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DO YOU SPEAK FILIPINO?

The state of our national language in today’s modern world

Published

By DOM GALEON

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The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages. —Art. XIV, Sec. 6, 1987 Philippine Constitution

Every year, the Philippines dedicates an entire month to celebrate Filipino, our national language. I mean, it is our national language, at least by law. Every year, in August, the country’s Komisyon sa Wiking Filipino (KWF) organizes events designed to celebrate everything about this language.

But the question remains: What exactly is the Filipino language?

Historically, it was on Dec. 30, 1937 when a Filipino language was officially considered. In a radio address, the first one he ever delivered in Tagalog, President Manuel Quezon announced that “one of the native languages” in the Philippines was to be adopted as the foundation of a national language.

NOT SPEAKING IN TONGUES Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino chair Virgilio Almario hosts a press conference to discuss the KWF’s plans for this year’s Buwan ng Wika celebrations in August and to tackle issues concerning Filipino as a language today, including CHED’s controversial decision to exclude Filipino and Panitikan as core subjects in college

NOT SPEAKING IN TONGUES Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino chair Virgilio Almario hosts a press conference to discuss the KWF’s plans for this year’s Buwan ng Wika celebrations in August and to tackle issues concerning Filipino as a language today, including CHED’s controversial decision to exclude Filipino and Panitikan as core subjects in college

Quezon declared: “Nagdudulot sa akin ng di matingkalang kasiyahan na maipahayag ko sa inyo na ngayong ika-41 anibersaryo ng pagmamartir ng nagtatag at pinakadakilang tagapamansag ng nasyonalismong Pilipino, ay naging karangalan kong ilagda, bilang pag-alinsunod sa utos ng Konstitusyon at ng umiiral na batas, ang isang Kautusang Tagapagpaganap na nagtatalaga sa isa sa mga katutubong wika na maging batayan ng wikang pambansa ng bayang Pilipino.”  

[It affords me indescribable satisfaction to be able to announce to you that on this, the 41st anniversary of the martyrdom of the founder and greatest exponent of Philippine nationalism, I had the privilege of issuing, in pursuance of the mandate of the Constitution and of existing law, an Executive Order designating one of the native languages as the basis for the national language of the Filipino people.]

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It was adopted as a batayan, as a basis, and not as the official national language. That would come three years later when Tagalog became one of the country’s official languages, side by side Spanish and English.

This definition of the national language has since evolved, of course. In 1959, it officially became known as Pilipino (spelled with a “P” and not yet an “F”) in an attempt to disassociate the national language with just Tagalog. But even after that, a national language, one that is widely and intelligently used, remained elusive.

Today, Filipino as a language is no longer just a rebranded version of Tagalog. Yes, the base is still Tagalog but it now includes borrowed words from some 180 other languages in the country, as well as from foreign languages—well, many of our languages have long had borrowed words. The 1987 Constitution puts it plainly: “The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages. Subject to provisions of law and as the Congress may deem appropriate, the Government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as a language of instruction in the educational system.”

Still, the difficulty in adopting and using Filipino as a national language, as an intelligent language of discourse, remains. It’s not that Filipino isn’t intelligent. On the contrary, it very much is. It is also very nuanced. Take, for example, the word “nagsipagtakbuhan.” This single verb in second person plural, past tense, has no direct equivalent in English. The second person plural, past tense version of it in English is “they ran.” But this doesn’t quite capture the meaning of “nagsipagtakbuhan,” which is best translated as “they all ran individually and simultaneously.” And no, Google Translate, it doesn’t mean “worked on a race.”

This example, which is a Filipino word of a Tagalog origin, demonstrates how our language carries a unique flavor. Those who say that Filipino cannot carry meaning in the same way English or other foreign languages do are mistaken. But such is language, any language. Because it is built around a culture, its meaning is a product of the collective experience of the society it grows with. This might, however, be difficult if Filipino is not given a more prominent role in college education—but that’s a different topic for another discussion.

So where is our national language today?

Perhaps it is safe to say that it is continually growing. KWF chairperson Virgilio Almario himself said as much during a press conference held at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Right now, the efforts of the KWF is in growing Filpino by including more of the country’s local languages to it. At the same time, the KWF hopes to revitalize and not isolate each local language. This is the focus of this year’s Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa, which will go by the theme “Wikang Katutubo: Tungo sa Isang Bansang Filipino.

Filipino, our national language, is no longer just Tagalog—it hasn’t been, for a while now. The challenge, as Virgilio Almario pointed out during that press conference, is to make sure that everyone understands that. At the same time, Filipinos should realize that our national language can be as eloquent, technical, intelligent, rich, and precise as English or any other foreign language.

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