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Introduction

An endangered species is a breed of plant or animal that is about to disappear from the face of the earth. Is there such a thing as an endangered language? Do you know of one?

The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) once featured a comparison of languages to endangered biological species, defining three categories of languages:

Dead or Moribund:  Languages no longer being learned as mother-tongue by children;
Endangered:  Languages which, if present conditions continue, will cease to be learned by children during the coming century; and

Safe:  Languages with official state support and very large numbers of speakers.

Is your language Dead, Endangered or Safe? Another SIL study lists three symptoms of language death: fewer speakers, fewer areas of use, and structural simplification. It is said that the worst endangered languages are used only (1) by socially isolated old folks, (2) by a socially integrated population beyond child-bearing age, (3) only orally, with no indigenous literacy.

DILA or Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago was organized on behalf of the endangered languages of the Philippines. The individual member of DILA hopes to save his own endangered language by closing ranks with the speakers of other endangered languages.

With the exception of the one declared as national language, our languages in the Philippines have been on the verge of expiration for the past half a century or so. Not because people don't want to use them, but because they have been relegated to the background to make way for the country's vision of a united people speaking one national language. What has happened is that instead of uniting our peoples, the Constitution’s national language has alienated the unfavored ethno-linguistic groups from their country. They realize that their indigenous languages are being grossly neglected and are on their way to final extinction.

The speakers of various vernaculars are being made to be like the proverbial lemmings impulsively marching into the sea of death. If the government continues to guide their fatal journey, the next century would see all their progeny stripped of their native languages, the very fabric on which their cultures are woven. Then there wouldn't be any Kapampangan, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Karay-a, Aklanon, Bikolano, Pangasinan and Ilokano-speaking peoples anymore. With the advent of modern technology and affordable communication systems, the time frame for their demise could even be shorter. Of course, by that time, who would still be around to care for such languages?

The youth of today is on the receiving end of massive indoctrination by educational institutions to spurn the survival of their mother languages. It starts from kindergarten and does not end through graduate school. Would their love for our languages be as stout as ours? Do we wait for the flame of pride for our languages to be snuffed out in their hearts completely by the school system? By plan and design, they are meant to use only one language - a language they inherit not from their parents nor from the land of their origin, but from the schools that inculcated a feckless national consciousness in them.

There is the national language and there are “the others”, the other 159 languages that don't get promoted by the National Language Commission, and therefore don't get an equal chance in the language marketplace. Consider the indigenous people to be the customer base. Introduce a brand subsidized by the national government and see what happens to the existing indigenous brand in this market. The national language spells death to the indigenous.

Speakers of indigenous languages are denied the right to learn them even on their own turf. As early as the tender age of 6, when the child has not yet even developed a full vocabulary of his own native language, much less developed any love or loyalty to it, he is already formally exposed to other languages, Tagalog in particular. As a result of this, he is able to write in Tagalog and in English, but not in his own language. And then to cap the wanton mockery, he is given the token option in college to take Cebuano, Ilocano or Kapampangan subjects along with Spanish and other foreign languages. At that stage in life he already can probably deliver an eloquent speech in Tagalog, while, if available, it is only then that he has the chance to begin studying his own language!

How pathetic! "The others" have really been made to fall from grace with their indigenous speakers. Right in their own region they lose prestige and respect. Right in their own domain they are shoved away and made to feel out of place. This policy is anathema to fairness and is an insult to the pride of the minority peoples. We need your fiery determination to help check this injustice subjected upon the entire non-Tagalog regions of the Philippines. We need you to press for legislation to preserve language diversity and cultural diversity. We need your voice to add to the clamor against one language being enhanced and promoted as "the others" are being left out in the cold to perish and die for the glory of the one.

Looking into the future in a crystal ball, we see our own native languages in museums and in historical archives, well preserved - no doubt about that, like the works of taxidermists displayed for all the world to view. But living and breathing the fresh air in their native regions? No, for they are now dead languages preserved like prized souvenirs by the same hunters that had killed them with no mercy! As dead as the head trophy of a deer nailed on the wall above your fireplace! They used to be vibrant and brimming with life, enjoying their proud existence in the tongues of their speakers. But now they're gone and are now just relics showcased in an exposition center - despicable proof of just how society in its misguided effort to promote one language at the expense of "the others" has fallen to the culture of death.

But wouldn’t linguists try to revive them like what they have done recently to Hebrew and Latin? With not as much historical significance as these two, our languages, once lost, won't ever be revived by anyone. They would forever be history. And their story would end with the line: "And so it came to pass... that out of 160 languages in the Philippine archipelago, one and only one has heroically survived, thanks to the noble efforts of the National Language Commission and the Department of Education."

Now let's go back to the present time and give this issue much thought. Do you want to save that language inherent to you or don't you care that it's going to slip away? Can DILA count on your unwavering support in this monumental aspiration to rally regional nationalists to the defense of our languages? Together we stand amidst a gathering of intellectual giants and luminaries: noted linguists and historians, lawyers and educators, computer specialists and artists, physicians and engineers, and some of the most erudite writers anyone can find. Whatever are our variations in background and life endeavor, we share a common characteristic: a passion for our languages and a specifically strong commitment and sterling dedication to protect such languages from intentional decay and eventual extinction.

Our minority languages hang in the balance with their very existence at stake. Of 6,000 languages still being spoken worldwide, more than half are predicted to sing their swan songs during this century. Save your language. Be counted in the success of DILA.

Note: The Summer Institute of Linguistics is an educational charity whose members work with language communities worldwide to facilitate language-based development through research, translation, and literacy (www.sil.org). Their Linguistic Creed recognizes language as “one of God's most important gifts to man.”

Profile

DILA was organized on November 2, 2001, when separate Kapampangan and Visayan discussion groups on the Internet concerned about the threat to their languages posed by the Philippine national language policy came together to form a single group. At first, this group was called United Non-Tagalogs. Later, it was renamed DILA (Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago). Its establishment was historic: it was the first multi-ethnic response to a language policy which its founders felt was annihilating the non-Tagalog languages of the Philippines.

The group has grown and developed, giving rise to other fora and organizations with a shared advocacy and similarly radical outlook, and creating an unprecedented awareness of the impending language holocaust in an increasingly broad segment of the Philippine public. It has nearly 300 members at present, representing the major ethno-linguistic groups from all over the archipelago, as well as several “lesser used” languages, based around the globe.

DILA is acutely aware of the problem of language extinction, a phenomenon observed all over the world. Of 6,800 or so languages spoken in the world today, it is estimated that half will be lost in this century. There are even projections putting the proportion of possible extinctions at 90 percent. In the Philippines, a language policy aimed at systematically promoting the Tagalog-based national language (earlier known as Pilipino, and now Filipino) has shut all other indigenous languages out of schools and government, and is steadily choking them as well out of the mass media and society in general. As a result, the proportion of Tagalogs rose from 19 percent in 1948 to over 29 percent in 1995, while that of all others has plunged, precipitously in the case of some (Pangasinan, for instance, plummeted from 3 percent in 1948 to 1 percent in 1995). Because of government policy, of the estimated 174 languages spoken today, only Tagalog (of which DILA considers Filipino to be a subdialect, of the Manila dialect) is considered secure.

DILA believes in the finding of educators and psychologists that children learn best in their mother tongue. All subsequent learning, including that of additional languages, will be retained longest if the foundation in the first language is secure. This is contrary to current practice in the Philippines, in which the non-Tagalog child is exposed to two foreign languages, English and Tagalog-based Filipino, from the first grade onwards.

Apart from this, it believes that privileging one language at the expense of others constitutes a form of discrimination, which not only magnifies the disadvantage suffered by non-Tagalogs (most of whom are far from the educational and commercial centers of Metro Manila), but also reinforces the inferior stereotypes assigned to them, by the media and society in general, of the influential, trend-setting National Capital Region. It holds that many of the problems in the country will become worse if the language issue (and the underlying social reality of which it is merely a symptom) is not addressed, and that true peace, unity and progress can be attained only if the multilingual, multicultural and multinational character of the Philippines is recognized.

DILA’s mission is to foster a consciousness of this increasingly acute problem in government and in the public, help bring about change in language policy, revitalize the different indigenous languages, and restore them to their rightful place in Philippine society.

Publications

Book cover

We organized DILA in 2001 to defend the language rights of all our ethno-linguistic groups. It is said that of the 7,000 languages spoken around the world today, more than half are expected to be lost in this century alone. They might disappear from causes like wars and disasters but what concerns us is when the reason is that another tongue is forcibly imposed by government. When that happens, disuse of the native tongue follows and the ultimate result is extinction. Since the introduction of a national language in our country in 1935, our 169 non-national languages have declined and deteriorated. All these and more are lucidly presented in the following posts and articles lifted from our group page on the internet (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/dila). A note from our founder comes after this introduction.
DILA is committed to legal and peaceful means in achieving our aims, and welcome those who share our noble cause to protect our peoples and languages from extinction. May the Lord bless His languages. (From the FOREWORD of the book Josefina D. Henson, DILA Foundation, Inc. President)

The Founding of DILA

Like most writers in the vernacular, I did not develop any skill in writing in Kapampangan till late in life. I was just influenced by an uncle of mine who encouraged me to write in it and I became what one would call a prolific writer in it.

Then something made me realize that I was just wasting my time in such an endeavour. With Tagalog lording it over in all media of communication (TV, radio, movies) and with it as the medium of instruction in our schools, I started to have the feeling that someday soon, my province would (heaven, forbid) eventually become Tagalog-speaking. All my works as well as the literature of both my contemporaries and those before me would just go down the drain then. The language policy in the Philippines, I thought, favored only the national language and neglected all the others even in the regions they are indigenous to. So, I became uneasy and worried about the future of my language that I eventually stopped writing in the vernacular and just resorted to doing research in the internet to while the time away.

Then sometime during the fall season of 2001, I came across an article entitled "Ethnic Cleansing in the Philippines." I readily agreed with the projection of a country trying to annihilate all the languages except for one in its effort to just have one language, and hence some sort of unity. I lost no time in getting in touch the author and found a mutual desire and common goal in the preservation and promotion of our languages.

Then I formed a Yahoo group, temporarily naming it United non-Tagalogs. That was on November 1, 2001, although it seems that it has been around for a much longer time on account of the numerous messages over the passing months. – Ernie Turla (2003-06)

Corporate Purpose

The Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago (DILA) is organized to preserve and enrich the native languages of the Philippine Archipelago. It shall advocate the enactment of laws and adoption of policies to this effect, specifically:

1. The replacement of Tagalog as medium of instruction in all elementary and high schools by the particular language indigenous to the region where such schools are located.

2. The inclusion in the elementary, high school and college curricula of academic subjects on the language indigenous to the region where the school is located.

3. The shift to a system of government that empowers the major ethno-linguistic regions to nurture their native languages.

To this end, it shall 1) raise, manage and invest funds to finance activities to achieve its purposes and 2) enter into alliances and cooperation arrangements with like-minded organizations.

Related Readings

On Education
There are to be almost 20 million schoolchildren enrolled in 2002-2003. Under the Basic Education Curriculum of Secretary Roco, their instruction will begin to focus only on the five subjects of Filipino, English, Mathematics, Science and Makabayan.

DiversityThe UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity was adopted unanimously at the 31st UNESCO General Conference. It aims to have a significant impact on humanising globalization and making it more culturally sensitive.

The Subdialect Filipino
What is"Filipino?" There is much difference of opinion on this matter. According to one school of thought, Filipino is not only different from Tagalog, but that it (Filipino) still does not exist, but on the contrary, it still has to be developed.

Ethnic Cleansing in the Philippines
The United Nations Convention on Genocide drafted in December 1948 mainly defines the physical means by which governments or rogue militia weed out ethnic or cultural communities. With bullets or bladed weapons, separation of younglings from their elders, we've heard it all before from the news and read it in the history books.

List of Philippine Languages
Republic of the Philippines. 86,241,697. National or official languages: Filipino, English. Literacy rate: 88% to 89%. Also includes Basque, French (698), Hindi (2,415), Indonesian (2,580), Japanese (2,899), Korean, Sindhi (20,000), Standard German (961), Vietnamese, Arabic. Information mainly from L. A. Reid 1971; SIL 1954–2003. Blind population: 1,144,500. Deaf population: 100,000 to 4,232,519 (1998). Deaf institutions: 17. The number of languages listed for Philippines is 175. Of those, 171 are living languages and 4 are extinct.