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.