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Some questions as PHL prepares for language month in August


The Philippines, a multi-lingual nation of 98 million people from Basco to Bongao, is preparing yet again for the annual celebration in August of “Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa.”

This early, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino has launched a contest with the title “Mananaysay ng Taon 2012” (Essayist of the Year 2012) at stake.

Cash prizes are up for the first top three placers and three honorable mention placers in the essay writing contest – in Filipino, of course – with entries not less than 12 pages and not more than 30 pages typewritten or encoded on an 8 ½” x 11” and submitted in four copies.

The deadline for the contest – whose topic is “Tatag ng Wikang Filipino, Lakas ng Pagka-Filipino” (Sturdiness of the Filipino Language, Strength of Being Filipino) -- has been set on July 20.

This is the only government body which sponsors such contest, intended to arouse awareness among the different generations of Filipinos on the importance of Filipino as the national language of a country that has no less than 120 distinct languages but many are marginalized, wittingly or unwittingly by some Tagalog speakers and writers.

Tagalog, the language of Metro Manila and surrounding provinces, became in 1937 the basis of a national language ordered by then President Manuel Quezon, a Tagalog, through his Executive Order 134.

By 1940, the Tagalog-based national language was taught in all public and private schools, which was eventually called Pilipino and dubbed as also the official language, the language for teaching and subject in national language starting in 1959.

Pilipino eventually metamorphosed into Filipino when the 1987 Constitution, written by a presidential-appointed Constitutional Commission, approved the change from letter P to letter F to call the country’s national language.

But the official language remained Pilipino, which many linguists and scholars from non-Tagalog speaking provinces said was also Tagalog with just another name.

There was a time when Tagalog was considered the only language of the Philippines, and the others were dialects – immediately corrected by language scholars in the Committee on Literary Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

These scholars argue that the others, often previously unnecessarily marginalized by what they call “an imperial attitude” are in fact languages and not dialects.

They have referred to these languages, but not limited to them, as Iluko, Pampango, Bikol, Waray, Bisaya or Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Ibanag, and the other languages of the Cordilleras and those in Mindanao, apart from Maranaw, Maguindanaon, Yakan and Bahasa Sug.

Time was when the Institute of National Language was tasked to incorporate words, spoken and written in the other regions to make a substantive Filipino language or language of the country.

But instead of adding words from the other languages north and south of the capital to Tagalog which was the basis of a national language to be crafted, a new breed of language imperialists was born: Tagalog purists.

Understandably, this did not sit well with non-Tagalog writers and speakers.

Neither did the manner census questions were worded – done by teachers in Metro Manila years back – whether anyone “from the household spoke Pilipino.” Period.

There was no qualifying nor clarifying follow-up whether members of the household were native speakers of what language, what other languages spoken in the household if at all.

Scholars have pointed to misconceptions on the inclusion of the letter F in the national language Filipino, a letter that did not pop up from the English alphabet, but is a sound very native in several languages of the Philippines.

The same scholars point to “afuy” (fire) and “kofun” (friend) in Ibanag; “afyu flafus” (good morning) of the Bilaan; “fidu” (pestilence) of the Manobos of South Cotabato.

Simply because there is no F sound in the Tagalog – despite Francisco Balagtas – that the F in other languages should now be replaced by the letter P, smacks, some language scholars posit, of barren unreason.

As the country prepares yet again for the annual celebration of “Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa,” many raise questions they claim were valid as from the 1940s as they are today, given what they say is the improper handling of the other languages that are part of what can well be the Filipino national language.

By Honor Blanco Cabie

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