The relevance of Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa

Published August 7, 2021, 12:02 AM

by Manila Bulletin

August is Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa (National Language Month) and many Filipinos, especially the younger generation, do not know why the nation’s leaders chose this scary “month of ghosts” for the observance.

In the era when the government was called Commonwealth of the Philippines, President Manuel L. Quezon passionately pushed for inclusion in the draft 1935 Constitution the provision about the need for Congress/National Assembly to legislate the “development of a national language which will be based on one of the existing native languages.” Quezon was born on Aug. 19, 1878 and was one of the Philippines’ foremost leaders during our infancy as a nation.  He also died in the same month in 1944.

Quezon surmised that the nation of some 7,100 islands and more than 100 ethnolinguistic groups will achieve greater unity and cooperation — and thus accelerate economic progress — by having one single dominant national language.  Commonwealth Act 184 then directed a national committee composed of language experts in Hiligaynon, Ilocano, Bicol, Samarnon, Cebuano, Tagalog, Maranao-Maguindanao, Pampango and Pangasinan, and they finally chose Tagalog.

It took two constitutional interventions –  1973 and 1987 – for the founding fathers to finally settle for Filipino as the national language, the use of which shall be sustained as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.  For now, Filipino shares with English as the official and everyday language used in government, mass media, schools, homes and the streets.

The tweaking and development of language use continues, though.  Language, by definition, should evolve to be able to survive and grow.  If not, it will just go the way of Latin, Coptic, Gaelic, or the Dodo bird.

The modern Filipino alphabet is made up of 28 letters now, developed in 1987 under the Cory Aquino presidency.  It is an “improvement” to the original 20-letter alphabet developed by Lope K. Santos, to which the Department of Education, Culture and Sports added 11 letters in 1976.  In 2001, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) issued revisions on the use of these letters and spelling of words, which was revised – yet again – on July 28, 2021 when the same agency under the Office of the President and now headed by Dr. Arthur P. Casanova made official the following spelling of words:   Pilipinas instead of Filipinas; Mamamayang Pilipino instead of mamamayang Filipino; Kulturang Pilipino instead of Kulturang Filipino and Sambayanang Pilipino instead of sambayanang Filipino.

For the observance this year, the KWF chose the theme, “Filipino at mga Wikang Katutubo sa Dekolonisasyon ng Pag-iisip ng mga Pilipino.”  According to Commissioner Casanova, the celebration is in line with the 2021 Quincentennial Commemorations in the Philippines during which all cultural and historical activities are “Filipino-centric.”

The KWF will honor deserving awardees this year for Dangal ng Wika, Dangal ng Panitikan, Mananaysay ng Taon, Sanay sa Emilio Jacinto, Kampeon ng Wika.  There will also be a series of lectures about national orthography, clear and concise writing and official correspondences, along with book launchings for the 12 KWF publications about poetry, children’s stories and plays, literary criticism and native folklores.  The agency is also completing three dictionaries — Diksiyonaryo ng Wikang Filipino, Diksiyonaryong English-Filipino-Meranaw, and Diksiyonaryong Hiligaynon-English-Filipino.

The common dream of successive presidents of forging national unity and patriotism and achieving genuine Filipino identity with the use of a national language has been met through the years with bumps and snags, mainly because we have too many experts on language.

We are however hopeful that at least, weighty cultural gains have been achieved and the native languages have contributed much in enriching Filipino, our one and only national language.