quoting my college speech and language professor in a major, major way

Venus’ Major, Major Expression and the Reinvention of English

by Gene Segarra Navera on Thursday, August 26, 2010 at 10:52pm

Kindly ignore this note if you feel you have had too much of my utterances on Venus Raj. If, however, you feel like reading farther, let me tell you that this note is about the adjectival expression ‘major, major’ that has become a favorite expression in face-to-face and virtual conversations not only among Pinoys worldwide but also interestingly among some of the so-called native language speakers of English (I got this info from a Filipino pageant enthusiast in Northern America).

I’m pretty sure most of us are aware of how this expression has been rehearsed—that is, talked about, contested, debated on—in various forums, virtual or otherwise. And I don’t know if what I would be telling you (and myself) is something original, but let me get myself into the ongoing conversation anyway.

(Side note:  I am currently re-writing my chapter on Marcos’ rhetoric on constitutional authoritarianism and I honestly could not get it done at the moment because I still am amusingly bugged by conversations on the controversial answer of the fantastically beautiful Venus Raj during the Miss Universe 2010 coronation night.)

So what is my point? At the risk of sounding cut and dried, I would like to argue the following:

  1. Venus’ use of the adjectival expression ‘major, major’ has its grammaticality.
  2. The adjectival expression may not have been standard, but it can very well be used in informal, freewheeling conversations, which ought to be the communication situation in pageants’ Q and A (it is not after all, an oratorical or elocution contest)
  3. Venus was some sort of a trailblazer in using the expression. Wittingly or unwittingly, she appears to be proving the theoretical notion that language evolves or lives not because of the grammar gurus that tell us what should be or what should not be but because of its users.
  4. As a corollary to the third point, English is a living language and it is a language shared by peoples whose mother-tongue is not English. Moreover, subject positions of users can slightly or dramatically change the way we use it. In other words, people in privileged or publicly recognized positions can trigger variations in the way we do language.
  5. And yes, Venus conquered the Universe after all.

This should not however be taken as an ‘excuse’ for Venus’ answer. I believe that the response warrants no excuse. At that time, that was the best answer that the twenty two year old girl from Bato could come up with. And she should be commended for going that far by displaying superb bodily kinesthetic intelligence in the swimsuit and evening gown segments. Most of us who dare claim to have exceptional linguistic and logico-mathematical intelligence (by saying ‘I could have answered that question this way’) could probably not even make it to the top 80 of the Miss Universe competition!

(Imbierna talaga ako sa mga lecheng nagmamagaling na mahaderang yan!!!) 

Now, back to my arguments.

Yes, the adjectival expression has its grammaticality. The basic pattern is that you repeat the adjective in a noun phrase to emphasize or underscore the intensity of the description. It is a superlative expression. The adjective was positioned to respond to the term ‘big’ in William Baldwin’s question which conjures the idea of something grave—something really, really major. In conversations, we hear people say, ‘I am very, very happy’ and this is the same pattern employed in the expression ‘major, major problem’. Of course, Venus used a verbalized pause—‘I mean’ splicing the noun phrase which consists of the adjectival expression and the noun—which can also be taken as an attempt to clarify her point.

Is the adjectival expression acceptable? Sure it is. I may not be used in formal writing or formal speech, but it most definitely deserves its new-found currency in conversations or informal communication situations.

By using the expression—whether intentionally or unintentionally—Venus lent mileage to a linguistic expression that’s probably unrecognized in the greater English speaking world, but has grammatical validity and can actually enrich the way English is used in the world right now.  I have no problem using it myself in conversations as well as in my informal writing. It is a rhetorical device that articulates emphasis and intensity. In a way, Venus blazed the trail for the usage of an expression that would have probably been confined to English speakers in the Philippines’ complex multilingual context. Now, it can be used by other speakers of English—so-called native speakers or otherwise.

Perhaps, an important point to be made about the current craze in the expression ‘major, major’ is the idea that English, like all languages, is a living language. Variations and shifts in the way we do English—speak, write, perform—are due to a number of interlocking factors. One of these factors is the subject position of the user of language. And because Venus’s utterance was televised worldwide, was made in the context of a spectacle that is the Miss Universe beauty pageant, and was performed at a time when it is just so easy to reproduce or replicate human activity, the expression ‘major major’ has apparently become a worldwide hit. If its currency is sustained, it will not be surprising if it finds its way into the Urban Dictionary or if it becomes one of the top ten expressions of the year.

Which now brings me to the last point. Having said all those things, I think you will agree with me that even if some other lady took home the coveted crown, Venus Raj, 22 of the Philippines still conquered the Universe.

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