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How the 'Cory consti' shaped the Filipino language

August 25, 2010 6:32pm

When we were under Spain for more than 300 years, the official language in the Philippines was Spanish. When the Katipuneros defeated the Spanish colonizers, the Americans took over and made English our official language.

Thus, it was no surprise that our leaders included the concept of a “national language" based on an existing indigenous language when they drafted the 1935 Constitution. Then-President Manuel L. Quezon also created the precursor of what is now the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino, which recommended Tagalog as the national language. The government’s reasoning: Tagalog is the most widely spoken among the local languages, there are books and dictionaries in Tagalog, and it is easy to write in Tagalog because it is phonetic or “kung anong bigkas, siyang baybay."

However, these are also characteristics of other regional languages such as Sebuwano and Hiligaynon, and so the Cebuanos and Ilonggos did not take the decision sitting down and questioned the choice in court. Back then, it seemed the most crucial reason for the policy was that Tagalog is the language of Metro Manila, which is the economic and political center of the country. President Quezon was a Tagalog speaker himself, coming from Tayabas which is now Quezon Province.

In 1949, the Department of Education changed the name of the national language into “Pilipino" but this did nothing to appease the critics of Tagalog, as the change was only in name and not in the substance of the language. Until today, the Cebuanos are hostile to the Tagalog-based Filipino, preferring to speak in English and, at one point, even singing the national anthem using the Sebuwano translation.

In the 1987 Constitution (which my writing teacher Dr. Leoncio P. Deriada calls the “Cory Constitution"), “Pilipino" became “Filipino," as stated in Article 14 Section 6: “The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages." This is a democratic way of forming our national language, and the fact that this Constitution was crafted under the leadership of an icon of democracy is saying a lot about the history of our country.

UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino as our OED

This rather long story about the development of the Filipino language is the backdrop of the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, which was first published in 2001. The general editor of the dictionary, which is co-published by UP Diliman’s Sentro ng Wikang Filipino and Anvil Publishing, is National Artist for Literature and former dean of UP Diliman’s College of Arts and Letters Dr. Virgilio Almario, also known as the poet Rio Alma.

The second edition of UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino was launched during the Sawikaan 2010 at the University of the Philippines-Diliman last July 29. In his introduction to the reference book during the launching program, leading Filipino literary critic Isagani R. Cruz said: “This dictionary, whether we like it or not, is the only dictionary in Filipino." He always tells his students to consult the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino if they have any doubts about the spelling of a particular word.

It is often lamented that Filipinos are not united and that we are very regionalistic. There is a geographical reason for this – we are scattered in more than 7,000 islands that have different cultures and languages. The national language is still evolving, and the various regional languages are expected to contribute to this evolution.

The Philippine archipelago has 175 indigenous languages, often mistakenly called “dialects." In fact, a dialect is a variation of a language. For instance, Tagalog is the regional language of Metro Manila and neighboring provinces. Its dialects include the Tagalog of Batangas and Tagalog of Bulacan. In the island of Panay in the central Philippines, Kinaray-a is the majority language but it has many dialects in southern Antique, northern Antique, central Iloilo, and the part of Capiz province near Iloilo.

As a Kinaray-a speaker and writer, I am delighted to know that my crisp and beautiful mother tongue is represented in the second edition of UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino. On page 772 is the entry “mayad," a Kinaray-a word used as a “pang-uri" or an adjective meaning “mabuti" or “good." Other Kinaray-a words in this dictionary are “binalaybay" (p. 171) meaning “poem," “kalibutan" (p. 554) meaning “world" or “consciousness, " and “kasingkasing" (p. 589) meaning “heart." However, the dictionary neglects to mention that these words are also used in Kinaray-a. “Binalaybay" was described as a Hiligaynon word while “kalibutan" and “kasingkasing" were noted as Hiligaynon, Sebuwano, and Waray words -- a minor oversight that could easily be remedied in the future editions.

Almario said UP Diliman plans to publish the third edition after five years as part of its plan to institutionalize the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino. UP Diliman chancellor Dr. Sergio Cao has signed an official order making the dictionary a regular and permanent project of UP Diliman’s Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, and a budget of P5 million has been released for the preparation of the next edition.

If the UK’s Oxford University has the Oxford English Dictionary, the University of the Philippines-Diliman has the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino. This simply shows that UP is indeed the premier university of our country.

Encoding our history

The great nationalist-historian Renato Constantino describes Philippine history as “the continuing past," implying that building a nation is always an unfinished project. This means that the evolution, development, and enrichment of our national language will always be a work in progress.

Perhaps, Cruz had the same thought in mind when he addressed the team that created the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino, “Nais kong ipaalala sa mga gumawa ng ating diksiyonaryo na hindi pa tapos at hindi matatapos ang kanilang trabaho."

As a writer in Filipino who knows the various Visayan languages, and as a teacher of Filipino in higher education, I shall be eagerly awaiting every five years the ever-expanding UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino that is slowly but surely embracing all Philippine languages. Doing this is one democratic way of uniting our nation.

Even as English remains one of our two official languages alongside Filipino, continuing the bilingual policy that started during the Marcos years, the efforts of the team behind the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino should be recognized as a major step in the development of Filipino as the national language.

After all, language is important in a nation’s history because it is here that the culture of a particular group of people is encoded. – YA, GMANews.TV
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