In his inaugural address on June 30, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. proposed we re-examine the medium of instruction to maintain the advantage we have established as an English-speaking people.
“Foreign employers have always favored Filipino employees because of our command of the English language,” he explained.
A few weeks later, August rolls in, officially Buwan ng Wika (National Language Month), an annual observance pursuant to Presidential Proclamation No. 1041 signed on Feb. 15, 1997 by former President Fidel V. Ramos. On Aug. 19, in remembrance of Manuel L. Quezon’s birthday in 1878, is National Language Day.
Quezon, the second president of the republic, was considered the Father of the National Language. He was the first to explore the need to create a native national language out of the different main native languages spoken in the Philippines. On Jan. 13, 1937, he assured the public that identifying our official tongue was not to do away with either English or Spanish, which were prevalently used in business and social intercourse in the 20th century. “But the Filipinos’ possession of their own native language will doubtless serve to foster national consciousness and solidarity, a most important possession for any people,” he said.
From Quezon’s time, through many controversies that continue on, a variation of Tagalog, the official language of the National Capital Region, has remained the national language, more commonly referred to as Pilipino and then as Filipino, based on the 1973 Constitution and as restated in the 1987 Constitution after the introduction of the revised Filipino alphabet with the additional letters C, F, J, Ñ, Q, V, and X in 1976.
Like the people who speak it, especially in the Philippines, which is ranked among the most linguistically diverse countries in the world, language is a complex thing. It’s no easy task to define Filipino versus Pilipino versus Tagalog, for instance, although some academicians consider Tagalog as “purist,” meaning devoid of words borrowed or adopted from any other language like English. In Tagalog, to wit, the English word “teacher” translates to “guro” while it is acceptable in either Filipino or Pilipino to translate it to “titser.”
The use of Filipino is nationwide. In a Social Weather Survey in 2000, it was found that 85 percent of Filipinos across the country could understand the language, 85 percent could read it, and 79 percent could write in it. In fact, it was found that non-native speakers of the national language now outnumber its native speakers.
Be that as it may, the Philippines, according to the Komisyon sa Wikang Pilipino, is blessed with at least 130 languages, many of which are indigenous and in danger of disappearing.
On Buwan ng Wika, we must honor our many tongues, English — at the risk of sounding contradictory — included, if only for the plight of the Filipino diaspora and our competitiveness in this global environment.
After all, each of our languages, shaped by our history, speaks volumes about who we were, who we are, and who we might become.