By Dom Galeon
Every year, the Philippines dedicates an entire month to celebrate Filipino, our national language, as stipulated in Proclamation 1041 extending the observance from a weeklong occasion, from Aug. 13 to 19, coinciding with the birthday of former President Manuel L. Quezon, “Ama ng Wikang Pambansa,” to all of August, all month long.
Every year, in August, the country’s Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) organizes events designed to celebrate everything about this language. Every year, Filipinos are reminded that there is such a thing as a “wikang pambansa.”
But the question remains: What exactly is the Filipino language?
From P to F
Historically, a Filipino language was first officially considered on Dec. 30, 1937. In a radio address, the first one he ever delivered in Tagalog, President Quezon announced that “one of the native languages” in the Philippines was to be adopted as the foundation of a national language.
Quezon declared: “Nagdudulot sa akin ng di matingkalang kasiyahan na maipahayag ko sa inyo na ngayong ika-41 anibersaryo ng pagmamartir ng nagtatag at pinakadakilang tagapamansag ng nasyonalismong Pilipino, ay naging karangalan kong ilagda, bilang pag-alinsunod sa utos ng Konstitusyon at ng umiiral na batas, ang isang Kautusang Tagapagpaganap na nagtatalaga sa isa sa mga katutubong wika na maging batayan ng wikang pambansa ng bayang Pilipino. (It affords me indescribable satisfaction to be able to announce to you that on this, the 41st anniversary of the martyrdom of the founder and greatest exponent of Philippine nationalism, I had the privilege of issuing, in pursuance of the mandate of the Constitution and of existing law, an Executive Order designating one of the native languages as the basis for the national language of the Filipino people.)”
It was adopted as a batayan, as a basis, and not as the official national language. That would come three years later when Tagalog became one of the country’s official languages, alongside Spanish and English.
This definition of the national language has since evolved. In 1959, it officially became known as Pilipino (spelled with a “P” and not yet an “F”) in an attempt to disassociate the national language with just Tagalog. But even after that, a national language, one that was widely and intelligently used, remained elusive.
Today, Filipino as a language is no longer just a rebranded version of Tagalog. Yes, the base is still largely Tagalog but it now includes borrowed words from some 180 other languages in the country, as well as foreign languages. The 1987 Constitution puts it plainly: “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. Subject to provisions of law and as the Congress may deem appropriate, the government shall take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as a language of instruction in the educational system.”
Still, the difficulty in adopting and using Filipino as a national language, as an intelligent language of discourse, remains. It’s not that Filipino isn’t intelligent. On the contrary, it very much is. It is also very nuanced. Take, for example, the word “nagsipagtakbuhan.” This single verb in second person plural, past tense, has no direct equivalent in English. The second person plural, past tense version of it in English is “they ran.” But this doesn’t quite capture the meaning of “nagsipagtakbuhan,” which is best translated as “they all ran individually and simultaneously.” And no, Google Translate, it doesn’t mean “worked on a race.”
‘Filipino is important’
This example, which is a Filipino word of a Tagalog origin, demonstrates how our language carries a unique flavor. Those who say that Filipino cannot carry meaning in the same way English or other foreign languages do are mistaken. But such is language, any language. Because it is built around a culture, its meaning is a product of the collective experience of the society it grows with. This might, however, be difficult if Filipino is not given a more prominent role in college education.
Faced with the recent changes imposed by the Commission on Higher Education regarding Filipino subjects in college, college students from different parts of the country express what they say is the importance of studying the national language. For many, it’s an important aspect of identity.
“As a language, it reflects who we are,” says Karla. “It shows our identity as a Filipino,” Angela agrees, adding that Filipino “contributes in the identity construction of citizens.”
For her part, Grace says that a national language “shapes our identity, while also serving as glue that binds the diverse cultures we have in our country.” It’s a point Kevyn puts succinctly, saying that Flipino “makes us remember where we came from and who we are.”
Beyond the question of identity, other students point out how nuanced Filipino is as a language.
“It’s interesting how concepts like kilig and utang na loob lose their impact even when directly translated to English,” says Josef.
“Filipino is a very expressive language,” Holly adds. “I find myself saying more and being able to emphasize things more using Filipino.”
CHED has clarified that it has not banned Filipino and Filipino subjects in colleges. It is up to the discretion of universities and colleges to offer classes beyond basic Filipino, which are now covered in the senior high school curriculum. There are schools, however, that have completely done away with Filipino classes, a development that the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) laments.
Do you speak Filipino?
So where is our national language today?
Perhaps it is safe to say that it is continually growing. KWF chairperson Virgilio Almario himself said as much during a press conference held at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Right now, the efforts of the KWF is in growing Filpino by including more of the country’s local languages to it. At the same time, the KWF hopes to revitalize and not isolate each local language. This is the focus of this year’s Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa, which goes by the theme “Wikang Katutubo: Tungo sa Isang Bansang Filipino.”
Filipino, our national language, is no longer just Tagalog — it hasn’t been, for a while now. The challenge, as Virgilio Almario pointed out during the press conference, is to make sure that everyone understands that. At the same time, Filipinos should realize that our national language can be as eloquent, technical, intelligent, rich, and precise as English or any other foreign language.