Bilingualism and Multilingualism in Globalization: Issues & Directions

By Gonzalez, Andrew; Fsc | Manila Bulletin, June 17, 2001 | Go to article overview

Bilingualism and Multilingualism in Globalization: Issues & Directions


Gonzalez, Andrew, Fsc, Manila Bulletin


BILINGUALISM and multilingualism in the Philippines

The Philippines as a multilingual society

The Philippines is a multilingual community, composed of many ethnic communities. The last count, from a linguistic viewpoint, was done by the American linguist Curt Mc Farland and stood at 120. These languages may be subgrouped under two main groups or branches, the Northern Group and the Central Group, with others mostly in Mindanao as yet not fully determined in their groupings and relationships. The groups in Luzon and the Visayas are quite clear. The languages are genetically related but different enough not to be mutually intelligible and are therefore separate languages, not dialects (or varieties of the same language which are mutually intelligible).

We still need a more detailed dialect geography comparable to the one done by Mc Farland for the languages of the North.

In terms of mutual intelligibility, tests have been done by the Summer Institute of Linguistics to determine dialect and language boundaries better.

The census of the Philippines has used the number of native speakers as guide to consider some languages major and some minor, the criterion being one million speakers each. Although Maranao and Maguindanao are considered dialects of the same language, in self-identity, the Maranaos and Maguindanaos consider themselves separate communities, each one with almost a million speakers; so that there are now 9 rather than 8 major languages which are used for language planning purposes (at least during the period 1957-1974 when a mother tongue vernacular teaching medium prevailed in the Philippine educational system, and now again as we embark on the Vernacular Education Project for the first two years of formal schooling).

Based on a small sample surveyed in 1993 (SWS 1994) and commissioned by the Linguistic Society of the Philippines, we estimate the number of speakers of English as a second or foreign language to be 56%, a dominant 73% read English, a majority of 59% write in English. The number of speakers of Filipino (Tagalog, Pilipino) is estimated at a conservative 84% of the population (Gonzalez 1999).

Bilingualism in the Philippines exists primarily in Tagalog-speaking areas, where the citizens and students entering school are fluent in Filipino (a colloquial variety) and where the more formal variety is taught and learned in school, together with English. In nonTagalog areas, pupils come monolingual in the community language or bilingual in the home language and the lingua franca of the community and then forthwith learn Filipino and English in school, resulting in either bilingualism, trilingualism or even quadrilingualism.

Portrait of the Filipino as a speaker

The Filipino monolingual is the exception rather than the rule and occurs only if the person lives isolated in the mountains or in remote islands without access to mass media, at least the radio, and without schooling of any kind or schooling which has been so abbreviated that he returns to illiteracy.

The usual Filipino is bilingual in at least his home language and the lingua franca of the larger community or in Filipino, through contact with radio and, where available, TV. If he has sufficient schooling of at least 5 or 6 years, then he will also have some basic competence in English, thus making him trilingual or even quadrilingual if he learned two languages before schooling, picking up another two in school.

For purposes of globalization, he has to go to school to learn English, the main language of international contact for Filipinos.

Even for the educated Filipino, to learn or to be competent in another non-indigenous language beyond English is rare since foreign languages are not the foci of concern in most of the high schools of the country; attention is paid to becoming bilingual in English and Filipino excluding study of other languages. …

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