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Thursday, September 06, 2007

 

Saving Butuanon language

By Fred S. Cabuang, Special to The Manila Times

Any language with fewer than 300,000 speakers is regarded by international linguistics experts as endangered. The Butuanon language at present can only be spoken by fewer than 500 youngsters in Butuan itself. If the next generations of Butuanons are not taught Butuanon in school that will be the end of the Butuanon ethnolinguistic people.

In relation to other Philippine languages, Butuanon belongs to the Southern branch of Visayan languages, and the Visayan languages (Cebuano, Waray, Hiligaynon, and others) in turn belong to the Southern branch of Philippines languages (to which the Mindanao, Bicolano and Tagalog languages also belong).

Butuanon is one of the Visayan languages. Specifically it belongs to the Southern branch of Visayan. As such, most of the words in its vocabulary are cognate to the words found in other Visayan languages. Its grammatical rules are also similar to its fellow Visayan languages Suri­gaonon and Cebuano.

A common misconception is that Butuanon is a dialect, but in fact it is a language. Dialects are defined by international linguistic standards as mutually intelligible versions of a language. For example, the common medium of communication in Barangay Babag Butuan City is mutually intelligible with the one used in Talakugon town; thus both are dialects of the same language, which is called Butuanon by international linguists.

Butuanon as a language is at par with the other 160 or so Philippine languages, including Tagalog, and the rest of the world’s languages. To call Butuanon a dialect does injustice to this rich and complex language.

Language is the main medium by which humans communicate ideas and feelings to each other. Consequently, language is not only the main transmitter of human culture, but it also forms the most important part of culture. Without language, human society and culture would not exist at all.

Language also has another role that is often overlooked. Each language is shared by a cultural community and forms the main basis for the existence of such a community, which is called an ethnolinguistic people. If the language of an ethnolinguistic people dies, so does this people. So if no can speak the Butuanon language, there will be no Butuanon ethnolinguistic people.

Children are born with the ability to learn any language, but they usually learn their parents’ first language—a language that has been passed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years. There are at present more than 6,000 distinct languages and people of the world. Each week, one or two of them die out, due to the death of the last people who know, speak and write in those languages and years of discriminatory policies of governments that promote only the language of their capitals and business and cultural centers.

These languages differ in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar. Each language offers unique concepts and ways of expressing them, and thus offers unique perspectives (points of view), besides defining every people of the world. Each langauge is priceless and irreplaceable to lose.

To save the Butuanon Language, the SOLFED Foundation Inc., a nongo­vern­mental organization, embarked on the publication of the Butuanon Syllabus through the assistance of some local volunteer teachers who serve as interpreters, translators and part-time teachers.

Since no Butuanon Syllabus has ever been made and Cebuano and Butuanon are very similar in syntax but different in the pronunciation of many words and phonemes, existing Cebuano models were used.

The main purpose of this syllabus is to preserve the priceless and irreplaceable Butuanon language that has defined the Butuanon people for more than a thousand years.

[Prof. Fred S. Cabuang is the spokesman of the Save Our Languages through Federalization Foundation (SOLFED) and its vice-president for congressional relations.] 

   
 

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