By Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
U of Hawaii at Manoa
Presented at the 8th Nakem International Conference on ‘The Center from the Margins,’ U of Hawaii at Manoa, Nov 14-16, 2013
“The Call of the Margins, The Crisis of the Center”
The argument of my presentation is simple: that in a state such as the Philippines, a state marked by multiplicity, there is no place for the fascistic notion of a nation-state built upon the 19th century notion of state and the search for a proverbial ‘national language’ at the expense of other languages of the multi-nation state.
Let me be clear with my concepts: Multiplicity is meant the quality of being various, many, manifold, or multiple. Fascism’s many components is ‘the belief of the supremacy of one language, or one ethnic group’ over other languages or ethnic groups in a political body, or state. ‘National language’ is the language imposed upon a people by law, by instruments of the law, and by the cultural and educational institutions and apparatuses of the state that believes in that fascistic component of the supremacy of one language.
The issue of multiplicity in the Philippines, as well as in the United States, and many other countries for that matter is a fact.
There is not only a single Philippines, with just in the center.
There is, at the very least, per Ethnologue data (retrieved August 15, 2013), we have 185 languages in the Philippines, with 4 already extinct (based on estimate of Wurm 2007), Crystal 2003, Lobel 2004, 2005, 2012). This leaves us with 181 living languages but with this situation per Ethnologue: 43 are institutional, 70 developing, 45 vigorous, 13 in trouble, 10 dying.
We are not going to look too far for the reasons of this terrible situation of the Philippine languages: except for Tagalog (also known as P/Filipino, and English), there has never been public appreciation, valuing, respect, and recogntion of the importance of these community languages by the government. This attitude is the same attitude of all countries that are obsessed with coming up with its own ‘national’ language as a symbol of its being a nation. We forget that nationhood is not in the language, but in the collective commitment of people to bind themselves and for a union, and from that union, presumably a state would be created, with the state making it sure that the good of everyone, what we call in Latin as summun bonum, is protected and assured.
The summum bonum—the highest good or the common good—is the primus motor of the building of a society. Why build a society when the rights of everyone, when the good of everyone, is not protected? One might as well live in the mountains, or in the wildness and do a Henry David Thoreau and create our own Walden Pond.
I will argue that the evolution of the national language is a bad concept, a bad ideology, and an anti-people provision of human rights, and if by human rights here we mean the rights of people to their sense of the good life, to their person, their property, and their sense of freedom. The 19th century ideal of a ‘nation’—an ideal borrowed from the Italian, Spanish, German, English, and French sources—is a phantasmagoric dream and a case of that which is surreal.
What happens with this borrowing of templates—of the wrong models of nation-building—is a repeat of the same horrific acts of these countries, acts that are tantamount to the suppression of the basic rights of peoples to their languages. Let us take France, one of the countries that would fight to death the maintenance of French as its official language. It has this situation: it has 25 languages, 2 of these already extinct. Of the 23 living languages: 5 are institutional, 11 developing, 3, vigorous, 2 in trouble, and 2 dying. Considering that France is the country of ‘egalite, franternite, and liberte’, I wonder where the contradictions lay—if at all there is—in officializing only one, and with the rest remaining in the margins or in the periphery?
Let us see Spain: 15 languages in total, all are living. The situation is bad as well, with 4 in trouble of becoming extinct. Of these 15 too, 5 are institutional, 2, developing, and 4 vigorous.
Given the above argument, and limiting the discussion to the Philippines in the hope of expanding the argument in countries that are also linguistically diverse, we have a problem in the ‘nationalization’ or ‘officialization’ of one and only one language from within, and one and only one language from the outside. When we push this situation further, we end up with the absurd, such as educational practice that penalizes students for every word of their own community language that they speak, or at worst, having them expelled as in the case of the three students heard speaking Ilokano in a sectarian school that has adopted an English-only policy. The intention in these practices, of course, is noble, with the provision of mechanism for students to get to speak either Tagalog, or English, or both—so that they will be able to demonstrate their national, and so that they would become the literate group of English-speaking elite in the Philippines.
There is however, a principle in ethics that talks about the integral good, and saying that ‘bonum ex integra causa malum ex cucumque defectu: or, for a good to be good, it must be entirely good, and that any defect it has vitiates its goodness. We look at this whole exercise in the Philippines—an exerce that has been going on for the longest time—for three generations, or 78 years since 1935, or 76 since 1937. These dates are crucial for our argument.
Let us look at the very ideology of state education, and we see here the bundle of contradictions in the Philippines: we are not fully accounting our languages in the Philippines, and that the only myopic way we look at our language is to make them instrument of a presumed, even fantasized, national communication and conversation.
We forget, of course, that prior to the evolving of Filipinas, our own diverse people have been conversing with each other because we know how to deal with each other, and because we spoke the language of each other, or the other. Today, we have forgotten the very tenet of good community relationship by insisting on the singularity of a national language and aided by the use of a language of international communication.
The whole thing, really, is bad governance.
When you deprive the students and communities of their own language—and therefore their own culture, you are pushing them to extinction. And if we care about birds going extinct, or tarsius monkey becoming memory, there is that clear paradox why we cannot seem to be alarmed by the extinction of one of our own languages. We have succeeded in making extinct 4 of our languages and 10 are already dying. When we factor in the fact that it takes a thousand of years, at the very least to evolve a language, our situation is truly alarming. But when we look into the real nature of language—as the carrier of our being, as abode of the human soul, as depository of human knowledge that took hundred of years of crystallization—we are all in the wrong.
Thus, our notion of the center—with the national language as the pivot of national conversation is utterly poor, impoverished, and unfair. The languages pushed to the margins must now begin to account its own possibilities and declare once and for all that languages—all of our languages—are our social resource.
The rainbow is beautiful because it has those colors and hues that are diverse and manifold.
This is the way we should look at the Philippines. This is the way we should look at the languages of the world.