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Dianne Rae E.

MA Comparative Literature

2nd Writing Assignment in Philo 295

Philosophy of Language
Professor Ciracio Sayson
September 30, 2006

Forcing Words
The Viability of Vendler’s Syntactical Features for
Performative Statements as Applied in Filipino

In my choosing to write about Zeno Vendler’s theory on illocutionary forces as

applied to the Filipino language, I do not wish to suggest that I am proficient in the
language—a shameful thing to admit, among many other limitations. To be more precise,
I treat this as an opportunity to explore how well (or how poorly) I understand the
character of my first language. I belong to a generation of students which has witnessed
countless debates about the use (or disuse) of Filipino as a medium of instruction. Now
that I am teaching I realize that there’s more about the issue than I would usually want to
admit. What with all the talk on hegemony, imperialistic globalization, neocolonialism
and the like, and the responsibility indirectly given to educators to imbue nationalism
among students. Even our earlier writers and literary critics in English—Manuel Arguilla,
Bienvenido Santos, SP Lopez, to name a few—have recognized the power of a second
language to reconstruct (recreate) reality and the consciousness of the second language
user. In learning and using English, one doesn’t just adapt a language. One also becomes
predisposed to a different way of making sense of the world.
I agree that the English language has dominated almost all of the major areas of
our lives as Filipinos, such as the academe, commerce, media, national governance.
However, for me and perhaps for most of us, Filipino—the informal usage in particular—
is still the lingua franca of our practical lives; the most convenient medium of ideological
exchange. Even though I use English when I teach, when I write business matters in
English, and when I weave through masses of information in English almost every
waking moment of my life; it is in Filipino that I greet and chat more comfortably with
casual acquaintances, colleagues, friends, and family members. When I am sincerely
happy, surprised, or angry, it is in Filipino that I exclaim or curse. It is in Filipino that I
have many meaningful conversations with those I am intimate with. And yet what a
shame that I do not know this language that well nor had I taken the initiative to study it
in depth. I hope that this short paper starts my venture into the study of my native

Like those of many linguistic theorists and of the few philosophers I have
encountered in class, Zeno Vendler’s concern regarding language lies in the ability of a
statement to “do something” concretely or physically as it is uttered. Some statements
have illocutionary forces—language functions that go beyond the mere stating or
reporting of ideas—as they are imbued with certain speaker or utterer intentions. Such is
the case for speech acts, as Searle has previously propounded. A familiar example of the
occurrence of a speech act in Filipino would be the utterance of the statement: Ang init
naman dito. It is common sense to know that the utterer of this statement did not merely
intend to report a phenomenon that everyone else in the room obviously experiences.
Rather, the statement is an indirect request or demand for someone to open a window or a
fan so as to give the speaker some respite from the heat.
Vendler’s rereading of Searle has led him to a slightly different set of
classifications for performative verbs, a more specialized classification under the general
term “speech act.” A performative verb, in my own attempt to define it, is a word that
carries out an act or achieve a certain effect by its mere utterance in a statement. Vendler
identifies five classifications of performative verbs. I will try to provide an example in
Filipino—and variations of the given statement—for each category to determine whether
performative utterances in Filipino do follow the syntactical features that Vendler has
prescribed for statements in English.

Commissives are performative verbs that commit the speaker to the performance of a
verb. Such as, in Filipino:
(a) Ipinapangako kong (ko na) magbabayad (ako) bukas.
(b) Ako ay nangangakong (nangangako na) magbabayad bukas.

Excercitives are performative verbs that imply the subject’s exercise of power, rights
and influences. Such as, in Filipino:
(c) Inuutusan kitang (kita na) umalis.
(d) Ikaw ay inuutusan kong (ko na) umalis.
Operatives are performative verbs that are used by the speaker to effect change in the
status of other persons or things. These verbs are similar to the previous one, excercitives,
in that they are also illustrate the exercise of one’s power and influences. Such as, in
(e) Pinapangalanan kitang (kita na) Margarita.
(f) Ikaw ay aking pinapangalanan na Margarita.
Behabitives are performative verbs that execute [re]action towards other people’s
behavior and/or fortunes. Such as, in Filipino:
(g) Salamat sa pagtulong mo sa akin.
(h) Pinasasalamatan kita sa pagtulong [mo] sa akin.
(i) Gusto kitang (kita na) pasalamatan sa pagtulong [mo] sa akin.
And lastly, interrogatives are performative verbs that do the act of interrogating as
the statement (not explicitly in the form of a question) is spoken. Such as, in Filipino:
(j) Tinatanong kita kung kumain ka na.
(k) Gusto kong malaman kung kumain ka na.

Hoping to understand the nature of Filipino language, I held a casual interview with a
colleague of mine, Filipino teacher and researcher Prof. Alona Jumaquio-Ardales, who
enlightened me on the two general types of statements in Filipino: statements labeled
karaniwan (common) and di-karaniwan (uncommon). Statements considered karaniwan,
or of the common usage—such as sentences (a), (c), (e), (h) and (j)—usually have the
semantical feature of:

Predicate (panaguri) + subject (paksa) + rel. pron. “that” (na) + nominalized clause

On the other hand, classified under di-karaniwan, of the formal/uncommon usage—

such as sentences (b), (d) and (f)—follow the following syntactical structure:
Subject (paksa) + “ay” (marker) + Predicate (panaguri) + rel. pron. “that” (na) +
nominalized clause

Whereas Vendler’s syntactical patterns for performative utterances all begin with
a noun-subject followed by the verb/predicate; sentences in Filipino may begin with a
noun or the performative verb. At first I thought that this variation in the pattern is similar
to the occurrence of active and passive voices in English. However, according to Prof.
Ardales, one significant change in the teaching of grammar in Filipino is the
reconsideration of the function of the term “ay.” There had been a time when ay was
considered the counterpart of the English transitive verb “is.” Instead, ay is now
considered a mere marker to indicate if a sentence is used formally (Filipino sa
akademikong panggamit or FAG) or ordinarily (Filipino sa ordinaryong panggamit or
FOG). Therefore, this classification of statements in Filipino is mindful of the tone or
mood of the utterance, rather than a mere mirroring of the division of statements in
English into the passive and active voices.
The presence of relative pronouns, especially that which precede nominalized clauses,
commonly occur in performative statements in English and Filipino. “Na” fulfills the
same language function in the above sentences as “that” fulfills in the examples given by
Vendler. In the case of operatives, where the verb “be” in the nominalized sentence is
actually “become,” the same occurrence can be seen in Filipino statements such as:
(l) Inaatasan kita na maging tagapamahala ng departamento.
The term “na” in the sentence above equates to Vendler’s “so that” in operative
utterances, although a more appropriate term would be “upang” or “para.”
(m) Inaatasan kita upang / para maging tagapamahala ng departamento.
Consequently, the term “maging” is translated as “become.” It is clear that operatives
in Filipino function similarly to operatives in English. However, I admit to having a
difficult time coming up with counterparts for negative operatives that forbid, prohibit or
demote a subject to a lower status.
Exercitives in Filipino may also use modal verbs such as “dapat” and
“karapatdapat,” which serve the same function as “should” as exemplified in the
statement :
(n) Pinapayuhan kita na (dapat kang) mag-aral nang mabuti.
Albeit these modal verbs are often times concealed.
In almost the same way, the syntactical feature of interrogative statements in English
matches that of interrogative statements in Filipino, considering that Vendler specifies
that the nominalized clauses in such statements are preceded by “whether” of “wh—“
words. The counterpart of “whether” in Filipino statements is “kung,” and “wh—“ words
such as “what,” “who,” “why,” etc. are translated in Filipino as “kung ano,” “kung sino,”
“kung bakit,” etc.
However, in my opinion, the statement “Tinatanong kita kung kumain ka na” or
variations such as “Itinatanong ko kung kumain ka na” sound more like reportage rather
than interrogatives. Someone is more likely to say it upon being asked to repeat or restate
an earlier question (assuming that the question didn’t come through clearly upon its first
utterance). Hence, I offered an alternative interrogative, something that I hear more often
and more ordinarily used.
(k) Gusto kong (ko na) malaman kung kumain ka na.
And same for behabitive statements:
(i) Gusto kitang (kita na) pasalamatan sa pagtulong [mo] sa akin.
The utterer’s assertion of the act of liking or preferring something, as indicated by
“gusto ko,” forces the intention of the performative verbs above; interrogative for (k) and
behabitive for (i). In liking to do something, the speaker actually achieves the
illocutionary act. It strikes me as a curious matter that this should happen with the term
“gusto ko.” It probably might imply that as Filipinos, we are inclined to accommodate the
preferences and desires of other people, or at least consider them important.

To sum up my observations, I conclude that Vendler’s syntactical features do not

exactly correspond to commissive, exercitive, operative, behabitive and interrogative
statements in Filipino because of the variations made in FAG (Filipino sa akademikong
paggamit) and FOG (Filipino sa ordinaryong paggamit) statements. The presence of two
modes of usage of the Filipino language indicates that we may be, as a people, mindful of
the nuances in interaction among people of varying status, age, and of the way we relate
within certain social contexts and norms. We use Filipino differently when we are at
home, or in the comfortable presence of friends, as to the when we use it in formal
company or when relating to elders and superiors.
Perhaps another observation to be made is that the performative verbs in Filipino
seem to take on the “present progressive” tense of the verb rather than the “simple
present” form as found in performative utterances in English. In addition, modal verbs
and relative pronouns that precede nominalized clauses more or less serve similar
functions as their counterparts in English. And lastly, the statement of preference in
Filipino, as indicated by a preceding “Gusto ko” assists the illocutionary force in
behabitives and interrogatives.


Ardales, Alona J. (Oct. 2001). Kritikal na pagsusuri sa pasalitang diskors ng kababaihang maralitang
tagalungsod: Isang pagtatangka. (unpublished thesis). Manila: Philippine Normal University