Theses on Philippine languages

This stands as my personal theses and manifesto on Philippine languages. It is a work in progress. I’m tempted to say, “Take it or leave it.” But that’s a wimpy way out of controversy. So if you have read this piece and want to register your criticisms, suggestions, inquiries, or just want to comment for whatever its worth, let me just say, “Bring it on, basta patas lang.”

1. Each Philippine language, like the people that speak it, has a right to exist. As a corollary, it has the right–exercised through the people that speak it and their communities and institutions–to assert its identity and various modes of existence, to protect itself against extinction, and to defend itself against forces that desire its extinction. Linguistic rights are recognized and upheld by the United Nations as part of international human rights law.

2. Each language is like a person in that it also has a lifespan–going through stages that are similar to childhood, adolescence, adulthood, even the opportunity to “marry” and have children, and eventually die (or be transformed into something else). But during its entire lifespan, different elements change at different rates. In the same way that a person’s basic anatomical structure is slowest to change, so does the syntax and grammar of a language. You could say that that just as particular organs and tissues of a person also change over time, so do a language’s morphology and lexicon.

Lakandula and Tomas Pinpin of the 16th and 17th century, or even Balagtas or Bonifacio of the 19th century, would find it difficult (although not impossible) to understand the Tagalog of current-day telenovelas–not because of any minor changes in syntax or grammar, but because of the drastic developments in vocabulary and semantics, pronunciation, and accent. But our ancestors would probably still recognize modern-day Tagalog as a “very strange” and barely intelligible version of their language–just as we would have a hard time recognizing someone we only knew as a child and then met 50 years later, and yet realize after a while that they are one and the same person.

3. Since every language has a lifespan and continually evolves during that lifespan, the people speaking it have a deep interest and duty to extend that lifespan and help it evolve in ways that complement the people’s own self-evolution and self-development. Just as the people’s evolution and development are essentially self-determined through deep-going social processes, so does the evolution and development of the language they speak. Linguistic changes must be understood, appreciated, and influenced in such a context. Many types of linguistic changes are inevitable, although subject to slowing down and speeding up, while the actual form of the change can be reshaped and redirected to some degree. Linguistic evolution cannot be legislated, although legislation and other forms of institutional action can influence certain aspects of that evolution.



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