Who killed Tagalog? A different whodunit
(Third of a series)
The plot thickens. How did we arrive at this point in the unique and unwritten history of our national language? Did Tagalog really die? We must go back further into the past to find out.
Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino’s (KWF) “Madalas Itanong Hinggil sa Wikang Pambansa” narrates that on Aug. 13, 1959, Education Secretary Jose E. Romero (who was from Negros) issued a departmental order in connection with the celebrations of the National Language Week, to “impress upon the public the importance of a unified medium of communication.”
Just as important, Romero’s order emphasized that “in order to impress upon the National Language the indelible character of our nationhood, the term Pilipino shall henceforth be used in referring to that language.”
This is the first known and documented use of the term “Pilipino.” KWF’s “Madalas Itanong” also reports that before the issue of the order, “the national language was usually called Tagalog or Wikang Pambansa. The order, therefore, was one way of baptizing the National Language for it to be separated from the identity or brand of Tagalog.”
But how did Tagalog become the basis of the national language in the first place? Now we must backtrack to even much earlier.
From the ‘mountain’
In the 1934 Constitutional Convention, the body convened to prepare a new Philippine government if and when the country was granted independence by the Americans, the guy that started it all was a delegate from Mountain Province, Felipe R. Jose. With little ceremony, he stood up in one of the sessions and said, “Antes de comenzar, yo quisiera anunciar a la Mesa que el discurso preparado por mi no esta en ingles, ni en castellano, esta en tagalo (Before I begin, I would like to inform the table that the speech I prepared is neither in English nor Spanish, but in Tagalog).”
The delegates were stunned, especially when F.R. Jose continued and declared in fluent Tagalog: “We have to let the world know today that we are a people no longer under the Flag of Spain, nor under the shadow of the American Flag. It is necessary that as early as now we must love the freedom and the soul of the nation—our own language. We will only deserve freedom if we can defend the sacred soul of the nation, our own language. Because language, the language of any country in the world, is used as a powerful tool for expressing the people’s sentiments, for gaining knowledge and for defending their rights.”
The convention scrambled to form a committee on official language, which subsequently had to conduct a rigorous process of public hearings and the receiving and poring over of petitions from language groups.
The committee reported on Sept. 28, 1934, and explained its leaning toward a native language as a possible national language because: “(a) All the vernaculars are outgrowths or branches of the Malay; (b) The vernaculars have very many terms in common and are almost similar in inflection and variation; (c) Ease and rapidity with which one tribe learns and uses another vernacular; (d) Wide diffusion of Tagalog in provinces not speaking it, notwithstanding the absence of encouragement for its use.”
The report provided the basis for the decision to “make the native languages the basis” for a national language in the Constitution that the convention was to write.
Still a little further back into the yet to be written history of the Filipino language is a significant research made by the now barely remembered author, Trinidad A. Rojo (a contemporary of Carlos Bulosan and who later worked with him as union leader for the canneries in Seattle, Washington).
An Ilocano, Rojo was a graduate (in linguistics) of the University of Washington in 1930 who was commissioned to conduct language research by the American language committee for the Philippines while they were mulling and hesitating over making English the sole official language of the Islands.
On the basis of Rojo’s study, “The Language Problem in the Philippines,” she became consultant to the committee composed of Leonard Bloomfield, Edward Sapir, Frank Blakse, Henry Pratt Fairchild, Harold H. Bender and Carleton Brown, all experienced and experts in language studies.
Rojo’s report strongly endorsed the selection of Tagalog as basis for the national language, due to the following research: (a) “Surveys show that Tagalog enjoys advantages, like in number of books and periodicals, over its two principal rivals Iloko and Bisaya;” (b) “Tagalog has the most highly developed literature of all the dialects;” (c) “Linguistically, as well as geographically, Tagalog occupies an intermediate position among the dialects of the Islands;” and (d) “Tagalog combines all the factors enumerated by Otto Jesperson, which are conducive to the unification of dialects, like, efficient communication which promote mobility of population and ideas, religious festivals and games which occasion great gatherings, well-developed literature of nationwide fame, conscription of soldiers, strong national government, and the rise of great towns for centralized industrial and commercial activities.”
So, did Tagalog really die? We now know how it became Pilipino in 1959 and that Pilipino became “Filipino” under the 1987 Constitution.
This whodunit will frustrate Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot or Zachary Klein’s Matt Jacob. Because in this mystery no one dies and the major characters simply metamorphose into better versions of themselves.
(Next week: Who murdered English?)
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