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"Language Loss is a Gradual Attrition"

So spoke Dr. Lawrence Reid, whose paper was for me the biggest highlight of today: "Who are the Indigenous? Origins and Transformations". It was a joy to listen to Dr. Reid deliver his paper! First, he was able to elucidate in 90 minutes what 6 units in linguistics failed to make clear to me. Second, he is one of the few speakers I have ever heard to READ a paper without boring the audience to death. I usually hate it when speakers read their papers, preferring instead to hear them talk their walk. And third, because of the very important and enlightening points he made. Dr. Reid approached the question through linguistic and archeological evidence. If we go by the definitions available to us from English dictionaries, the United Nations, the World Bank, and the International Labor Organization, then (and again I'm being very simplistic here because the definitions are themselves quite problematic), the truly indigenous peoples of the Philippines are the Negritos or the Agtas. The rest of us are descended from Austronesian migrants from Taiwan, who moved to this archipelago only 4,500 years ago. So much for time immemorial, if one wants to go by linguistic and archeological evidence. There were some in the audience who were not in full agreement with these conclusions. Dr. Reid pointed out that the conclusions are based on data, but can be changed by future findings.

He also took the opportunity to express his dismay over the kinds of data and descriptions of the peoples of the Philippines that can be found on the NCIP website. Go see for yourselves why he was aghast and why he made an appeal to "somebody please do something about this!" Be sure to check your own or your friends' indigenous group profile, or just choose one randomly. The descriptions on the shapes of noses of different indigenous groups are particularly entertaining but ultimately infuriating when you think that this is what the NCIP has to say for the people it purports to represent. The website says that this information came from a book published by Rex Bookstore and the NCIP. Is Rex bookstore even a reputable publisher? Don't think so. In fact, much of this misinformation and racially-based physical description is lifted directly from the work of Otley Beyer, who may be considered one of the forefathers of Philippine ethnology, but whose theories have since been debunked.

But the main point of Dr. Reid's talk was that Cordilleran languages are endangered languages. They are slowly changing and are in danger of disappearing with the last speakers of the languages. Here's an interesting, related article from The Guardian. Language, identity, and culture go hand in hand. Lose your language, and you lose the other two. He said that it is both a national challenge and an individual challenge to do what needs to be done to keep our languages from disappearing. On the national level, money should be put into writing dictionaries and developing school materials in vernacular languages, and into teaching indigenous languages in all levels of education.

I will leave you with a brilliant quote from Dr. Reid:
"There has to be a recognition on the national level that Tagalog is not the answer to the Philippines' needs."

Oh and I just remembered, there have been previous posts on this very topic in the boondocks, here, and here. Be sure to follow the links to Ferricardia's blog entries on language. Worth re-reading and re-thinking!

Comments

The Nashman said…
nakaka-aliw that REX bookstore book ha. omg, i'm going to send ncip hate mail..
padma said…
Let them feel the sharp bite of your wit on their noses. Nyahahaha!
The Nashman said…
well, i just tell my aunt first who handles ncip for the aetas in zambales and pampanga...
G said…
Hi, interesting stuff you got here! ;)

A school in the Lubuagen, Kalingas has pioneered the implementation of using first language as the medium of instruction in the primary grades. I heard the results are very promising. Students in that school do better than the ones who are in classes where Tagalog or English are used to teach content to the learners. I am convinced, 100%, that mother tongue education is one basic answer to preserve our indigenous languages.

Cheers to you sis! :)
padma said…
Hi Ganda!

Thanks for dropping in, and thanks for sharing this info! Perhaps their model could be replicated in other places around the Cordillera. I know for certain that Tawangan, which I am a bit familiar with for instance, could benefit from an innovation like this.
Layad said…
Thanks for sharing this.

Yes, interesting lecture from Dr. Reid. I met him in SIL Bagabag one time and he greeted me in Finontok. Impressive that he still remembers!

What Ganda says is true. The Lubuagen, Kalinga project has really proven that to start with what is familiar (a child's mother tongue) to the unfamiliar (other languages) is a sensible way to start the education process.

Wars were fought because of a people's desire to speak their OWN language, coupled with political and social issues. That's how intense language issues are. I hope Cordillera people continue to use their languages and value their culture.
padma said…
Thank you for the comment, Layad. I'm getting more and more interested in this effort in Lubuagen! Has anything been written or published on it, so that it can be presented to other provinces and municipalities? Does DepEd have anything to do with it? How was it brought about?

After Dr. Reid's speech, Prof. Calinawagan of U.P. announced that 2008 is the International Year of Language, as proclaimed by the U.N! She called on people in the conference to participate in the planning of activities along this line. They should be told of the Lubuagen case, if they don't already know about it.

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