Edited by Margherita Dore
[Topics in Humor Research 11] 2022
► pp. 15–40
In a multilingual state, there is virtually no “linguistic” need to self-translate since both writers and their readers are bi- or trilingual. However, poetic self-translation has had a long and established history in the Philippines, brought about initially during the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, whose early writers were called “ladinos” (bilingual), following mainland Spanish tradition. Originally devotional in nature, self-translated poetry gradually acquired new and more secular configurations across time, especially during the American period (1898–1942) and the Philippines’ subsequent independence after WW II. While various language pairs have been utilized, today’s self-translated poetry revolves around English and a local regional language, notably Tagalog (Filipino) and Cebuano, in either direction. The main motivation for self-translation is sociological, that is, to establish one’s professional capital (in the Bourdieu sense), since many of these poets are well-established and have loyal readership, and to mark them off from those poets who write in one preferred language, and who form the majority.
One characteristic of this self-translated poetry is the cultivation of political satire, humorous and trenchant at the same time, especially protesting the abuses of two repressive regimes and commenting on persistent social ills such as economic injustice and gender inequality. Humor is ordinarily difficult to pull off in translation, especially when addressing “two” cultures simultaneously – yet Filipino self-translators seem to suffer no such challenges. This is made all the more laudable because many of these poets employ Venuti’s “domesticating” or Nida’s “faithful” strategies, and that because wordplay is the basis of much of this humor, something next-to-impossible for translation purposes. This paper therefore explores the specific modes or solutions applied in the unenviable task by four poets. These are Federico Licsi Espino, Jr. (Spanish-English), Jose Lacaba, Jr. (Tagalog-English), Eric Gamalinda (Tagalog-English) and Marjorie Evasco (Cebuano-English), all poets who write mainly in English as their base (a result of the continuing prestige of this colonial legacy), but who have successfully written political satire bilingually in a nation torn between elite-oriented democracy and repressive authoritarianism throughout much of its 75-year independent history.