Kris-Crossing Mindanao



Is it with an F or with a P? After the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), which National Artist Virgilio Almario heads, announced the change of spelling in the country’s name from “Pilipinas”  to “Filipinas,” not a few from the culturati in Manila raised their eyebrows. But outside Manila, there was mostly silence. Acquiescence? Not quite.

While Tagalog—mostly the base of the national language currently in use, which is Filipino—is not inured to the letter F, such is not the case with many of our ethnolinguistic groups, many of which have the letter F in their alphabets. Language is an exercise of habituation. We are accustomed to what and how we speak every day. And so while Tagalog has no letter F, such is not the case with other ethnolinguistic groups elsewhere in the country. It is, therefore, easily understandable that there is hardly any reaction to KWF’s announcement from outside Manila where ethnolinguistic speakers actually use the letter F in their respective alphabets.

A look through the layers of the development of our national language over the years would tell us where the “wrong” began. Tagalog was declared the  wikang  pambansa  by Manuel Quezon in 1939. In 1959, Education Secretary Jose Romero renamed it Pilipino. Take note that the change of name did not require any change of language, just the name. In praxis, it remained Tagalog.

The 1973 Constitution declared Pilipino as co-official national language together with English, with the added mandate of developing a national language to be known as “Filipino.” The present 1987 Constitution designates both Filipino and English as joint official languages, but further qualifies that Filipino be “developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.”

Again in praxis, this is not the case. Filipino remains mostly or essentially the Tagalog spoken in the national capital. Tagalog continues to be the language of media and cinema, as it was in the past. As we speak, the development of the national language, “on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages,” has not reached reality proportions.

But one of the first to respond to the constitutional mandate was the University of the Philippines. UP had published the UP Diksyonaryong Filipino that included words from various Philippine languages. While national capital cultures can be hegemonic (and the Philippines is not the sole example), language is an active and dynamic cultural expression that takes place on an everyday basis. As ethnolinguistic speakers interact every day, they tend to “borrow” words from each other. The lingua franca changes. For example, the Tagalog of recent use has accepted “kawatan”  for “magnanakaw” and “hinay-hinay lang” for “dahan-dahan lang.” Take note that this happened not as a result of an official academic thrust but in the day-to-day exchange of words between men and women on the streets.

The Filipino is a polyglot. While we have learned to use Tagalog as a formal language, nonformally we can shift to other languages because many of our regional languages are ethnolinguistic relatives. It has also become common practice among locals to use the regional linguistic form, then switch to Manila Tagalog when addressing a nonlocal. Linguists call this diglossia. The constitutional mandate to develop Filipino based on existing languages hews very closely to these realities.

In that sense then, the change of spelling of the country’s name must be deemed politically correct for it is an inclusive act. It recognizes the presence of the letter F in many of our Philippine languages. Albeit a belated move, still, as they say, it is better late than never.

Therein too lies the problem of KWF’s announcement. In the first place, Almario alluded to the name originally given to the archipelago by the Spanish colonizers—“Felipinas” after King Felipe, which has totally nothing to do with current linguistic development. That only blurred what should have been the emphasis of the lingua franca as spoken on the streets. Secondly, KWF’s proposition that there is now a letter F in the Tagalog alphabet only confirms the fact that all through these years it ignored the reality that there indeed is a letter F in many of our regional alphabets.

A national language must be a language that speaks to the Filipino psyche, and not just to the Tagalog speakers of the national capital. Again the Constitution provides that regional languages be developed as “official auxiliary languages” in provinces that do not speak Tagalog. In practice, very little, if any at all, has been done in this direction.

I say yes to Filipinas because it is correct. I rejoice with the B’laan, the Teduray, the Blit Manobo, the Ifugao, and the Kapampangan because finally, an alphabet in their languages has been recognized officially by Manila.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=56521

Tags: education , ethnolinguistic , Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino , Kris-Crossing Mindanao , Language , nation , National Artist Virgilio Almario , news , Tagalog

  • mad_as_Hamlet

    * * * * * * *

    I agree with the learned writer’s exposition. In fact, Filipinos far and wide
    will forever find fun in remembering Dolphy’s creation: Fasifica Falayfay.
    And that’s one strong point in favor of the good writer’s view.
    Besides, WTP is not as effective as WTF.
    Even if it’s a foreign loan.
    – - -

  • buninay1

    Fayag ako dyan.

  • vince_bugaboo

    whether it’s F or P, filipino bashers will make it “Funas or Punas” as a derogartory reference to our image as domestic helpers.

  • Aa Rivera

    there is no “F” in Kapampangan alpha-syllabary (yes, it is an alpha-syllabary, we have our own script which is called Kulitan and it is far from alphabet). “F” did only exist when the Spaniards came to colonize the whole archipelago.

  • ManilaMan

    Chavacano, Gaddang and Ibanag languages have F in their alphabets too.
    Plus the different Moro groups in Mindanao who learned F from Arabic.

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • ‘Dry spell’ delayed, thanks to busted valve
  • At 77, Erap has Easter treat for Manila cops but keeps City Hall folk in agony
  • Joy Belmonte defends council, waste-to-energy tech
  • House bill seeks special body to manage, protect Manila Bay
  • No Lenten break for QC thieves
  • Sports

  • ‘Pacquiao a great ambassador for basketball’
  • Asian cycling chief optimistic on Le Tour
  • Oh, Sang Mizuno Scramble champs
  • Palanca, Wong lead PGF Junior winners
  • SNS charity golf slated
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • Why ‘Noah’ can’t dock his ark at Philippine theaters
  • Acclaimed artist goes wild while on holiday
  • Believing in this mermaid
  • Missing Xian
  • Awarded TV couple brings Jesus’ life to the big screen
  • Business

  • Top-selling insurance agent opens her dream café
  • Connecting and transacting with one another
  • Building wealth for health
  • Why Mandaue Foam buys, rather than rents, space
  • A workplace of new possibilities
  • Technology

  • Nasa’s moon-orbiting robot crashes down
  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Opinion

  • Epiphany
  • Unpaid creditor vs distressed debtor
  • Moving on
  • From culinary desert to paradise
  • Response to China: ‘Usjaphil’
  • Global Nation

  • Cesar Chavez movie sparks memories of Fil-Am labor leaders
  • Filipinos in US poised for success
  • Visas for priests and other faith leaders
  • DOH to continue tracking co-passengers of OFW infected with MERS virus
  • 5 Filipinos with MERS in UAE reported in stable condition
  • Marketplace