Language is one of the many riches of the Philippines, which has more than a hundred, spoken throughout the archipelago. National Artist for literature Virgilio Almario has always underscored its importance.
“Alam po ninyo, ang wika, para sa akin, ang una at pangunahing pamanang kultura ng bawat pangkatin ng tao. Pinakamahalaga, sa palagay ko, ito sa lahat ng tinatawag nating intangible cultural heritage dahil sa pamamagitan ng wika nagsimula ang mga iba pang mga panitikan, awit, at iba pang intangible cultural heritage natin (You know, language, for me, is the first and foremost of the cultural heritage of every ethnic group. I think this is the most important among what we call intangible cultural heritage because through language, literature, song and other intangible cultural heritage begins),” explained Almario, who is also the chairman of both the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) or the Commission on the Filipino Language, and the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. “Sa pamamagitan din ng wika ay nape-preserve, naiimbak ang karunungan at mga karanasan ng tao. Hindi lang iyon, sa pamamagitan ng wika ay mas umasenso ang paraan ng pamumuhay ng tao mula sa antas ng hayop (Through language, the knowledge and experiences of people can be preserved and stored. Not only that, because of language, the ways of living of humans advanced from the level of animals).”
A counrty of many tongues
It can be said that if there are more languages, there are more vessels of wisdom and human experiences, collected and embalmed through the ages. In a language, one can mine native knowledge, values, traditions and histories. Thus, a country with many languages is a country rich in heritage.
“Sinasabi na isa sa mga pinakamayaman sa wikang katutubo sa buong mundo ang Filipinas (It is said that the Philippines is one of the richest in the world in native languages),” Almario said. “Sa aming sarbey two years ago, may nakuha kaming pangalan ng mga wikang katutubo na umabot sa 131. Ngunit ilan sa mga ito ang alam ninyo kahit sa pangalan lamang. Siguro ang mas alam lang ninyo ay ang tinatawag nating mga major Philippine languages—Ilocano, Tagalog, Bisaya—pero hindi rin natin alam pa ang more than 100 (In our survey two years ago, we collected names of native languages reaching 131.
But you only know some of them even only in name. Perhaps, you may be more familiar with what we call the major Philippine languages—Ilocano, Tagalog, Bisaya—but there are more than 100 that we do not know).”
On the verge of vanishing
While considered very important, this diversity is, however, sadly taken for granted and neglected. As years pass, more languages are being pushed to the brinks of vanishing.
“Sa kasamaang-palad, ang wika ngayon ay hindi natin inaalagaan, lalo na dito sa Filipinas (Unfortunately, language is not being taken care of, especially here in the Philippines),” Almario lamented. “Hindi rin natin alam na dahil sa ating hindi pagmamalasakit sa ating mga wika, marami sa kanila ang malapit nang mamatay dahil ang ating mga kapatid na may-ari ng mga katutubong wika na malapit nang mamatay ay nawawalan din ng simpatiya sa kanilang sariling wika, in fact, sa kanilang sariling kultura dahil mas iniisip nila na baka kung sila ay magtatagalog, mag-iilocano, o magbibisaya ay mas magsu-survive sila sa ating lipunan kaya kinakalimutan nila ang kanilang wika na isang napakalungkot na bagay dahil kung iisipin natin na ang wika ay parang bodega, parang kaban ng karunungan ng isang pangkat ng tao, kapag namatay ang wika ay para tayong nawalan ng bodega ng karunungan (We also do not know that because our neglect of language, many of them are dying because our brothers and sisters, who are bearers of these dying native languages, are also losing concern towards their own languages, and in fact, towards their own culture. Perhaps, they think that if they speak in Tagalog, Ilocano, or Bisaya, they will be able to survive in our society. That’s why they forget their own language, which is a very sad this because if we consider language as a repository, a treasury of knowledge of an ethnic group, if a language dies, it is like we lost a treasury of knowledge).”
To emphasize the importance of language, the KWF created the Bantayog ng Wika project.
People create monuments for many things such as prominent persons, significant episodes in histories, and cultural icons, many of which have become tourist attractions themselves.
An intangible cultural heritage, such as language, is seldom commemorated with monuments.
The Bantayog ng Wika project is clever and creative in its concrete way of monumentalizing languages, highlighting its significance as cultural wealth. It is also hoped that the Bantayog-Wika, literally meaning “language monument,” will also be a cultural tourist destination.
Prominent installation artist Luis “Junyee” Yee, Jr. was chosen to design and create the Bantayog-Wika. The design is in the form of a huge piece of bamboo, painted brown and etched with several lines from Philippine hero Andres Bonifacio’s poem, “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Bayan,” (Love for the Land of One’s Birth) in old Tagalog abugida or baybayin.
The ten-foot bamboo structure is made stainless steel, mounted on a pedestal. Laser technology is used to engrave the baybayin on steel. Lights are installed inside the hollow body. When lit, the script will shine through. The Bantayog-Wika also bears a plaque describing the language and is installed in places where it originated or widely spoken.
All over the archipelago
The first language marker was installed March 1, 2018, at the EBJ Freedom Park in San Jose, Antique, for the Kiniray-a language, spoken in the island of Panay in Western Visayas.
The second Bantayog-Wika is for Tuwali Ifugao, one of the four Ifugao languages, installed at the Ifugao State University in Lamut, Ifugao, on March 27. Tuwali is spoken in the municipalities of Kiangan, Hingyon, Hungduan and some parts of Lamut, Asipilo, Lagawe and Banaue. The hudhud is in Tuwali.
Third Bantayog-Wika is for the Mandaya language, installed on June 19 at the Davao Oriental State College of Science and Technology, Mati City, Davao Oriental. Mandaya is spoken by the Mandaya people in Davao del Norte and Davao Oriental.
The fourth marker was installed on June 25 for Kalinga, which has seven languages—Butbut Kalinga, Limos Kalinga, Lubuagan Kalinga, Mabaka Valley Kalinga, Majukayang Kalinga, Southern Kalinga, and Tanudan Kalinga—at the campus of Kalinga State University in Bulanao, Tabuk City, Kalinga.
The fifth marker was put up on July 4 at the San Jose Municipal Tourism Compound in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, for the Mangyan languages—Alangan, Buhid, Hanunoo, Iraya, Ratagnon, Tadyawan, Eastern Tawbuid and Western Tawbuid.
KWF aims to install 22 language markers across the country this year. When all markers have been mounted, Almario envisioned that there would be one night when all monuments will be simultaneously lit up, like stars that spur hope and dreams or like bright jewels that signify wealth, or flickering flames of undying love.
Loving our own languages
“Nais namin na sa pamamagitan ng Bantayog-Wika ay hindi lamang ipagdiwang natin ang bawat wika mayroon tayo sa Filipinas kundi para rin maipagunita natin sa may-ari ng wika na dapat nilang mahalin ang kanilang sariling wika, dapat nilang alagaan, dapat nilang pagyamanin dahil isa itong napakahalagang kayamanan ng tao (Through the Bantayog-Wika, we wish to not only celebrate each of our languages we have in the Philippines but also to remind the bearers of languages that they have to love their own language, to take care of it and to enrich it, because it is a very important wealth of people),” Almario explained. “Inaasahan ko na sa pamamagitan ng Bantayog-Wika ay higit na mabubuhay ang diwa ng pagmamahal ninyo sa wika kundi sa buong kultura at lahat ng dapat ipagmalaki (We hope that through the Bantayog-Wika, the love for language, culture and all things to be proud of will intensify).”