IRISHMAN Firth MacEachern found himself temporarily employed by the Provincial Government of La Union back in the early part of this decade when he made this sad observation: The Iloko language was slowly dying. He made the remark as he found himself fascinated by the rich and sing-song intonation of the language, spoken largely in the northern portions of Luzon Island and the third widely spoken language in the country.

And the sadder part of his narration was that nobody seemed to care that Iloko was quickly being replaced by both English and Tagalog as the go-to language in San Fernando City, La Union.

This tale of course is being played out in majority of the urban centers of the country. Every day, children are being encouraged to communicate in English. Street literature is mainly in Tagalog, while the airwaves, both television and FM radio, are in either language. Sad but true. The wealth in languages and dialects in the Philippines is so rich that even international travelers are held in awe by them.

This unnoticed changing of preference is not only slowly killing the languages of the country. It is no hidden fact that a language is but the oral embodiment of a people’s culture and way of life. So, when the language goes, can the culture – developed through the centuries – be far behind in its death tolls?

On the other side of the coin are the high paying jobs concentrated on the business process outsourcing industry as well as tourism related businesses. Their main requirement is simple – good to excellent oral and written English! According to the latest word from the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines, the higher paying jobs of the future will need an excellent command of the English language. And that low-skilled jobs, secretaries, receptionists, and clerks for example, would suffer the hardest in the coming years. These jobs do not really require a mastery of English, but it does help a lot.

In fact, come August 18 to 21 government and the private sector will meet in Baguio City just to discuss the deteriorating English proficiency of students today. The battle of the languages will come head to head on those days as leaders from both sides try to defend their respective beliefs and come up with doable action plans on how to enhance English ability among the youth of today.

August is Buwan ng Wika. A noble way to revive interest in the languages we were born into. But social – and more importantly financial – pressures make it more and more difficult to truly appreciate the profound celebration of this month. Even Buwan ng Wika for the month-long celebration is a misnomer inasmuch as it places a premium on Tagalog, a language spoken generally in southern portions of Luzon. It, too, contributes to the dwindling of other native tongues found in other parts of the country.

Suffice it to say that this conundrum our country finds itself in would eventually find its solution, in its own time. However, what bothers us, and a host of other linguists around the globe, is the possibility that one or the other will have to be sacrificed.

Can we afford to lose even one of our unique languages? Are we willing to suffer the death of any one of them?


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