Rethinking the “Filipino” Language

Posted on May 8, 2012


So much issues have erupted in this country for so many decades that I could not decide where to start. But, what I believe should be taken into spotlight is the root of all the problems many Filipinos are facing today. Undoubtedly, although many would contest that it is the cultural divide and mismatch that should be pinpointed as the culprit, I would have to argue that the underlying fulcrum is language.

This entry provides a brief history of the “Filipino language” and a corresponding write-up by Mr. Ronald Llanos regarding the effects of this feign icon of nationalism.

The Philippine government, according to Aspillera (1993), unequivocally adopted Tagalog as the national language in 1937 when it was rebranded by late president Quezon as the Wikang Pambansa (literally translating to ‘national language’). This decision was brought into existence with the aid of the soon-to-be dissolved National Language Institute formed on the 12th of November of the same year. The said institute comprised of different representatives from major ethnic groups in the Philippines:

  1. Jaime C. de Veyra as the chairman and representing “Samar-Leyte Visayan”
  2. Filemon Sotto for “Cebu-Visayan”
  3. Felix S. Sales Rodriguez for “Panay-Visayan”
  4. Santiago A. Fonacier for “Ilocano regions”
  5. Casimiro Perfecto for “Bicol”
  6. Hadji Butu for “the Muslims”
  7. Cecilio Lopez for “Tagalog”

I do not know if what was mentioned by Aspillera was the exact nominal designation for these people, but apparently they are misleading most espcially for “Panay-Visayan” since Panay island is inhabited mostly by Aklanon, Kinaray-a and Hiligaynon speakers. If the intention was geographic-based, then this would leave Negros island unrepresented in the Visayas amidst having the most of the western part or roughly Negros Occidental province as Hiligaynon-speaking while the eastern or Negros Oriental as mostly Cebuano-speaking. Another is the “Muslim” category since our Muslims, or Moros as how we collectively name them, speak varied languages ranging from Maguindanao, Maranao, Tausug, Cebuano, Tagalog and Zamboanga Chavacano. The common denominator is they share one religious identity.

Among the reasons why Tagalog as the Wikang Pambansa should be questioned (or should there be a Wikang Pambansa in the first place) are the following (Aspillera, 1993):

  1. Tagalog is widely spoken and the most understood in all the regions of the Philippines;
  2. It (Tagalog) is not divided into dialects as Visayan is;
  3. Tagalog literature is the richest. More books are written in Tagalog than in any other native language;
  4. Tagalog has always been the language of Manila, the capital city, even long before the Spaniards came;
  5. Tagalog was the language of the Revolution and the Katipunan–two incidents in Philippine history that have left Filipinos a heritage they can all be proud of.

Obviously, many of the rationales presented were gut-wrenching. The need for a Wikang Pambansa undermines the Constitution from then until now because of its exclusivity and discreet ethnic marginalization, and it shows so much cultural insecurity. Does a “national language” fulfill your egos’ needs to assure yourselves you have this certain ‘identity?’

If I were one of the representatives or the president who would finalize this law, below are my arguments regarding each point given by the then-institution:

[1] Tagalog is widely spoken and the most understood in all the regions of the Philippines;

First off, they did not provide concrete census on the home languages in the Philippines along with their claims. On top of that, what was their basis of ‘understantability’ of Tagalog? Is it lexicon or overall mutual intelligibility?

[2] It is not divided into dialects as Visayan is;

It would take much linguistic information that we are lucky to have access today for these people to fully understand the complications of language versus dialect. I assume they used this argument as supporting detail to point [1] whereas since Tagalog is considered as only “one language” and being the “widely spoken” among candidate languages, while Visayan has many dialects disintegrating the number of what people consider as “Visayan,” it would further push Tagalog into a higher statistical advantage securing its place as the national language.

“Visayan” is an amalgam of different groups–speaking different, but related languages–under one ethnic umbrella originating from the Visayan islands. Linguistically speaking, the Visayan language family is a language branch (like taxonomy of animals and plants) comprising mainly of Cebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, and Aklanon. This second definition, however, does not entail geographic limitations because there are also speakers of Visayan languages in Mindanao (Hiligaynon for much of Sultan Kudarat and South Cotabato and Cebuano for the rest) and Masbate province, administratively included in Luzon, has Masbateño, also a Visayan language. Nevertheless, if what they referred as “Visayan” is Cebuano, then it is a hypocrisy for them to say that Cebuano dialectology disqualifies it as a contender when Tagalog has numerous dialects as well.

[3] Tagalog literature is the richest. More books are written in Tagalog than in any other native language;

I do not see this any near being a sound reason. This argument shows a mindset ridden with a culture of mediocrity and complacency. The issue of national language isn’t an issue of convenience. What does dissemination of materials of one language have to do with speakers of a different language? No matter if you’ve published millions of copies of millions of topics in Tagalog, people who don’t speak or aren’t comfortable with the language wouldn’t find them useful.

[4] Tagalog has always been the language of Manila, the capital city, even long before the Spaniards came;

And so? Manila isn’t the Philippines. More than half of the population resides outside the capital, therefore, a sizable portion of the population beyond Katagalugan do not speak Tagalog. If the Philippines is a democratic country, why would the government promulgate laws favoring a few at the expense of many (AKA the People who embody a democratic state)? What an irony.

[5] Tagalog was the language of the Revolution and the Katipunan–two incidents in Philippine history that have left Filipinos a heritage they can all be proud of.

Simply asinine. This is another residue of Tagalog-centric history being spread across Philippine education. There were no provisions on what language the Katipunan had to use. In fact, several Visayans from Panay were members of the Katipunan who themselves led their own uprising along other Visayan military leaders during the Philippine Revolution. A few other details undisclosed in mainstream Philippine history regarding the Visayan theater of the Revolution can be read at Ang Pungsod Ilonggo and the Visayan Republic (part 1). Another concern here is the source which these representatives failed to provide. What was their proof that Tagalog was the language spoken by all revolutionaries?

Seditious it may sound, but I firmly believe the propagation of the Tagalog language as a cemented, elite motif of Philippine identity thwarts the REAL vision of nation-building that has been established since independence from Spain.

In 1959, Tagalog was renamed Pilipino in order to dissociate its ties with the Tagalog ethnic group (Gonzalez, 1998). Clearly reveals the ulterior motive of a “national language” to solidify Manila government’s hold of the rest of the Philippines in terms of educational and political chains by turning the entire country linguistically, thus culturally, homogeneous. Basically, they indirectly want to purge any group that stalwartly identifies itself deviant from Pilipino (or should we say Tagalog).

The 1973 Constitution of the Marcos regime renamed Pilipino to Filipino with the grounds of dissociating it once again from the precursor (Pilipino) which was originally based on Tagalog. However, there was no clear provision of what should be the base language.

In 1987, the Cory Constitution indicated that the “Filipino language” be upon the grounds of being actualized as an agglutination of all languages in the Philippines. There were no explicit mention of Tagalog being the base language. If following the literal article on the language, the government has the lawful duty to develop a new language, or a creole out of all existing indigenous languages in the Philippines–not “making” a new lanugage out of a specific “base language.” If what they meant with “base” was grammar and lexicon, then that foreseen language would most likely be no far from the core language making it merely a dialect with a slightly different sound system. The change of Pilipino to Filipino was also justified with the argument that it would be a language that embraces all ethnic groups whose languages have an /f/ phoneme.

[More discussion about the history of the “Filipino language” here]

As of 2012, the “Filipino language” is an unconstitutional failure. The language since 1987 was being “enriched” with Tagalog as the framework beyond the consciousness of students and academicians out of the touch of the Commission on the Filipino Language, successor of the National Language Institute. Technically speaking, Filipino is the Metro Manila area dialect of Tagalog. Going back to the issue of democracy and all-inclusiveness, more than two decades of education, mass media and nation-building was positioned upon Tagalog at the expense of other ethnic groups and languages.

Below is an essay written by Mr. Ronald Llanos of the Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago (DILA) giving a glimpse about the grim reality of language planning in the Philippines, failure of the Filipino language as a unifying symbol and linguistic & ethnic marginalization that continues to entail across the archipelago.

Note: Click ‘open new window’ icon  for clearer image.