March 2, 2024

Back in high school, my class was filling out a form and one of the questions was what languages can we speak or understand. I was unsure whether to write Kankana-ey and Ibaloy. I added Iloko since it is widely spoken and because my peers wrote it as well.
We had to ask our teachers for clarification. “Ma’am, mabalin mi ba ilista ti Kankana-ey, Ibaloy, ken Tuwali?” Our facilitator said no because these are local languages and they are called dialects.
That day, we assimilated one of the biggest underrated misconceptions in our lives, something that we sadly carried until college. It is not entirely the teacher’s fault. It came before her mentors, and her mentors’ mentors, and somehow it became something we get used to.
Through a survey, I asked my sister, who is in grade 12, my cousin who used mother-tongue in grade 3, my close friends in their early 20s, my aunts, and some millennials the same question: How would they categorize Kankana-ey? Is it a language or dialect?
Out of nine people, no one called it a language. I figured that their idea of language is one that is widely spoken, foreign, and official.
To know the origin of this error and to measure and evaluate its case, it would take qualified researches. For me, it was from an English class and a linguist. Imagine the marvel and enlightenment when I learned that Kankana-ey is a language, too, so are the other codes we use to communicate. These are languages not because these are widely spoken, but because it is a system of words and signs that we use to express our thoughts and feelings.
These are all languages. A dialect is a variation of a language. Take English. It has many variations: American English, British English, Australian English, and Philippine English, among others. Our local languages have variations, as well.
Ilocanos from the lowlands say “wen,” soft and high while Ilocanos from the highlands say “wun,” hard and low. That is just a synecdoche for the entirety of the language, that variation of our spoken Iloko to that of the others is called a dialect. Similarly, Kankana-ey has many versions in the Cordillera. You can determine this by the accent and diction.
To my surprise, my whole class also didn’t have a clear distinction between a language and a dialect. It is alarming to think that people will only get rid of this misconception on language and dialects by chance. If they have not been enlightened, they might be missing out especially the pride of knowing multi-languages.
We should give our local languages the credit and honor of being a language with a complete system of communication. This should be clarified and taught in the earliest grade in elementary since the implementation of the K to 12 mandates the use of the mother tongue as the medium of instruction from kindergarten to grade 3. Students might not even know they are speaking a language and a dialect of their language at the same time. The definitions and differences between “language” and “dialect” should be explicit. It could be linguistically detrimental to mistake one for the other, or to leave out a language.
How is Tagalog a language but not Ibaloy, Kankanaey, or Tuwali? Although it is an undervalued issue, our local languages aren’t less as a language. — Meagan Sabado