Alben meng manyaman, boy!

September 7, 2007

Sen. Pimentel is aware of the language issue

Ever since I heard Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, the known Father of the Local Government Code, speak his mind regarding the country in the First Dialogues in Federalism which I attended in UP, I have been convinced that he is not a nonsense person and knows what he's talking about.

He is, by far, the prime pusher of Federalism and decentralization in the Philippines, which we are glad about, since this is one way of empowering our languages independent of Tagalog-Filipino. And yes, he is aware of the language issue as well.

Preserve Our Languages, Strengthen the Republic
[Privilege Statement of Sen. Nene Pimentel at the Senate, September 2007]

I speak today of preserving the languages of our people. We have many languages. To name some: 1. Iloko in the Ilocos and in other adjoining provinces; 2. Pangalatok in Pangasinan; 3. Kapampangan inPampanga; 4. Tagalog in Manila and in SouthernTagalog provinces; 5. Bikolano in Bicol; 6. Hiligaynon in the Iloilo provinces and in Negros Occidental; 7. Binisaya in Cebu, Bohol and many parts of Mindanao; Waray in Samar and parts of Leyte, and 8. the local languages of the Maranaos in the Lanao Provinces, the Maguindanaos in Cotabato and in the adjoining provinces and Tausug in Sulu and nearby areas.

I cite these langugages only from the top of my head. Even, then, we count, at least, 9 major language groups in the country today. These languages have nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, clauses, all the major components of language that are used in verbal conversation as well as in literary works.

In danger

Unfortunately, I think, all the languages I refer to are in danger of extinction with the exception ofTagalog, which has been mandated by the Constitution as the basis of our national language.
Don't get me wrong. I am in favor of having a national language. We need it so that we do not have to speak the language of foreigners to communicate with one another.

For example, I find it distressing that in the country today, we need an interpreter to translate proceedings in our courts of law throughout the land. Usually, it is from English to Tagalog or to any of the dominant language that is spoken in the place where the judicial proceedings are held.

I thinkthat trying a Filipino especially in criminal cases in a language that is foreign is atrocious and should be rectified soonest. But that is another story.

Napoleonic idea

Anyway, historically, it looks like it was the Jacobins of France in the late 18th century who led in the implementation of the Napoleonic wish to unify the people of France by mandating the use of one language -- French -- to achieve that end.

In parenthesis, let me say that that was how visionary Napoleon was. And to think Napoleon was born inCorsica and his native language was Corsican, a dialect of the Italian language.

The Napoleonic concept of language as a unifying element of nations dominated the thinking of nation-builders and policy-makers in the early 20the century.

Diverse languages

Nowadays, however, that kind of thinking may already be dated. Multiple identities of people and diverse languages in one nation are now common place. Ready examples are Spain, Wales in the United Kingdom, Belgium and Switzerland.

Hence, I submit that forcing the language of one ethnic group upon other ethnic groups is divisive and disruptive of the national fabric. The key word here is "forcing" a foreign language on a people. It does not unite.

Pakistan learned this the hard way after the super nationalists in Islamabad declared that only Urdu would be the national and official language Pakistan. Among other things, it led to thebreak-away of East Bengal and the eventual formationof Bangladesh. The ongoing civil war in Sri Lanka had as a major cause, the imposition of Sinhalese as the sole national language over the objections of theTamils.

Belgium also nearly had a civil war and it had to recognize Flemish as an official language along with French. Until then, influenced by the Napoleonic Doctrine, only French was the official language and the sole language of instruction in Belgium. Spain after Franco wisely recognized the regional languages as official languages and as languages of instruction.

More Sugbuanons

In our country, "until about 1970 there were more Filipinos who spoke Sugboanon or Cebuano-Visayan and its various dialects, than those (using) Tagalog. Tagalog as we all know was adopted as the major but not the sole basis of Filipino, our national language, in Quezon's administration.

Since then more of our people have learned to understand and speak Tagalog than Cebuano-Visayan, because of the teaching and use of Tagalog or Filipino in our schools and their daily use by radio, cinema and television" (Kapunongang Bisaya, "Dalit Bisaya - a Celebration of Cebuano Culture," Dec. 1-3, 2006, University of San Carlos, Cebu City).

Many of us who were not born in Tagalog-speaking areas believe that unless we take pains to protect our own indigenous languages, they would eventually disappear completely from our consciousness and from use in our verbal and written communications.

Tragic end

That would be sad, tragic and a total waste of a people's resource that can be put to promote our own understanding of concepts that the world outside our own limited firmament uses.

Indeed, an adviser to the President of Iceland in the 1800s, Ornolfor Thorsson,said: "Without our language, we have no culture, we have no identity, we are nothing."

Thorsson said this when the Icelandic language was in danger of disappearing after years of Norwegian colonialism. Had this happened, the Icelanders as an ethnolinguistic people would have disappeared from the face of the earth.

The table below is culled from census data. Gemma Cruz Araneta in her column in the Manila Bulletin of November 16, 2006: "It shows a decline in the number of users of Filipino languages other than Tagalog as through the years, Tagalog users have steadily increased in number; from 19 percent of the population in 1948 (a decade after Pres. M. Quezon decreed Filipino [Tagalog] as the national language) to 29.30 percent in 1995. The rise of Tagalog is far from spectacular, until compared to the decline of other local languages. In fact, Save Our Language through Federalism (SOLFED) woefully predicts that in about fifty more years, many of the other vernacular languages will cease to exist.

To illustrate the urgency of the situation, Sambali is spoken only in four obscure towns in Zambales".

Here's another graph that illustrates the trend towards the extinction of most of the languages of the country.

Dying Languages of the Philippines

[Language, % in 1948, 1948, 1975, 1990, 1995]

Tagalog, 19% < 19% < 21% < 23% < 28% < 29%
Cebuano, 25% > 24% = 24% = 24% > 21%
Iloko, 12% > 11% = 11% > 9% = 9%
Hiligaynon, 12% > 10% > 9% = 9% = 9%
Bicol 8% > 7% > 6% > 5% < 6%
Waray 6% > 5% > 4% = 4% = 4%
Kapampangan 3% = 3% = 3% = 3% = 2.9%
Pangalatok 3% > 2% = 2% > 1% = 1%

Losing a culture

The more recent statistics for the year 2000 changed the ethnolinguistic base to classify people. Boholanos were considered a separate ethnolinguistic group. But we need not go into the details of the why and how the change came about. For our purposes, it should suffice that the other languages aside from the legally mandated Tagalog as the base of the national language are clearly on the verge of extermination.

And as indicated earlier, that would be a tragedy. Dr. Kenneth Hale who taught linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that: "When you lose a language you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art".

We, the Visayan speaking peoples of the Visayas and Mindanao, for instance, have a word, "bana", meaning "husband" in English, but for which the Tagalogs have no equivalent. Tagalogs use the same word, "asawa" for husband or wife. Our word for blanket is "habol" but "habol" in Tagalog means to run after. Our word for ant is "lumigas" but the Tagalogs would call ant "langgam".

And to us, "langgam" means bird.

In short, it would be a pity if we lose our language just because we are far from Manila whose lingua franca, Tagalog, has been the language of the people residing or working in the city, the capital of the country for centuries mainly for practical purposes.

If we, the non-Tagalogs want to give our languages a decent chance of survival, what can we do?
I suggest that there are, at least, two things that we can do: one fairly easy to do; the other, quite difficult.

Change curriculum

One merely calls for a change in the curriculum of our schools so that we allow the use of the dominant languages in the various regions of the land as the medium of instruction from Grades I to Grade 6.

I submit that the proposal makes sense because concepts are more easily understandable to the graders if stated in the language of their homes. For instance, if one teaches a Visayan grade school kid arithmetic, the teacher would say in English one plus one equals two. But the concept of addition would be more clearly transmitted to a pupil in the Visayan speaking areas
if he or she is told in Visayan that "ang usa dugagngan sa usa mahimong duha".

I would also suggest that we should teach English and Tagalog in our grade schools by using the dominant language of the people in the community. I understand that they are doing this in Taiwan where they teach Mandarin using Taiwanese. The rationale is the same as in the use of the local language to teach arithmetic.

At this point, let me say that I am not aware that this change in the curriculum needs legislation to implement it. All it probably needs is a policy adopted by the DEPed that may immediately be implemented for the entire six grades or staggered over a few years as may be necessary in accordance with the decision of our education officials.

If a law is necessary, I think, we can easily mobilize enough support from our lawmakers to make the proposal possible.

Adopt federalism

The other way of doing it is more cumbersome because the proposal is to adopt the federal system for the country so that we create 10 federal states based mainly on the linguistic preferences of the citizens.

To adopt the federal system of government needs an amendment of the Constitution. In the instances that I have articulated the need to adopt the federal system for the country, I have always maintained that the federal system would facilitate the economic development of the country and advance the cause of peace in the land.

Among other things, the adoption of the federal system would enable the federal states to enhance their own culture – language being a major component of it.

Unless we adopt either of the first proposal as an interim measure and the second one as the more permanent solution, I fear that our non-Tagalog languages are doomed.

We can take heart from the examples of Post-Franco Spain, the UnitedKingdom, Belgium and Switzerland.


"The evolution of Spain after Franco is a thought-provoking case in point. Catalan, Basque, and Galician have been co-officialized and are now used side by side with Spanish in their respective regions. A conscious and systematic language policy favoring the elaboration and social implementation of minority languages in all fields of social life has led to spectacular results.

The affirmation of one's own linguistic identity is felt as a stronger need than the need of far-reaching communicative efficiency.

Spain is often considered as a model of linguistic development and the peaceful solution of ethnic and linguistic conflicts in the process of nation building.


In the UK, the Welsh Language Act 1993 and the Government of Wales Act 1998 provide that the Welsh and English languages should be treated on a basis of equality. Public bodies are required to prepare and implement a Welsh Language Scheme.

Thus the Welsh Assembly, local councils, police forces, fire services and the health sector use Welsh as an official language, issuing official literature and publicity in Welsh versions."


"In 1993, Belgium, there are now three levels of government (federal, regional and linguistic communities) with a complex division of responsibilities." French and Flemish are now considered official languages of the Kingdom.


In Switzerland, the land of the cantons, four languages are recognized as official: French, German, Italian and Romanch.

I guess we have other examples of countries having multiple languages which have contributed to the stabilization of their situation rather than causing them problems of division.

I end with the suggestion that the time to take the first move to revise the curriculum of our educational system so that we allow the use of the local languages as the medium of instruction in our grade school is now. Our other major languages are dying.

We have to save them now.

The other suggestion is for the adoption of the federal system. I also suggest that it would be to our advantage as a nation for us to begin discussing the issue now. The federal system is a rather complicated one. It needs time to make our people aware of its various ramifications and to discuss and negotiate with all the stake holders in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao its practical implications.

In the meantime, allow us to plead with our colleagues in government, help us preserve our languages to enhance our cultures and we strengthen the nation.


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