A long fight begins to save Philippine languages

Arnel Valencia felt humiliated at school when he was barred from using the language he spoke at home, part of a decades-long pattern of linguistic destruction across the Philippines.

"'Stop talking like a bird. You should use English or the national language'," Valencia, now 39 and a village elder, said his first-grade teacher told him.

Valencia belongs to a small mountain tribe called Ayta Magindi that has for centuries inhabited the bone-dry, sparsely forested Zambales mountains just three hours' drive from the nation's megacity capital, Manila.

There are only 3,000 tribe members left living in and around the small sugar farming town of Porac, guardians to one of the dozens of little-known languages in the Southeast Asian archipelago that are under dire threat.

The Philippines, with 95 million people, is home to 175 languages, but some of them have just a few speakers left while others are already considered extinct because there are no more people at all who converse in them.

Up to 50 of the country's minor languages could be lost within 20 years, according to Artemio Barbosa, chief anthropologist at the Philippine National Museum.

"When they migrate to a certain place and they are assimilated, they no longer speak their own language because their main concern is to have an intelligible language that they can speak everyday," Barbosa told AFP.

Experts say another big part of the problem is that the only two languages taught at school in the former US colony are English and Filipino, which is based on Tagalog that is natively spoken by people in and around Manila.

Valencia, who is a local village council member, complained that his children still could not use Ayta Magindi in school, while adults had to learn Pampangan, the main local language, to get factory or plantation jobs.

"Our language is not the only thing that we stand to lose, but also our culture," he told AFP.

"The discrimination that we suffer has not abated."

But there is some hope, according to Catherine Young, an endangered languages expert at the US-based Summer Institute of Linguistics who has spent a lot of time studying many of the little-known languages of the Philippines.

"There's a growing awareness of the value of languages in the Philippines, if you compare it with other countries in Asia where (some minority) languages are publicly discouraged," Young said on a recent visit to Manila.

She highlighted a national government decision to implement mother-tongue education from this year as an important step in that direction.

From the start of the new academic year in June, 12 of the most widely used languages will replace English and Filipino as the language of instruction from kindergarten to third grade.

The 12 languages have a combined base of more than 63 million speakers, or two-thirds of the national population.

The Department of Education said the new policy was the result of a Summer Institute of Linguistics-backed project in the 1990s to train local teachers in using Lilubuagan, spoken by 14,000 members of a northern mountain tribe.

American linguist Diane Dekker went to live with her husband and four children in the Cordillera highlands in 1987 to launch the programme, initially to local scepticism.

"The parents were apprehensive that this was going to affect negatively their acquisition of English. That is very important for parents because they know that that's crucial for getting a job," Dekker told AFP.

But she said the Lilubuagan-taught children actually became better students because they did not have English and Filipino rammed down their throats as soon as they entered school.

"They were learning to decode a language that they didn't yet speak, so... of course they had no comprehension of the written form of the language," Dekker said of the problems having to study in English and Filipino.

Manuel Faelnar, vice president for the non-government group Defenders for Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago, agreed that force-feeding new languages on children when they first learnt to read and write was wrong.

"That's why many of our kids are considered dull, slow. The teachers speak to them in Tagalog (Filipino), and if you're not Tagalog or English-speaking, you're lost," said Faelnar.

One obvious problem with the government's new programme is that it covers only the most widely spoken languages, and thus continues to leave the less common ones neglected.

However the hope is that, once the programme is implemented and succeeds, the government will start introducing mother-tongue instruction for the most endangered languages.

Meanwhile, the hill-dwelling Ayta Magindi in the Zambales ranges and the local government school have taken it on their own to start mother-tongue instruction from June, said the community's Protestant pastor Benny Capuno.

Two Ayta Magindi locals have been hired to teach kindergarten at the local school, and will also help prepare mother-tongue teaching materials for the first graders.

"This should restore our young people's pride and make them treasure our own music, our own language and our unique culture," Capuno told AFP.

Loading...

Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • 15 wounded in attack on Philippine mosque
    15 wounded in attack on Philippine mosque

    Fifteen people including 10 police officers were wounded in an attack on a mosque on a remote Philippine island long plagued by Islamic militancy, officials said on Saturday. Successive blasts targeted a mosque on the island of Jolo -- an initial grenade attack followed by a bomb explosion that was intended to target police who rushed to the scene, local authorities said. "It seems the (first) explosion was set up to draw responders as the target," the provincial police chief Senior …

  • US missile cruiser docks at Subic
    US missile cruiser docks at Subic

    A US Navy missile cruiser has dropped anchor in Subic Bay as part of “routine port call,” amid rising tension in the West Philippine Sea stirred by China’s island building activities and other threatening moves by its forces. The arrival of the Ticonderoga-class missile cruiser USS Shiloh (CG-67) at the Subic Bay Freeport in Olongapo City yesterday was “just a routine port visit for ship replenishment and routine maintenance of shipboard system,” said Philippine Navy Public Affairs Office …

  • Agri, power sectors should brace for El Niño
    Agri, power sectors should brace for El Niño

    The agriculture and power sectors, as well as the general public should brace for a prolonged El Niño phenomenon that could further reduce water supply for electricity and irrigation, the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) warned yesterday. Flaviana Hilario, acting deputy administrator for research and development of PAGASA, said the El Niño condition is expected to intensify from weak to moderate by August this year. Anthony Lucero, …

  • China to US: Help cool down Phl on sea row
    China to US: Help cool down Phl on sea row

    The US should help “cool down” the Philippines and realize that its meddling in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) dispute would only stir tensions, a Chinese newspaper reported. “Washington should know its meddling in the South China Sea has been destabilizing the region. The US has vowed not to take sides in the territorial dispute, which involves China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan. …

  • No stopping K to 12 despite SC case, protests
    No stopping K to 12 despite SC case, protests

    K to 12 is the fruit of years of comprehensive consultations involving different sectors in education,” Aquino said during the launching of the program at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) in Pasay City. Organized by the Department of Education (DepEd), the launch was attended by teachers, students and representatives from different stakeholders supportive of the K to 12 program. It was held two years after the signing of Republic Act 10533, or the Enhanced Basic Education …

  • MNLF pushes review of peace pact with gov’t
    MNLF pushes review of peace pact with gov’t

    The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) maintained its bid for completion of the tripartite review of the implementation of the peace agreement with the Philippine government in 1996. The MNLF’s desire to put consensual closure to the tripartite effort was relayed by its leaders to Sayed El-Masry, the special envoy of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), during the annual foreign ministers conference in Kuwait last Thursday. The MNLF peace agreement with the government in Sept. 2, …

  • Noy to raise sea dispute issue with Abe
    Noy to raise sea dispute issue with Abe

    President Aquino is expected to raise the West Philippine Sea dispute during his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Japan next week. However, there is no word yet if the Philippines will specifically ask Tokyo to join calls for China to stop its massive reclamation activities in disputed waters. Aquino will leave for Tokyo on June 2 for a state visit until June 5. …

  • CHED releases wrong data on tuition hike
    CHED releases wrong data on tuition hike

    The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) appears to have released erroneous data on the allowed tuition and other fee increases in Metro Manila for the incoming academic year. On the list of the 51 approved higher education institutions (HEI) allowed to impose hikes, CHED pegged the average increase in tuition at P32.34 per unit and the average increase in other fees at P34.79. However, a Philippine STAR re-computation showed that the actual average approved tuition increases in Metro Manila …

POLL

Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Loading...
Poll Choice Options