Random thoughts about language

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Friday, August 29, 2014


WAS IT Ludwig Wittgenstein who said that the limits of my language are the limits of my world? I really do not remember but I never fail to realize the importance of language in the evolution of mankind and cultural development.

In the Philippines we celebrate Buwan ng mga Wika or National Languages Month each August but much of the focus has been on “Filipino”, our so-called national language which is supposedly a conglomeration of major Philippine languages but is predominantly Tagalog. In Pampanga we commemorate Aldo ning Amanung Sisuan or Kapampangan Language Day every last Friday of August.

Because of our geography and multi-ethnic cultural background, an average Filipino speaks at least two languages. However, instead of being expertly bilingual or multilingual, we are mostly semi-lingual, which means that we fail to reach a certain level of mastery in each of the languages that we speak or write. On a personal note, while I speak Kapampangan and Tagalog fluently because of my family background, it is in English that I write best. I am yet to succeed in writing a full-length column in Kapampangan which is supposedly my mother tongue.

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Languages are open systems and continuously evolve each time. There are new words that are created or coined everyday and become part of a language with consistent, accepted and shared use. For example, words like “google” and “vape” have become part of the English language and have been listed in the Oxford Dictionary because of global and popular usage.

Because they are open systems, languages also face the danger of becoming extinct when native speakers fail to use the words endemic to a culture through time and rely mostly on “borrowed” words. The lament of some Kapampangan academics is that our language is becoming “tagalized” at a fast pace because of our proximity to the country’s capital and because Kapampangan parents speak to their children in Tagalog or English than our mother-tongue.

I have personally observed this behavior among my friends and colleagues who are also parents. They tend to speak to their children in English and Tagalog mostly because these are the languages of instruction in our schools, while we are Kapampangans by blood and affinity. Because of mother-tongue language education policies, these children are now learning Kapampangan in public schools from pre-elementary up to the third grade, but some private schools tend to treat Kapampangan as a “distinct” subject than use it in mainstream teaching or apply for exemptions.

At home, we speak to my daughter Sunis in English, Kapampangan and Tagalog. She learns mostly Tagalog at the local Day Care Center she attends. I’m asking her yaya who is Ilocano to speak to her in that language as well. I make her listen to Spanish nursery rhymes and read Spanish flash cards to her as well. My personal theory is that there might be some developmental delays in teaching a child multiple languages, but practice in time will make perfect.

Children by nature and design have a quick grasp for learning languages during their formative years, and some experts say that this window lasts up to their adolescence. Then there are people who are naturally gifted at learning languages throughout their entire lives, a gift which I envy since a new language equates to a new world. Learning languages on its own is a very enriching experience but at the same time, preserving one’s own mother-tongue is also a great responsibility.

Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on August 30, 2014.

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