[OPINION] It’s time to change how Filipinos see the national language

Joseph Solis Alcayde
[OPINION] It’s time to change how Filipinos see the national language
We should have a neutral foreign language like English and Spanish as inter-ethnic lingua francas in our country

August in the Philippines is Buwan ng Wika or Language Month. It’s the perfect time for the country to discuss what’s happening with our indigenous languages like Tagalog, Cebuano, and others. To discuss language policy in our country is to discuss our regional or national identity in Philippine society, because language is the bedrock of every existing culture in the world.

The Philippines has had a rough history with regards to national language policy. First of all, the country itself is a colonial creation, hence our first considered “national” language or lingua franca was foreign: Spanish. When our country wanted to become independent from Spain and the United States, our founding fathers sought a project wherein the lingua franca of our country should be indigenous-based.

Later on in the 1934 Constitutional Convention, the vision of our founding fathers to have an indigenous-based lingua franca was fulfilled when the delegates of the said convention added a provision saying such. Three years after this convention, President Manuel L. Quezon named Tagalog as the basis for our national language, called “Filipino.” 

Dissatisfaction from non-Tagalog ethnic groups

Quezon’s decision met some strong resistance, especially coming from the second (or arguably first) largest ethno-linguistic group: Cebuano Visayans. Cebuano Visayans argued that their language should have been named as the basis of Filipino language, by virtue of Cebuano being the largest ethno-linguistic group in the country in 1935 and being widely spoken in Visayas and Mindanao, the other two major islands of our country. There was a time around the early 1990s when the Cebu provincial government even prohibited singing the anthem in the Tagalog-based Filipino language. Up to this day, many Cebuano Visayans are dissatisfied with the decision of Quezon naming Tagalog as the basis of “Filipino.” 

Both Tagalog and Cebuano people’s arguments on language policy are wrong

To study further the linguistic diversity of our country, both arguments of Tagalog and Cebuano people to have their languages as the basis of indigenous-based Filipinos are wrong, because our country is too divisive to have an indigenous-based lingua franca. Indonesia had the same dilemma too, but Indonesian nationalist groups chose the language spoken by Malays in Sumatra as the basis of the Indonesian language, instead of choosing the dominant Javanese language.

Other countries (especially in Latin American and African countries) like Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, Congo, Ivory Coast, and Congo have foreign languages like Spanish, English, Portuguese, and French as their inter-ethnic lingua francas or national languages, and yet these countries still have a sense of nationalism despite having foreign languages as their lingua francas.

Time to revisit the national language policy of our country

For me, it is time for our country to revisit the national language policy by embracing so-called plurilingualism, wherein all indigenous languages should co-exist equally. At the same time, we should have a neutral foreign language like English and Spanish as inter-ethnic lingua francas in our country.

This proposal is not a suggestion to remove Filipino language altogether from the curriculum, but instead give Filipinos more options as to which language should be used for their daily communication. The Filipino language can stay as it is, provided that it be revised lexically and morphologically to reflect the diversity of our existing indigenous languages and to deviate itself from the Tagalog language.

Why English and Spanish?

I argue for English and Spanish as mediums for inter-ethnic and international communication for two reasons:

First, English and Spanish are widely spoken across the globe, and our country needs two languages for international communication purposes. For example, in Rwanda, English and French are the mediums for international communication. 

Second, English and Spanish are already embedded in our culture and history, and it is important for every Filipino to learn English and Spanish to understand our diverse culture and history. English and Spanish don’t associate with certain ethnolinguistic groups in our country, thus it removes the baggage of some ethnolinguistic group being alienated by the selection of Tagalog as the basis of our national language: Filipino.  – Rappler.com


Joseph Solis Alcayde is a political science graduate and practitioner. He is currently taking up Masters in Public Administration at Cebu Technological University-Argao Campus. 

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