jump to navigation

Ispokening Bisaya August 1, 2007

Posted by Janjan in All, cebuano.

Taken from the blogs of my good friends, Antonio Java, an editor and columnist of Cebu Daily News (a local subsidiary of the Philippine Daily Inquirer), and Mia Borja, a linguistics specialist, call center trainer and proud promdi school teacher from Iligan.

I hereby adopt their entries by ratification and append my concurring opinion to theirs.

For the record, I am not opposed to learning Tagalog, except when it is used as the medium of instruction for Social Studies. I believe English should also be continuously taught, and used as the medium of instruction for subjects like Math, Music, Social Studies, Science, etc.

However, I am all for teaching Bisaya in Bisaya-speaking regions, Waray for Waray-speaking regions, so on and so forth.

I don’t believe in language superiority and I maintain that there is NO SUCH THING as an official “Filipino” language, if we are talking about one overriding language to be imposed by one region over the others.

There are many Filipino languages however, and we should take care to protect and preserve the continued education of all these languages into the curriculum of their respective regions.


by Antonio Java

I was reading a friend’s blog last week where she made quite an interesting point about the Visayan language: It is a language spoken by a great majority in the country, yet it has become relegated to a sort of second-class tongue.

I’ve stressed in previous columns that the Visayan language or Binisaya is, as languages go, more evolved than most major languages in existence, according to language scholars. The fact that Binisaya is a couple of hundred words larger than, say, Tagalog or English is proof enough of its age and flexibility (just the other day, my barkada was wracking our brains trying to translate the Visayan word “hata” to English. Finding no direct translation, the closest we got was “feint,” though we had to note that to feint is more of a movement meant to mislead or to deceive, while hata is a movement more related to indecisiveness rather than deception).

Some would argue that there is no such thing as a “superior” language. I’d actually tend to agree, since the idea of a language is to communicate ideas. Though one has to admit that certain languages make the transfer of ideas easier and faster than other languages. However, for the transfer of ideas to work, one particular language has to be common between two or more people. So, logically, if a language is spoken by more people, then more people can share ideas, and an idea can spread faster. Right?

Well then, here’s the premise in the Philippines: Tagalog is taught in school. English is taught in school. But when it comes to sheer population, there are more natural Visayan speakers in the country than there are natural Tagalog speakers or English speakers.

So then why, oh why, isn’t Visayan – one of the most beautiful, most evolved, most ancient, and most widely spoken languages in the Philippines – NOT taught in school?

In fact, over the past few decades, Visayan has, unfortunately, been given a stigma or sorts as something inferior. Even some of us Visayan natives refer to something as “Bisaya kaayo” to derogate something. In fact, in many schools, speaking Visayan is practically banned, sometimes with a fine imposed on every instance a student speaks Binisaya.

Can someone please tell me when Binisaya or being Bisaya became something so “wrong” that we have to be fined for it?

It would be easy to blame “imperialist Manila” for the state of Visayan today. Tagalog is spoken in the capital city of Manila, hence, the capital city’s language should be the language of the entire country. I could also easily blame the influences of those who sought to colonize us: The Spanish and the Americans. In attempting to establish a colony here, they had to impose their own culture and language on the natives. No doubt, these things are partly to blame.

But I also blame the Visayans themselves, among whose number I am included, for slipping over the past few decades. I would hardly say that we Visayans were quick to abandon our own in lieu of something new and foreign. If that were so, Binisaya would have been lost to history generations ago. But neither have I seen any major effort for us to retain and educate ourselves of our own native culture. Not Asian culture, not Filipino culture, but Visayan culture.

Now I’m not saying we all start tattooing ourselves and make like our Pintados ancestors; for a culture to survive, it must also evolve. But at the very least, we should teach ourselves our own history, and we should especially teach ourselves our own language. But in this aspect, we are slipping. We’re slipping so much, in fact, that Cebuano, a dialect of the Visayan language, is already so full of words from other languages that while native Cebuano speakers can still understand pure Binisaya, most Cebuanos can’t speak Binisaya fluently.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that we should stop teaching English in school. English is already the widely accepted “global” language and without it, we miss out on the world. I’m not even saying we stop teaching Tagalog (or what some would like to call “Filipino,” though any Filipino worth his tongue knows that the Filipino language is just what they call Tagalog in an attempt to make it more nationally appealing… emphasis on “attempt”).

What I’m saying is that we Bisayas should not leave out our own native tongue when it comes to the languages we teach our children in school. I’m not merely proposing to allow, or even standardize the use of Bisaya as a language of instruction wherever Bisaya is natively spoken. I say we should have Bisaya classes, where students are TAUGHT proper Binisaya in all its native glory. It’s the most widely used language in the country. WHY NOT?!

And by extension, along with teaching ourselves the proper way to SPEAK Binisaya, perhaps we should even teach ourselves the proper way to WRITE Binisaya. That’s right: Alibata classes, which is applicable to both Binisaya and Tagalog. From my meager experience with Alibata (or Baybayin as it was called in olden times), I’ve discovered that one is actually able to preserve intonations and stress points in the written words through visual representations where it would otherwise be lost if Bisaya words were written in the Roman alphabet (compensated only by a reader’s actual knowledge in Binisaya).

But as it is, no schools I know of teach Binisaya. And I suspect only the most specialized of libraries have literature that teaches a person Alibata.

Well, here’s a factoid for you all: UNESCO estimates that half of the world’s languages are endangered because they are no longer taught or spoken.

When was the last time anyone remembers having Bisaya classes?




By Mia Borja

Looking back at my profession as a call center trainer and boybeater (haha), I realized that I wrongly regarded English (and the oftentimes annoying accent) as higher than Visayan and other languages. I was guilty of allocating Visayan and other “dialects” as second only to English, and that it was the English-way or the highway. I had no idea how misinformed I was, or how misguided. There are 6800 languages in the world, of which English is only one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, we do need English to transact business in and to instruct in on a regular basis; and I am still an avid supporter of the call center industry. I lab Cumberjis, and I always will.

However, it is the tendency to alleviate English so much at the expense of our native tongue that I am not comfortable with. I don’t know about you, but to be honest, I get irked when agents still speak in the “twang” outside of work (Mah-nang, pwede iza ka-tahkus na batih-cowlown?). Give it up mate, and please speak in Bisaya.

It was only last year, when I decided to take my MA in language, that I realized how narrow-minded I was as a trainer and “language specialist”, and how shallow my foundation for teaching language really was. Five things particularly struck me:

1. There is no such thing as language superiority.

While some languages are spoken by more people than others, each language is innately beautiful and unique. There is no basis for saying English is “better” than Visayan, or Tagalog is “higher” than Visayan. Even Ainu (a language spoken by only 15 people in Japan, and is no longer being taught to young Japanese) is equal in rank to Chinese, whose dialects are spoken by more than a billion people.

2. Visayan is NOT a dialect. It is a language.

This is not a radical leftist idea. It is a language fact.

I used to think that the difference between languages and dialects was the number of people who spoke it. In fact, dialects are a political misnomer. The real measure of language is mutual intellegibility. If I speak Visayan to a Tagalog person who cannot understand what I am saying, I am no longer intelligible to him. This fact makes Visayan a language. Now the Visayan speakers of Cagayan de Oro, Cebu, and Iligan can still understand each other even with regional variations, so we are all dialects of Visayan. The number of speakers have nothing to do with it, which means Higa-onon, Tausug, and other lumad languages, as well as gay languages, are real LANGUAGES, and not dialects because they are no longer easily understood by speakers of other, more “mainstream” languages like Visayan and Tagalog.

3. English should not be considered the pinnacle of language learning in the Philippines, because English is not “superior” in any way.

In fact, schools should integrate and emphasize learning different Philippine languages in the curriculum. I am all for teaching subjects in the Visayan or in Arabic, complimenting subjects taught in English. Hawaiian universities have managed to save their original Hawaiian language by teaching it in schools. Even New Zealand has saved the Maori language and culture by teaching it with pride to their students.

4. The fourth most widely “spoken” language is not spoken at all.

Sign language is fast becoming one of the five most popular languages in the world. There are different sign languages too; there’s the American standard (usually with one hand), the British sign language (usually with two hands), Nicaraguan sign, and Canadian sign language, among the many. Scholars predict that sign language will be achieve lingua franca importance in the next twenty years, and may soon be considered a necessary job skill, like speaking English.

5. When one teaches or speaks a language, one is preserving a culture.

The last filament of any group or tribe is the language. When you are the last speaker of your language and you die, there is no more of your culture to speak of. UNESCO estimates that half of the world’s languages are endangered because they are no longer taught or spoken.

That being said, I am memorizing the Lord’s Prayer in its original Aramaic language. Nothing beats the real thing.


1. Second Class Language? at Call Center Philippine Info - August 1, 2007

[…] Original post by northwolf […]

2. tinuod nga botbot - August 3, 2007

nice post bai…….. mura’g ubay-ubay jud ang akong napu-pong pagtulon-an og impormasyon…

3. amender cabal - June 11, 2009

therefore i conclude that the culprit in the extinction of the dialects in the philippines is the filipinization (forcing to speak the inferior language of tagalog – the language that did not even influence its neighboring provinces)

4. canon legria fs200 - October 16, 2011

I am in accordance completely

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: