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Tuesday, September 04, 2007


SPECIAL REPORT Dying Philippine languages

Tagalog dominance must be 
balanced by support for all languages

By Prof. Fred S. Cabuang

Sibayan (personal communication) has advocated a top-down approach, in addition to the bottom-up approach. That is to say, instead of relying on grade school teachers alone to use Filipino as a medium of instruction and having a group of grade school writers from DECS produce the teaching materials, selected universities should have been given the task to identify professors who were both knowledgeable in the field as well as competent in the language to do massive teacher training for the upper grades and to create not only textbooks but reference materials in Filipino to enable the department to do a good job of making the transition. Unfortunately, in spite of numerous surveys during the whole decade of the 1970s and the early 1980s on the problems of implementing the program through regional and provincial studies, teacher training by regions was left to the initiative of the regional directors of the system. Token seminars and workshops were held but systematic and detailed training in the nitty-gritty of the use of the language, based on classroom experiences, was inadequate; the task of speaking about concepts and principles in social studies by Grade 5 was found to be very difficult for ordinary classroom teachers.

Thus the findings of the 1985 national survey indicated that, in some schools, implementation had just begun.

The 1987 scheme also recommended that new materials be composed for non-Tagalog regions at the initial transitional level, and it recommended the restoration of the use of the home languages as “auxiliary languages,” a recognition and legitimation of the ongoing practice of using different media of instruction in class including the use of the home language for explaining content taught in Filipino and in English.

In the meantime, in an attempt to restructure the language academy of the Philippines, a law was passed in August 1991 under the Aquino administration establishing a new language academy called Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) [Commission on the Filipino Language] with an enlarged group of board members representing different major and minor languages as well as different academic disciplines. The Commission was charged with the mission not only to develop Filipino as a language of literature and as an academic language but likewise “to preserve and develop the other languages.” The KWF is made up of a division for linguistic research, a lexicography unit, a unit dealing with Philippine languages other than Filipino, a section for the dissemination of its findings through publications and workshops, and an administrative unit.

Essentially, the KWF has the same structure and basically the same personnel at present as the former Institute of National Language (Linangan ng mga Wika sa Pilipinas), except that an enlarged board now meets regularly to deliberate on language policy and use and to advocate the expanded use of Filipino in academic life.

After the ratification of the 1987 Constitution, which mandated Filipino and its development, as well as clarified the official status of Pilipino and English, and opened the door to using Filipino not only for the social sciences but also for the natural sciences, regional centers for the promotion of the Philippine national language were set up in different universities in the provinces.

On constitutional grounds, the local government of Cebu Province challenged the notion that Filipino had already been recognized as the national language and contended that Filipino was still in the process of development and hence could not be imposed on the province. The Provincial Board supported that proposal.

The KWF won its case for Filipino in the lower court; the case is now on long-term appeal. In the meantime, pending the appeal, English is once more being used in teaching the social sciences, and the Filipino Language Class is the only class in the curriculum using Filipino as both content and as medium of instruction. This avoidance of the use of Filipino has taken its toll on achievement in those subjects taught and tested in Filipino in other parts of the country, a situation which the Cebuanos have found difficult to accept. There is a strong petition at present to have social studies tested not in Filipino but in English, a policy that would favor Cebuanos. The DepEd has refused to change the language of testing in the social sciences.

It seems that what is clear and well stated in the Philippine Constitution is the official use of English, a foreign language, while the other languages spoken in the different regions are rendered “auxiliary” meaning “supplementary” or “reserve.” Are the regional (or provincial) population of the Philippines being told to use their regional languages for communication and instruction only, if Filipino and English cannot be used? Or are they being forced to use Filipino and English only, since majority of the population speak English and Tagalog?

Linguists, anthropologists, language advocates and indigenous minorities are fighting for the survival of the endangered languages in the world. Out of more than 6,000 languages that are spoken worldwide, linguistic experts predict that at present rate, more than half of these languages will perish from this earth in the next two or three decades.

Some of these are Philippine languages.

While present laws favor the dominance of Tagalog-based Pilipino or Filipino, there should also be laws to preserve the other languages.

(Major Sources: The Language Planning Situation in the Philippines, Bro. Andrew Gonzales, FSC, Mckinley’s Questionable Bequest, Allan Bernardo, Summer Institute of Linguistics and Ethnology Group)


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