The Issue of Language

It is the fourth of July and America is celebrating its Independence Day. America is the place where my children were born. Across the Pacific is the Philippines, the country of my birth. For over a hundred years, the Philippines remains a country in search of its own identity. America is also a very young nation compared to the countries in Europe and of course, nations in Asia like India, China and Japan. Since these nations are so much older, their education systems have likewise stood for so many more generations. Their schools are much more mature and certainly, the classrooms in these countries are filled with experiences of so many centuries. America may have conquered higher education and research but with basic education, the country is still growing up. It is a bit disconcerting that children in the early grades are expected to master social skills and find creativity in themselves. It is mind boggling that children need to find not just one way, but at least two different ways to answer simple arithmetic questions. While in the Orient, children simply have to commit these to memory so that their minds can in fact do something else with math later. America does have its strengths when one considers how independent children could be even at a tender young age. Unfortunately, the Philippines remains torn between the East and the West. While other countries are breaking into new frontiers oi human knowledge, we are still arguing about what language to use. Amazingly, there are even more than two sides to this issue.

Above copied from Decolonization of the Philippines

On one hand, there are those who equate one language to a sense of nationalism. Filipino, which is really a dialect of Tagalog, a language spoken in Manila and its surrounding provinces, is imposed as a national language. Growing up in Manila, it is easy to see the world through a very narrow scope. Philippine history was all about Tagalogs. I did not hear any lessons in history regarding people from the Visayas and Mindanao. Although I spent more than twenty years of my life in the Philippines, I did not really get to see the Philippines. Most of those twenty years were spent in Metro Manila. The rest of the Philippines simply did not exist and was as foreign as the United States of America. It is therefore understandable why some would still equate being Filipino with being Tagalog. It is difficult for a Tagalog to see such equating as degrading and offensive to other Filipinos who are not Tagalogs. Requiring Tagalog courses in college does not register as unjust acts simply because Tagalogs had been indoctrinated for so long that their language and history sum up the Philippine nation. Nothing could be further than the truth yet one finds national artists and even professors from universities espousing such a disgraceful position.

The other regions of the Philippines speak other languages that are distinct and different from Tagalog. Unlike Tagalog, these languages have not received due attention from institutions of higher learning. Yet, the ambitious DepEd K+12 curriculum is now implementing a mother tongue based multilingual education in the early elementary years. There is a lot to be done in terms of bringing the various Philippine languages into the academic realm. It is a lot of work, yet people seem to be more preoccupied in imposing requirements on schools. What is needed are not requirements, but enablers. These languages certainly must be part of higher education in the Philippines if we are to preserve and nurture them. And students must be able to choose. Students, however, cannot choose something that still has to exist first.

Science has embraced a language and it is English. There are scientists from the Orient who are still working hard to translate science textbooks into their native tongues. In the Philippines, there is no such effort. Perhaps, there is no worth in even trying. Independence means one thing - one should be able to make choices. One should be able to make decisions.

Not all choices made are necessarily the good ones to make. There is of course room for error, but one must learn through the decades and not keep repeating the same mistakes.  One also must avoid getting trapped in indecision. The Philippines lies near the bottom when it comes to basic education. Its institutions of higher learning are likewise being left behind, and yet, here we are, still arguing about what language to use and instruct. Here we are, remaining completely clueless about academic freedom and what genuine nationalism entails.