Some of our languages are dying and what we are doing to save them

Published August 13, 2021, 12:30 AM

by Manila Bulletin

Archiving our native languages is critical in sustaining our cultural heritage for future Filipinos

By Loren Legarda

THIS WEEK IN PANORAMA In observance of Buwan ng Wika, let’s talk about language, the over 130 Philippine languages, of which many are endangered. Cover illustration by Jc Fermante

Archiving is vital in ensuring that our history and culture are kept alive and rendered relevant in the present. Noted anthropologists Franz Boas and Edward Sapir considered it an essential component of the work to document indigenous languages.

As a nation with more than a hundred languages, several of which are endangered, we need to comprehensively document our languages as a way to honor our culture and promote its continued use.

FILIPINO LANGUAGE EDUCATION OVERSEAS Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda at the signing of the agreement between the Philippine Consulate General in Frankfurt, Germany and Ruhr University Bochum (RUB) in 2019, formalizing the creation of a Philippine Studies program in RUB

It is for this reason that I did not think twice about supporting several projects that would advance our knowledge and capability to document and archive Philippine languages because it is very important that we have the updated skills and tools to do it.  

In 2014, I was informed by then Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) chair and National Artist Virgilio S. Almario of the need to document the research being conducted on the languages of the Philippines. The output of such research, a few years later, led to the publication of Atlas ng mga Wika ng Filipinas, which showcased the 130 languages in our country. In 2016, we had even conducted the Pambansang Summit sa Wika ng Kalikasan at Kaligtasan, in partnership again with the KWF,an event that sought to gather inputs and gain a more comprehensive understanding at the grassroots level of the linguistic significance of the environment, and of the concepts of kalikasan at kaligtasan (nature and safety).

MAKING A MARK The first language marker was first established in San Jose de Buenavista, Antique. Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda provided support for the establishment of bantayog wika or language markers all over the country

In 2017, the agreement on the development of the Philippine Studies Program in the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) was signed, another project that I have initiated with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). The Philippine Studies Program in SOAS was a first of its kind in Europe, which subsequently led to the establishment of more Philippine Studies programs in select universities abroad, namely, Ruhr University in Bochum and Humboldt University in Berlin, both in Germany, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, and New York University in New York.

It was during the signing of the SOAS Agreement in 2017 when I also welcomed the suggestion of Baroness Valerie Amos, who was then the director of SOAS, to include the Philippine languages in the Native Languages Documentation Project of the Endangered Languages Program of the KWF. With that, as chairperson of the Senate Committee on Finance then, I increased the KWF’s funding to document the extinct and endangered languages in the Philippines.

The desire to promote our languages led to an endangered languages workshop, conducted by the KWF and by SOAS, in 2018. During this time also, we were able to provide grants under the same agency to further the research on our native languages.

I am happy that KWF has been actively pursuing our goal of enriching, promoting, and preserving our native languages through various programs we have launched up until this year in the past few years. In 2017, we were able to launch the Bantayog-Wika project, known as Language Monuments or Language Markers. This sought to provide the tangible monument of what our indigenous languages represent, a reminder of our local knowledge, culture, and tradition. Figuratively, the term “bantayog” comes from the words Bantay and Matayog, a structure that is eminent and is a manifestation of high importance. To date, we have put up 23 language markers all over the country, from my home province of Antique to Lake Sebu in South Cotabato, all for the glory and honor of our languages. 

Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda delivers keynote speech at the Pambansang Summit sa Wika ng Kalikasan at Kaligtasan, held in October 2016, at the Philippine High School for the Arts, Laguna

Meanwhile, in partnership with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), a documentary featuring our 10 main languages in the Philippines is in the pipeline. The show seeks to capture the dynamism and relevance of these languages. With a working title of Tulay Wika, we are hoping to have this program launched next year.

The Philippine Studies Program in SOAS was a first of its kind in Europe, which subsequently led to the establishment of more Philippine Studies programs in select universities abroad, namely, Ruhr University in Bochum and Humboldt University in Berlin, both in Germany, ISEAS Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, Universidad Complutense de Madrid in Spain, and New York University in New York.

But still, much more needs to be done. Research on our languages is still crucial and relevant, and I will continue to give my full support to such.

CLOSE TIES, OPEN MINDS Deputy Speaker Loren Legarda with Ambassador Antonio Lagdameo, Philippine ambassador to London, and Baroness Valerie Amos, then director of the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), during the signing of the agreement for the development of the Philippine Studies Program in SOAS (Photo by Eric Ricafort taken October, 2017)

One must bear in mind that archiving our native languages is critical in sustaining our cultural heritage. We are doing this for future Filipinos—this is our gift to them. We are doing this to honor our lineage and as a sign of our respect for our history and culture and their robust memory in living language.

Mabuhay ang Wikang Filipino! Mabuhay ang ating mga katutubong wika!

CULTURE CHAMPION The author in barong (Raymund Isaac)

The author is a house deputy speaker in Congress, representive of the Province of Antique, three-time senator, and avid champion of Philippine culture.

 
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