james soriano, wikang pambansa 101

tugon ito kay james soriano, who provoked with Language, learning, identity, privilege, and then responded to the brickbats in Wika bilang gunita.  a 4th year college student of ateneo, soriano has in essence come to realize the value of filipino/tagalog…

It was really only in university that I began to grasp Filipino in terms of language and not just dialect. Filipino was not merely a peculiar variety of language, derived and continuously borrowing from the English and Spanish alphabets; it was its own system, with its own grammar, semantics, sounds, even symbols.

But more significantly, it was its own way of reading, writing, and thinking. There are ideas and concepts unique to Filipino that can never be translated into another. Try translating bayanihan, tagay, kilig or diskarte.

Only recently have I begun to grasp Filipino as the language of identity: the language of emotion, experience, and even of learning.

but he is only too glad that his mother language is english.  because english is the language of the classroom and the laboratory, the boardroom, the court room, the operating room, the language of privilege.

in brief, okay ang wikang pambansa pero hindi mo ikaaasenso.

totoo naman (maliban kung isa kang almario?).  but in his tagalog essay, soriano reveals a sophomoric take on why filipino/tagalog has not truly taken off as a national language.

Mapapansin sa mga bumabatikos sa akin ang sumusunod na argumento: dapat itaguyod ang wikang Filipino sapagkat isa kang Filipino. Dito, makikita nating nakatali ang ideya ng pagiging Filipino sa paggamit ng wikang Filipino. Kung gayon, ibig sabihin bang ang mga hindi marunong — o tahasang hindi gumagamit — ng wikang Filipino ay hindi na Filipino?

Ang punto ko rito ay dapat din natin pansinin na sa ibang rehiyon, ibang wika ang nangingibabaw. Ang wikang Filipino ay nakabase sa wikang Tagalog, na isa lamang sa napakaraming wikang basehan ng indibidwal na identidad.

Dahil dito, hindi ito tinatanggap ng lahat; may narinig na rin akong kuwento ng kaibigang nag-taxi, na hindi pinansin ng tsuper sapagkat kinausap niya si manong sa wikang Filipino.

indeed, filipinos who do not speak the pambansang wika are filipinos no less than those who do.  but it is seriously arguable that the wikang pambansa is not widely spoken except by native tagalogs.  soriano would have better served the cause of the national language by doing some research instead of making a sweeping generalization based on one friend said to have been ignored by a taxi driver because he spoke to the manong in filipino.

read Jessie Grace U. Rubrico’s The Metamorphosis of Filipino as National Language 1998

and from google books, read preview of  Bro. Andrew Gonzales FSC’s Cebuano and Tagalog:Ethnic Rivalry Redidivus 1991

read preview of Bro. Andrew’s From Pilipino to Filipino1, to Filipino 2: unmaking and remaking a National Language 1997

read preview of Caroline S. Hau’s and Victoria L. Tinio’s Language Policy and Ethnic Relations in the Philippines 2003

i can’t find more recent surveys of how widespread the use of filipino/tagalog is these days, but i have no doubt that it has increased over the last decade and is spoken more widely than ever in in the regional centers of the visayas and mindanao, thanks to print and radio, television and film.  as long ago as the 1990s, it was said, filipino/tagalog had become the predominant language in most media:

In recent years, mass media, particularly broadcasting, have shifted to Filipino. The two biggest networks in the Philippines hav almost entirely Filipino programming. National broadsheets are still predominantly in English, while national tabloids are mostly in Filipino. Community newspapers generally use the regional language in combination with English, except in Mindanao, where most are in English. The most popular comics and weekly magazines are in Filipino, although vernacular magazines are also widely read. Radio programming is usually bilingual, with Filipino becing more dominant except in some Cebuano- and Hiligaynon/Ilonggo-speaking areas and in metropolitan Manila, where English is preferred.

the problem is not that filipino is based on tagalog, the problem is cebuano opposition that seems to be concentrated lang naman daw among politicians who do not necessarily represent the majority view.  politicians who like fueling ethnic rivalries when it suits their purposes, who would even want us to start from scratch with cebuano as the basis for a wikang pambansa.  how helpful is that to the cause of a national language that would foster unity and understanding across all tribes.

nor is english per se the problem.  english is a historical and cultural given.  i am happy to speak (and write and read) in both english and filipino/tagalog, and i don’t feel split by the bilingualism. what splits up the country is the way the quality of both the english and the filipino/tagalog taught in schools has so deteriorated. good english has become exclusive to a privileged minority, while filipino/tagalog that is good and easy (on the eyes and ears) and inclusive not only of english but of bisaya and ilocano atbp. remains a distant dream.

in Our language predicament, writtten some 13 years ago in response to Bro. Andrew Gonzalez, then secretary of education, saying that some 20 percent of the high school population were deficient in the use of english, i said it seemed more like only 20 percent were still speaking good english, and i traced the downslide not just of english but of filipino/tagalog to the bilingual policy of education. Excerpts (slightly edited):

Time was when Filipinos were famous for being the only English-speaking people in Asia. From the American occupation until the ’60s, it didn’t matter if you were rich or poor. As long as you went to school (public or private), you learned to speak English, it being the official medium of instruction. I remember picking it up more quickly than most; I supposed it was because I got a lot of practice both in school and at home. In school it was all we were allowed to speak except in Sariling Wika class. At home it was the second language; I was always trying out my English on my mother who would always correct my mistakes, and my father was always asking me to read out loud the daily columns of Teodoro Valencia and Joe Guevara.

It was in the ’70s (if memory serves) when Marcos decreed a bilingual policy for education: English would still be taught and used in teaching math and the sciences but other subjects would be taught in the mutant Filipino, the Tagalog-based national language enriched with words from other dialects and languages that defy translation or require none because they’ve become part of the mainstream. At the time, it seemed like a victory for nationalists who had long been advocating such a policy in the interest of developing a truly national language that would allow full expression of the native psyche and intelligence and which would bind all Filipinos.

In the long run, however, the bilingual policy hasn’t worked. We failed to guard against problems we should have anticipated.

I submit that we took our English-speaking skills for granted. We didn’t realize what it took to speak good English and what it would take to sustain it in a bilingual environment. Perhaps we thought that we had our English too down pat to ever lose it. Maybe we thought it was so ingrained, it would get passed on through our genes. No such luck. Without sufficient practice in speaking, reading and writing, we’re losing it instead, and it’s beginning to show. Even on TV newscasts, the English is becoming sloppy, with newscasters breezing through wrong prepositions and mixing up idiomatic expressions.

Students are said to be doing better in classes conducted in Filipino than in English, but it could just be the natural advantage of a native language. It doesn’t mean that the bilingual policy has been good for the Filipino language. In fact, it has failed to evolve into a truly national language, what with the Cebuanos still fighting it and the authorities still insisting on what a writer friend calls ”laboratory Pilipino” na ang hirap namang basahin at intindihin, at napaka-pormal ng dating. It is so stilted, so different from the lingua franca, or the Filipino spoken at home, in the streets, and in media, that it confounds and bewilders rather than grabs, excites or inspires.

I can understand the reigning authorities’ desire to preserve the old forms and expressions, but it will have to wait until we get the hang of Tagalog again. Most of us Tagalogs who became fluent in English lost a lot of our Tagalog along the way. In the early ’80s, when I started writing in and translating into Tagalog, my vocabulary was terrible. A script that was a breeze to do in English was always a struggle to do in Tagalog, lalo na in laboratory Pilipino.

Even with help from dictionaries, I found that to render many English ideas or concepts in a Tagalog that is easy to read and comprehend, I needed to do more than translate. The writer-translator has to rethink the sentence structure, rethink the idea in terms of Filipino experience, and express it using a vocabulary that gets the message across in one reading. And I found that there’s no dropping English altogether because in many instances the English words (and English spellings) are already more widely used and understood than the Tagalog. In the end, I settled into a kind of Filipino that is more Tagalog than English but more Taglish than purist.

fast forward to 2011.  laboratory filipino-ists continue to insist on re-spelling english words the tagalog way.  keyk for cake, tsok for chalk, salbeyds for salvage, notbuk for notebook…  i don’t get it.  it doesn’t help make the reading easy, as in, nakakatisod: ano daw?  worse, ang sakit sa mata.  salbeyds.  saan ka nakakita ng ganyang kombinasyon ng letra – walang kataga na beyds ke sa english ke sa tagalog o cebuano o ilokano atbp., so how does that help?

even worse, walang nakikialam sa filipino/tagalog na gamit ng media.  here’s some of lem garcellano’s rant on facebook a year ago:

Leche-flan *@#%$. Nakaka PKon! mula news readers reporters ng GMA at ABS-CBN hanggang kay PNoy: RESOLBA RESOLBA RESPONDE RESPONDE! Mga ungas, may salita naman sa tagalog LUTAS LUTAS O LUNAS, DUMALO o PAGDALO! Nagtagalog nga, tinagalog naman ang ingles! … pati mga makabayang orgs gamit din resolba! resolbahin! ano ba!

Eto pa, “yapak” daw ang sinabi ukol sa ingles na “steps” pero ang pagkakabigkas ang ibig sabihin sa ingles “unshod”. Bwiiiiiseeeeeet! Nagtagalog nga mali naman! Kaya yung mga nanood lalo na ang mga bata akala iyon na nga ang kataga para sa kahulugan sa gawang iyon! Panginoon! Sa Visayas, ganundin ang sinasabi nila, responde. Sagipin mo kami sa mga mamamatay-wika! Yan bang mga GMA at AS-CBN, sa laki ng kinikita nila, e, wala silang taong magsasala ng ng mga salita sa kanilang ulat?

Sana may batas na nagpapataw ng kamatayan sa lahat ng pumapatay sa wikang Pilipino.

Sabagay, nang mapakinggan ko si Pnoy kagabi, magaling siyang magsalita sa Tagalog. Pag tagalog, tagalog siya talaga. Pag Ingles, ingles… lamang, natisod sa resolba at responde. Sinundan kasi ang sinabi ni Mel Tiangco at Ted.

eto pa: eksperiyensiya for experience, when there’s karanasan.  competenisya for competition, di ba kompetisyon?  and speaking of ted failon, isa lang siya sa maraming newsreader na mali ang bigkas sa “taya” (ng panahon), malumay, eh tulad lang naman iyan ng taya sa sugal, maragsa.

at tama rin, sa pananaw ko, si lem na tagalog ang dapat itawag sa wikang pambansa.  huwag na tayong magpanggap.

Ano kayang pagkakaiba ng “Filipino” sa Tagalog? Ano kaya yung “superiority” na iyon? Pag pinagsalita mo naman ng “Filipino”, ang salita naman ay Tagalog! Kung ibig talaga natin na magkaroon ng pambansang wika na ang tawag ay “Filipino” at hindi Tagalog e di ituro sa mga Pilipino sa pagkabata pa lang ang tatlong pinakamalawak na wika sa bansa: Tagalog, Ilukano at Bisaya. Tiyak, sa loob ng dalawang daang taon, may isang wika na ang Pilipinas-pinaghalong wika ng mga Pilipino. Pero kung ibig nating malutas (maresolba sa “Filipino”?) ang usapin sa wika, tigilan na yan pagtawag sa wika na Pilipino, lunukin na lang ang yabang ng mga Pilipino at tawagin itong Tagalog.

imagine if we were truly united by a national language.  then we would all be in a better position to fight for deepseated change.  recently i posted in facebook a letter to the inquirer editor, Helicopter probe deal flying nowhere about president aquino

…reducing the country’s problems to a single cause—the previous administration’s corruption. But he really shares the same policies with Gloria, committing the economy to unbridled privatization, deregulation and liberalization that serve elite interests.

which led to this exchange with steve salonga:

Steve:  the author should realize that those elitist economic policies were set in place over a 100 years, and that it will take a deliberate act of a majority of citizens to begin the process of redirecting them. It begins with a President but it finishes much later when the people have acted accordingly by continuing to elect representatives who are against such exclusionary economic policies.

me:  true, steve. this is where a national language and a crusading media are indispensable

Steve:  tagalog would be the more “inclusive” language and should be used for maintaining a national dialogue on issues. You wonder how the government and business elite would fare under such conditions!

the bottom line is, we can have both english and tagalog but only if we work at it.  schools should bring back drills, big time, and everyone should be encouraged to practice by reading aloud, with or without an audience.  media, especially television, should help out by making space and time for language progams that will teach children and adults good tagalog and good english.  and it would help greatly if the language minorities would bow to tagalog and give the nation a break, for the common good and for democracy’s sake.


  1. “In recent years, mass media, particularly broadcasting, have shifted to Filipino. ”

    sure, but i noticed that its not really deep filipino; more conversational. for key terms, they use english. this is especially true for the interview/opinion shows, where the more complex the conversation becomes, they turn to english.

  2. from zeus salazar’s etnograpiya ng tacloban city, agosto 2011: Sa lahat ng mga istablisimyento (laluna sa mga food chains) P/filipino ang namamayani. Tila wala na yung iniinglis-ingles ka pa ng mga naglilingkod ito [may isang insidente lang akong nasaksihan na nag-Ingles yung manedyer nang kinausap nito ang isang Ingleserang nanay na ayaw bigyan ang isang anak ng sorbetes (ayskrim) pag hindi nito inubos ang kanyang kinakain]. Isang may-ari ng isang maliit na “restoran” — isang Tsinay — ay matatas kapwa sa Waray at P/filipino (at gayundin sa Ingles, pag kailangan). Sa palagay ko, mas pambansa ang tingin ng mga Tsinoy, sa simpleng dahilan na sila lang naman talaga ang nakatira sa iba’t ibang bahagi ng Pilipinas kung kaya siguro mas dama nila ang pagiging laganap ng P/filipino (dahil din siguro sa palipat-lipat sila at marami ang nagiging pambansang komersyante [may alam akong dalawang malalaking taipang pambansa na mulang Bikol]. Bukod sa Tsinay, nakausap namin ang isang drayber ng traysikel. Matatas din at napakakomportable sa P/filipino. Nagtrabaho na sa Maynila; madalas doon; bukod dito, ang kanyang kapatid na babae ay asawa ng isang Bikolano sa Bikol, kaya nakakaintindi ng Bikol ang traysikel-drayber. Sa kontekstong ito, nabanggit ko rin pala sa aking lektyur na nasiyahan ako sa biyahe mulang Maynila tungong Tacloban dahil ginagamit na ng cabin crew ang P/filipino. Bago ito para sa akin at nakakapukaw ng pag-asa.

  3. Diehard Pinoy

    @angie: ang pagamit ng wikang F/Pilipino ng mga cabin crew maaring bago sa ating domestic flights pero ito ay matagal ng ginagamit ng mga ibang international airlines na lumalakbay patungong Gitnang Silangan (Middle East) lalo ng UAE, SAudia Airlines ng maraming Pinoy na crew, kabilang din ang PAL na ang biyaheng patungong USA dahil maraming pasaherong Pinoy at mga OFWs. Nakakatuwa nga dahil itong huling buwan may domestic flights na nasakyang ako ay patunong Bisaya, sa Caticlan, Kalibo at Iloilo na mayroong mga banyagang tourista at mga Ilongos. kapansinpansin ang pagamit ng wikang tagalog sa mga pahayag.

    • Salamat, Diehard (Makikipagpatayan?, sa bagong impormasyon. Huling naglakbay kasi ako patungong Europa noong 1999 pa. Napunta naman akong Singapore tatlo o apat na taon na ang nakararaan at Singapore Airlines ang nasakyan. Alam mo namang isang Ingleserong estado ang Singapore. Nasabi ko nga roon sa Seminar na wala silang sariling kultura dahil lahat ay imported, pati na ang kanilang mga propesor [na karamihan naman ay walang makuhang trabaho sa kani-kanilang bansa]. Kaya magandang balita na pinapahalagahan na ng PAL higit sa lahat ang P/filipino. Sa pagitan ng 1980 at 1989 nakikipagdebate pa ako sa mga cabin crew tungkol sa kanilang di paggamit ng ating wika gayong karamihan naman ng pasahero ay Pinoy. Salamat sa impormasyon.