[lg policy] book review: Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Tue Sep 21 14:38:27 UTC 2010

Theoretical and Empirical Foundations of Assistance to Threatened Languages

By Joshua A. Fishman

The Firth McEachern published observations (“No longer cool to speak
Iloko,” “Kankana-ey being replaced by Iloko?” “Customer is always
right, right?” “Losing the mother tongue,” “Quest for a
multi-culture,” and “Diversity shock“) prompted my friend (a
linguistic grad student), Sherma E. Benosa (Bilingual Pen), First
Prize winner of the short story Iluko category (“Dagiti Pasugnod ni
Angelo”) of this year’s 60th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for
Literature, to write:

    “First, the bilingual policy our educational system has adopted is
one of the root causes why parents and school administrators emphasize
Tagalog, especially English. This policy did not give emphasis in the
teaching and use of the mother tongue in school. In fact, it viewed
the mother tongue as a hindrance in the learning of these “preferred”
languages — and even in the learning of content. Hence, the
discriminatory policy of many schools in provinces to fine students
speaking in their native languages.

    This also gave rise to the “prestige” that is accorded to
Tagalog/Filipino — the national language, the language that “unites”
the nation, the only Philippine language perceived to be
intellectualized enough to teach content to our children.

    This in turn, gave rise to the notion that to be “in”, to be able
to go up, you must speak Tagalog/Filipino fluently… sans the accent of
your native tongue. [The funny thing is that, when you are in Manila,
the more refined your Tagalog, the more it is obvious that you are not
from the city... as the city-folks speak a different variety of
Tagalog/Filipino... the one that is embedded with so many borrowings].

    This bilingual policy has likewise prompted many parents to use
Tagalog or English as the language in the home — in preparation for
their children’s schooling, thinking that by starting their children
early, the kids will not have a hard time in school, learning two
foreign languages (Tagalog and English) at the same time while also
learning content subjects.

    The Bilingual Education policy was a big mistake, and it is such a
relief that many seem to be learning this. This is an old issue… and
it is good if addressed by giving a chance to the mother tongue-based

Actually the observations by both McEachern and Benosa fall within the
more involved study, “Reversing Language Shift“, by Joshua A. Fishman,
an American linguist who specializes in the sociology of language,
language planning, bilingual education, and language and ethnicity.

Fishman wrote:

    “Although I have struggled to approach language maintenance and
language shift as fields of dispassionate scientific inquiry, I have
never tried to hide (neither from myself nor from the careful reader)
the value positions in support of cultural pluralism and cultural
self-determination to which I personally subscribe.  Indeed, my work
of the 60s began as a quest for any possibly overlooked successes,
amidst all of the clearly obvious failures, in the efforts to secure
minority language maintenance in the United States.  The
intellectualization of this quest has led me to a constant review of
the circumstances of modern life, even under democratic and
multicultural auspices, which lead overwhelmingly in the direction of
language shift.  That intellectualization has helped me realize that
every failed societal effort on behalf of greater ethnolinguistic
self-regulation nevertheless hides, within itself, many minor
successes (first and foremost, the community-fostering experience of a
common struggle on behalf of a shared verity) and some memorable ‘near
misses’ that reveal the direction in which ‘success’ might lie.

    “I deeply regret that I did not react to those realizations more
quickly.  Perhaps as a result of the initial language shift momentum
that I provided for this field of study, and my negligence with
respect to offering more focused insight into the few cases of actual
language maintenance success and near-success that I had come across,
the entire positive side of the ledger is far less represented in the
intellectual economy of the macro-sociolinguistic enterprise than it
could and should be.  In a sense, therefore, this book not only
represents the continuation of a long felt interest, but, also, the
payment (or, at least, the partial payment) of a long regretted debt…”

Well, the main reason I am bringing up Joshua A. Fishman’s book here
is to provide all those folks toiling hard to implement DepEd No. 74
s. 2009 which institutionalizes mother tongue-based multilingual
education, albeit less encompassing than the MLE Bill (House Bill No.
162 –> read text) sponsored by Rep. Magtanggol Gunigundo, a
comprehensive resource (brimming with empirical data) they can fall
back on to help them understand what they are doing and why.  Because
that’s basically what you and I are trying to do:  reverse language
shift occasioned by the aggressive government-sanctioned bilingual
policy that put Tagalog or Filipino and English above all the many
other ethnic languages which have been marginalized as a consequence.

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