The arguments over the national language of the Philippines in a country with hundreds of languages and their dialects and the diverse ethnic groups has always been an ongoing issue since the time when we gained our independence and when Filipino nationalists were trying to make an independent government.

There was the fight over which language should be the lingua frenca of the Philippines and the top two languages was Tagalog and Bisayan. Of course we know how history played out and today Tagalog is the national language, hidden behind the term Pilipino of course, to try to give a more nationalistic feel.

Now, many non-Tagalogs resent the fact Tagalog was choosen as the basis for the national language. You see it taught in schools along with English where those who are not Tagalog often know and speak 3 languages, their native language, Tagalog, and English.

There is also the also the issues of being Tagalog-centric, where everything is focused on Tagalog. There are also issues where those who speak their native tongue for example Kapampangan, are made fun of or told to stop speaking it and speak Tagalog.

Since the adoption of Tagalog as the national language it has been a constant issue and factor in the delay and progress of truly unifying the people and country based on the fact that its imposing the language of a dominant group over a nation of diverse ethnic groups and languages.

Then, what should be the national language?

A while ago an Indonesian friend of mine brought this conversation up and how Bahasa Indonesian, or Indonesian, was developed. Note the language didn’t really exist until the 20th century, where nationalists, just like the nationalists in the Philippines, resented colonial rule and wanted to unify the country in a nationalistic cause. Choosing a national language however with over 13,000 islands and 300 languages, which is far greater than the Philippines, someone would think it would be difficult. However the nationalistic movement in Indonesia choosed wisely and choosed a language that was present in Indonesia as well as the rest of maritime Southeast Asia, including the Philippines. They choosed the Malay language, or Bahasa Melayu, the lingua franca of maritime Southeast Asia prior to the colonizations of the Southeast Asian region.

The language is the official language of Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and Singapore, and is also spoken in parts of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam and Timor-Leste. Of course Bahasa Indonesia differs a bit from say Bahasa Malaysia, through influences from Dutch, Portuguese, and native languages in Indonesia, however it follows the standard Malay language.

So what does this have to do with the Philippines?

Well the Malay language was present and spoken in many areas of the Philippines, and today is also spoken and understood by some groups in Southern Mindanao which they also use as a lingua franca among them. Historically the Malay language has always been the main language used among maritime Southeast Asia and parts of mainland Southeast Asia, where it is the dominant language for trade and business.

In the archipelago now known as the Philippines there were several major trading ports such as Manila, Tondo, Mindoro, Cebu, Panay, and Sulu to name a few. All traders in the coasts knew the Malay language as well as the nobility who often dealt with trade and business across the islands and the islands of present day Indonesia and Malaysia. When Magellan arrived, with the help of his slave and translator, known as Enrique of Malacca who was a native of Sumatra, he fluently conversed with Rajah Humabon and Datu Lapu-Lapu through Malay and was able to interpret and understand the people there through Malay.

Seeing as the Malay language has been a long time historical language used in trade and commerce, I don’t see why the Philippines can’t use it as the national language like what Indonesia did when they gained independence. The Malay language also represents no dominant group like how Tagalog is with obviously Tagalogs, making it a much better option as a national language than say choosing one ethnic groups language to be a national language.

Now my suggestion on what we do is take the example of what Indonesians did. They developed Bahasa Indonesian through standard Malay and developed it in their own local national language with influences of words from Dutch, Portuguese, and native languages. Now instead of the loan words of Dutch and Portuguese, our loan words would be influenced from the loan words we have from the Spaniards and English from the U.S.

In that way not only would we have a language the doesn’t just promote and support one ethnic group out of many in terms of nationalism, but also everyone would know and speak their native language along with a national language that’s purpose is to unite a diverse country and people, as well as English for international purposes.

Another reason is for a stronger communication with the rest of our Southeast Asian family. Like I said above the language is spoken by all of maritime Southeast Asia including parts of Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam, all except the Philippines. Also its much easier to learn considering the majority of the Philippine languages have many words derived from the Malay language.

Of course it would take time, I mean in Indonesia it took time as well to teach it and no one’s native language was Malay, to where it was only the older folk who don’t know it, while the younger generations are fluent in their native language and in Indonesian because Indonesian isn’t taught until ages 6-7, giving the opportunity for kids to know their native language as well.

On that note, instead of Tagalog/Pilipino being the national language of the Philippines, maybe we can have and develop Bahasa Pilipinas in the future?

About The Author

Executive Editor & Founder

Ligaya is the Executive Editor & Writer at Pinoy-Culture.com. She lives in NYC with her two dogs and spends her time reading, writing, collecting and buying books online and in safe haven, Strand Bookstore, watching her guilty tv show pleasure Vikings, and overdosing herself in coffee as a certified caffeine addict. Her book, Diwatahan: A Look Into the Precolonial Beliefs, Practices, Myths, & Folklore of the Philippines, is currently in progress and is scheduled to be published in Summer of 2017.

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