It’s been 82 years since a constitutional convention promulgated a national language for the Philippines, followed by many executive orders to create and promote that language. August is now celebrated as “Buwan ng Pambansang Wika” (National Language Month), chosen because Aug. 19 is the birthday of President Manuel L. Quezon, who pushed hard for a national language.
Sadly, after 82 years, there is still strong resistance to the use of a national language. Non-Tagalogs argue that Filipino is still largely Tagalog and an imposition of “Imperial Manila.” Others say English is more important for the nation’s survival. There are schools that still have an “English-only” policy on campus; violators are threatened with as extreme a measure as expulsion. In many private schools, parents grumble about Filipino being “difficult to learn” and how they have to get tutors so their children could cope with their classes. Mind you, these are Filipino, not foreign, parents.
Meanwhile, schools have converted Buwan ng Pambansang Wika into a Filipiniana month, usually marked by cultural presentations of native dances and music, and parents making a beeline for department stores to buy a child’s barong or saya.
I’m afraid that even if Filipino is taught from kindergarten onward, it just will not be taken seriously. As a parent with young children, I struggle with Filipino textbooks that try to teach Filipino grammar and syntax together with social studies and “Filipino” values. The materials are text-heavy, and not very exciting for kids growing up with the internet’s bright sights and sounds.
One problem with the teaching of Filipino is that we still lack good resource materials for use in schools and at home. I visited the website of the government’s Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF), which is mandated to promote a national language, to check on what’s available. I’m glad to see that it continues to expand the number of publications, many of which can be useful for teachers and parents. Unfortunately, you have to go to the KWF offices to buy the publications. It has some e-books, but these serve only as teasers.
There is one free e-publication that is most useful—a primer on Frequently Asked Questions about the national language, which is packed with information on how Filipino has developed, including the way the KWF is emphasizing the study of other Philippine languages. The publication list includes books in Kapampangan, Ilokano, Cebuano.
It is a busy, albeit sometimes confusing, website, with one article taking you from one site to another. At one point I ended up watching GMA-TV’s uploaded news-to-go episodes, which include a Weather Word feature where I learned that a thunderstorm is “unos na makidlat” and hail is “bubog-ulan.”
The KWF advocates a more colloquial approach to the national language, taking off from popular usage. I smiled at one headline on KWF activities for the month, which ended with “All-set na”—not quite Filipino English anymore because, really, it is as Filipino as Filipino goes.
This year’s celebration of the National Language Month is intriguing—“Filipino: Wika ng Karunungan,” a language of knowledge, with four subthemes around its functions: as a language of education and culture, as an intellectualized national language that pushes the nation forward, and as a language of research. A fourth aspect of language is translation, described as a key to propagating knowledge and wisdom.
They are good themes that should be discussed in schools, and I suspect the KWF deliberately chose those keywords because of continuing attacks on Filipino as being “non-intellectual” or “unscientific.” Schools, especially tertiary institutions, need to demonstrate how Filipino, and Philippine languages, are in fact rich mines of concepts that need to be unraveled.
Asked recently to speak on the teaching of mercy at a regional meeting of the Catholic Educators’ Association of the Philippines, I walked the audience through Filipino terms that come close to, but are not quite the same as, the mercy that Pope Francis and the Vatican are trying to revive in the Catholic Church. Awa, I explained, is only pity, different from mercy, which is drawn from the Latin misericordia, the heart being one with those in misery. The image of Christ as God becoming man is the ultimate embodiment of this misericordia. What we are talking about here is compassion, which means that in Filipino, it is pagmamalasakit that comes closer to mercy.
This is not abstract theology. The Filipino man and woman in the street understand Christ’s sacrifice as mercy. On Good Friday in Quiapo, you will find T-shirts being sold, and worn, by devotees thanking Christ for his pagtutubos or act of redemption. It is the same term used to refer to a payment made to get back something that has been pawned—something all too familiar to the poor.
Concepts should be discussed in terms of counterpoints as well. So if there is pagmamalasakit as mercy, I asked the educators to think of the opposite of mercy. What had come to my mind was the English word “mean,” or heartless (without the cordia of misericordia). When I tried to translate it into Filipino, I was at a loss and had to turn to Fr. Leo English’s classic English-Tagalog dictionary. His entries were: bastos, bulastog, hamak, kuripot, mahalay, maramot, masama, pangit.
Note that the translations are all glosses: They come close to, but are not exactly the same, as “mean.” But what we see here is meanness seen mainly as being stingy (kuripot, maramot) and, by extension, disrespectful of others (bastos), and, well, bad (masama).
More can be elicited around mercy and meanness, but even this quick linguistic foray in my column shows what you can do with Filipino, and our other languages. Students, and our children at home, relate better to the local terms, and might appreciate the impromptu lesson in Filipino, one that is practical as well as empowering.
There’s so much talk now about developing emotional intelligence in school and at home, coming out of the realization that the development of emotions is much more complicated than originally thought. When you ask children why they’re crying, they’ll sometimes say they don’t know, and this is because they have not picked up the words to describe what they’re feeling. You then ask more questions and then help them to understand, for example, that they are “angry” with Kuya or Ate (or even with Tatay or Nanay), and that it’s okay to feel that way as long as they don’t stay angry. The recent blockbuster film “Inside Out” was meant for both children and adults to understand their emotions.
But think hard now about the possibilities being expanded with local words. Think of how you can process not just nagagalit but also nasusuklam, naiinis, or nabubuwisit.
All that discussion of words was to challenge people who say Filipino is not intellectual. Ah, I will make tampo there. (Sorry for my colegiala English but tampo defies translation because it is a felt emotion, as well as a planned strategy that is acted out theatrically.)
Since it is August, I promise to do at least one more column on the rich science and philosophy to be found in Filipino. I’ll also write a bit more about the KWF’s subtheme of translation, which reflects an openness to the world. The KWF has translated many classics of literature into Filipino, from Shakespeare’s “King Lear” to Rabindranath Tagore’s “Gitanjali.”
Let’s enliven August with more than tinikling. Invite students to sing and dance with Filipino. Let’s move Filipino forward.
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