COMMENT: Just the other view. By Patricio P. Diaz

I fully agree with Brother Karl’s observations and notes.  He turns emotional for the love of his mother tongue when he notes: “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.”

Like Brother Karl, I love my mother tongue. As I may not fully agree that “we ourselves belittle our own languages”, I look at the issue with realism, sharing what I call “just the other view”.

Corroboration

Before I expound my “realistic view”, I would like to corroborate Brother Karl’s notes and observations with my own experience with speakers of Ilonggo. Spoken in Panay and Negros Occidental, Ilonggo is of two kinds:  Hiligaynon, spoken in the coastal towns of Iloilo and the entire Negros Occidental; and, Iniray-a or Kinaray-a, in upper Iloilo towns and Antique.

Hiligaynon as the official Ilonggo is also spoken by the people of Capiz and Aklan although the natives of these two Panay provinces have their own dialects.  Hiligaynon is not the mother tongue of all people in Panay and Negros Occidental but it is what all commonly understands.

I have met Ilonggos who were strangers to me in buses, in meetings and other places.  Usually, I recognized them to be Ilonggos by their accent in speaking Tagalog or English.  In most cases, when I switched to Hiligaynon, many would insist in their Ilonggo-Tagalog or Ilonggo-English.

Just very recently, a lady (young, I believed), from my native town, Cabatuan, e-mailed me an inquiry about her uncle in Mindanao in mixed English and Taglish.  Since she was from a barrio next to my native barrio, I wrote her, in our exchanges, in Iniray-a and later in Hiligaynon. She insisted writing in erratic English and Taglish.  Her Iniray-a and Hiligaynon were “broken”, too.

My brother told me of an incident in a meeting of their Hiligaynon Club. Noticing everybody was talking in English, he rose and reminded them: “Abi kay Ilonggo man kita tanan, mag-inilonggo (Hiligayanon) na lang kita.” (Anyway, we are all Ilonggos; let’s speak Ilonggo.)

This tendency to prefer English over the native dialect in meetings or conferences is common in the Philippines. As reported the other week, Gov. Ed Panlilio agreed to meet the Pampanga provincial board in a reconciliation meeting if they all spoke in Pampango.

Habit and Need

While this tendency can connote the belittling of our own languages, I would prefer to attribute it more to habit and need to be readily understood especially in multi-lingual places like Manila and Mindanao. Language environment shapes thinking habit which in turn shapes speech.

The need factor has led to the emergence of two modes of communication among Filipinos. Oral communication is mostly in the local predominant language, English, Taglish, or a mixture of the local predominant language, English and Tagalog. But written communication – reports, orders, inter-office and personal notes, etc. are mostly in English.

Here’s my experience in my last five to ten years of teaching Philippine Literature in English at Notre Dame University in Cotabato City.  Because of the limited copies of short story books, I assigned a short story to each student to retell in class to widen exposure of each student.  I gave my students the option to retell the stories in English, Pilipino or Taglish.   

The students were future teachers.  In one class of over 40, only one chose English.  In most, the students chose Pilipino or mixed-dialects.  One student, retelling the story of a farmer, showed the making of Pilipino in Mindanao setting: “Pag-uwi niya gikan sa umahan, nagbugha ng kahoy.” (On coming home from the field, he chopped firewood.)  

I also gave them the same three options to answer test questions. All answered in English. Was it not amusing that while they felt at home with Pilipino or mix dialects in orally retelling the stories, they did not with written answers to test questions?

This classroom experience and the tendency of people in offices, business places, courts, village meetings, and so on, to communicate orally in mixed languages but use English in formal reports can be explained only by habit and need. The first is personal, informal and immediate; the second is formal, structured, studied and lasting.  Can the first not be done in the mother tongue?  It’s not the practice, the habit.

Realism

Let’s love our mother tongue.  Let’s preserve its beauty and develop it.  But let’s be realistic. Language is for communication.  Our choice of language depends on conditions within and outside of us.  The ultimate end of communication is to be readily and properly understood.

In Luzon and the Visayas, the local dialects or languages are spoken by all.  In Mindanao, one has to adapt to varying local conditions.  While Bisaya-Cebuano predominates, there are places and occasions when English and the emerging Pilipino* are more convenient.  But like in Luzon and the Visayas, English is the common written medium of communication.

[* “Emerging Pilipino” is Tagalog-based, its vocabulary mixed with English, Spanish and local and other dialects. This has been developing through use.]

The different Muslim and indigenous tribes are most adaptive to language use.  In their homes and localities, they use their native tongues.  But when they are in schools, offices, and other public places they readily communicate in English or Pilipino – even with fellow tribesmen.

Brother Karl noted that in “a few indigenous communities all over Mindanao” that he has visited, “we hear elders lamenting that their children would rather speak the dominant languages of Christian settlers”. When in schools, the children seem embarrassed talking to their parents in their dialect.

Have these children become ashamed of their native dialect? It’s possible as it is evident.  But thrust into a different language environment in school and in an entirely different social setting, they have developed a new thinking and language habit. This factor should not be discounted.   

[Here’s my personal experience. After our arrival in Lagao in January 1940, English became our frequent means of communication outside of the home. Since then until today, throughout my professional life, I have been reading and writing – in public mostly spoken — in English.  I think in English.  English patterns have affected my Ilonggo patterns. To write in Ilonggo, I have to change my thinking mode. It is not easy to.]

With those in Cebu as possible exceptions, Brother Karl sadly observes “that as individuals, families and communities 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”.

There’s another term for this: class status. This is realism colored by social pride. But just the same the class members are realistic: To belong to the class, they have to think and speak as a class; otherwise, they don’t belong.

Brother Karl also cites the University of the Philippines in Diliman and the Ateneo de Manila University as examples of high and prestigious academic institutions pushing “for the greater use of Pilipino as medium of instruction and documentation-publication”.  Why can’t similar universities in Cebu, Dumaguete, Tagbilaran, Cagayan de Oro and Davao push for the use of Cebuano? Those in the North, for the use of Ilokano; and in Panay, for Ilonggo?

I see no problem in documentation-publication.  The need to preserve documents, folk literature and historical researches in their original is greater than the need for ready understanding. Those who don’t understand Pilipino, Cebuano, Ilokano, Ilonggo, etc. can hire translators.

I see no problem in the use of Pilipino if the goal is to develop a national Philippine language that has already been started with Tagalog as the base. Is there a need to develop such national language now known as Pilipino? If there is, pushing for other major Philippine languages as medium of instruction in our universities is adverse to the national objective.

Development

The linguist Dr. Charles C. Fries said that any living language develops through use. In his studies, he found out that slang and other non-formal English graduated into the formal through use.  English dictionaries show that adoption of words from different world languages has made English an ever growing language.

To develop Pilipino as a national language, it must be extensively used with its vocabulary expanded by words from different Philippine languages and dialects, as well as foreign words, built on Tagalog as a base. To develop and preserve our mother tongues, they must be used by native speakers guarding the purity of their vocabularies and other linguistic qualities.

Both can be done.  Why not? But realism and pragmatism are in favor of the first and can erode the second – negating the efforts and enthusiasm of native speakers.

The public school system, with its centralized curricula, is programmed to develop Pilipino as the national language.  It is gradually changing language in the homes and villages.  And it is also gradually diluting the native dialects as English does.

The national media – print, radio, television and movies – are the greatest promoters of Pilipino as a national language. Major dailies are in English to cater to the elite readers; and so are some talk shows.  The national tabloids, prime television news and entertainment programs, and the movies are in Pilipino and Taglish to cater to common readership and audience.  For both, the primary concerns are sales and advertisement.

The local or provincial newspapers are mostly in English. Elitism or the “sosyal” mentality may be the reasons, for most of local readers are the same readers of national dailies. Provincial and national advertisers are biased for English newspapers. Mini-tabloids are in English, Taglish or, in a few exceptions, the local dialect – the last, not for the love of the mother tongue but for the money of low-budget readers.

The same goes with the local or provincial radio stations. Most of programs are in English and Pilipino. There are programs in predominant local dialect or language. But on the whole, they are too insignificant to thwart or reverse the change in language thinking and habit penetrating the homes in cities and rural villages through the schools and the media.

Brother Karl is not alone in bemoaning the weakening, if not vanishing, mother tongues. Idealist American Indians also do.  The clash is not just of idealism versus realism and pragmatism but of limited use versus extensive use. The reality that language develops according to use is irreversible.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at [email protected])

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