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
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
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
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
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