What brings about national unity? A natural disaster such as these nonstop rains that brought about an unexpected long weekend, political unrest like EDSA (is there a looming one in reaction to the pork barrel scandal?) and a National Language, among others.
August is Buwan ng Wika and this came about because August 19 is the birthday of Manuel Luis Quezon, ang Ama ng Wikang Pambansa. During his presidency in 1937 he created the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (National Language Institute) to select a national language among the country’s native languages. Some accounts say that there are 171 languages and 500 dialects spoken in our 7,107 islands (maybe less now because as Charlene Gonzales pointed out in her Miss Universe Q&A, “high tide or low tide?”) Language is a well-developed form of communication shared by members of a particular group while dialect is a form of variation that occurs within the language.
Tagalog was selected as the basis for our national language because it was the one used in Manila, the economic and political center. However, to give it a more national name it was called Pilipino and later on, Filipino in the 1987 Constitution when more words from the other native languages were included to form part of the national language.
There have been a lot of discussions and debates on our national language. I also hear a lot of parents, usually from exclusive schools, complain about the difficulty (some even say uselessness) of the Filipino subject. They find it hard to teach their children (if they’re the tutors) or see them get low grades in the subject.
I do not claim to be an expert in the national language but I find it unpatriotic to consider Filipino as a useless subject. In fact, it’s even dangerous to show this attitude to our schoolchildren. They might grow up thinking that their national language is not important, useless, and consider it as the language of the less fortunate and less educated. They wonder, “Why is it so wrong to commit grammatical errors in English but is ok to do so in Filipino?” Don’t you notice how parents sometimes just laugh and even find it cute when they hear their kids speak baluktot Filipino? I am not saying we should keep our guards down on being English Grammar Police. In fact, the world of bloggers is in need of a troop of Grammar Nazis to actively patrol so that simple subject-verb agreement and other basic rules are observed.
Like a lot of Filipinos, I am multi-lingual. I’m fluent in English, Filipino and Ilocano, and know an eensie-weensie bit of Spanish. Even if I sometimes find it difficult to express some thoughts (usually business and academic) in Filipino, especially in writing, I consciously showed my sons that knowing our national language is a must while they were growing up. I would correct their Filipino sentences the way I corrected their English sentences. I admit we also used English as their primary language when we started teaching them how to speak. Maybe it was just easier to label things in English and construct simple sentences. Maybe there were more children’s books in English. Maybe it’s because we knew that English was still the medium of instruction in the schools we wanted for them. But we were conscious to remind them of the spirit of Jose Rizal’s words, “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa ang amoy sa malansang isda!”I didn’t exactly use those words but I remember telling them, “Can you imagine a French boy who lives in France but doesn’t know how to speak French?” to explain how ridiculous it is for Filipino kids not to know how to speak the national language.
My second son is now preparing for his one semester stint in Germany starting this fourth week of August by learning how to speak simple German sentences. My older son did the same before he went on a similar stint in France three years ago. In fact, he found an effective way to ward off the world-renowned snootiness of the French to non French speaking people: Your first statement should be in French, no matter how painfully you say it, “Bonjour, je suis Philippin. Je parle en petit peu Français.” (Hello, I am a Filipino. I speak a little French.), then you can proceed to speak in English. They will appreciate your effort and proceed with the conversation in English. You won’t get this positive response if you talk to them in English right away.
This is not the case in the Philippines. One can survive living here without knowing how to speak the language, especially, if he opts to reside in the more upscale communities in the country.
So if you do live in these communities, should you still bother to teach your children Filipino? My answer is yes, especially if you’re a Filipino family. Fluency in our national language is a must for you to understand the nuances of our culture, the deep sentiments, the values and the core of the Filipino people. And because of this, I have been in this tiny crusade talking to my friends, even mere acquaintances who belong to the higher echelon of our society, especially those whose children study in international schools and continue their studies abroad to please teach their children our national language. I remind them that their children will most likely be the future captains of Philippine industries and it’s best for them and our country if they truly understand the Filipino people.
I like that PNoy delivers his SONA (State of the Nation Address) in Filipino. It’s not yet an adequate language that we have to infuse a lot of English terms but that’s okay. It’s a very young language but let’s give it its due respect for it stands for our national identity, a tool that unites all the Filipinos in our scattered islands. Never belittle it because, as expressed by a young Pakistani nationalist,* in the last five thousand years no nation that disrespected its own national language has excelled in its economic and cultural development.