The real story behind “Tagalogism”
It was in 2009 when I first realized that the use of the mandated national language, “Filipino”, in the Philippines was a contribution to the decline of the original Philippine languages. Back then, multilingualists were saying that ‘Filipino’, a dialect of Tagalog in fact, was destroying the ability of the people to speak, write, and even think in their own native language, and that the promotion of ‘Filipino’ amounted to “Tagalogism”. Aurelio Agcaoili’s essay won me over to the multilingualist camp, as I was wavering back then about the multilingualist movement being the harbinger of an ethnic-purism situation such as I observed with Cebuano separatists. I decided to write and help strive for a multilingual Philippines, a multilingual Philippine mindset.
Some pro-Filipino academics, on the other hand, posited that multilingualism was a danger to the unity of the nation, and amounted to “regionalism”. Roberto Añonuevo’s essay, criticising Agcaoili’s characterisation of the pro-Filipino push in government, society, and mass media as “a figment of (his) imagination” (kathang-isip), defended the “gains” the Tagalog language has made in lingustic strength as not only for the Tagalogs but for the rest of the Philippine peoples.
We can argue that Añonuevo neglected to do an intensive literature search for works in Philippine languages other than Tagalog during the Spanish period, for which he might be chastised as an academic; that his attack is written as if a native Tagalog were describing only his own literary tradition, which of course is more than enough evidence of “Tagalogism” in practice; that he, without sufficient convincing arguments, views Agcaoili and those who support him as “murderers” of a “nascent” Filipino language by labeling it as “neo-Tagalog”, and charges Agcaoili and others as “regionalists” and “ethnicists”, the enemies of Philippine unity, which is simple pandering to nationalist and neo-nationalist tendencies within the oligarchy and the common people.
We can say all of this against Añonuevo’s ideas, but there is no question that the majority of the Filipino people adopt a laissez-faire approach to language: whatever the major language is, we shall speak it.
My Tagalog friends and relatives could not understand why there has to be a distinction between “Tagalog” and “Filipino” AND at the same time could not understand why we should not have Tagalog as the national language. They therefore view these efforts by non-Tagalogs as “unnecessary” and “impractical”. On the other hand, my non-Tagalog relatives and friends adopt a more pliant attitude toward the Tagalog language, believing that it is good for them to learn Tagalog as another language, while maintaining that the language is named TAGALOG and continuing to speak their own native language. They believe that a revitalization of their own language is “unnecessary” because they do not recognize the possibility that their language can be a poetic language, a scientific language, that their language can develop further.
In both cases, the sad reality is that the common people find the discussion on language as out of touch with reality. Surprisingly, Tagalogs and non-Tagalogs among the common folk find common ground in refusing to overcome this linguistic and literary inertia.
The ‘Filipino’ language, as the common folk see it, is an academic invention to make Tagalog more palatable for everyone to accept. It is, for them, no different from the Tagalog that the Tagalogs speak, even if academics put in words like “gahum” or whatever Tagalized English words one wants. It is an instinctive acceptance of Tagalog as a language apart from their own tongue. Non-Tagalogs are condescending to the language, in fact: they learn it in schools because the government orders it, but they speak other languages at home and in familiar situations. Of course they eventually think that it is better to speak Tagalog, rather than the native language, with their children, but then again this process of Tagalogization is slow the farther from Manila one gets – and so many places are far from Manila geographically and socially, the effect of centralized development.
This is where ethnic Tagalogs are likely to lose. For them, as described above, ‘Filipino’ is no different from the Tagalog that they speak. The problem is, the Tagalog people in general have not borrowed these words themselves. None of the dialectal variants of Tagalog were even consulted for words which can be used in general. Where are the vocabularies of Batangas Tagalog, Marinduque Tagalog, and Quezon Tagalog? Virgilio Almario, attempting to be a centrist in these questions but still promotive of the “national language”, has discussed this in some length in his book Filipino ng mga Pilipino, but came off rather woolly regarding suggestions for the inclusion of dialectal words. The sad fact is that Almario, a theoretical ivory-tower academic, is unwilling to concede what the common folk already know, lambasting them instead for being “ignorant” and “small-minded”. He and other like-minded academics in the literary sphere have taken issue with linguists, which have stood against the artificial modification of the Tagalog language to suit the official mantra of “one nation, one language”, professing as “biographers of the nation” to side with “the people”, about whom and which groups in fact they have little idea.
The horrible thing then is that Añonuevo may be right, in a perverse sort of way. When he says that the Tagalog language has “struggled” for the nation, we are inclined to ask if the “struggle” was against American influence (the eternally vogue topic in academic nationalist circles) or against the nationalist academics, the “Tagalogists”. For us, it seems that the Tagalog people have been robbed of their language, of the right to use it. It has come under the strict, if inept, professional regulation of the Tagalogists.
The corpus delicti of this rotten situation is that it is just one more symptom of a desperate attempt at control in the hellish, chaotic Philippine sociopolitical scene, in a world of Janet Napoleses, deep-pocketed Customs officials and congressmen, colluding and pandering Catholic clergy, cheating small-time business owners and individuals forced to do their “diskarte”. The oligarchy itself is discordant within, while it expects us to believe that it has everything under control at the same time it tries to convince us it does not exist. The language snafu is extensively connected to the other problems of the Philippines, having so many tangents with the issues that make the headlines that we do not bother to count anymore.
The Tagalogists will likely be defeated in the non-Tagalog regions with the rise of the Mother-Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTBMLE) system, the declaration of local languages as official in provinces such as La Union, the efforts by certain members of Congress to discuss multilingualism, the nationwide outrage over the expulsion of three Ilokano students for speaking Ilokano in school, and other initiatives undertaken by literary and linguistic councils in the non-Tagalog regions.
But there is no such comfort for Tagalogs who would like to see their own language develop in the natural way, who treasure the dialectal riches of the original Tagalog language. Unless the Tagalogists are silenced and their ideology curbed, the Tagalog language will be destroyed, to be replaced by a new language no one can or will want to speak.