[lg policy] Philippines: How we are defined by our language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 28 14:39:50 UTC 2014

How we are defined by our language

  The View From Taft
Liberty I. Nolasco

  AUGUST IS Buwan ng Wika (Language Month). This month-long observance
urges Filipinos to enrich and become proud of Filipino as their national
language. This used to be just a week-long observance -- Linggo ng Wika
(Language Week) -- and fell on the week of August 19. This date was picked
by the government to commemorate the birth of Manuel Luis Quezon, the first
Philippine president to declare Tagalog as the official medium of
communication in the country.

   The eventual adoption of Filipino as the Philippine national language is
a telling sign that we turn to language to promote inclusivity.

Sadly, though, the discussions on what language policy to adopt in
different institutions in our country have taken a life of their own. We
can glean from the deliberation of our 1987 Philippine Constitution an
overstretched discussion on the topic, among the longest discussions that
our constitutionalists tackled. Emotions poured out as the issue centered
on what regional or ethnic identity the Philippine national language should

Since our constitutionalists experienced a hard time reconciling this
controversial matter, we should expect as well other institutions,
especially schools, to be equally confused. Some schools that I know have
infused foreign languages in their curriculum for basic education. Others
strictly enforce a policy of English-only in their campuses. They even
discourage, if not penalize, the use of Filipino and other vernaculars or
dialects in the classrooms.

It is as if language is a commodity, which, when used a lot, earns one a
“status symbol.”

The purpose of language goes beyond the spread of vanity and power.
Language as a medium of communication means that it should build social
relations. As I write this article, I remember my first overseas travel
during which I had to converse in a foreign language for 24 hours. The
experience was both alienating and liberating. Not being fluent in the
language that I was using, I felt that I would fail to communicate my
thoughts. But it also dawned on me that I was learning something new
outside my comfort zone: the culture and sentiments of fellow foreigners.

This does not mean that language is always outward-looking. Language is a
subjective, not objective, medium of communication. It can predispose a
person to behave in a certain way. As the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis asserts,
language reflects for the most part a person’s consciousness. Someone with
a weak valuation for his or her family, society, culture and race may be
turned against them by a language that bears remarkably a different value
for family, society, culture and race.

Language has its own structure that conveys the ideals of a culture or
race. In dealing with some suppliers and natives overseas, I observed that
their language had iterated conjugations for gender and rank.

I learned that the syntaxes and rules of grammar were engineered by former
rulers to limit their communication to their trusted individuals, business
partners, and social institutions. The lingering effect is the exclusion of
their kind from life-changing opportunities.

A pragmatic adoption of or a plain disregard for a language policy can
destroy rather than build social relations. It can promote cultural
alienation, a lack of national identification of people, and a half-baked
person. It is therefore essential to promote language as a means to balance
the outward and inward orientations of a person -- an important element to
national development.

Liberty I. Nolasco is an assistant professor at the Management and
Organization Department of the Ramon V. Del Rosario College of Business of
De La Salle University.


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