The Metamorphosis of Filipino as National Language (...continued)

by Jessie Grace U. Rubrico

Historical Perspective

The issue of our national language has been around for the past 60, or maybe even 90, years. The inhabitants of an archipelago with over a hundred languages need a common language with which they could communicate with each other and express themselves as a people of one nation.

The 1987 Constitution provides that, "the national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages."

Perhaps it is unfortunate that when the Philippine Commission passed a bill in 1908 providing for an establishment of an Institute of Philippine languages and the training of public school teachers thereon, the Philippine Assembly rejected it through Leon Ma. Guerrero, its Chairman on Public Instruction who recognized the need for a common language for the Filipinos but who opted to adopt a foreign language instead of the native ones. Through him, the Philippine Assembly spoke, thus:

        "The idea of studying the languages of the Philippine Archipelago is very plausible; but the present aspiration of those who are interested in these languages is to unite them or reduce them into a single language which, based on the principal dialects of the Islands, might constitute the means of inter-communication of ideas in the entire Archipelago, and which might obviate the absolute need now felt of using a common foreign tongue as a means of transmission of ideas, sentiments, and aspirations of the inhabitants of the Philippines." (Romualdez,1936; p.302).

In 1931, the ex-officio Secretary of Public Instruction, Mr. Butte, addressing the Catholic Women'sLeague, encouraged the use of the vernacular as medium of instruction in the primary grades (I  to IV). He opined:

    "If we may assume that one of the national objectives of the Philippines will be to preserve the important native languages, as far as practicable, the schools may contribute to the realization of this national objective by abandoning English as the sole medium of instruction in the elementary schools . . ." (Romualdez,1936).

It must be noted that Lope K. Santos addressed the First Indepence Congress on 30 February 1930 by expounding on "The Vernacular as a Factor in National Solidarity and Independence." In 1932, Representative Manuel V. Gallego authored Bill No. 588 which provided for the use of the vernacular as the medium of instruction in all public elementary and secondary schools. In 1934 and 1935 the national language issue was discussed during the Consti- tutional Convention. And the Constitution mandated in Section 3, Article XIII: "The National Assembly shall take steps toward the development and adoption of a common language based on one of  the existing native languages. . ."

The National Language Institute was established on 13 November1936 pursuant to Commonwealth  Act No. 184, and it was tasked  with "the study of Philippine dialects in general for the purpose of evolving and adopting a common national language based on one of the existing native tongues." This involved studying each language spoken by not less than half a million people, collecting and collating cognate sets and phrases from these languages, adopting a system for Philippine phonetics and ortography, comparing critically all Philippine affixes, and selecting the language which was the most develop in structure and literature and widely accepted and used by most Filipinos --which will be the basis for the national language (Sec.V Art.1-5). The Institute was given a year to accomplish this.

Once the language is selected, the Institute is to prepare its grammar and dictionary within two years. Then it shall purify the language by weeding out the unnecessary foreign words, phrases, or other grammatical constructions, and enrich it through borrowing from the native languages and dialects, from Spanish, and from English --in that order. And any word adopted into the national language should be subjected to the phonological rules and orthography of the Philippine languages.

In 1937, the Institute recommended Tagalog and came up with the Balarila and the Tagalog- English Dictionary.  In 1959, the Department of Education called the Tagalog-based national language Pilipino. In 1965, some congressmen took the cudgels againsts the propagation of Pilipino, which to them is "puristang Tagalog," as the national language. This period witnessed the purists coining words like salumpuwit (chair), salimpapaw (airplane), sipnayan (mathematics), etc. In 1969, some non-Tagalog speakers, like the Madyaas Pro-Hiligaynon Society and some Cebuano groups complained against the movement of Manila toward "purismo." This gave rise to the problems that needed to be resolved before the non-Tagalog speakers could accept Tagalog  as their own "wikang pambansa."

Be that as it may, the Board of National Education ordered in 1970 the gradual shift to Pilipino as medium of instruction in the elementary starting with Grade 1 in the school year 1974-75 and progressing into higher grades, a level each year. It was also adopted as the medium of instruction for Rizal and history subjects in colleges and universities. In 7 August 1973, the Board of National Education introduced the bilingual approach to teaching --that is, using two languages as media of instruction in the schools, to wit: the vernacular for Grades I and II, Pilipino for Grades III and IV, Pilipino and English for secondary and tertiary levels.

This bilingual approach serves to promote the intellectualization of  the national language --that is, to use it as medium of intellectual exchanges in the academe, government offices, as well as in other disciplines in the process of acquiring knowledge about the world which could be expressed by the said language. In addition, it will bring about a national unity and identity among Filipinos, as they can now express themselves and communicate with each other in a common language.

The 1973 Constitution states the National Assembly should endeavor towards developing and formally adopting a common national language to be called Filipino. Meantime, Pilipino and English remain the official languages unless repealed by law. Filipino is anchored on Pilipino. Pilipino has borrowed and adopted a lot of words from the Spanish lexicon, Spain being the country's colonizer for over 300 years. These words are carried over to Filipino as Pilipino, as these lexical items have now undergone phonological and morphological  processes and appear to be native terms. The borrowing from Spanish has now somewhat waned. What is prevalent in Filipino today is the rampant borrowing from English. Tabloids, dailies, weeklies, showbiz magazines, even the Cebuano weekly Bisaya are awashed with English words. The academicians as well as the newscasters in radio and television have adopted English words freely and liberally (please refer to Exhibits A-F)

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