Flesh­ing out our na­tional lan­guage

Why we shouldn’t blame Manila for the un­der­ly­ing de­bate on our na­tional lan­guage


It is easy to blame Manila for all of the coun­try’s woes, from an un­even econ­omy to prob­lem­atic cul­tural rep­re­sen­ta­tions. Manila has been called im­pe­rial, cen­tral­ist, and hege­monic by the ne­glected pe­riph­eral cities or re­gions—and it is not with­out fault. The fact that our pres­i­dent hails from Davao could be a man­i­fes­ta­tion of a gen­eral de­sire to de­cen­tral­ize Manila, given that un­til the cur­rent ad­min­is­tra­tion, the gov­ern­ment has been run by Manileños with­out much dif­fer­ence or progress felt in the prov­inces.

It is not far-fetched to think that even the for­ma­tion of a na­tional lan­guage based on Ta­ga­log can be a symp­tom of this in­ter­nal colo­nial­ism. How­ever, ac­cus­ing Manila is sim­plis­tic.

If we’d read the man­u­script of speeches and procla­ma­tion of the na­tional lan­guage which led to Manuel L. Que­zon’s Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der no. 134 in 1937, we’d find that there is more to the is­sue than Manila-cen­trism.

First, there is no truth that there was mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of or even a lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion from the re­gions who would have ad­vo­cated for the adop­tion of their lo­cal lan­guages to be the na­tional lan­guage or lin­gua franca. A closer look at the com­po­si­tion of the Na­tional Lan­guage In­sti­tute (NLI) tells us that Ce­cilio Lopez was the lone ad­vo­cate of Ta­ga­log, while the rest—File­mon Sotto, Jaime de Veyra, Felix Salas Ro­driguez, and Hadji Buta—were all from the south and were ex­pected to ad­vo­cate for Bisaya.

Sec­ond, the in­ten­tion of look­ing for that lo­cal lan­guage was more prac­ti­cal than po­lit­i­cal: They were look­ing for the most widely cir­cu­lated lan­guage, not only as spo­ken but also as writ­ten and pro­duced in var­i­ous me­dia. In their mind­set, a na­tional lan­guage is prac­ti­cally dis­sem­i­nated all over, widely un­der­stood not only in the cap­i­tal but also in the other re­gions, and ca­pa­ble of in­cor­po­rat­ing other lan­guages. Even though Sotto be­lieved that Visayan speak­ers out­num­bered Ta­ga­log speak­ers, in the end, the NLI ac­cepted Ta­ga­log as the most pop­u­lar and the most ca­pa­ble in that func­tion.

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