The Struggles Behind the Neutral Filipino Accent

Abigail Sabido
Jun 7, 2019
News and Tips

In March 2019, a survey conducted by travel website Big7 hailed the Filipino accent as one of the sexiest in the world. Ranking 21st, it’s the highest in Asia, followed by the Vietnamese, Indian, Chinese, and Japanese accents. Many Filipinos put on the American twang but it’s their neutral tone that landed the country in the top 50. Though certain nuances amuse foreigners, the site describes the accent as gentle, soft, and “simply lovely.”

Business outsourcing companies have appreciated the neutral Filipino intonation decades before the online poll. In fact, the country’s BPO industry continues to flourish because of the increasingly capable workforce. It is for this reason that the country is dubbed as the world’s hotline. While it’s tempting to say that English is a breeze for Filipinos, many don’t realize that the country is composed of 7,641 islands, inhabited by over 100 million people that speak an estimated 190 local languages.

On Linguistic Struggles

These vernaculars tend to have distinct accents. Some dialects have strong accents while others sound comparably softer. This is why some Filipinos inadvertently mix up their vowels like /i/ and /e/, /o/ and /u/, and consonants /f/ and /p/. Provincial dialects are often mocked to the point of stereotyping. For instance, people (especially women) with strong, vernacular accents are often depicted as nannies and housemaids in TV soap operas.

Filipinos are accustomed to the casual, code-switching habit called Taglish. The term is the combination of local language Tagalog and English. It seems that the habit replaces either long, deep, or archaic vernaculars with English equivalents and vice versa. Lines like “Let’s go na” (Let’s go already/now) and “May forever” (Happy-ever-afters exist) are considered ordinary, everyday speech. Ironically, speaking straight English is viewed as pretentious.

On the Road Ahead

Even with their linguistic talent and constant exposure to English, Filipinos have limited opportunities to practice. Acquiring excellent communication skills means doubling your efforts. Fortunately, learning is made easier by technology, social media, and empowerment. Also, it’s through these gifts that the younger generations become more comfortable and confident in speaking in English. Thus, regional accents are watered down and the prevalent backward mindsets are loosening their grip.

BPO companies and English academies thrive in these stereotyped regions like Cebu, Iloilo, and Davao. Filipinos are continually preferred because of their moderate pace, clear enunciation, and neutral accent. Southern regions are also picking up the pace and compete with metropolitan cities up north. Just like other non-native English speakers, the Filipinos have their own struggles on top of intense pressure and tough business competition against India, Singapore, and Malaysia.

English in the Philippine setting resembles that of other non-English speaking countries. What matters most are the efforts dedicated to cross each hurdle. And the results are clear: Filipinos are among the most in-demand outsourced agents and they speak Asia’s sexiest accent.

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