By AA Patawaran
I’m not really sure about the difference between a language and a dialect. I used to assume that, more than technical, the distinction is political. Russian-Jewish specialist in Yiddish and sociolinguistics Max Weinreich once said that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” so I guess my assumption was not so unfounded.
Which is why I was surprised to know there are 131 languages in the Philippines. I would suppose many of these languages branched out to several dialects. In the Bicol region, for instance, there is a group of languages, which are spoken across the peninsula, as well as in the neighboring island of Catanduanes and the Masbate island of Burias. The Central Bicol language alone has a few dialects, such as Canaman, Partido, Virac, and Daet, as well as the Tabaco-Legazpi-Sorsogon dialect and the Naga City dialect.
I’m just talking about the Bikol languages because it’s always been a dream to be fluent in Bikolano. I can understand a lot of it and I speak a little. My mother was from Legazpi, and unlike my father who, born and raised in Manila, wasn’t too keen on his Kapampangan roots, my mother was Bicolano through and through, even if she had lived in Manila since after high school.
But it’s the same story everywhere in the Philippines’ 17 regions, 81 provinces, 122 cities (as of 2010), and 42,029 barangays. In Western Visayas (Region VI), there are Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Aklanon/Malaynon, Capiznon, Cebuano, and more, including a slight variation between Ilonggo spoken in Iloilo and Ilonggo spoken in Bacolod where, as a jealous Iloilo resident told me, it’s just Ilonggo, pero maraming arte (but with affectation). Composed of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, and Negros Occidental, Western Visayas also has the distinction of hosting the first ever Bantayog-Wika or language marker that the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCAA), under the chairmanship of National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario or Rio Alma and with the full support of Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate Committee on Finance, has endeavored to erect through the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), also headed by Rio Alma, in each of the key areas selected across the Philippines to honor each of the country’s 131 languages.
Unveiled early this month at the EBJ Freedom Park in San Jose, Antique was the first of these language markers, a monument 10 feet in height and two feet in diameter to the Antique language kinaray-a or karay-a, designed by sculptor and installation artist Luis “Junhee” Yee. It is a bamboo-inspired sculpture of fabricated stainless steel that’s lit from the inside as soon as night gathers. Around it, inscribed on the surface, is information on Kinaray-a written in the ancient Philippine script baybayin. Present at the unveiling were key officials led by Sen. Legarda, Antique governor Rhodora J. Cadiao, KWF chairman Rio Alma, Presidential Communications Operations Undersecretary Lorraine Badoy, and other provincial officials.
Bantayog-wika is a tangible marker for culture as intangible as but no less precious than languages. As the Antique marker was unveiled, Sen. Legarda said, “According to the United Nations, languages are important in preserving and developing tangible and intangible heritage. Thus, we need to comprehensively document all languages of our ethno-linguistic groups in the country and we should promote the continued use of such languages. The Bantayog-wika project is one way of preserving our native languages.”
Indeed, Bantayog-wika is a nationwide project that seeks to identify areas where languages originated. Already, KWF is working very closely with other local government units (LGUs) for the installation of the language markers in their respective sites. Among the languages scheduled to be honored next with their own Bantayog-wika are Subanen in Dapitan, Alta in San Luis in Aurora, and Sinama/Sama in Bongao in Tawi-Tawi. Rio Alma also told me while we were in Antique that he and his team were also cooking up some kind of an encyclopedia of Philippine languages, with an entire volume dedicated to each of our 131 languages.
Sorry, so what is a dialect again, as opposed to a language? Ambay a, that’s “I don’t know” in kinaray-a, informal and usually said with an annoyed expression in the face, because I guess it will be a long discourse, politics thrown in, culture thrown in, egos thrown in. We might as well just learn key phrases in kinaray-a. Ginagugma ta ‘kaw, that means “I love you,” in kinaray-a, but we should all learn to say that more in any language or dialect.