“Catch us in our smaller gatherings and we are proudly speaking Cebuano, Bisaya, Surigaonon, all our other dialects and, yes, our beloved Filipino.
In the Australian city I live in of close to 100,000 residents, I know four other people who can speak Surigaonon fluently. I estimate around 50 of us fluently speak Cebuano/Bisaya and at least 300 of us are fluent in Filipino.
I am grateful that I speak the languages and dialects that I do simply as a fortunate by-product of having, at some stage in my life, lived in different cities and regions in the Philippines. I am thankful that my parents, siblings and extended family were always around for me to converse with in these varied dialects. What an amazing multi-dialect people we are and yet we also speak one national language if we so wish.
Linggo ng Wika and Buwan ng Wika are great recognition of the immense treasure our national language is. In this global village we live in, it is good to see an increasing amount of resource and effort channeled towards ensuring we do not snuff out that which makes us unique. Our many dialects reflect our country’s rich heritage. National Language Month celebrates Filipino, the most widely spoken of our many languages. But I also see it as a chance to take pride in all the different languages our fellow countrymen speak. Each carrying a unique culture, a special meaning, a treasured memory. All of this adding to our people’s rich cultural diversity.
I have a really good friend who lives an hour and a half away from where I live. We have been best friends since we were neighbors in the 1980s in Surigao City. We caught up in Melbourne once and, as expected, animatedly talked with each other in Surigaonon.
Suddenly, I heard a man who was walking past say, “Speak (swear word) English, will ya!” A split-second passed and I retorted in perfectly enunciated English, “How fortunate for us who speak many languages. Pity those who cannot,” or something to that effect. The guy picked up his pace and quickly faded from view. I was having an amazing time with my high school best friend. The nerve of this stranger to tell me what language I can and cannot speak!
“What an amazing multi-dialect people we are and yet we also speak one national language if we so wish.
My friend looked at me, she who is my usual defender, gobsmacked that I stood up to this ill-mannered stranger. We dismissed his ignorant remark, shared a laugh at the absurdity of it all and immediately went back to speaking excitedly in Surigaonon.
As one of the multicultural advisors in our city, I have attended many Australian citizenship ceremonies. One message has been clear to me, no matter who the inspirational speaker was at such events. We are welcomed as Australians and are encouraged to bring with us the rich culture and heritage that is part and parcel of who we are. We can only build a better city and a better future for everyone if we share the best of the many worlds we have been and continue to be a part of.
Of course, we speak English when we work, study, live and play within the broader community. But catch us in our smaller gatherings and we are proudly speaking Cebuano, Bisaya, Surigaonon, all our other dialects and, yes, our beloved Filipino.
While going about my daily routine, doing some shopping, mommy duties or engaging in community development work, hearing someone speak in Filipino, Bisaya or Surigaonon always puts a smile on my face. Being away from the Philippines has made me appreciate even more the instant camaraderie and fellowship that speaking a shared language brings.
Time to get my English-Filipino flash cards, picture books and dictionary from our bookshelf and give my children, nephews and niece a taste of Buwan ng Wika.