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To accomplish what has never been done before

Pagsurat-Bikol, a three-day seminar-workshop held in Legazpi City last week by education stakeholders, is part of a series of activities designed to accomplish what has never been done before: to establish working orthographies in the mostly unwritten languages and dialects in Kabikolan. The more than 20 writing systems being developed are to be used for making primary teaching materials in those language varieties. In addition, Bicol teachers are scheduled in April to be trained in the use of these locally developed materials in time for the opening of classes in June.

These activities are being jointly undertaken by the Department of Education Region 5 and Intervida Philippines Foundation, an international nongovernment organization. Intervida acts locally with communities in Bicol to promote sustainable social change by improving the living conditions of vulnerable populations, especially children, and by acting upon the causes of poverty and inequality. Since 2005, Intervida’s projects have spanned three provinces, 16 municipalities, 215 barangays and 222 public elementary schools.

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The resource persons included Kristian Cordero of Ateneo de Naga University, Angela Lorenzana and Merriam Maldo of Bicol University, Kiko Datar of the University of the Philippines Diliman,  Nemia Cedo of Naga Central School, Grace Rabelas of DepEd Region 5, and myself.  Ma. Christina Baroso and her team represented Intervida and coordinated the entire affair.

The highlights of the orthography workshop showed that:

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1. Most speech varieties have the same 16 consonants and each of these sounds can be symbolized by only one symbol.

2. Participants were surprised to learn that the glottal stop is a separate consonant and therefore should be written.

3. Native words in any of the Bicol speech varieties employ only three vowels (“a,” “i” and “u”), except for the inland languages that have a fourth vowel similar to “u” but unrounded—e.g.,  dakulu’ meaning great.

4. Word “accent” is marked by an acute diacritic as in   sálug  meaning river, which is distinguished from  salúg  meaning floor.

While the participants succeeded in designing a working orthography in each dialect area, it was also agreed that the same needs to be tested in the classroom.

It was also agreed that the working orthography should be expanded to include sounds and letters that can allow language users to spell personal names (e.g., Jose, Zaragóza), place names (e.g., Legazpi, Camarines Sur), alternate spellings of native words (e.g., pangadyì/pangadyè meaning to pray), and also of loan words (e.g.,  taksi/taxi, computer/kompyuter).

In teaching the sounds and the corresponding letters to beginning learners, Cedo lectured that the same should be done with the most frequent sounds being taught first and the less frequent sounds being taught later. For this purpose, participants were asked to write stage 1 and stage 2 stories totaling 500 words or more, and ranking the sounds used in these stories according to frequency through a software program. In many areas, the most frequent sounds were found to be:  “a,” “i,” “n,” “s” and “k.”

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From this a primer can now be constructed, which can help new readers get acquainted with the sounds and letters of their language. According to Cedo, the most important qualities of a good primer is that it teaches only one letter at a time, builds on what the learners have already learned, and starts and ends with meaning.

Language congresses in the Bicol Region will be conducted in five cluster areas sometime between April 2 and 12 to affirm and showcase the working orthographies, language primers and big books. The congresses will be attended by representatives of the local DepEd, local government units, church, academe, parents-teachers associations and other stakeholders.

Pagsurat-Bikol is the first large-scale attempt by stakeholders to develop community-based orthographies in bottom-up fashion. I agree that an effective orthography must meet four major criteria: It must represent the sounds of the language well, it must be acceptable to the community, it must be teachable, and it must be capable of being reproduced. Of these factors, community acceptability is especially relevant to the Philippine situation because of the highly centralized nature of language-in-education policy and implementation. Every effort should be exerted to involve the community at every step of orthography development and language-in-education processes.

This, after all, is the real spirit of the Enhanced Basic Education Act of 2013. Section 5, Letter (h) specifically provides that “the curriculum shall be flexible enough to enable and allow schools to localize, indigenize and enhance the same based on their respective educational and social contexts. The production and development of locally produced reading materials shall devolve to the regional and division education units.”

I end this piece the same way I ended my talk at the Pagsurat-Bicol workshop. Because of language contact and the new education functions that our native languages have been asked to perform, it is inevitable that new patterns and practices relative to pronunciation, vocabulary development, code-mixing, etc. will emerge and become more diversified. Through constant use and experimentation, we hope to arrive at the best possible orthographic strategies that we can use to educate our children for mother tongue-based multilingual education.

Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco, PhD ([email protected]), is a faculty member of the Department of Linguistics of UP Diliman.

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TAGS: column, dialects, education, languages, pagsurat-bikol, Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco
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