Are Our Languages Dying?

Thankfully, for most of us, the answer is no. Cordillera languages continue to be classified as “Living Languages” by the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL). The bad news is that Agta-Villiviciosa spoken by some of our kailiyans in Abra is now considered extinct; according to SIL, our kailiyans who used to speak this language are now using Ilokano. [Hat tip: Salita Blog]

Although there is no immediate danger that our languages will become extinct, we still need to ensure that they will be passed on to the next generation. Probably the best way to do that, aside from teaching them to our kids and using them in our daily lives, is through the internet.

According to this article (via The Native Blog), the internet has breathed life into dying languages. More importantly, kids now think that their languages are “cool”.

Ay ngan pay ngen nan Kankanaey translation di “cool”? (So what’s the Kankanaey translation for “cool”?). Baken met “mentedek”? We need help. Tulong! Tulong! Or should it be, “Badang! Badang!”

UPDATE: You might want to read this article which tackles the media’s coverage of dying languages. Thanks to our anonymous commenter for the tip.

14 thoughts on “Are Our Languages Dying?”

  1. From the one Linguistics class I took in college, I learned that languages change and/or die over time. Who speaks Latin now, right? Who speaks the English of Shakespeare? Dost thou? hehe. But just look at all the borrowed words in Tagalog which is basically morphing into Taglish. Before that, the language borrowed so many words from Spanish. I suppose preserving a language is good for one’s identity, but if there are few speakers of it, it will inevitably disappear. Is that good or bad? i don’t know.

  2. Languages do come and go.

    When a language dies so does a memory of a culture, a way of life.

    How bad is that for Filipinos (and specifically, Igorots)? I believe that a good portion of new concepts and ideas that our global capitalism will feed on will come from old ancestral concepts and ideas.

    I am of the opinion that an equalizing asset in this global economy will be ideas and concepts that are discoverable only via high proficiency of our languages and intimate knowledge of our world views, cultures, and ethnic heritage.

    I believe that valuable ideas and concepts are now extinct because they are buried alongside ancestral chants,stories,and practices that can no longer be passed on in their original languages.

    Just think of a traditional medicinal plant that folks talk about but do not know the term for anymore…the way it is conserved and applied for curing already vague…

    Hope it does not sound Greek or Chinese to anyone?;-)

  3. It’s troubling to even think our dialects in the Cordilleras just disappear. Hope not!
    The language used in the movie ” Passion of the Christ” (Aramic I believe) was as ancient as you could imagine, yet it was revived in this film. What was so exciting about this “dead language”
    was that, some media people were able to trace it to a remote place in Syria (of all places!) Yes, there were “oldies” who spoke the Aramic language there! (I got so excited I cried a little, hehehe.)
    Most appropriate for “cool” is “gawis”, no matter what, that’s it! Gawis ay morning yo am-in…

  4. Your photo, “Ay natey nan kali tako?) is powerful in driving the point.

    Unlike Cebuano and Ilocano which have over million of speakers, the reference you cited indicate that most of our Igorot languages have less than 100,000 speakers (sans Ibaloi, Kalanguya).
    http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=PH

    [This subject reminds me of how peace corps volunteers were patiently and formally taught a language while the native non-speakers (e.g., an Igorot born in Manila or Baguio) were expected to just know or acquire without the benefit of such process. Perhaps, Baguio universities could offer Cordillera language credit courses starting the centennial year 2009. ]

  5. It’s not surprising…I don’t think it’s because of “Ilocano” or “Filipino” or “English”. Admit it or not, we need a common language. But the problem is the educational system. As far as I know, no school or even University require at least some units of native languages(aside from Filipino). This is worsen by internal migration. When people migrate to other places, they don’t care to learn the language anymore because everyone learns Filipino. In Pangasinan, the native Pangasinense language is being slowly replaced by Ilocano. Same thing with the natives of the Cagayan Valley. It’s not only the Cordilleran languages that is dying…it’s starting from the ethnic groups with relatively small population.

    Languages evolve…we can do nothing about that as new terminologies arise, the problem is on how we instill our local languages to the young. Many youngsters do not even know about their culture…or they only know a little, sometimes with a lot of factual errors. =(

    Just like the Chinese in the Philippines…many are fluent in Filipino or other local langauges yet they have schools where they can learn about their culture and languages.

    OT: BTW, I got here since I saw your link sa Incoming links ko, so I got curious. Nilink mo pala ako. Hehe

  6. oh! language and linguistics, my passion! 🙂

    If mothers will teach their children their native tongue (kahit along with Ilocano, English or Tagalog) and if DepEd will implement First Language Component (teaching Content in their mother tongue) and learning English and Tagalog as a language (not as a medium of instruction) in public schools at least from the 1st to 4th grade, our languages will not die.

    Aramaic is a Semitic language and is very near in vocabulary with Arabic and Hebrew so talagang mahirap mamatay. 🙂 Tsaka written language kase siya.

    Kaya sana more and more Igorots will write sa kanilang mga languages. The problem is (e.g. in Kalanguya)sa orthography pa lang, di na magkaintindihan because people prefer their own dialects to be the basis for an orthography.

  7. wil, for a linguist, it’s bad. 🙂

    Harvard and MIT Dep’t of Linguistics grant scholarship (MA and PhD) to mother tongue speakers of endangered languages… so it must be bad. 🙂

  8. Hi Wil,
    I used to have a foreign co-worker who speaks Spanish and he claims that he can understand about 1/3 of conversations because of the Spanish words mixed into Tagalog. At first I thought he was joking but maybe he’s right.

    Is it good or bad if languages disappear? From the perspective of an indigenous blogger, it is bad hehe. Thanks again.

    Hi Anonymous (12:19)
    Interesting thoughts. Maybe we should copyright those concepts and ideas before capitalists steal and make money out of them.

    I guess one of the reasons why we are losing those concepts and ideas is the fact that our social milieu just do not reward the younger ones who do want to keep them alive. I know someone, a relatively young man, who knows these chants, liwliwa, etc. Instead of following his example, his barkada would say things like, “Ine agi-agin am-ama ka od ay” or “Hey stop acting like an old man”. Sad, no? Instead of being praised, he is being made fun of/criticized.

    Thanks and we hope you continue to join us here 🙂

    Hi Trublue,
    Yes, that movie was really interesting. And Apocalypto also used an indigenous Inca language. I think movies have a powerful role in popularizing a language [I guess one reason why I liked that film Daan Patungong Kalimugtong].

    Thanks for “gawis” it’s much better than the literal “mentedek” hehe.

    Hi Anonymous (3:00)
    You’re very much welcome 🙂

    Hi Anonymous (12:53)
    Yes, that’s one thing good about the Peace Corps (and other volunteer orgs for that matter). They really teach local languages to their volunteers.

    To give credit where it is due, Congressman Domogan has filed a bill that mandates the teaching of Cordillera languages. It’s in this post: here.

    Thanks and we hope you continue to join us.

    Hi Kris,
    I think I knew you (but I’m not sure hehe) when I was reading your blog, which I enjoyed reading by the way 🙂

    I agree that we do need a national language. And I also agree that we also need to maintain our own indigenous/regional languages. The good thing is that it is not an either/or thing and that we can do both. Thanks again 🙂

    Hi Ferri,
    Tama ka diyan about writing in our own language. That’s why I like Kingki (the Bago blog) because it is written in Ilokano. I think there’s wisdom in using our mother tongue in basic education. I think it will help us develop our own ideas and express ourselves better. Sa totoo lang, even if Filipinos are relatively good in English, we are not that good in developing and articulating our own ideas and I think part of the blame could be traced to the fact that we are forced to think in a language that is not our mother tongue.

    That’s a good academic program by Harvard. Thanks again.

  9. Hi Anon,
    Thanks. That’s a very good read. I’m adding the link to the post. Hope others will read it because it is really worth reading 🙂

  10. Wow, so many opinions! I think this shows that we care about what happens to something that is very vital to us — our language. Can I just add my two cents worth?

    Yes, it does matter when a languages dies, especially if it is your own! I remember the comment of the last speaker of a certain language, (I forgot the name of the language and this last speaker died recently as well), who said that it is no fun to be the only speaker of a language, because the only people you ever talk to are linguists and they are no fun. Ha!

    As for Domogan’s bill, it does not quite match what I think is best although it is capturing another aspect, which is that non-Cordillerans learn from our culture and maybe we learning from it as well. But when it comes to language vitality, I believe that using the local languages in the education system especially in the early stages is the better option, as most researches would back up.

    But I think there are strong oppositions towards this kind of system, because of misinformation. Many people think that using local languages in teaching would hinder children from learning English properly, that it would make the children ignorant or dumb, etc.

    That is why I applaud SIL and other NGOs for piloting First Language Components in the Philippines. They have one in Butbut, Kalinga. And mind you, the results are very encouraging!

  11. I think Sis Layad meant Lubuagen, Kalinga where they have really implemented the First Language Component and guessed what? the number of students going on from elem to high school and then on to college is absolutely higher. Cuz you see, they implemented the FLC with a certain group and level (I think grades 1-4) and they have a control group with whom they compare the FLC group.

    I’ve read somewhere that the DepEd was actually encouraged by a certain NGO to make FLC a policy of the DepEd but a former DepEd boss apparently reasoned that the low-achievement rate of elementary schools in the Phils. is not only due to language-barrier but…

    of course, they’re right! like due to ‘chicken-walking-coquetly’ and ‘igorots-look-like-pygmies’ textbooks! and also teachers who lets the goat eat the plants to bring across the ‘pruning’ idea to her students, Right?

    G

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