Reviving a dying language

Published December 15, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid
Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid

Yes, language scholars,  writers, and concerned Pangasinenses are deeply concerned about  news on the probable demise of the Pangasinan language.

Again, the alarm bell has sounded, and the social and traditional media are again fanning earlier fears and threats expressed by experts.

Today, Pangasinan, considered No. 8 in terms of numbers of Filipinos speaking it (it has at least over a million native speakers), is one of 13 indigenous languages  among the 130 Philippine languages. But it is also among the 35 that are endangered.

Pangasinan is also one of the languages used in the mother tongue-based multilingual education. These include Tagalog (now Filipino), Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Kapampangan, Bikol-Albay, Bikol-Maranao, Maguindano, Kinaray-a, and Tausog.

Inquirer’s Gabriel Cardinoza , who had written about the difficulties of learning the Pangasinan language recently cited observations by Mary Ann Macaranas, director of the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino’s  (KWP) Sentro ng Wika at Kultura para sa Pangasinan, who attended the 11thBantayog-Wika, a monument honoring the Pangasinan language. She cited the  Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) survey from 2000-2010 which ranked Pangasinan as the 43rd language spoken at home in the country, but that Filipino and English were the dominant languages used among Pangasinan families. Another KWF commissioner, Purificacion Delima, explained the weakening of language as an indication that parents were unable to transfer it properly to their children. Thus, when the older generation disappears, and when  the younger generation which may be using a different language takes over, it tends to erase the “intergenerational transmission of linguistic and cultural knowledge. For them, the language of their parents is dead.”

Commissioner on Higher Education (CHED) Chairman Dr. Prospero de Vera who  is 100% Pangasinan,  shared assertions made by Inquirer’s Gabriel Cardinoza based on a UP dissertation by Edgar Quiros of the National Library. The latter had noted that “people learn a language easier if they came from the same family tree. Because the Pangasinan, and Ilokano languages are not related and Pangasinan is a unique language, a person with Ilokano as his first language, will take a longer time to learn Pangasinan compared to someone born in a Pangasinan-speaking environment.”

Pangasinan has five dialects. The origins of the Pangasinan language still  remain unknown. De Veyra further shares the assertion that the language is really very difficult to learn and very few (if none at all) are studying it.

This columnist is also a Pangasinense (my mother is from Pangasinan and my father was originally from Ilocos Norte).  Since I had lived abroad for study and work for about 14 years and have had little opportunity to speak it, I now find it quite a challenge to speak it.   Four years ago, Santiago Villafania asked me to critique his book of poems “Pinabli”  (later translated in several international languages) for publication. I hesitated at first as I could only understand 15% of the first chapters.  Towards the end,, my comprehension improved by about 90%. This validates research  that states that one never really forgets one’s first language. With the current threat today, I try to practice through online conversations  with some relatives, some of whom live abroad.

Victoria and James D. Anderson, in a scholarly article in Philippine Studies (2007), state that “a language can remain strong if it is used reciprocally between parents and children and if all living generations have high active competence in the language.  Too, if standard written forms exist. Viability is enhanced if literature, media, and entertainment continue to be produced in the language. But little had been done in this area.  Also, if explicit value is placed on a language as a unifying marker for a group, it tends to fare better than others.”

Migration, relative cultural prestige, urbanization, inter-ethnic marriage, changing language use,  are major causes of attrition. Since the 1960’s, the prestigious status of Pangasinenses has eroded gradually in the face of the “growing,  ambitious, success-oriented Ilocano population and as Ilocanos began winning seats in political office. Thus, the need to enhance the prestige of the group that advocates the use of the language. Group solidarity is essential and members of the group must commit to its continuing use among themselves and their children.  Pangasinan may not remain endangered if native speakers take charge of roles they want Pangasinan to play in their lives. The language will not be used for every communicative action but the positive trade-off is greater access to the outside word. Commanding both local and global speech varieties will allow the people of Pangasinan to move around the world and to remain rooted in a healthy sense of identity.”

A.R. Ravanzo notes in “Pangasinan: A Dying Dialect?”: “When a Pangasinense expresses a philosophical idea, he uses English. When he wants to show he’s one with other Filipinos, Tagalog is his medium. But when he’s in love, no tongue is better than Pangasinan. English is a logical tool of communication on Internet, science, education. Filipino or Tagalog is the language of the nation’s laws, political and business institutions. Pangasinan is the national code for use in the more intimate settings of home, family, religion, etc. Ilokano may be used when traveling in Northern Luzon.

“Save the Pangasinan Language Movement warned that Pangasinan was vanishing Villafaniawho hosts a website devoted to Pangasinan poetry, advocates for the language’s preservation and revival, writes that even as more writers educated and exposed to foreign literature had shifted to English and Filipino, he had remained faithful to the cause of writing in Pangasinan. He continues to rekindle the passions of the young to reinvigorate the language. Other advocacy groups include the Pangasinan Writers Association and the Pangasinan Council for Culture and the Arts, the Ulupanna Pansansiay Salita (UPSP) with its  “Balon Silew,” founded by Trade & Industry provincial director, Jaime Lucas.

Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr. admitted that the language is dying,  but urges every Pangasinense to do something about it. He was the first governor of the province who made Pangasinan the official language in the provincial capital. The late Al Fernandez of Dagupan City commissioned the composition of the Dagupan hymn to be sang during the morning flag ceremony and urged his council to use the language.

I am glad to note that  a regular exchange on Facebook through  a feature, “Atche tan Kuya na taga  Dagupan,” a site  where citizens engage in a lively dialogue on historical events and trivia such as Dagupan favorite recipes, the social scene, culinary and family activities. It is entertaining and informative and a good source in learning the popular language. The Pangasinan Historical and Cultural Commission with Villafania and Virginia Pasalo as commissioners further strengthens cultural identity  through publications, contests, and literary events with annual awards for literature and historical works, and recognition given to outstanding Pangasinenses in various endeavors.

Poet Orpilla notes that the recently unveiled monument (gravestone) for Pangasinan language will not help us. The solution is to find five native speakers to study their language in the context mentioned (challenge KWP to lead the way towards developing the Pangasinan sound system (phonetic and phonology), word formation (morphology), sentence construction (syntax), meaning (semantics), and use (pragmatics) within a cross-linguistic study.

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