[OPINION] Why don’t we celebrate Buwan ng mga Wika instead?

Multilingual Philippines
[OPINION] Why don’t we celebrate Buwan ng mga Wika instead?
Almost 50 Philippine languages are endangered because the number of speakers are declining. Part of the problem is government policies that have favored English and Tagalog for many decades.

This year, 2019, is the International Year of Indigenous Languages (IYIL). As part of the celebration of Buwan ng Wika (National Language Month) and in the coming months, let us take this opportunity to learn about and appreciate our native languages. 

The Philippines is a multilingual country. We use more than 150 languages, according to the Komisyon sa Wikang Fiipino (KWF) and Ethnologue. These include Cebuano Binisaya, Tagalog, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Bikol, Waray, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Maranao, Maguindanaon, Bahasa Sug, Kinaray-a, Kankanaey, Manobo, Subanen, Bontoc, Sama-Bajaw, and many others. People incorrectly call them “dialects,” but they are actually independent languages, according to linguistics. (READ: The Buwan ng Wika debate: Do we celebrate local languages or dialects?)

Why are our languages important? According to the United Nations, “Languages play a crucial role in the daily lives of people, not only as a tool for communication, education, social integration and development, but also as a repository for each person’s unique identity, cultural history, traditions, and memory.”

The purpose of the IYIL is to raise awareness of the value of all native languages, not only for those people who speak them, but for society as a whole.

Here are 5 reasons to promote native languages:

  • Knowledge. Languages are portals to unique systems of knowledge and understanding of the world. A vast amount of knowledge is encoded in our vocabulary, which has developed over thousands of years of interaction between humans and the environment. If a language is lost, much knowledge about traditions, philosophies, survival skills, and natural phenomena disappear with it. 
  • Diversity. Languages affect the way we think, learn, communicate, and behave. They affect our personalities and cultures. The more languages we have, the more diverse society is. Diversity is interesting, beautiful, and educational. It presents frequent opportunities for personal development and joy.   
  • Peace. The more languages that thrive, the more languages that we will be exposed to. When we are exposed to new languages, our minds are challenged. We make mistakes while learning, we test our assumptions, we adapt, and we realize that the world doesn’t revolve around our own language or ethnic group. We become humbler, and we learn to tolerate, appreciate, and cooperate with other people. Recognizing and respecting each other’s languages is a way of recognizing each other’s identities, which is an important element of peace building.  
  • Rights. Languages are connected to human rights. People can stand up for their rights better using the language that they are most comfortable speaking or closest to their hearts. Learning and using one’s mother tongue freely are human rights that we must protect. They are related to freedom of speech, expression, and equality.
  • Inclusion. Enabling and promoting the use of indigenous languages is empowering to the communities that speak them. Education is more accessible, culturally appropriate, and effective if teaching and learning is done in the child’s mother tongue. People can also access government information and services more easily through their mother tongue. For these reasons, including native languages in government policies, programs, and activities can have a positive effect on literacy, poverty reduction, civic participation, and quality of life.   

Despite their importance, many languages around the world are marginalized or at risk. The Philippines is no exception. The KWF has identified almost 50 Philippine languages that are endangered, because the number of speakers are declining and getting older, and children are not being adequately taught them anymore. Part of the problem is government policies that have favored English and Tagalog for many decades.  

To counteract this alarming decline in our linguistic diversity, the IYIL committee recommends mainstreaming native languages by integrating them in standard settings. Hence, we should be looking for ways to further include our mother tongues in government (national and local), education (formal and nonformal), and media. (READ: Buwan ng Wika 2019 itatampok ang mga katutubong lengguwahe)

IYIL also recommends empowerment of indigenous groups through capacity building, increasing understanding about their languages, and disseminating good practices with regards to language research, promotion, and development.  

To support these principles, it is timely to celebrate Buwan ng Wika as Buwan ng mga Wika, so that the native languages of all Filipinos are included. All our mother tongues have value. They are a part of our history, and should be part of our future too. – Rappler.com 

Multilingual Philippines is an informal network of researchers and advocates of flexible and inclusive policies related to languages, education, and diversity. This article consolidates inputs from Ched E. Arzadon, professor at the College of Education, University of the Philippines-Diliman; Elizabeth A. Calinawagan, PhD, former dean of the College of Arts and Communication and professor of Filipino and linguistics at UP Baguio; Tony Igcalinos, president of Talaytayan 170+ Multilingual Education; Napoleon B. Imperial, former deputy executive director IV at the Commission on Higher Education; Firth McEachern“Honorary Ilokano and Son of La Union” by Provincial Ordinance 033-12; and Voltaire Q. Oyzonformer director, Panrehiyong Sentro sa Wika, Leyte Normal University. Contact multilingual.philippines@gmail.com. 


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