Monday, August 20, 2007

Legislative measures to save Philippine languages

August 07-8,12 2007
By: Prof. Fred S. Cabuang

"Why save Philippine languages? / Buwang ng Wika"

(Kuha mula sa:"Children in the Philippines"
AUGUST in the Philippines can be called the “Language Month,” for in this time of the year, private and public schools set their attention on the national language and different regional languages in the Philippines. Our country is very rich in languages. Linguistic experts have estimated that Philippine languages are between 170 and 180. However, some of the languages specially those that are spoken by indigenous peoples around the country have died many years ago and presently, some are endangered.

Researchers have estimated that at least two languages die each month. It is predicted that in 50 years, most of the 6,809 languages spoken in
the world will die out. Something must be done soon before the world will realize that the Philippines has the most number of languages that perished in the next five decades.

On July 23, 2007, when the SONA was delivered by President Arroyo and on the very first day of the opening of the Fourteenth Congress of the Philippines, I personally hand delivered to House Speaker Jose de Venecia a letter proposing for the creation of a committee in Congress that would tackle all measures pertaining to “language issues.” Attached to the letter was a draft that I prepared for the proposed bill which included the rationale on why it was necessary to create such a committee in Congress. My letter became officially as the first letter that was received by the Office of the Speaker of the House in the Fourteenth Congress of the Philippines.

The proposed bill would be called “Proposed bill to create the committee on linguistic minority and regional languages in Congress.”
The reasons were as follows:
1. Taking into account that the Philippines is a country with more than 150 distinct languages;
2. Taking into account that the “linguistic minority” is a result of ethnic …diversity in the Philippines;
3. Taking into account that the high rate of communication among different regional communities have caused some citizens of other communities to adopt the stronger alien languages which resulted into the abandonment and extinction of some minority languages;
4. That the formation of a Committee in Congress is necessary to undertake the investigation, debate and resolutions on issues related particular to “regional language issues;”
5. That a “Committee on Linguistic Minority and Regional Languages” is necessary in Congress considering that the promotion and protection of the rights of persons belonging to regional or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities contribute to the political and social stability of the Philippines and the region they belong.
6. Moreover, a “Committee on Linguistic Minority and Regional Languages” is necessary in Congress considering that the constant promotion and realization of the rights of persons belonging to regional or ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities, as an integral part of the development of society as a whole and within a democratic framework based on the rule of law, would contribute to the strengthening of peace and cooperation among the different peoples in the Philippines.
7. Finally, a “Committee on Linguistic Minority and Regional Languages” is necessary in Congress considering the numerous important work which is done by local and foreign intergovernmental and non­governmental organizations specifically SOLFED (Saving Our Languages through Federalism) in protecting regional languages and in promoting and protecting the rights of persons belonging to ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities.
With these reasons, I hope that House Speaker Jose de Venecia can spearhead the formation of this proposed committee which will not only protect the languages but also protect our culture and Filipino identity. The work of this proposed committee is vital in compliance with the UN Resolutions and International Conventions where the Philippines was the signatory and the first to ratify such international agreements. Unless the proposed “Committee on Linguistic Minority and Regional Languages” is created, we will not have enough measures to protect the present and endangered languages in the Philippines.

On the level of the local government, the City Council of Butuan City adopted last July 23, 2007 on their second regular session of the 11th Sanggunian Panlungsod adopted SP Resolution 007-2007, which is “A resolution declaring July 29-August 3, 2007, as ‘speak Butuanon week’ to be adopted in all levels of the academe—elementary, secondary and tertiary levels as well as in all government agencies of the city.”

The resolution was adopted to celebrate the “Adlaw Hong Butuan” and to commemorate the cityhood of Butuan through the effort of Congressman Marcos Mordeno Calo, “Father of Butuan City Charter.”

Most of all, the Butuanons brought their attention and took notice of their “mother tongue” by stating in the resolution, that “the Butuanon dialect, which is our very own, is fast becoming extinct and forgotten, as it is now seldom spoken at homes, schools, social gatherings and work places…”

The historical resolution was presented by Honorable Ramon P. Carampatana and seconded by Honorable Randolph B. Plaza. The session was presided over by acting Butuan City Vice Mayor Salvador Calo.(kuha mula sa:"SCIENCE THROUGH MOTHER TONGUE AND ..."
If similar resolutions are adopted by other local government units in order to preserve and to protect their endangered “lingua franca” or “mother tongue,” certainly, legislative measures from our senators and congressmen would assure the next generation that the Filipino languages would never die.

On July 15, 1997, then-President Fidel Ramos signed Proclamation 1041, designating August as the “Buwan ng Wikang Pam­bansa.” Celebrating the “Month of the National Language” should not mean the celebration of “one national language” but of “all languages of the nationals.” That way, the country will be able to help in saving the threatened and dying languages. The Philippines is a multi-ethnological nation, where about 180 languages are spoken by Filipinos. According to linguistic experts, about two languages die every month in the world because people are either lazy to speak their language or forced to reject their mother tongue. Many endangered languages can be found here in the Philippines.

Take the case of the Butuanon language. Research shows that Butuanon is one of the dying languages of the Philippines. As far back as the 9th century, some old Chinese documents recorded Butua­non as the “mother tongue” or lingua franca in the Philippine archipelago specifically in the Kingdom of Butuan. The Kingdom of Butuan encompassed much of what is now known as Region 13, or Caraga Region, of the Philippines. The Butua­non language has defined the Butuanon people for more than a thousand years.

Dr. Joey Dacudao, president of SOLFED Foundation, Inc., and a practicing surgeon at Butuan City says, “Since the gauge of a language’s viability is its usage by the younger generation, and because probably less than 500 teenagers and children in Butuan City speak this language as first tongue, Butuanon would be regarded as a moribund language by international linguists. A moribund language is a language that has ceased to be the lingua franca in its traditional linguistic areas, usually spoken by less then 300,000 persons, and would die out without government support.”

Dr. Dacudao further says, “The non-Tagalog languages of the Philippines become more endangered because of the Tagalog policy of the government.”

Sometime in 2005, Save Our Languages through Federalism (SOLFED)—Butuan chapter embarked on a concrete project to try to save the Butuanon language. Two major steps of the project were undertaken.
Step 1. In June 2005, SOLFED Butuan Chapter started creating a Butuanon syllabus or grammar book, designed to be used by any classroom teacher with a working knowledge of English. Since Butuanon did not have any existing piece of literature in 2005, SOLFED used an existing grammar book (made by the Maryknoll Institute of Language and Culture in Davao), designed to teach Cebuano Visayan, as a guide. Cebuano Visayan is a close linguistic relative of Butua­non. SOLFED-Butuan members who were native Bu­tuanon speakers and Dr. Dacudao collaborated in making this syllabus which took three months to complete a total of 11 chapters by September 2005.
(kuha mula sa:
Right after the completion of the written syllabus, SOLFED recorded the whole syllabus in cassette tapes which was later copied to a computer hard disc, from where more copies were made. Native Butuanon speakers from the SOLFED youth members made the recording, in order to ensure that the accent and phonation were correctly Butuanon. The recordings could be played in classrooms.

Step 2. SOLFED Butuan chapter solicited assistance from two NGOs to fund the teaching of Butuanon in public schools. The Butuan Charities of Southern California headed by Dr. Lorenz Alaan, and the Butuan Ivory Charities headed by Dr. Rene Vargas, supported the project in conjunction with their ongoing project called “I Love Bu­tuan,” a value oriented program for children. The two NGOs signed a Memorandum of Agreement with Ca­raga Department of Education to teach Bu­tuanon Language in public schools beginning school year 2006.

According to Dr. Dacudao, since the start of school year 2006, the Butuanon language has been taught to select SPED school students in Butuan Central School, using the Butuanon Syllabus.
Although there has been positive feedback from teachers and students to teach and to learn Butuanon, the project may not continue in the future due to lack of funding and support from government. Only private NGOs are exhibiting keen interest in Butuan’s native identity and culture.

If the Philippines will not help save Butuanon language, perhaps not killing it with a national policy fa­voring “one language” only is good enough.

(Prof. Fred S. Cabuang is the spokes­man and vice-president for congressional of SOLFED Foundation Inc., an NGO engaged in saving all languages in the Philippines. He is also the founder of the Institute for Linguistic Minority, an NGO to save the endangered languages of Indigenous Peoples of Mindanao. For comments, please send e-mail to linguis­ --------////--------


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