: “Today in history: In 1972, President Marcos signed Proc. 1081, declaring a state of martial law in the Philippines” while another from Quezon City (another large metropolitan area) tweets, “Itinuring kong isang sinasapiang aso ang rehimeng Marcos na gusto kong wakasan.” Both of these statements are written very much like the news: formal, correct, and void of any odd orthography or use of phonology. This is because Filipinos from big cities are more likely to be exposed to a strict scholastic curriculum and business decorum that are conducted strictly in either completely fluent Tagalog or fluent English.

The tweets that were in these high languages almost exclusively profess anti-Marcos sentiments such as “Hindi garapal ang kayamana ng pamilyang Marcos” or “Martial Law is Marcos Larceny”. They even go a step further by tagging links to reference more information in order to back up their value and judgment statements: “FDC: The Marcos’ Legacy of Fraudulent and Illegitimate Debts”, or “In his own words: Marcos on martial law #RememberML40”.

This utilization of the high languages is further reinforced and exacerbated by class. The tweets coming from parts of the city that are posh, such as the Makati district in Manila, are only conducted in fluent English sans abnormal morphology. This is because the Philippine intelligentsia and upper-class elites, who tend to be politically very liberal and who were greatly represented in the anti-Marcos People’s Revolution, speak English as their primary language and to each other. They go to English-speaking schools, conduct business in English, and go to elite private schools that only teach in English.

These elites actually have to learn the other form of high language in the Filipino diglossia: Tagalog. It is taught to all Filipino citizens and is used fluently in the contexts of formal occasions where the Lexicon should be pure i.e. there are no ad-hoc borrowed words from English. Pure Tagalog is solely used by those in public office, newscasters, and academics. Based on how the has tag Marcos sentiments are proclaimed via twitter, we can thus postulate that the upper-classes, the urban elites, and intelligentsia are generally anti-Marshall Law, with a proclivity for providing sources that back up their claims about Marcos.

Because there are 175 regional dialects in the Philippines, not everyone who tweeted tweeted in this high form of Tagalog or English. In fact, most of the tweets were conducted in “Tagalish”, or a colloquial combination of Tagalog and English. The tweets that are written in this manner have no real formal rules i.e. they differ greatly in terms of orthography. For example are the following tweets: (1) “Happy 40th Anniversary! Hindi ko inabutan yan. Pero medyo idol ko rin talaga si Marcos :)”, (2) “My Lola totally misses yung Martial Law because the Philippines was better with it- sobra!”, and “How I wish Marcos Era still exist, edi sana walang nag-hihirap na mga Pilipino ngayon, Idol parin kita #FerdinandMarcos :).”

A significant difference between these tweets and the high tweets is the discourse elements and punctuation. These tweets, unlike the high tweets, have iconic happy faces to emphasize the sentiment that they are either celebrating the anniversary of martial law, or that they look up to Marcos. These low tweets also tend to use more exclamation marks than the high tweets. This shows that while the low tweets tend to not have much depth of content (like the high tweets do with their references and links), they tend to however garner a lot more expression with their exciting syntax and punctuation. They have a lot more character with their use of happy faces as emphasis of their sentiment, and are a lot more conversational with their use of natural interjections.

Another difference between the high tweets and these low tweets is that Tagalog words here are mostly misspelled to make them shorter but this is the unofficial, colloquial way of shortening words when you write them as Tagalog words, especially certain verb tenses which are extremely long. A writing system has developed for Tagalish in which Tagalog words are purposely but consistently misspelled. In the lexicon of these two tweets, or of any of the Tagalish tweets, there is an obvious borrowing of words. If the tweeter is tweeting primarily in Tagalog (or any other dialect), he/she will borrow words from English, and likewise if the tweeter is tweeting primarily in English, he/she will borrow words from an abbreviated/shortened form of Tagalog to tweet in the low language of the Philippines.

The Tweets that are in Tagalish are overwhelmingly nostalgic for the days of martial law, or reveal that written Tagalish is a mode of language for those who are pro-Marcos. This is not surprising because Marcos marketed himself very well during his campaigning as a man of the people. He was after all, a “probinsyano”, or provincial man who made his way up in Philippine politics because of sheer hard work, intelligence, and gumption.  The Philippines under Martial Law also was very oppressive with curfews, strict punishments for criminals, and a strong presence of the military in people’s lives. Many probinsyanos view that era as safe, more prosperous, and more respectful. This is echoed in the way Tagalish is used in sentiments that are very protective of Marcos and of Martial Law.



Radford, Andrew, Atkinson, Martin, Britain, David, Clahsen, Harald, and Spencer, Andrew (2009) Linguistics: An Introduction. 2nd ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press