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James Joshua G. Lim

Mr. Roy Tristan Agustin

En 12 R39

February 15, 2010

A Need, A Want, A Calling: Fixing the Issues of Philippine Language Policy

If the Philippines’ fourth-largest broadsheet, the Manila Times, is to be believed (and I

see no reason not to), the headline emblazoned on its September 2, 2007 issue perfectly exclaims

to the world a very stark reality for which we here in the Philippines are now faced with.

“Help from environmentalist NGOs and the government gives endangered

species much better chances of survival than the languages of our dwindling

aboriginal and tribal communities.

Here’s a shocker.

Even Kapampangan and Pangasinan are now dying languages.”

The reality is stark and depressing; the battle, very fierce and controversial. Odds and

ends are pulled from all sides of the debate simply because of an issue as contentious as language

in a country where 170 is the total number of languages spoken and linguistic unity, though

championed for the last seventy years by people across a supposedly wide spectrum, has proven

very hard to come by. No one really knows where linguistic unity starts and ends in this country,

for a lack of foresight and the constant threat of infighting among regions and peoples seems to

move the debate over Philippine languages increasingly towards a path to no resolution in a bid

to sweep the problem under the rug.
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Or are we deliberately trying to avoid debate in a bid to salvage whatever sense of

national and/or regional pride we have left?

This paper will cover three main angles on the issue of languages in the Philippines:

setting Tagalog apart from Filipino, the practical applications of local languages and the

reworking of language policy among them, all answering the question of whether or not the

Philippines as a whole can achieve a tenable linguistic peace, and what exactly is the best way to

achieving this. But this is not so much an evaluation as it is a treatise on how the Philippines has

been misguided on the various issues that form the language quandary we have been subjected

to, and how a series of missteps, misguided decisions and mistakes had brought us to a linguistic

road to perdition, for lack of a better term. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good


But is it really a road to perdition? Or is it something else altogether: a reawakening of

our sense of self, of the true meaning of being a Filipino?

That is something we will need to see for ourselves.

The Universal Approach: Blurring Boundaries between Filipino and Tagalog

The boundary where Tagalog ends and Filipino begins is a very controversial question

where debate has proven to be raucous and a solution far from being reached. People from all

disciplines and walks of life, educated and uneducated alike, have taken part in a debate where

the potent mix of language, politics and nationalism comes into play, plucking at the heartstrings

of many Filipinos.

However, therein lays a common thread in this debate: vocabulary. Advocates of

Filipino say that it differentiates itself from Tagalog because of the heavy influence of borrowing

from both local languages like Cebuano, Ilokano and Hiligaynon, and foreign languages like
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Spanish and English, as simply put by accomplished Bicolano writer and friend Irvin Sto. Tomas

in a debate we had over the issue on Wikipedia a few years ago:

Most of Filipino words are Tagalog origin but not all Tagalog words are

Filipino. Some non-Tagalog words, such as "gurang", "pinakbet", "salvage",

"nars", "bus" perhaps "magayon", "oragon", "crush" and "type" are Filipino. I

don't think "pakikipagtalamitam", "dapatwat" [sic], "pangatnig" and "punlay"

(punla ng buhay) are Filipino.

"Wais" (from English word "wise") is not/(not only) Tagalog but Filipino/(but

also Bikol, Cebuano, maybe Tausug too). "Komplot", "rabuz" (from English word

"complot", "robust") are Bikol words; "Ismagol" (from English word "smuggle")

is Cebuano, but are not Filipino.

Later on, he is countered by another friend of mine, linguist Christopher Sundita, who

says otherwise, and has been doing so for the last few years.

This is the kind of made-up boundaries attempting (and failing horribly) to

delineate Tagalog and Filipino that I've been talking about for a long time. Many,

if not all, of the "non-Tagalog" words you cite may have non-Tagalog origins, but

they have become part of Tagalog before the creation of Filipino.

One then has to beg the question: where does it really end? Or does it even end at all,

and is it worthy of further discussion? The answer apparently lies first and foremost with a bit of

legislation called Republic Act No. 7104, more aptly called the Commission on the Filipino

Language Act, the law establishing the mandate of the country’s premier language regulator and

so-called “guardian” of the national language.
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Whether or not the KWF’s intentions are indeed noble, let’s take a look at whether or not

the KWF has enough teeth to even enforce good language manners and proper language conduct,

taking particular focus on this part of Section 14 of RA 7104.

SECTION 14. Powers, Functions and Duties of the Commission. — The

Commission, pursuant to the pertinent provisions of the Constitution, shall have

the following powers, functions and duties:

(c) Undertake or contract research and other studies to promote the evolution,

development, enrichment and eventual standardization of Filipino and other

Philippine languages. This will include the collation of works for possible

incorporation into a multi-lingual dictionary of words, phrases, idioms,

quotations, sayings and other expressions, including words and phrases from

other languages now commonly used or included in the lingua franca;

The bolded section above is particularly interesting, for they set the tone with which the

KWF can legally go about enforcing and implementing Philippine language policy, as well as the

“proper” usage of the language to such lengths that two people would be theoretically using the

same language, no differentiation attached. However, one has to ask the methodology by which

the KWF borrows words from other languages and “incorporates” them into the Filipino

language. Orara (1993) mentions that the Filipino lexical borrowing model being used in status

quo is the so-called “universal approach”, wherein in order to shift the base of Filipino from

Tagalog to one based on several Philippine languages, borrowing from the other constituent

languages into Filipino is given importance. This approach in particular was championed by
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several professors of the University of the Philippines, Diliman, in particular Dr. Ernesto A.

Constantino, Professor Leopoldo Y. Yabes and Dr. Cecilio Lopez, who, according to Orara,

believed in a Filipino “that is still based on Tagalog but includes other languages and with an

increased level of or freedom of borrowing from the other native languages, as well as from

other foreign languages, especially Spanish and English.” (translation mine)

Lopez in particular emphasized the “purist” roots of the then-Tagalog derived Pilipino in

a session of the 1971 Constitutional Convention’s Committee on National Language, as retold by

Yabes in his book “Let’s Study the New Constitution”, quoted by Orara.

He said that from before until 1963, his method was elitist, which aimed to form a

national language to be based on only one native language. This changed after

1963 as a result of many newly-discovered ways of language development. He

saw there what could be the possible solution to all our problems with regard to

the national language. He referred to the universal approach. (Yabes 96,

translation mine)

The big question which needs to be asked here is this: when has forming a national

language based on a single language “elitist”? And as an extension from that question, has

Filipino been really representative of the language used by Filipinos? The simple answer there is

no, and it all delves back to what exactly Filipino is.

Well, for starters, with it being imbued with the sole authority to define what Filipino is,

the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino decided in 1992 to define Filipino as follows:

It is the native language, oral and written, in Metro Manila, the National Capital

Region, and other urban centers in the archipelago, being used as the language

of communication by ethnic groups. Like all other living languages, Filipino
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undergoes the process of enrichment through borrowing words from other

languages of the Philippines and from non-native languages and the evolution of

different varieties of language for differing social situations, where the speakers

are of different social backgrounds, and for topics of discussion and critical

commentary. (KWF Resolution 92-1, translation mine)

Primary emphasis is placed on “Metro Manila and the National Capital Region” as the

fathers of Filipino have originally intended for it to be based on the language of Manila, which is

Tagalog. This was particularly emphasized by former Commissioner Ricardo Ma. Nolasco back

in 2007, in his speech “Ang Filipino at Tagalog, Hindi Gaanong Kasimple” (“Filipino and

Tagalog, It’s Not That Simple”):

Are “Tagalog,” “Pilipino” and “Filipino” different languages? No, they are

mutually intelligible varieties, and therefore belong to one language. According

to the KWF, Filipino is that speech variety spoken in Metro Manila and other

urban centers where different ethnic groups meet. It is the most prestigious

variety of Tagalog and the language used by the national mass media. (translation

by Santiago B. Villafania)

Using Nolasco’s reasoning, this means that the words Filipino teachers and Filipinists in

general champion as being part of the Filipino lexicon, like “vugi” (roe), “kalaniyog” (egg white)

or even “xappo” (bell pepper), if I were to use the definition of the KWF, can be considered far

from being part of the Filipino lexicon, as these words are rarely encountered in Manila speech.

When you go to a market, whenever it’s available, you do not ask for “vugi”, rather, you ask for

“itlog ng isda”. When you watch a Tagalog-language cooking show like “Cooking with the

Dazas”, the host would call egg white “puti ng itlog” (and by extension, “egg yolk” becomes
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“pula ng itlog”), not “kalaniyog”. Does use of terms not native to Tagalog then necessarily

translate into it automatically being Filipino and not Tagalog?

To answer this, we need to go back to the speech by Nolasco. Currently, some advocates

of Filipino try to distinguish it from Tagalog through the evolution of its vocabulary. He says:

Certain academicians equate Tagalog with “purist” usage and Filipino with

“non-purist” usage. To them, “pulong” and “gurô” are Tagalog words, while

“miting” and “titser” are Filipino words. Word borrowing however is not a

reliable basis for language differentiation. Zamboangueño (Chavacano)

borrowed heavily from Spanish but evolved a different grammar from Spanish. It

cannot be understood by Spanish speakers. (translation by Santiago B. Villafania)

Purism in the Filipino language dates back as far as the national language debate has been

active. Preeminent in championing Tagalog “purism” is none other than Lope K. Santos himself,

who, according to Llamzon, believed that language “was capable of expressing any concept, no

matter how technical”, and therefore resorted to several methods of word formation (such as

redefinition, calquing and derivation) to express concepts which had no native Tagalog

equivalent. Santos’ line of thinking is certainly different from current schools of thought,

wherein Filipino is considered too unwieldy to use for technical concepts, and therefore technical

concepts should be left as they are. This is the viewpoint currently enshrined in the latest set of

orthographical guidelines championed by the KWF back in 2008, and is also a viewpoint which

perhaps is important to the idea of the universal approach of language development and which

reportedly sets Tagalog apart from Filipino, according to its proponents.

All of this then begs the question: does the universal approach necessarily mean then that

we are approaching towards the goal of developing a national language called “Filipino”? The
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boundaries, at least from the viewpoint of academicians who have shaped the debate, seem very

unclear, as aptly summarized by my friend Eugene Villar (who is not a linguist) back in the

Wikipedia debate over Filipino.

There's the rub. Are we talking about assimilating words (from any language)

into Tagalog? Into Filipino? Or into Tagalog/Filipino? You say, "the possibilities

of Filipino is more and broader" [sic] How about "the possibilities of Tagalog is

also broad" [sic]? Is your example sentence using "bodi" [Chavacano slang for

“broke”] Filipino, Tagalog, or Tagalog/Filipino code-switched with Chavacano?

When I say "pangga ko siya," am I speaking in pure Tagalog/Filipino with

"pangga" already or in the process of being assimilated or am I just code-

switching with Hiligaynon?

To presume that Filipino is developing at least in status quo requires one to presume that

Tagalog, the substrate, is not enriching its vocabulary in its own right, especially given that

Filipino is classified by Ethnologue as a “variant” of Tagalog, and a fact conceded to by the

KWF two years ago. However, as a standardized language, the KWF must use bureaucratic

processes to fulfill its basic mandate of enriching Filipino, which is not necessarily the best path

of language enrichment. As evidenced by the way Filipino has “evolved”, words more often

used in common contexts are the ones often incorporated into the language much quicker than

the words prescribed by the KWF, which is exactly how Tagalog evolves in the absence of a

strong regulating body. Words like “chorva” (from gay lingo), “pangga” (as a result of the high

ratings of Energy FM in Manila, from Hiligaynon) and “miskol” (the 2007 Sawikaan Word of

the Year, from English) are more likely to be accepted as part of any “Filipino” lexicon than

words like “kalaniyog”, “vugi” or even the oft-cited “gahum” (hegemony, from Cebuano), which
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are almost-unheard of even in highly formal speech, which in Manila more often than not reverts

to “pure” Tagalog. This “disconnect” is also one of the reasons why people frowned upon the

purist tendencies of the KWF’s predecessor body, the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (SWP,

otherwise known as Institute of National Language), as they were reportedly creating gaps

between “the language of the textbooks and that of the masses” (Llamzon, 1977).

This shows that the addition of foreign words to the Filipino lexicon does not necessarily

mean that Tagalog is not evolving. Given that Filipino is based on the Tagalog of Metro Manila,

it can be deduced that following a linear line of argumentation, components of Filipino need to

undergo a sort of “screening” as part of Manila Tagalog before even being considered as

“Filipino”. However, the focus then shifts onto what exactly then differentiates Manila Tagalog

from Filipino, and what is the relationship between the two.

Simply put as it is, Manila Tagalog and Filipino are the same, with Nolasco having

conceded that Filipino has not absorbed any grammatical component or any significant lexicon

from other Philippine languages which in turn would differentiate it from its Manila Tagalog

base. This then would imply that Tagalog is the one evolving, not Filipino, as differing language

registers are not usually considered as separate languages in their own right, and that Filipino as

an independent language is, linguistically speaking, virtually moot.

However, the debate goes far beyond just mere delineation between what is Tagalog and

what is Filipino. There are bound to be practical ramifications with respect to Philippine

language policy and how this is necessarily enforced by government institutions, such as the

KWF, and these are ramifications which should be discussed and addressed.

Putting Filipino into “Practice”
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Look all around you and see the traffic signs whose near-omnipresence leaves a lasting

impression over the image that is Manila. In shades of blue, green, white, yellow, red and,

increasingly, pink, messages of where to go, what to (or what not to) do and what to expect are

printed in big, oftentimes bold, letters in a nation known for being bereft of any sense of

discipline on the road and the telling absence of road rules which help make Manila drivers

arguably some of the most versatile in the road, as what my mother said to me two years ago.

But, save for some of those bright pink signs the Metropolitan Manila Development

Authority has erected in the last few years, all these traffic signs have one thing in common: they

are all in English and in English alone. Although the proliferation of monolingual English

signage is a boon to the foreigners who visit the Philippines every year, it certainly defies

convention: the Philippines, aside from Singapore, is the only country in Asia whose signs are

not in English alongside that of the national language. Common knowledge would often dictate

that this is a result of the Filipinos’ understanding of English, but it goes far beyond signs in

itself: the question becomes why almost all government discourse is done in English.

According to an opinion piece on the Philippine Daily Inquirer printed on February 10,

2010, Senator Lito Lapid authored a bill back in 2004 which would mandate the use of Filipino

in business transactions. However, the bill was vetoed by President Arroyo, saying that in the

realm of business and finance, equivalent terms which would be used in Filipino are “not good

for public consumption”. Exactly what the President means by “not good for public

consumption” is still the subject of debate, but does this necessarily preclude not using Filipino

for such transactions simply because it may potentially “offend” popular sensibilities?

We need to understand that the government does have a responsibility to promote

Filipino as the language of everyday life, particularly in business and governmental transactions.
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In fact, in the case of government agencies, as we read further down Section 14 of Republic Act

No. 7104, the KWF is mandated to give incentives to government agencies and instrumentalities

to promote the use of the national language in the commission of legal transactions and general

business. Specifically, it says:

(f) Create and maintain within the Commission a division of transaction which

shall encourage through incentives, undertake and vigorously support the

translation into Filipino and other Philippine languages of important historical

works and cultural traditions of ethnolinguistic groups, laws, resolutions and

other legislative enactments, executive issuances, government policy statements

and official documents, textbooks and reference materials in various disciplines

and other foreign materials which it may deem necessary for education and other


Despite the law’s good intentions, this division of transaction does not exist, and little, if

any, government works and legal jurisprudence are in Filipino. In fact, when searching the

Congress’ database of Republic Acts, only three laws, all in the Eighth Congress (1987-1992)

and all only of local importance (one law renames a school in Alabat, Quezon; the others

upgrade health centers in two towns in Nueva Ecija), are written in Filipino. Though Congress

does translate certain laws into several vernaculars (including Tagalog/Filipino), these are still

written in English. However, there is a promising development for the use of Filipino in

government: a pilot project by the Supreme Court had three Bulacan courts use Filipino as the
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language of its court proceedings rather than English, all with positive results despite some

minor problems.

This debate also spills over to the oftentimes contentious discussion over the use of

Filipino as the medium of instruction in public schools. Tupas (2007) cites the contentious

debate behind President Arroyo’s 2003 call for the return of English as the sole medium of

instruction in Philippine schools, which later gave birth to the Gullas Bill which was opposed by

proponents of Filipino (in particular by organizations like the Sanggunian ng Filipino

[SANGFIL] and the Filipinas Institute of Translation) but widely supported by media,

government and, not surprisingly, non-Tagalogs. She says that although the importance of

English cannot be discounted in an increasingly globalizing world, replacing Filipino with

English does not necessarily produce an environment where more Filipinos stand to gain

economically, particularly when the debate is driven largely on more socio-politically-oriented

issues such as nationalism and the role of law rather than the economic benefits that ought to be

gained by reworking our language policy (something which proponents of English instruction

say leans in their favor).

Given then that Filipino and English are often on odds and ends over which language is

supposedly more “advantageous” in a setting such as ours, it would be apt to ask why English is

still predominant in the realms of business and government. The answer lays not so much on

legal precedents, but more so on convenience.

First, we need to delve into how the problem got started, and accordingly, how the “deep

language” concept came to fore. Tinio (1990) suggests that the concept of “deep” language is a

malapropism: a way for so-called “linguistic idiots” to express thoughts in language which to

them are either too serious or too complex to be understood by them, or which they simply do
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not know. This is exaggerated by him saying earlier that the way language in the Philippines is

used is one that, for lack of a better term, can be said as “chaotic”.

A present and pressing problem in the Philippines is that language use (public

and private) has become so anarchical that language users and even language

teachers (in English or Filipino) have forgotten that language is classified.

It can be conceded that language use in the Philippines, particularly with native

languages, is very fluid in itself, as Tinio concedes. In his arbitrary classification of language,

words like “mag-protest” (Taglish) are colloquial, whereas “protesta”, “reklamo” and “angal” are

informal, and “pagtutol” is formal. However, the boundaries, existent as they are, are more often

than not very blurry, as “protesta” could be used in a formal context, and even Taglish has

become even a staple of formal speech in places such as mass media. It is possible that the

inherently blurred standards by which we uphold our use of language is both a contributing

factor to why Filipinos are reluctant to use formal Filipino (or even formal vernaculars) in

otherwise formal settings like government proceedings and business transactions and a deterring

factor for local languages to be adopted in such settings, although the more preeminent factor

perhaps is the predominance of English as the international language of business and the corpus

of jurisprudence which we have in the same language. Despite this, Tinio believes that although

which words to use in a given context are debatable, what is not debatable is “the principle that

no head of state will address the world in the same kind of language he or she uses at the


Let’s return then to the analysis of Llamzon as to why Filipinos were not so accepting of

the SWP’s purist overtures back in the 1930s and 1940s. In addition to the SWP’s tendency to

supposedly produce disconnects between the formal language of textbooks and the colloquial
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speech of the Filipino citizenry, he says that Santos’ influence in the formation of Tagalog as the

national language and its prescriptive, traditional teaching style resulted in “highly grammatical,

uninteresting and difficult” language classes, even for native Tagalog speakers. Coupled with

the historical use of English as the language of business and government and the prestige of

being fluent in English (which, according to Tupas, was largely divided along class lines, as

English fluency is often attributed with the Filipino elite, and English was a prerequisite to climb

the economic ladder), local languages are put at an inherent disadvantage vis-à-vis their foreign

peers. This so-called “fear” of English, according to an Inquirer opinion piece written by Isabel

Pefianco Marin, is unfounded, given that English is a language which can be aptly described,

based on her piece, as breaking defined molds and prescriptions, and that all languages are

perfect without prejudice to one or the other.

In addition, current conventions and guidelines which are driven by non-binding arbitrary

standards also aggravate the situation to the detriment of local language development. In the

2008 orthographical guidelines, for example, when borrowing from foreign languages, one

should “keep the original spelling” (ergo, not translate) so-called proper nouns, technical and

scientific terms. However, without defining what “proper nouns, technical and scientific terms”

exactly are, this provision essentially does two things: it discriminates against these types of

terms which are already present in the lexicon (e.g. “oksiheno” for oxygen, “sinturong

pangkaligtasan” for seatbelt, “Atenas” for Athens) and it encourages non-uniform use (because

people dictate what these types of terms are, people can choose either to translate them or not

based on interpretation of the other guidelines). In addition, because these terms are oftentimes

considered “obscure” in common speech, people do not see the incentive to use them, and more

likely than not use the English term instead of the native term.
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We then need to ask what hampers local languages from moving forward. Is it

necessarily because their growth becomes unwieldy and difficult for their speakers to handle?

Or is it because current policies are too biased against local languages, wherein local languages

are already disfavored by the preeminence of one of their own, which in turn is itself disfavored

by the preeminence of a language not of their own? Either way, the problem of vernacular

development in the Philippines is hampered by several socio-political factors which clearly favor

preferring giving an edge to citizens at the expense of leaving native tongues stagnant, even on

the decline. Leaving the concept of “Filipino” open-ended likewise forces people to make

decisions for themselves, leaving language development to chance and placing it not in the hands

of the regulating body, but rather those of the regulated who will not always think alike as a

single, cohesive body.

Questions now need to be geared towards giving languages in the Philippines a sense of

equity. We should ask, therefore, what is the best way to ensure that all languages get an equal

share of the development pie?

Equality in a Level Playing Field: Re-engineering Philippine Language Policies

If we look back at the seventy-year history of the Filipino language, the ideas in

themselves were noble, and the intentions of the politicians instrumental in the formation of a

national language pure. However, the debate was far from peaceful, and it in itself had served as

a means of escalating regional tensions in an already-polarized society. Before delving into

ways of how to solve the national language problem, a bit of history needs to be looked back


Filipino’s origins are traced back to the 1934 Constitutional Convention which would

have borne the 1935 Constitution. This first clash however was not particularly charged, as the
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Philippine Independence Act (more commonly known as the Tydings-McDuffie Act) required

the Commonwealth government to use English as the primary medium of instruction and, by

extension, the language of government. Despite this, steps were taken to ensure that a national

language would eventually be born out of their efforts, with the introduction of a complete draft

of the new Constitution by a committee of seven members and, by extension, Article XIII,

Section 2, which, “being necessary to strengthen the solidarity of the Nation”, required the

National Assembly to “take steps looking to the development of a language common to all the

people on the basis of the existing native languages” (Yabes 343). This section was removed

later on by the same committee, but delegates nonetheless stirred debate by attempting to amend

the draft. The debate, contentious and bitter as it was, was finally calmed when delegates

adopted a compromise proposal by Wenceslao Vinzons of Camarines Norte, which would

virtually enshrine a language based on what would be known today as the “universal approach”.

The National Assembly shall take steps towards the development and adoption of

a common national language, based on existing native dialects. Until otherwise

provided, English and Spanish shall be the official languages. (U.P. Law Center


This was later changed as the draft Constitution was passed onto the Committee of Style,

which later revised the above text (changes in bold).

The National Assembly shall take steps towards the development and adoption of

a common national language, based on one of the existing native languages.

Until otherwise provided, English and Spanish shall continue as official

languages. (U.P. Law Center 797)
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From there, the rest is history (Tagalog became the base of the national language in 1939,

for example), and the contentions between Vinzons’ vision of a possible Filipino Esperanto and

Quezon’s “Tagalog-based” Pilipino have continued to be in play. What exactly though is the

model that Vinzons, and now the modern Filipino, tries to espouse? The model could look like

something like the following language model presented in a study conducted by Pineda (1988).

Metung na electronic gadyet nga ininvento ti usa a Filipino nga magapanormal

sang kinandaan nga panagturog ng mga tawo na nagsa-suffer sa aga makaugip

ang saan agbayag ket mointroducir sa public.

Pineda identifies this as Language Model 4, wherein terms and elements from English,

Spanish and native language would be used freely depending on the speaker’s preference, and

where it “pretends that the national language is an amalgam of native languages or tongues in all

levels of linguistic analysis”. The above example in “normal” Filipino (combining other

examples from Pineda’s study as well as adding some of my own modifications) would appear as


Isang kagamitang elektroniko na inimbento ng Pilipino na magsasaayos sa

pagtulog ng mga taong hindi makapagtulog ay malapit nang ipakilala sa publiko.

In replying to a comment posted in his blog suggesting a national language similar to that

of the one espoused in Language Model 4, Sundita questions whether it, as a product of much

dispute and controversy over the last seventy years, would be accepted by a Filipino people

possibly drained and demoralized from all the linguistic infighting.
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Sure, why not? It's been something I've been thinking about making one for a

while now. But the problem is - will people accept it? There is also the inevitable

problem of the language being too "Luzon centric" or "too Central Philippine"

centric. I'm open to this idea.

Not everyone supports this view however. Another fellow Wikipedian, Harvey Fiji (a

Waray), once left a comment on the e-group of the Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of

the Archipelago (DILA) which has since been published in the organization’s only printed book

to date: “Filipino is Not Our Language”. He says, quite bluntly, that he “will not support a single

national language”, whether it be an amalgam or not (Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of

the Archipelago, 2007).

Although I support an amalgamated Filipino, another way by which language peace

could be achieved is by elevating other regional languages to the status of Filipino as an official

language. Sundita advocates this, believing that it is fair despite examples in other countries

pointing to the fact that they have a much lesser number of existing languages within their

borders (as stated earlier, the Philippines has over 160 languages).

I am leaning towards systems in other countries where there are more than two

official languages. Switzerland is one, with 4 (German, French, Italian, and

Romantsch). But, India is another with 22 official languages.

There are over 160 languages in the Philippines, but clearly all of them cannot be

the official languages.

So maybe the 13 major languages? They each have at least 1 million speakers
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and all of them represent at least 90% of the country. It is more inclusive than

just 1 language that natively represents about a quarter of the country.

Although this model seems to be fair to most Filipinos, it still poses the risk of elevating

other tongues to a level of prestige similar to that of Filipino, and perpetuating language death as

is the case with Filipino at the moment. For example, the Butuanon language of Butuan City is

endangered precisely because of the influence of Cebuano, where it is similar. On the other

hand, Chavacano, which does not fall under the category of the top thirteen languages as it has

670,000 speakers, could likewise undergo the same fate. This is the same with Cordilleran

languages such as Ibanag, Ifugao and Ibaloi, whose speakers are gradually shifting to Ilokano.

These may be doomsday scenarios, but they are still possible.

Other measures which should be considered include the often-discussed introduction of

vernacular language instruction, programs which encourage the use of local vernaculars in

everyday speech, and the formalization of regional language academies which would have

binding force over the languages which they regulate. Some modified status quo measures, such

as the mandatory translation of all jurisprudence to local vernaculars, could also help arrest the

decline of local vernaculars, all while strengthening English and Spanish as languages which

play a global role. Such measures, when effectively enforced, could help appease regional

sensibilities and possibly end our great language debate.

So Now What? Moving Forward with Multilingualism

Language politics, at least in the Philippines, is still a very contentious issue, and

compromises are often very hard to come by without offending regional sensibilities. It is

important to recognize that in finding any common ground between ethnolinguistic groups on the

divisive issue of a national language, all sides must be effectively engaged in a fair and equal
Lim 20

forum, and all biases need to be set aside in order for a workable solution to be achieved. One of

the reasons why Filipino has reportedly failed is because of regional biases which, according to

Tinio, are inevitable in such a debate (Quezon for one is a Tagalog): biases which only divide

people rather than unite them, as solutions brought about by biases have brought us.

Filipino is a complex problem, and it could possibly take more than a single generation to

fix the problems which came with it. Filipinos are aware of the problem and some yearn for a

solution, knowing that a greater compromise is still achievable, despite its results possibly not

coming to fruition within their lifetimes. However, for any solution to even be achieved, we will

need a sense of political will far greater than what we exercise now in order to move forward and

address the issues head-on, something which is not present with the current crop of solutions we

are presented with.

It is inevitable that we will need to hold hands and solve the problem together, as

everyone knows that it is in their best interests to preserve their own mother tongues. However,

an important component to the debate, as discussed by Tupas, is nationalism. She believes that

the concept of nationalism and a national language should be decoupled precisely because it does

not make you any less Filipino if you do not speak the Filipino language, nor does it make you

any more Filipino if you do. Nationalism is important, but language should not be defined by it.

Rather, the situation should be the reverse: language defines nationalism, and our

multilingualism defines the type of nation we seek to be.

Fixing the problem of language is both multi-step and multifaceted, and it does have a

profound impact on several aspects of Filipino society if any moves are taken. The next move

could either make or break our resolve to finally make a Filipino identity independent of a
Lim 21

linguistic component. But whatever steps we intend to take, language peace is certainly

attainable, and unity certainly tenable, only if we try.


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