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CONTINUING RESISTANCE: CRITICISMS OF THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL LANGUAGE POLICY by Rufus Montecalvo

CONTINUING RESISTANCE: CRITICISMS OF THE PHILIPPINE NATIONAL LANGUAGE POLICY by Rufus Montecalvo

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Criticisms of the national language policy of the Philippines began during the drafting of the
1935 Constitution of the Philippines and still opposition continues to this day. What makes the
arguments from the opposition interesting is that they question the assumptions of the policy makers,
leaders and the general population regarding issues of Filipino nationalism and identity. The question of
language and nationalism in the Philippines we find out is more than a cultural one, but as the early
criticisms and the ongoing criticisms would show, actually is a political one as well. The most well-
formed arguments against the national language come from two sides. The first we may label as the
non-essentialist/utilitarian side which says that the correspondence between language and national
identity is an exaggeration, that the essence of a person can be expressed in whatsoever language he or
she uses. The second is from the regionalistic perspective, a much-maligned point of view among
nationalist narratives. There is a continuing sense of marginalization that is felt by the various
ethnolinguistic groups across the Philippines due to the perception of the elevation of one language
among the numerous ones in the archipelago to the status of a national language. Though to a certain
extent still essentialist, in that the advocates of the regionalistic point of view stress the importance of
their ethnolinguistic identities, the feelings of marginalization still lingers and provides a major
inspiration for serious criticisms of the national language policy which was and is still being seen as an
imposition. To open new avenues regarding the issue, therefore, more than to rehash the old arguments,
a new political consciousness must be realized. This is manifested by calls for changes in the prevailing
Manila-centric political structure of the country, towards a more egalitarian orientation in the form of a
federal decentralized government.
Criticisms of the national language policy of the Philippines began during the drafting of the
1935 Constitution of the Philippines and still opposition continues to this day. What makes the
arguments from the opposition interesting is that they question the assumptions of the policy makers,
leaders and the general population regarding issues of Filipino nationalism and identity. The question of
language and nationalism in the Philippines we find out is more than a cultural one, but as the early
criticisms and the ongoing criticisms would show, actually is a political one as well. The most well-
formed arguments against the national language come from two sides. The first we may label as the
non-essentialist/utilitarian side which says that the correspondence between language and national
identity is an exaggeration, that the essence of a person can be expressed in whatsoever language he or
she uses. The second is from the regionalistic perspective, a much-maligned point of view among
nationalist narratives. There is a continuing sense of marginalization that is felt by the various
ethnolinguistic groups across the Philippines due to the perception of the elevation of one language
among the numerous ones in the archipelago to the status of a national language. Though to a certain
extent still essentialist, in that the advocates of the regionalistic point of view stress the importance of
their ethnolinguistic identities, the feelings of marginalization still lingers and provides a major
inspiration for serious criticisms of the national language policy which was and is still being seen as an
imposition. To open new avenues regarding the issue, therefore, more than to rehash the old arguments,
a new political consciousness must be realized. This is manifested by calls for changes in the prevailing
Manila-centric political structure of the country, towards a more egalitarian orientation in the form of a
federal decentralized government.

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Rufus Casiño Montecalvo on Apr 11, 2011
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UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES DILIMANCONTINUING RESISTANCE:CRITICISMS OF THE PHILIPPINE NATIONALLANGUAGE POLICYSUBMITTED AS A REQUIREMENT FOR THE COURSECONTEMPORARY HISTORY OF THE PHILIPPINES (KAS 112)BYRUFUS REY C. MONTECALVODEPARTMENT OF HISTORYPROF. NEIL MARTIAL SANTILLANU.P. DILIMAN QUEZON CITYMARCH 2011
 
I. IntroductionCriticisms of the national language policy of the Philippines began during the drafting of the1935 Constitution of the Philippines and still opposition continues to this day. What makes thearguments from the opposition interesting is that they question the assumptions of the policy makers,leaders and the general population regarding issues of Filipino nationalism and identity. The question oflanguage and nationalism in the Philippines we find out is more than a cultural one, but as the earlycriticisms and the ongoing criticisms would show, actually is a political one as well. The most well-formed arguments against the national language come from two sides. The first we may label as thenon-essentialist/utilitarian side which says that the correspondence between language and nationalidentity is an exaggeration, that the essence of a person can be expressed in whatsoever language he orshe uses. The second is from the regionalistic perspective, a much-maligned point of view amongnationalist narratives. There is a continuing sense of marginalization that is felt by the variousethnolinguistic groups across the Philippines due to the perception of the elevation of one languageamong the numerous ones in the archipelago to the status of a national language. Though to a certainextent still essentialist, in that the advocates of the regionalistic point of view stress the importance oftheir ethnolinguistic identities, the feelings of marginalization still lingers and provides a majorinspiration for serious criticisms of the national language policy which was and is still being seen as animposition. To open new avenues regarding the issue, therefore, more than to rehash the old arguments,a new political consciousness must be realized. This is manifested by calls for changes in the prevailingManila-centric political structure of the country, towards a more egalitarian orientation in the form of afederal decentralized government.II. Language and Filipino EssenceThe issue of the national language is basically an issue of the search for a Filipino essence,something that is uniquely Filipino that cannot be found somewhere else. Quezon was the mainpolitical advocate of this, calling for the need for a national language in order for the Filipino people tohave a common tongue so that there would be greater unity. The nationalistic aspect of this policy, ashas been religiously noted by its proponents, is that it is a local language, one of the vernaculars in thecountry. That this should be so is of utmost necessity because foreign languages, especially thelanguage of the colonizers, Spanish and then English, cannot express the sentiment, the subtlety ofemotions and feelings of the Filipinos. The 'spirit' of the Filipino people then, cannot be expressed in aborrowed language. In linguistic terms, this concept is known as linguistic determinism.Linguistic determinism is the idea that language determines consciousness, that language is themiddle-man, shall we say, between the individual's brain and the outside world. Language functions asa sort of screen that helps makes sense of the world. Since language determines consciousness, andthere are numerous languages in the world, there are also numerous consciousness, numerous ways ofthinking. Structures of languages determine the structures of thought. The more modern form of thisidea originated sometime in the late eighteenth century to the early nineteenth century in Europe, mostparticularly in Germany as expressed by Wilhelm von Humboldt, a statesman, educator and linguistwho is widely considered today as a most influential figure in the history of the field of linguistics.Wilhelm von Humboldt was influenced by several thinkers who preceded him as well as by hiscontemporaries, and in Germany during his time, the ascendant theme was that of Romanticism whichin the field of politics, called for the conception of a nation as composed of a unique essence. That therewas a strong linking between language and nationalism in Germany during this time can be partially1
 
explained by the renewed interest in the culture of the rural people, for example, by the collection ofthe Grimm brothers of the various folklore in Germany.
1
From von Humboldt, there is a direct linetowards the early twentieth century in the writings of the Americans Edward Sapir and his studentBenjamin Whorf. Their idea was known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and is basically the same ideasas Humboldt's, though with a more anthropological bent, giving as support their various researches inthe languages of the Native Americans.The connection with Europe here is relevant because of the argument used by the proponents ofthe national language that Rizal himself saw the need for a national language for the Filipinos. Parale inthe 1960s for example, interpreted the statement uttered by the character Simoun in the novel ElFilibusterismo of Rizal:
Spanish will never be the general language of the country, the people will never talk it, because theconceptions of their brains and the feelings of their hearts cannot be expressed in that language - eachpeople has its own tongue, as it has its own way of thinking! What are you going to do with Castilian,the few of you who will speak it? Kill off your own originality, subordinate your thoughts to otherbrains, and instead of freeing yourselves, make yourselves slaves indeed!
2
as proof that Rizal wanted the Filipinos to express themselves in their own language. Parale then addsthat the imposition of the English language upon the Filipinos has been a disastrous event. That Rizalwas aware of the European conception of the linking between language and nation can be seen in thisstatement by Simoun, though to say that it is Rizal that is advocating this idea himself would beuncertain since it is the character that is speaking and not Rizal himself. Given that Rizal was mosteloquent in the Spanish language, as many of the Propagandistas in Europe were at the time, therewould be a deep sense of irony here. And this is what is pointed out by Panlasigui, one of the moreoutspoken critic of the national language policy of the Philippines during the 1960s, when he interpretsanother passage from Rizal, this time in the Noli me Tangere, saying that contrary to the interpretationof the national language advocates, subscribing to this idea would be to agree with the statement ofPadre Damaso who admonished those who would teach the Castilian language in the Philippines. PadreDamaso's contention is that the Filipinos do not have the intellectual capacity for the Castilian languageand that it would be best for them to leave the language alone.Related to the concept of linguistic determinism among the national language advocates is theidea of colonial mentality. This concept basically states that not only are there economic and politicalforms of subjugation, there are cultural ones as well. Some even say that this type of subjugation ismore insidious because even after the colonizers have left, their influence still lingers in the form ofcultural remnants, such as for example, the use of a foreign language.
3
 Colonial mentality is thedefilement of that which is inherent in the Filipino soul. Thus, colonial mentality is a great affront to atrue Filipino's sense of being.The 1960s can be considered as the most colorful period so far in the debates regarding thenational language. Besides the opposition from those who advocated English, such as Ferrer,Panlasigui, Yabes and others, there was the opposition to the national language in terms of its propercharacter. There was the eruption of the so-called 'fusionist' versus 'non-fusionist' conception of the
1Roger Langham Brown,
Wilhelm von Humboldt's Conception of Linguistic Relativity
(The Hague, Netherlands: Mouton& Co., 1967), 76.2Isidoro Panlasigui,
The Language Problems of the Philippines
(Quezon City: Delco Publishers, 1962), 14.3Apolinar Parale,
 Facts and Issues on the Pilipino Language
(Manila: Royal Publishing House, 1969), 91.
2

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