OFWs Play Key Role in Evolution of the Filipino Language

Arab News

OFWs Play Key Role in Evolution of the Filipino Language

by Manuel L. Quezon III

MANILA — The Filipino language will not be extinct in the coming decades as it keeps evolving inside and outside the Philippines with the passing of time, thanks in part to the Overseas Filipino Workers, Filipino linguists say. Unlike the archaic Latin which was confined only to the ancient world and civilization, eventually dying a natural death, the Filipino language remains alive and well — wherever Filipinos are.

One can easily spot a group of Filipinos even in foreign countries such as Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and other European countries as they banter and tell each other how their week was in expressive and punctuated Filipino antics. With the Philippines’ 171 living languages — and with only four — Agta Dicamay, Agta Villaviciosa, Ayta Tayabas and Katabaga — as extincts, OFWs are the best keepers and speakers of the native tongue.

This despite the Philippines’ being the fourth largest English-speaking country, after the United States, United Kingdom, and India. While the word remittance, for example, is English, OFWs have given it a Filipino color and interpretation by spelling it remitans. Language experts say that this phenomenon has been brought about by global changes that happen as fast as how communication satellites can go.

Take the language of the youth as another example. The text (SMS) generation of today spell the word promise as pramis“Dad, pasalubong. Pramis ha,” they say when reminding daddy not to forget to bring home a gift. Or take ABS-CBN Channel 2’s news reportage of kaganapan referring to events and kapulisan, meaning police. “Iyan po ang mga kaganapan dito sa kapulisan ng Western Police District sa kasalukuyan.”

Unknown to many, the baklese language of the gay community has slowly inched its way into the Filipino language, legitimizing the use of kaganapan and kapulisan, minus the belting out of the hips and the artsy-fancy wave of manicured nails. Television, radio and newspapers bring the changes in the Filipino language to many households, making the words familiar and in the end acceptable.

“The Filipino language is evolving with time. We must be open to changes and accept them as they come for our language to remain prolific and alive,” exhorts Dr. Ligaya Tiamzon-Rubin, a Filipino language professor at the University of the Philippines.

She emphasized that borrowing a foreign term and giving it a Filipino spelling does not lose the merit of the word. “Is remitans Anglicized or Filipinized? Is it bastardized English or Filipino carabao-English? It is a matter of debate whether we have been influenced by the colonial powers or not but what is most important is that we understand each other and accept it as already ours. Inangkin na natin (We already claimed it as ours),” she said.

Tiamzon-Rubin cited the pasyon as another example. It is true that the Roman Catholic Church introduced the Lenten Season in the Philippines and all its concomitant activities. But ancient Filipinos had the rituals to express gratitude for a fruitful harvest, for instance, inimical of the singing of pasyon.

Not Culturally Colonized

Referring to Reynaldo Ileto’s book Pasyon at Rebolusyon, Dr. Tiamzon-Rubin cites pasyon as proof that Filipinos were able to worship their anitos through the statues and saints of the colonizing Spaniards.

“We were not colonized culturally in a sense. We intelligently and skillfully incorporated the Filipino faith into the colonizer’s religion,” Tiamzon-Rubin analyzes.

She explains that the same thing happened in the Filipino language. “Ours is not a bastardized language but a language that insists on living. Call it Pilipino or Filipino, the fact remains that we have not been losing our language.”

The word Pilipino is used interchangeably with Filipino and refers to people from the Philippines in the past decades.

During the 1960s, activists in the San Francisco Bay Area of the United States symbolically adapted “Pilipino” as self-identity to claim their ethnicity, cultural identity and cultural legacy.

They explain that this term comes from two Pilipino/Tagalog words pili which means “choose” or “chosen” and pino which means “refinement, of great quality.” Therefore Pilipino translates to “chosen people of quality.”

This label also symbolically dissociates them from the historical heritage of colonialism brought to the Philippines under the reign of King Philip II of Spain after whom the country was named. A third reason for the spelling is to emphasize the absence of the letter F in the old Pilipino alphabet, called Abakada.

In 1987, however, the letter F was incorporated into the new Filipino Alphabet, which has 28 letters.

The Department of Education (formerly known by the acronym DECS) issued a directive to all schools teaching the Philippine educational curriculum to adopt the new alphabet and grammar (makabagong balarila), in line with a provision in the Philippine Constitution of 1987 mandating that the national language be called Filipino. In fact, the term Filipino was first used in the 1973 Constitution.

This change was in recognition of the reality that Philippine languages have long been using letters that were not part of the 20-letter Abakada.

For instance, the Abakada did not have the letter C and yet it was widely used in the spelling of names such as Carmen or Clara. In fact the letter C had been widely used long before the adoption of the Abakada in the 1930s. National heroes Andres Bonifacio and Dr. Jose Rizal and others before them had used it extensively in their writings.

The absence of the letters C, F, J, Q, V, X, Z, and ñ in the Abakada also caused confusion, considering that F was widely used by Tagalogs and non-Tagalogs alike, and there are many Filipino names or places with the letters J (Juan, Jose, Jorge), V (Villar, Vicente), Q (Quintos), X (Xavier, Exequiel), Z (Zamboanga) or ñ (Zuñiga). An oft-repeated question was how the name of the place Villa Corazon was to be spelled using the antiquated Abakada.

Why these letters were excluded from the Abakada, in the first place, had been the subject of debates for decades.

Critics attributed this to the Tagalog-centric nature of the Pilipino language, which was pushed by then President Manuel L. Quezon, a native Tagalog, even though Cebuano was shown by surveys to be the most widely spoken language in the Philippines during his time.

Some Cebuanos have continued to raise this argument decades later. But times have changed and Pilipino had gradually become the lingua franca nationwide, as more and more students learnedBalarila (grammar) in school, and as more people became exposed to national radio and television, most of which use the national language.

A growing circle of scholars, writers and educators, however, clamored for an expansion of the national language, warning that it could follow the fate of ancient tongues that have become extinct unless it continues to be enriched.

And so it came to pass, despite a rearguard action by Tagalog puristas, that the Abakada was expanded.

Initially, the letters were increased to 31 to include the “foreign” letters C, CH, F, J, LL, ñ, Q, RR, V, X, Z.

In 1987, the Department of Education, then under Secretary Lourdes Quisumbing, issued a directive for all schools to adopt a guide prepared by the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (National Language Institute) on the new alphabet and spelling of the Filipino language, which trimmed down the additional letters to eight: C, F, J, Q, V, X, Z, and ñ.


The pronunciation of the Filipino Alphabet has also been Anglicized, so that the letter A is pronounced ey rather than the long a (as in ama or apo) as it was in the Abakada, the letter B is pronounced bee and no longer ba, K is key instead of ka, letter i is eye instead of ee, and so on.

Proponents of the Anglicized pronunciation argued that the Abakada style of pronunciation was so constricted.

In their book on the new Filipino grammar (Makabagong Balarilang Filipino, revised edition, 2003), Alfonso O. Santiago and Norma G. Tiangco said the Abakada spelling system was ridiculous in many instances that it became a butt of jokes among students and even teachers. The word bote(bottle), for one, when spelled Abakada style is pronounced ba-o-ta-e, the word titik (a letter of the alphabet) ta-i-ta-i-ka, and UP (University of the Philippines) is spelled u-pa.

In the spelling guide issued by the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa, which was the subject of the DECS directive of Aug. 6, 1987, bote is spelled bi-o-ti-ey, titik is ti-i-ti-i-key, and UP is yu-pi.

Plano is spelled pi-el-ey-en-o, xerox is eks-i-ar-o-eks, cañao is si-ey-enye-ey-o, MLQ (for Manuel L. Quezon) is em-el-kyu, etc.

In the adoption or borrowing of words from foreign or local languages, the new grammar style retains the old style in certain cases, such as banyo (bathroom, from the Spanish baño)bintana (window, from the Spanish ventana), nars (from nurse), and trak (truck).

It allows the retention of the spellings of words adopted from certain local languages, such as the Igorot cañao (thanksgiving feast), hadji (one who has performed Haj) or azan (call to prayer) as used by Filipino Muslims.

In borrowing a word that has an equivalent in Spanish and English, the Spanish takes precedence. For instance, litro takes its form from Spanish litro rather than the English liter.

If an English word has no Spanish equivalent, the new style allows for adoption without any changes if the pronunciation is consistent with the spelling. Examples: reporter, soprano, alto, memorandum.

If the pronunciation is not consistent with the spelling, a borrowed English word may be given a spelling in accordance with the Filipino Alphabet. Examples: leader becomes lider, teacher becomestitser, nurse becomes nars, and score becomes iskor.

It allows for the total adoption, without any changes in spelling, of foreign words whose spelling are not consistent with the way they are pronounced (coach, rendezvous, doughnut, sausage, coup d’ etat), scientific or technical words (calcium, x-ray, visa, latex, disc jockey), and scientific symbols (H2O, Fe, CO2).

Another major change in the new grammar in spelling borrowed terms is the striking out of a vowel between two consonants when it is superfluous or unnecessary. For instance, pyano is now preferred over piyano, probinsya is preferred over probinsiya, tiyempo could give way to tyempo, it’skwento rather than kuwento, pwede instead of puwede, and kapwa instead of kapuwa. The vowels were inserted in the old spelling system because the old folks then could not pronounce the consonant clusters.

Think Filipino

Professor Rolando Tinio, a professor at the University of the Philippines and famous national stage director, has this to say about pronunciation in Filipino: “Kung ano’ng bigkas, siya ring baybay.”(Filipino pronunciation follows the word spelling.)

That also explains for the change of spellings based on the new Filipino alphabet.

Tinio and like-minded progressive users of the language also criticize the puristas for still using the word ay (is in English) when Filipinos do not think the way English speakers do. English speakers would say: The mango is sweet. Filipino purists literally translate this to “Ang mangga ay matamis”when the spoken Filipino says “Matamis ang mangga.”

The same is also true in most regional languages and dialects. In Ilocano, it is nagimas ti mangga. In Cebuano, it is tam-is na mangga. The Maranaos say mamis so mangga and the Ilonggos saymatam-is ang pajo.

The spoken Filipino or the lingua franca follows the Filipino thinking of putting the action word first before the subject, unlike native English speakers who put the subject of the sentence ahead of the action word.

To stress his point, Professor Tinio warns his students: “Ibabagsak ko ang gagamit ng ay,” (I will fail whoever uses the word ay (is). Filipino tayo mag-isip kaya dapat sundan natin ang pagkakaayos ng wika natin sa pangungusap.”(We think in Filipino so use our lingua franca in sentence construction.)

Avoiding the ay (is) makes the sentence usage direct to the point and shorter, a rule in journalism that calls for brevity and vigor.

Tinio, already in the Palanca Hall of Fame as he had earned several literary awards in literature, also explains that Filipino poetry at present no longer has the ay. We now live in a fast-paced life that some words naturally die because they no longer are needed. Unlike in the past when we had the luxury of time and could write poems lengthily, modern-day poetry, short stories and other creative writings require brevity at present.

“No one will read you if you remain to be antique,” he warns.

Locked in Antiquity

Some puristas continue to resist many of these changes, insisting for instance on saying“Pasuguan ng Pilipinas” when everyone is using Philippine Embassy. Others prefer Embahada ng Pilipinas.

The progressives maintain, however, that the adoption of a new balarila was in step with developments or changes in many countries, including Malaysia and Indonesia, whose successes in forming their own national languages have been due to their opening up to foreign tongues.

In Bahasa Malaysia, the policy used to be that foreign words be given literal translations. Taxi, for instance, was called kereta sewa (hired vehicle). Filipino scholar Jessie Grace U. Rubrico notes in her opus “The Metamorphosis of Filipino as National Language” that the puristas in 1965 attempted to introduce similar “artificial wordsmithing” in a bid to enhance the Filipino vocabulary. Thus came words such as salumpuwit (literally buttocks catcher) for chair, salimpapaw for airplane, andsipnayan for mathematics — but the scheme was dropped due to its impracticality and ridiculous nature.

Today, taxi is spelled and pronounced teksi in Bahasa Malaysia, in the same manner that it is spelled and pronounced taksi in Filipino. Make-up is mekap in Bahasa Malaysia, inch is inci, cheque is cek, postcode is poskod, and so on.

Even the highly nationalistic Japanese have no qualms borrowing foreign words. Among the English words that can be found in Japanese are aisukurimo (ice cream), erekutoronikkusu (electronics),kurisumasu (Christmas), takushi (taxi), terebi (television), bakkumira (back mirror), andmoningusabisu (morning service). (Source: Global English, published online by the National University of Singapore.)

The expansion of the Filipino language goes on, despite the rear-guard action of the puristas, some of whom even went to court in the 70s to stop any changes to the Balarila or Abakada. But even if the courts have ruled in favor of the puristas, such an injunction would most likely have been ignored.

Virgilio S. Almario of the University of the Philippines’ Center for the Filipino Language is proud to note that many words from local languages have become part of Filipino (the Ilocano ranggay, the Bisayan uswag, the Bicolano magayon, to name a few), and so with foreign words such asshawarma, or the Japanese sashimi.

Rubrico, on the other hand, notes that borrowing of words in Filipino is largely from the English language, a fact which she attributes to the “facility and appropriateness or applicability of English terms to modern day-to-day living of the average urban Filipino.” Still, she concludes that while much may yet have to be done, “Filipino as a national language of unity has arrived.”

Indeed, Filipino as a language has truly evolved and matured after 60 years and it is now spoken or read by majority of Filipinos at home and abroad.

It is not surprising that OFWs who hear Philippine Airlines flight attendants say, “Mabuhay, papalipad na po tayo patungong Pilipinas (Long live, we are now on our way to the Philippines),” feel a surge in their hearts upon hearing that very familiar language that symbolizes their being Filipinos.


Manuel L. Quezon III.

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