Is it correct to actually state that our own languages are so belittled in this country with the hegemony of English and with Pilipino-Tagalog also asserting a dominance?
Despite the fact that there are as many Cebuano-speakers as there are Tagalog-speakers in the whole country, is it possible for Cebuano to be pushed to the periphery? If this can happen to Cebuano which is the mother tongue of a considerable percentage of Filipinos, what more with the languages of our indigenous communities?
Regarding the discourse on language, I do not refer only to language as spoken but especially to language as medium of instruction in schools, as medium for communication among government and related offices and as printed word for books and periodicals. The fact is that – given our colonial history and mentality – English and Pilipino have been the languages privileged in this country.
Fortunately, in terms of usage, Cebuano remains quite vibrant and popular, especially among the masses in many parts of the Visayas and Mindanao. There are, of course, Cebuano-speaking enclaves in Metro Manila and abroad. It is so popular that local TV networks have their programs in this language. One could say these of the other major languages like Ilokano, Bikolano, Hiligaynon and so on. At the ground level, the ordinary folks continue to use their mother tongues. In their everyday use, these languages continue to thrive.
The sad reality, however, is that as individuals, families and communities – except perhaps those in Cebu – begin to go up the ladder of economic and social success, their tongues would rather speak Pilipino, Taglish or English. These languages are seen more as sosyal, being the lingua francas of the rich ghettoes in cities such as Davao, Cotabato, Zamboanga and the like.
Academic institutions are the ones most notorious in reinforcing such a language orientation, falling deeply into the politics of language to flaunt their class positions. And yet, in Manila, such high-standard universities such as the University of the Philippines in Diliman and Ateneo de Manila University have pushed for the greater use of Pilipino as medium of instruction and documentation-publication.
How come this cannot be done by universities in Cebu, Dumaguete, Tagbilaran, Cagayan de Oro and Davao for Cebuano? How about those in the North: are they doing the same for Ilokano? And for those in Panay: are there attempts to bring in Ilongo into the academic settings?
I am dealing with this issue rather with a passion as I have become much more agitated in the manner that we ourselves belittle our own languages. At the ground level, there are disturbing signs. Young people in the urban centers can no longer speak Cebuano fluently even as Cebuano remains the language spoken in their homes, given that their parents were descendants of migrants coming from central Visayas. In city-based parishes, one hears more Tagalog and English liturgical songs even during Cebuano Masses. Choirs of young people refuse to learn and sing Cebuano songs, preferring those coming from Manila and beyond our shores.
During visits to a few indigenous communities all over Mindanao, we hear the elders lamenting that their children would rather speak the dominant language of the Christian settlers, whether Cebuano or Hiligaynon. They are very vocal in saying that their youth seem embarrassed in speaking their own languages when they go to school. As a result, the elders feel estranged from them.
Worse is that I have visited the homes of ex-activists and their children have been trained to speak English at home. They feel this is to the advantage of their children; it would help them compete well even when they reach Kindergarten. As a result, I cannot converse with their children in Cebuano.
The landscape is actually not that pessimistic; there are oases of hope here and there and if further encouraged and promoted, there could be a renewed interest in speaking, writing and reading in our own languages. In Moro communities, one can sense the pride of the Muslims to speak their languages even as they can so easily shift to Tagalog. In some Lumad communities, the parents make sure that their children remain fluent in the indigenous language even as the wife or husband is not Lumad.
As earlier stated, the media has expanded in terms of its use of the local language especially for news broadcasts. There is higher TV rating if newscasters broadcast news in the language used by the majority. Since martial rule, non-government organizations had been doing a lot more documentation and publication in the local languages.
Churches, especially through mass-movements such as the BEC, do all their communication in the local language. As a result, even in some enclaves of the academe, speaking in the local language no longer results in the raising of eyebrows among the arrogant elite.
But we have a long way to go to negate the belittling of our languages and to make sure that this wealth of our nation – for languages like other aspects of our culture are, indeed, part of the country's natural resources – is protected and well-preserved. (Part 2 will be published in the next column. MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar of Davao City, former head of the Redemptorist Itinerant Mission Team and author of several books, including “To be poor and obscure,” and “Mystic Wanderers in the Land of Perpetual Departures,” writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English [A Sojourner’s Views] and the other in Binisaya [Panaw-Lantaw].)