Monday, September 03, 2007

mixed feelings, mixed tongues

This is the original set of Manila Times articles that discuss the dying of Philippine languages, first on the chopping block Kapampangan and my family's tongue, Pangasinan.

In many ways it was already happening as people moved from the province to Manila, their children's children eventually became Tagalog. Parents are willing to kill their own language if it means better opportunities for their children, a way of shutting the door of the past behind them.

It was easy enough to see language die as the American generation born to immigrant generation. We made a few attempts to learn Pangasinan when we were at home, but it was difficult to hold the tide against the teacher's at school that demanded English at home and well, television. And while a few of us managed to get away with at least understanding the language, some of the younger cousins with help and encouragement actually came out multi-lingual.

Even then, after learning Tagalog in college, I began to understand how even my parent's learning of Tagalog was almost obsolete as the language was constantly infiltrated with slang and other variations of words. But still, the language was intact. Hell, the language I learned in school was so academic it wasn't really understood in regular conversation.

Yet in my process of learning Tagalog, I was often assaulted with guilt from native speakers saying that my parents didn't raise me well, or that I wasn't truly Filipino enough without the language. What I didn't realize then was that there was already the notion that these languages were dying, even Tagalog to an extent.

I've also watched how inlaws fall into the problematic track of understanding Pangasinan translations of Tagalog, which come out in a ruder tone than intentioned as although they speak Tagalog, they do not quite understand the subtleties of the language.

I would like our children to know different languages in part so their minds gain a greater fluidity. I was inspired by some kids of a friend of mine that spoke 7 different languages and didn't have a problem speaking one language to one person and another language to another.

After learning 5 different languages so far I've come to understand how each language facilitates different thought processes. The Philippine languages with their extensive use of passive tense and emphasis on the object rather than the emphasis on the actor in Latin languages. Even the subtle differences between the Romance languages and their rhythms reflect the different natures of people.

Yet, in these last hundred years the Philippines has constantly fought for a national identity and language. Even making attempts to create a national language like in Indonesia. But in 40 or so years, nature may take it's own course to a unified language.

And maybe in a future played out in the movie, Serenity, we will all be speaking Chinese, and even then I'm not even sure which version of Chinese they were speaking.

One of the opinion articles about dying languages already talks about how someone from Pampanga or Pangasinan that doesn't speak that language is not really Pampango or Pangasinan. Pangasinan, with its central location, has always been on the border of several other languages. And really only the central part of the province retained the Pangasinan language as Ilokano came in from the north, Tagalog from the southeast, Kapampangan from the west.

My mother sometimes laments the emergence of various Tagalog traditions coming with the new settlers.

Ironically, it seems that Filipinos have never really been so tied to language as part of their identity, at least until we come abroad. In general, the populous will speak whatever they need to get them by. Except maybe for the Tagalogs who it seems by nature are steadfast traditionalists.

But the things tied to language as already fading fast. The great Ilokano epics, the lullabyes, the folk songs, these too fade with the language.

The question about culture and tradition has always been asked of each person. What is necessary for the next generation? What traditions still have a purpose and meaning today? Whether these languages die or not is the choice of the current speakers who each choose whether it's important enough for their children to know what they know and whether they can convince their children its important that they know.

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