The Nationalization and Modernization of Filipino

Manila Bulletin, August 20, 2017 | Go to article overview

The Nationalization and Modernization of Filipino


By Virgilio S. Almario

National Artist for Literature

Chairman, National Commission on Culture and the Arts

It might be worthy, at the outset, to go back to Swiss linguist semiotician Ferdinand deSaussure and what he said regarding the continuing task of changing or reforming language. "We should not be captive," he said, "to what language is now."

No language is perfect. Language must be aligned to the changing needs of its users. Language must change so that it will be more efficient and beneficial to its users. These truths are the primary motivations for what is called language planning--which is nothing but the methodical and systematic task of managing and developing a language, specifically the formation, dissemination, and enrichment of an identified and agreed-upon regional, national, or international language.

In this connection, there is a point of view that holds that nationalization and modernization are the twin but contradictory orientations in language planning among countries arising from a long period of colonization and which countries decided to establish their own native language this past century.

This has been very true of the Philippines since the 1935 Constitution provided for a national language based on a native language. What transpired during the last 80 years has proven that nationalization and modernization, as tandem and parallel directions in the development of the national language, are two extremely difficult tasks.

At the same time, the lack of support from government--which is clear from the dearth of funds allotted for the assigned tasks of the national agency for language and the absence of any target for language in the country's overall political and economic agenda--is often the source of difficulties in prioritizing any of the two parallel directions.

On the other hand, it can be observed, too, that the managers of the development of the National Language have been unable to focus on the structuring of a long-term plan for implementing the provision of the 1935 Constitution.

Commonwealth Act No. 184 listed tasks for the National Language Institute, which became the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (Institute of National Language), but these were not translated into a concrete program of action for the development of Tagalog into the official language of education.

This may also be counted as the primary inadequacy for the last 20 years of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) after it was established by virtue of Republic Act No. 7104. KWF could not free itself from established pattern of Surian.

Planning paradox

If we consider the declarations of the National Language executives in the past, it would seem they could not take up nationalization and modernization in a simultaneous manner. Or, they would often propose to focus first on one--often as well on nationalization--so they can concentrate on the other afterward.

The problem was never confronted effectively in the past because no clear language plan could guide the actions of the language exponents and language organizations.

The 1987 Constitution itself indicated the parallel tasks of language development under Article XIV, Section 6:

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.

Look closely at the second sentence and the manner and method being decreed for the development and enrichment of Filipino becomes clear: "(B)ased on the existing Philippine and other languages." Nationalization will be effected through the enrichment of Filipino by way of the languages of Filipinas. Modernization will speed up through the counsel of and borrowing from the international languages for use in education through Filipino.

The sixth section of Article XIV, therefore, points to the left-and-right visioning of the two primary tasks in the development of Filipino as national language. …

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