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Our current language ‘barriers’ – any takers?
Morr Pungayan


As agreed between and among the designers of today’s supplementary issue, we zero in on: “issues, concerns, or projects that we would like our next political leaders to address, or at least initiate xxx.”

And I do agree with their initial aim: “to inspire and help them visualize too what have been long wished or agitated for by the citizenry xxx”, i.e. aside from the present and ‘burning issues of the Day.”

In my modest case, I have chosen to dwell in-discussion specifically on our “language barriers” which may be long, overlooked national concerns as well..but let us yet limit the coverage in our own midsts: Baguio-Benguet, the Cordis, and the nearby peripheries.

The Current Language Situation

In ‘these Heights’ – once dubbed (sometimes, even now) as the Solid North, the Ilokano language, Iluko, is truly spoken; ‘widely spoken’ in fact – even if some well..grammarians, or linguists,, may qualify certain ‘varieties’ of said language as: ‘purer’, ‘more refined’, [even] ‘softer’, naluhneng, etc., than ‘other area’ varieties.

Side-by-side with Iluko; or ‘in place of’ it – depending on the area location, other languages are spoken: “the ‘majority’ languages like: Tagalog, Pangasinan, Kapampangan, Visayan, etc., as well as ‘the minority’ languages like: Ifugao, Kalinga, Ifontok, Kankana-ey, Yogad, Ibaloi, Kalanguya, Ibanag, Iowak, Ikarao, Madukayong, Isinai, Kelley-i, Ayangan, and so on.

But, up to this point, is there any problem or issue vehemently raised? “Nothing so serious” would be an optimistic answer; but “yes, and primarily..”could be another reply..and you queue the speaker to proceed and, he continues: “primarily, 1) mutual unintelligibility and, the 2) concomitant ‘stereotypings’ that set in – with ethnolingusitic identification.

[Before you swing some words arrows enough to wound the feelings, let me give you an example of a ‘Stereotyping’ present or common to all groups, while casually describing the language of other groups, to wit: “saan nga maawatan ti sao da, kasla sao ti billit” (lit. ‘cannot understand their language, it is like the language of the birds’).

If you were the direction, how would you take it: a compliment, an insult, an ataque personál? Or, just a wimper-sniffer-quiver? Lest we forget, the comparison is unfooted, anyway..] Those may be the basic problems and possible reactions that may supervene.

In sum, one or two guys – or their own distinct group may sigh: “I don’t know.. I can’t understand their language; ergo..,ergo..,” and so forth. There, they just identified a problem, an issue, a true, live concern: “there are (!) ‘language barriers’ group and that one; other groups with others still.”

‘Language barrier’ interfering with governance?

The two, ‘primary’ aforestated concerns stemming from the condition ‘language barriers’ are ‘in-general’ by classification. So, question is: how about governance? Could it be linked with said ‘barriers’?

Yes! Very much so – good governance, mis-governance, or the lack of it, could be even the ‘direct’ Consequents, of the Antecedent ‘barriers’.

To proceed, we identify thus three ‘governance’ (or ‘political’) issues ensuing from the above Implication, to wit: [±P         ±Q], or: “with or without a ‘language barrier’ may be a necessary condition for good governance, or the lack of it.”

And the three issues political – or even politico-cultural, are on: 1) ethnic (or national) unity, 2) social harmony, and 3) political maturity.

Ethnic Unity. Unless we ‘accept’ in our hearts that we comprise different, distinct ethnolinguistics groups – each with its own language, history, customs and tradition, the Quest for unity shall remain that elusive. The basic premise is: no single group should dominate nor overbear; otherwise, oneness – even ‘cooperation’, shall difficulty be overcome or achieved.

Social Harmony. No ‘rich’ – no ‘poor’; no ‘favoured’ – no ‘unfavoured’; never ‘usually uplifted’ – never ‘usually left-out’, etc., spell descriptions of an almost perfectly-achieved just society. Question now is: if applied to our present social conditions in ‘these Heights’, to what ‘stages’ could we rate our cases, as regards the above comparison-levels? Let’s probe some assessments.

No ‘rich’–no ‘poor’ ones? There are..but this comparison-level is heavily grounded on logico-historical reasons, rather than on present stimuli or impetuses like: “this or that family is rich – because  traditionally, they are!”

But of course, there are too, those that rise from poverty to wealth like: the farmer rise-price carter, chimamba; the indeed-lucky gold ‘washer’; the lottery winner, name it.

And how about the level: no ‘favoured’–no ‘unfavoured’? Well, in the Philippines, when one applies for a job or a position, it is not: ‘what you know’ but ‘whom you know’, that counts!Is this correct, as often claimed?

Where we are, just take a brief look at our line agencies: who are the heads, and those next to them, and so on?

But if these be ‘verifiably true’ cases, how do we connect the a priori conditions that nurture such prevalence?

If some observers say the culprit is ‘ethnic favouritism’, we can only go as far to prove that it is the case; there is no law that prohibits that kind of favouritism anyway.

But why were the other applicants or would-bes not favoured too, or instead? The language ‘barrier’ – the applicants say. “They speak the same [ethnic] language..reason enough for the hiring one’s preference of him (or them) over us!”

Political Maturity. At what pedestal is our rating in this regard? Do we choose, assess, and vote for our candidates – ‘without fear or restraint’, from within or without? But what if we don’t, what’s ‘controlling’ us?

Some say: ‘Orders from above’, some say: ‘my boss’; or ‘my family’s choice’; or, ‘allegiance to my party’; and so on.

But what if one says: “we speak the same ethnic language; I cannot just violate that? I’ll be avoided if I do! xxx”

You see? The language becomes a ‘barrier’ to the basic reasons for free choice of one’s leader or official which customarily are, et alii: sincerity, leadership, willingness to serve, other qualifications.

What can be done?

Having thus established that there is a great ‘link’ between the ‘language barrier’ and governance itself, plus the revealing fact that even the voters (or voter-groups) are sometimes overcome by such ‘link’ in the selection of their candidates to vote, we may yet proceed to ask ourselves if ‘something could still be done’ to save the situation?

Our answer is a big yes! And we propose a simple formula, never yet posited(?) We call this the Principle of Exposure Disclosure, which we may define as: “if and only if Speaker of Language 1 discloses himself unfoldingly, shall speaker of Language 2 be exposed; and vice-versa.”

In simpler terms, let our ethnolinguistic groups self-disclose themselves to other groups – via: a program, a policy, a project, etc., authored, or co-authored, by our local legislators (SB, or SP, or Barangay Council, etc.), for greater Reach and Impact. Otherwise

Done on an individual or private effort, the completion or implementation shall take much toll – in time, movement, and expenses.

Concluding Remarks

What we cannot undo is the existence of ethnolinguistic groups: the usual ‘former’ count was 129, plus the Tasaday – makes 130.

Even this could be altered, if the actual languages are strictly peered into. For example, one may imagine that the Ifugaos only speak Ifugao, but scholars among them will say there are three, nl. Tuwali, Ayangan, and Kalanguya and what about the one spoken in Asipulo – which linguists identify as Kelley-i?

In Benguet, the usual count is only three: Kankana-ey, Ibaloi, and Kalanguya. But sing that data often, and you’ll have speakers of additional Benguet languages: Ikarao, Iowak, Cataoan, Bago-Bakun,  and  Mandek-ey raising their voices.

Yes, we can’t just lump these languages into ‘some minority few’; nor make ‘generalizations’ about the groups which speak them. Under our Constitution, to speak one’s own native language is a right guaranteed.

On the other extreme, when this multiplicity of language is what causes our ‘barriers’ to advancement, progress, maturity, etc., will not any of our officials to-be try to initiate some moves to address the issue, as well as the concomitant concerns that come alongside? Those ‘language barriers’ – any takers?

To be exposed to these languages – to know their origins, where these are spoken, their beautiful characteristics, etc., could somehow help us lessen those ‘barriers’ that presently beset us – officials, or citizens all, in our headway attempts towards social and political upgrade!
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