Ariel Dorfman is a novelist, poet, human rights activist and distinguished professor at Duke University in the United States. He was once the cultural advisor to the President of Chile, and wrote a book about US cultural imperialism, How to Read Donald Duck. In his book, The Wandering Bigamists of Language, he eloquently captures the feeling of what it's like to be part of a linguistic minority:
"Do you come from a place that is poor, that is not fully incorporated into modernity, that does not control a language that commands respect? Do you inhabit a language that does not have armies behind it and bombs and modems and technology? Do you reside in a language that will one day be extinct or whose existence does not have value in the marketplace and can't even get you a good job and help you in the everyday struggle to survive? Do you dwell in a language that is wonderful only for making love or teaching your children the difference between right and wrong or serves to pray to God? Is your language perfumed with unpronounceable words by poets with unpronounceable names describing their unpronounceable forests and guttural maidens? How does a language defend itself against the globalizing world?"
Given the fact that the Philippine's is a relatively small country in land area, and is not a global economic or military power, it is likely that Professor Dorfman's words resonate with a lot of Filipinos. We are all born at a certain time and place, and can't control what family we are born to; a large percent of the world are born into families who do not speak a powerful, globally recognized and useful language. But this is especially true for Filipinos, most of whom have two layers of domination to contend with: English, one of the principal languages of business, science, and intergovernmental communication on Earth; and Tagalog-based Filipino, the national language that dominates the remaining domains of education and media in the country.
If you are not a native Tagalog, you are actually part of a majority in the Philippines. Only 30% of Filipinos are native Tagalog, while the rest of the ethnic groups make up the other 70%. Yet still, your languages are not yet taught in most schools, are hardly represented on television, large publications, books, new music, government communications, and corporations. Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and Iloko each have active literature scenes, but even these big languages are still not adequately included in education or television.
When a Filipino family move to the United States, what usually happens to their children and grandchildren down the line? They switch to English. But when a Tagalog family moves to an Ilokano region, what normally happens down the line? Nothing. They continue speaking only Tagalog and few of them ever learn Iloko properly. In the meantime, some Ilokano families may even switch to Tagalog due to the high rates of in-migration of people who don't know how and don't plan to speak the local language. That's not globalization, that's something else entirely. That is a form of linguistic and cultural imperialism facilitated by national policy. If local languages were taught in schools and were required for getting hired to most jobs in the regions, and if the government set up TV stations in languages other then English and Tagalog, the other Philippine languages would be a lot more vibrant, respected, and useful then they are today.
As Prof. Merlie M. Alunan of UP College Tacloban City said at a multilingual conference earlier this year, "I'm not even worried about the globalizing world. I am mainly concerned about our language policy, which, like it or not, has the unfortunate effect of reducing the rest of the countryside to minority status. We must always remind ourselves that the Cebuano or Waray or Hilgaynon that we speak today have always been with us before history catapulted us to invasion, colonialism, conversion, war, independence, economic depression, diaspora, and now, globalization. Throughout this passage, these mother tongues have survived."
The irony is that over the last few decades, the percentage of speakers of every Philippine language has gone down, except Tagalog. The National Statistics Office has been keeping track of this. So despite surviving so many other threats, native Philippine languages might not survive their latest challenge: the spread of Tagalog. It's quite surprising that the national government has been able to successfully brand one language as somehow representative of its entire population and in the country's best interests. But it's even more surprising that the majority---the 70% who are not native Tagalogs---have not yet exercised their linguistic, cultural, and economic freedoms. It's surprising how they continue to let Manila dominate their affairs. They are a marginalized village, 70 million-strong!
Firth McEachern - Diversity Shock, Part 24