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EN 210: INTERFACING LANGUAGE AND LITERATURE

John Paul C. Vallente


MA ELLT (1)

Dr. Margarita R. Orendain


November 21, 2015

A Tang of Stylistics in Villacerans Sinigang:


Linking Language and Meaning in Textual Analysis
I.

Plot Summary
The short story Sinigang written in 2001 by Marby Villaceran (short for Marie

Aubrey J. Villaceran) narrates how Liza, the main character, deals with the issue of her
father who had an extramarital affair with Sylvia, and consequently had a son, Lem. The
story takes place in Lizas home where she, together with her Tita Loleng, prepares
sinigang for the family dinner, as it is her fathers favorite dish. During the course of
preparing and cooking, Tita Loleng asks Liza about her encounter with Sylvia in the
wake of Lem who died because of cancer. It is through Tita Lolengs questions
juxtaposed with the procedures of preparing sinigang that sparked flashbacks in the
story revealing not only vivid memories of how Liza was made known about her fathers
other family, how uneasy she felt when she finally met Sylvia, or how rancorous and
pretentiously impassive she is towards her father, BUT also, these flashbacks disclose
how unconditional the love of Lizas mother is, and that no matter how Liza denies, her
love for her father, in spite of all his flaws, is never really lost. The man vs. man or more
predominantly (though implicit) man vs. circumstance conflict is resolved when at the
burial of Lem, the father says sorry to Liza a word that Liza needed the most yet,
whether she has forgiven her father or forgotten his fiasco is not clearly resolved.
II.

General Interpretation of the Text


The distinctive blend of procedural and narrative discourses emanates from

Marby Villacerans short story, Sinigang which leaves the reader a tang of sympathy for
Liza, the main character who at the same time acts as the narrator in the story, and
antipathy towards her struggles conjuring up a barrier that seemingly emotionally
separates her from her father, and from many portions in the texts plot. Nevertheless,

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Liza makes an effort in filling in these gaps through ways she never wanted doing but
does anyway, either by circumstance or by choice.
The story is told from the first person point of view (as signified by the narrators
use of the pronoun I) where the information the reader receives is seen only through
the eyes of the narrator. Our views are basically built on the perceptions of the speaker
thus, what we learn from the narrator shapes our understanding of the other characters,
and plot development. Since the narrators knowledge is limited to her own domain, it
follows that ours is too, therefore, we can at times be as surprised as the narrator when
something unexpected takes place. Moreover, this kind of POV used in the story allows
us to sympathize with Lizas emotions, to experience, one way or another, her inner
conflicts, and to understand in a deeper sense her personality.
The main character remains composed and strong (par. 18) amidst familial
turmoil exemplifying her domestic role as a daughter in a Filipino family, that is,
submission to and complying with parents demands and requests. Though, at some
points in the text, she has tendency toward greater assertiveness and probably,
eventually, rebellion (par. 33), she has kept intact her virtues shown in her mature
coping with unfavorable situations, and has regained her concept of a complete family
implied in her imagining of the dinner with his father actually in the frame, though the
connection is not the same as it was (par. 61).
III.

Prevailing Fictional Elements


The one-word title, Sinigang basically hinted at procedural discourse in the text,

which is a realistic assumption as this is manifested by the narrator in certain points of


the short story, most apparent in paragraphs 54 to 58. Each step to follow in cooking
sinigang allows readers to gain access to the narrators stream of consciousness, as
well as her short-term and long-term flashbacks. This pattern largely contributes to how
the narrator, later on, physically and emotionally responded to the situation at hand. For
instance, in paragraph 47, when Liza started to crush the onions, tomatoes, and salt
together with her hand, she recalled her father saying that Lem was such a good child,
eventually, she recounted times when her father called her sinverguenza which means
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the shameless daughter; her crushing of the said ingredients served as outlet of her
resentment to her dad.
Furthermore, the title anticipates the mix of tastes sinigang is a perfect blend of
fruity sourness and meaty smack that sometimes singly pops up in the bud, but
oftentimes produce a delightfully distinctive flavor to the delicacy that parallels Lizas
experience at the wake, and that reflects the overall tone of the narrator which is
resentment concerning her fathers infidelity.
The title also suggests the use of local language which is clearly observable in
the characters dialogues Filipino nouns like sinigang (par. 3), palanggana (par. 5),
hugas bigas (par. 54), kangkong (par. 56), and adverbs in the Filipino language such as na
(par. 24) and talaga (par. 30) are used frequently in the narrative. These elements
foreground the native folk atmosphere of the narrative that makes the setting,
characters, and the story more authentic and culturally penetrating.
The presence of interjections and vocalized pauses are made evident in some of
the dialogues as well, for example, Hmm. . . (par. 24), Oh. . . (par. 28), Haay. . .
(par. 30). These foreground the colloquial speech exemplified by the utterances in the
text creating characters who are humans involved in a conversational situation.
The narrators language is mostly descriptive especially giving attention to details
which is observable even at the early parts of the story. For instance, in paragraph 7
when Liza is at the wake in front of Lems coffin, notice how the narrator provides vivid
description of the coffin by employing rich adjectives in conjunction with adverbs. This
style of language use is evident almost in the entire text, which stirs the senses of the
readers to create a clear imaginary picture of what is being described, and may also
intensify the femininity of the main character as she lives in a family which if not for the
father would be female-dominated.
Moreover, this descriptive style is sustained in the manner of exchanges between
Liza and Tita Loleng. Lizas defensive stance in answering the questions is intensified
by adverbs such as offhandedly (par.4), carefully (par.4), and vehemently (par.42), in effect,
Tita Loleng becomes extra cautious in her probe" trying to get as much information,
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at the same time, showing sympathy towards her niece as implied by the phrases
begged for understanding (par.21), nodded understandingly (par.26) and gavesympathetic
look (par.34). The use of these words and phrases that illustrate the conversation does
not merely identify the one deeply affected by the circumstances but also magnifies the
differences in emotional maturity that the two characters have Liza who keeps a safe
distance from the problem, and Tita Loleng who seemingly encourages her to rather
confront it.
IV.

Linguistic Stylistic Features


Recurrent, relevant linguistic features in the text such as repetition, grammatical

deviation, and others that attract some degree of foregrounding are presented and
discussed in the table. Each identified feature is provided with interpretative comments
that are consistent with characters motives and sentiments, the affective value that
chain of events existing in the story builds up, and the overall theme that unifies the
whole text.
LINGUISTIC
FEATURE
1. Repetition
a) Repetition
of the noun
tomato/es

b) Pairing of

STORY
PART

PASSAGE

MEANING

Par. 5

I put the tomatoes in


the palanggana,
careful not to bruise
their delicate skin . . .

Par. 43

I took the sliced


tomatoes, surprised
to find not even a
splinter of wood with
them

The tomatoes in themselves and


what happens to them in the
preparation of sinigang characterize
Liza, reflect her emotions and fears,
and depict how she deals with the
situations in the narrative. This is
proven by paragraph 5 when the
narrator perceived herself as the
tomatoes while she carefully slid
them in the small palanggana without
bruising their delicate skin; similarly,
Liza offhandedly shared to her Tita
Loleng the happenings in the wake
without necessarily hurting her
feelings in the process.

Par. 7

Two golden

To establish an atmosphere of
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metaphor
with Lizas
experience
in the wake

and
Par. 9

candelabras, each
supporting three
rows of high-wattage
electric candles . . .
causing the flowers
to release more of
their heady scent
before they wilted
prematurely,

grief and dullness in Lems wake,


Liza compared the mourners to the
withered flowers; an illustration of
metaphor. The verbs wilt and
wither are closely associated to
death, thus these help in creating a
clear mental image of what transpires
in the wake.

. . . the mourners
preferred to stay out
on the veranda for
fear that the heat
from the lights might
also cause them to
wither.
Par. 19

She knelt in front of


mea sinner
confessing before a
priest so he could
wash away the dirt
from her past.

Lizas depiction of Sylvia as a


dirty sinner further intensifies how
roughly she thinks of the woman, and
comparing herself to a priest, all the
more puts Sylvia into a darker
character. We could also note that
though her father also equally took
part in this adulterous scandal, Liza
never had a sense of disgust towards
him, unlike the revulsion that she
feels for Sylvia as can be perceived
in paragraphs 19 and 23. Lizas
separate treatment of her father from
that of Sylvia implies that her respect
to and bond with her dad remain,
though not as intense as before.

Par. 22

a scene from a very


bad melodrama I
was watching . . .

Aside from the fact that this


metaphor is culturally relevant as it
foregrounds
Filipinos
fanaticism
towards soap operas, it also depicts
how Liza pretended to understand
Sylvias side of the story (par. 23).
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Here, Liza seemingly identifies


herself as an actress in a television
drama program where she needs to
act according to the scene. Liza
succeeded in making Sylvia believe
that she has actually forgiven her, but
the readers are fully aware that that is
all pretense and superficial.
Par. 37

When my Dad had


come out of the room,
I remembered
sensing it
immediatelythe
same way an animal
instinctively
perceives when it is
in danger,

Liza likens herself to an animal


which instinctively perceives danger
(possibly her father). However, the
pronoun it which appears first in the
sentence dismisses the idea that the
noun danger pertains to Lizas father;
in this case, danger may be equated
to the probable response of Liza
when she finally sees her father in
the wake her father functioning as a
stimulus that may trigger danger.
Liza knows that her probable
response towards her father may
imperil her impassive stance and may
also cause utter disrespect to Lems
wake, therefore, dangerous. Liza also
compared herself to an animal which
gives us the notion that she fully
knows how an encounter with her
father might unleash the aggression
in her like when an animal senses it
is in danger.

c) Repetition
in meaning

Par. 51

. . . squeezing and
mashing, unsatisfied
until all of me had
been crushed

The words squeezing, mashing


and crushed all contribute to depict
how emotionally devastated Liza is at
that certain moment. Her demand for
explanation is so intense that she
stepped out of her apathy towards
her father that seemingly caged her.

2. Elliptical

Par. 1

So, what

The question is elliptical, that is, a


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questions
at the
important
parts of the
narrative

Par. 49

happened?

prepositional phrase which normally


finishes off short-answer questions is
(deliberately) eliminated from the
sentence. Of course, since this is an
utterance, the notion of the questions
ungrammaticality may be dismissed,
but the implication of this kind of
utterance form is significant to note.
The conjunction so indicates that the
utterance is actually a fragment of a
previous dialogue by Tita Loleng, and
also that these deleted earlier
utterances
segued
into
the
succeeding part of the sentence,
. . .what happened? Adding up to the
sensitivity of information that the
question demands is the elimination
of the prepositional phrase in the
wake that is expected to complete
the question. However, Tita Loleng
chooses this elliptical construction to
protect Lizas feelings, and in order
for her to project empathy towards
Lizas family issue. Furthermore, the
ellipsis ignites the interest of the
readers about the event (the
uncommon meeting) that lead Tita
Loleng to asking this seemingly
intriguing question.

. . . I needed to ask.
Why?

Lizas memory of her father


calling her Sinverguenza, (which is
foregrounded as it is neither an
English word nor a Filipino native
term) Spanish for shameless
daughter, triggered her rage which
finally pushed her to vehemently ask
her father Why? an elliptical
question which, probably, when
lengthened would ask why her father
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became
unfaithful,
why
he
abandoned them for another woman
another family, or almost certainly,
why her father could not treat her the
same way as he treated Lem. Her
father did not expect the question OR
did not know how or what to answer,
as in paragraph 50, He met my gaze. I
waited but he would not could not
answer me. He looked away. Also, it
could be inferred from this paragraph
how regretful the father is of his past
actions as he probably knows how
this negatively affected people whom
he values his daughter and Lem
most especially. He feels that no
explanation
could
acceptably
rationalize his past actions, so rather
than responding verbally to Lizas
question, he opted to stay silent and
look away. Moreover, the father may
have thought that responding to
Lizas question would backfire; it
would not suppress her rage but
could possibly aggravate the situation
and cause confrontation, which is
utter disrespect to the funeral, at least
in the Philippine context. This culture
of respect for the dead loved one
may also be the reason why Liza,
though emotional at that moment,
could only ask her father Why?
because if Lizas questions would
further go into details, she would
somehow be humiliating her halfbrother, Lem. In this case, Liza could
be seen as a mature, well-mannered
woman who has control over her
emotions, no matter how intense
these could be.
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3. Phonological feature

Par. 35

Clack! Clack! The


knife hacked violently
against the board.

It emphasizes the tension


between Liza and her father when
they got a chance to talk at the wake
specifically that of Lizas inner
struggle which she would fail to
express openly to her father I
knew my father was staring at me but I
refused to look at him. He approached
and stood next to me. I remained
silent.(par. 38)

Par. 58

I remembered the
flower petals . . . I
had thrown . . . into
the freshly dug
grave . . .

It is important to take note of the


collocational breaks employed in
these parts of the story which leads to
ambiguity, that is, since the words
deviate from the normal, accepted
syntax they now acquire multiple
meaning that might be interpreted
differently. The phrase freshly dug
grave assigns another meaning to
Lems death it is not purely sorrow
but, in a way, the adverb freshly
denotes a new beginning for Lizas
father to be the father that he used
to be. Also, Lems death could be the
fathers liberation from his past
actions, as Lem is seen as the ONLY
link that connects the father to Sylvia.

Par. 58

His hand, heavy with


sadness, fell on my
shoulder.

The sentence could not literally


suggest that the fathers hand is
heavy with sadness, and that it fell on
Lizas shoulder. In a literary sense,
this sentence represents how the
father repents for the distress that his
past actions have caused Liza and
her half-brother, Lem. This paragraph
intensifies his apologetic stance
concerning
the
unfavorable
consequences of his infidelity.

(Onomatopoeia
)

4. Collocational Breaks
leading to
Ambiguity

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Par. 62

. . . I had cooked his


favorite dish and I
would give him a
smile that would
never quite show,
not even in my eyes.

Because Lizas smile is illustrated


in this part of the text in a manner
that does not really resemble a smile,
the readers are left puzzled. This
stresses how Liza deals with her
father will never be the same again
as it is easy to forgive but not to
forget. On the other hand, how Liza
reacted to her fathers repentance
(par. 59) is not detailed in the text, but
the succeeding paragraphs would
lead us, the readers, to believe that
through the fathers apology, Liza is
able to accept the bitter truth, and is
able to restore her identity that once
was lost; that, after all, she is still her
fathers daughter. Of course, it is not
explicit in the text that she has
forgiven nor forgotten; the judgment
is left to the readers. However, since
Liza was able to imagine having
dinner with her family, complete
again, though not the same as it was,
it can be concluded that she made
her way to acceptance the least
she could give thus far.

Conclusion
Through specifying the recurring linguistic features in the text juxtaposed with
interpretative comments, the link between form and meaning can be seen more clearly.
The stylistic analysis of the texts form allowed the application of inferring meaning that
gradually leads us to the overall unifying themes of the short story specifically, the
Filipino family, in order to endure, should uphold the value of forgiveness and
acceptance; generally, life itself is a struggle, how ones life will turn out depends on
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how one looks at and takes these struggles. In Lizas case, she chose accepting and
living with her fathers mistakes, and starting all over again, because, essentially,
happiness is a choice.

Work Cited:
Villaceran, Marby. Sinigang The Best Philippine Short Stories. RP literature Group, 2001. Web.
23 Sept. 2015.

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