Monday 3 September 2012

Buwan ng Wika (Month of the Language)

Buwan ng Wika, or National Month of the Language, is observed every month of August in the Philippines, to promote the use of the national language.  It was originally observed as Linggo ng Wika (week of the language), around the 19th of August, to coincide with the birth date of Manuel L. Quezon, the President of the Philippine Commonwealth, who pushed for the institutionalization of Tagalog as the country’s national language.  At that time, English was considered the language of refinement and sophistication, and those speaking the Philippine languages were deemed uneducated.  The 1935 Philippine constitution designated English and Spanish as official languages and Manuel Quezon pushed for a national language from one of the country’s various languages.

In 1997, the Linggo ng Wika was expanded to a month long celebration by President Fidel Ramos in 1997.  This event is generally observed by: coming to school in native costumes, conducting classes in Tagalog, staging presentations, art contests, essay writing contests, exhibits and parades, showcasing the use of the Filipino language.

There has been a lot of debate on the designation of Tagalog as the official language, considering that there are about 170 ethno-linguistic groups in this country of 7,000 islands.  Furthermore, Tagalog is not regarded as the majority language and English still remains as the primary tool of communication in business, government, higher education and other professional fora.  There is also the belief that the promotion of this one language for the Philippines, will lead or has lead to the marginalization and extinction of other dialects.

Regardless of these opposing views on the Filipino language, for us Filipinos here in Canada, it will do us a lot of good to exercise this fluency in our language, be it Tagalog or another dialect.    Whether the Filipino language is the first language or not, this will keep us attached to the mother country and its history.

Furthermore, extensive studies have revealed the advantages of knowing more than one language.  In Alberta, language learning was made a requirement for Grades 4-9 in 2006.  The ministry’s study stresses the impact of language education on intellectual potential, scholastic achievement, first language skills, citizenship and the economy:
  • Students fluent in two language score higher in both verbal and non-verbal intelligence.
  • Students studying a second language are superior in divergent thinking tasks and in memory ability and attention span.
  • The earlier the start, the greater the positive effect on the first language.
  • Students studying a second language have superior cross-cultural skills, adapt better to varying cultural contexts, and display greater cultural sensitivity.
  • There is an urgent requirement for qualified speakers of languages other than English in areas of science, technology, medicine and global commerce.
So maximize these summer months and learn more about our mother tongue.  Immerse in Filipino literature, films and be part of the community and make an extra effort to work on Filipino/Tagalog fluency.

  • The first written example of the Tagalog language dates from circa 900 AD.
  • The first known book written in Tagalog is a Christian doctrine, published in 1593 in two versions - one in Latin alphabet and the other in Baybayin script (also referred as alibata), an ancient writing system that existed in the Phils. before the arrival of the Spanish people.
  • Because of Spanish colonization, about 40 percent of informal Tagalog vocabulary are derived from Spanish origins.
  • The modern Filipino alphabet has 28 letters, composed of the entire 26 letter Latin alphabet with the addition of the Spanish ‘ñ’ and the Tagalog ‘ng’.  This version of the alphabet was instituted in 1987 by President Corazon Aquino.
  • English words that are of Philippine origin: boondocks, cooties, yo-yo, manila folder/envelope.
  • Filipinos were introduced to the English language in 1762 by British invaders, not Americans.
* This was written for and published in the July 2012 issue of Pinoy Living.

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