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Is Filipino Language Our ‘Identity’? To Hell With It!

August 27, 2011

After reading an article titled “Language, learning, identity, privilege”, I was reminded of my passionate and serious discussion

"He who loves not his own language/is worse than a beast and a stinking fish." TO HELL WITH IT!

"He who loves not his own language/is worse than a beast and a stinking fish." TO HELL WITH IT!

with some people on certain Facebook group a few days ago, and the topic was “English versus Filipino”. In that discussion I strongly rejected the notion that language is the soul or identity of a nation. I said language is simply a tool of- first, cognition- and second, communication. You cannot think without any written or spoken language.

The author of this article talks about the Filipino language as the identity of every Filipino. He wrote:

There are ideas and concepts unique to Filipino that can never be translated into another. Try translating bayanihan, tagay, kilig or diskarte.

Only recently have I begun to grasp Filipino as the language of identity: the language of emotion, experience, and even of learning. And with this comes the realization that I do, in fact, smell worse than a malansang isda. My own language is foreign to me: I speak, think, read and write primarily in English. To borrow the terminology of Fr. Bulatao, I am a split-level Filipino.

But perhaps this is not so bad in a society of rotten beef and stinking fish. For while Filipino may be the language of identity, it is the language of the streets. It might have the capacity to be the language of learning, but it is not the language of the learned.

It is neither the language of the classroom and the laboratory, nor the language of the boardroom, the court room, or the operating room. It is not the language of privilege. I may be disconnected from my being Filipino, but with a tongue of privilege I will always have my connections.

So I have my education to thank for making English my mother language.

I believe that the degree of completeness, sophistication and quality of a certain language determines the degree of a nation’s civilization. As language expands and improves, so the economic, political and social condition of a nation. For instance, the advent of the age of industrialization in the English-speaking Western world led to the evolution of the English language. Technical terms and new words were added to the English lexicon and dictionary. Also, the advent of the Internet age further added countless of new terms and words to the English dictionary. These developments made English the lingua franca of global trade, of economics, of politics, of science and technology, of aviation, of education, etc.

The author of the newspaper article wrote: “English was more natural; I read, wrote and thought in English.”

That simply confirms the fact that language is a tool. It should not be regarded as the soul or identity of this nation or any nation. Logic has it that if you seriously take that so puerile a claim that language defines you, then that means Filipino, which is our national language, is your identity and inescapable. This means that to embrace a superior language (according to your values and understanding) means you’re a traitor to your own society, self, and soul. This means that you have no absolute control over your own destiny.

Such an infantile idea is, in fact, a pathetic attempt by some of the country’s intellectual flips to equate Filipino with our skin complexion and personal identity. They say, “Filipino is part of your identity so wherever you are and whatever language you use, you are a Failipino!” You cannot escape it, they say.


7 Comments leave one →
  1. nyancat permalink
    September 20, 2011 3:38

    I agree that language isn’t the ‘soul’ of a nation. But I kind of disagree when you said that language is merely a tool: if something is a tool, then it could be separated from its user, it could be disposed of and there is a boundary where the user ends and the tool begins. But does such a boundary exist between man and language? No. They’re inseparable: even if you’re not talking out loud, let’s say you’re thinking or contemplating, you still use language, right?

    • September 20, 2011 3:38

      When I said that language is a tool, what I meant to say is that it is an instrument- or something that we can use – of, first, COGNITION, and then COMMUNICATION. When I used the word “tool”, I wasn’t speaking of any material object, but to a set or visual-auditory symbols, which we can use to think and then to communicate. We cannot think and communicate without spoken and written language, and that makes language a very important, if not the most important, invention by man. As a tool, language can be invented, expanded, and innovated according to man’s existential requirements.

  2. homosapiens permalink
    October 22, 2011 3:38

    language is not just a tool for communication. it is also defined as a mental faculty, a formal symbolic system, and a unique feature of human beings.

    you ask – Is Filipino Language Our ‘Identity’?

    i respond – no, basically it’s not our “identity”. but it’s an “expression” of our identity as filipino.

  3. May 21, 2013 3:38

    Dear Froilan Vincent,

    Please allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Shelley Tuazon Guyton, and I am independently conducting a research project on social media and national identity in the Philippines. Through this research, I hope to analyze the many ways people might envision themselves as a nation. This project is affiliated with the Anthropology Department at the University of the Philippines, Diliman; and, it is funded by the Fulbright Program for mutual understanding between nations.

    Your blog was found by performing a search for keywords “Filipino” and “identity” across I enjoyed reading this post, and I also found it relevant to my project. I would be grateful if you would consider participating in a short online survey. The survey takes about 5-7 minutes to complete. Your input would help me very much with my research. You may access the survey online here:

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you might have. My email address is shelley[dot]guyton[at]gmail[dot]com. Also, you can access my bio and additional information about this project on my LinkedIn profile: . Thank you again for your time, and for your interesting blogs!

    Shelley Tuazon Guyton

    • May 21, 2013 3:38

      I’ve already answered your survey questionnaire…

      I made the additional comment:

      I don’t blog about our national or Filipino identity. I believe that our “identity” as a people is defined by our dominant culture and mentality. I don’t know how you define “national identity”. I think it’s a very broad term that it requires objective definition. What are the factors that influence or form our national identity? Also, I don’t believe that our national identity is defined by our language, which is primarily a tool of cognition. Although our language reflects our culture, as we have terms like “pagmamano”, “bayanihan”, “pakikipag-kapwa tao”, etc. However it does NOT define our identity; it merely reflects it. There’s a big difference between the words “define” and “reflect”.

      • May 22, 2013 3:38

        Thank you very much for your responses, and also for sharing your additional comments. I appreciate your participation. I think your perspective on national identity is very interesting, and I would enjoy discussing it more with you if you are open to it.


  4. July 4, 2014 3:38

    Hi Froi, I’m Patrick from San Beda College, and I major in Philosophy. My intended thesis topic is about Language, Filipino Philosophy of Education and National Identity but I have yet to construct a working title. I understand your “the hell with it” attitude, and to be honest I somehow found myself wandering off in the same path while doing my initial readings. I am a patriot, I love my country and the heroes that bled and died for it. But to my frustration, I grew up in a household that preferred English as a medium for instruction. FIlipino, since the day I started to verbalize my thoughts, is a language only used when casually conversing.

    I started reading Filipino novels when I was in high school, but I could not, for the life of me, understand half of what I was reading. Lazaro Francisco’s “Daluyong” and, I’m not sure if this is by the same author, “Maganda pa ang Daigdig” were among those books. But because I understood half of what I was reading, I managed to appreciate the beauty of their story, so I tried hard to finish it, with a Filipino dictionary on another hand. I especially liked, “Maganda pa ang Daigdig,” it gave me a sense of the provinces and the political struggles of normal people – it gave me the sense of culture and identity.

    So, if my impression of your article is correct, you are like me, frustrated because we’re not as good a Filipino linguists as writers from Ateneo de Manila University Press. Frustrated because we grew up in a society that shun the task of upholding its national language for further development, and instead, chose to use a language that was dictated to us by economics and globalization. Frustrated because, if we both had our way, we would’ve suggested adding those extra Filipino units to our curriculum – hell, we might’ve enrolled in malikhaing pagsusulat as well (i went for creative writing, instead, since our school did not offer the Filipino counterpart of the subject).

    From what I’ve learned through this on-going study of the Filipino Philosophy of Education, language, and national Identity, is; the moment we start to view the Filipino language as something inconsequential and non-essential for defining our National Identity, is the moment we begin to lose ourselves in the saturation of countless colonial-cultures in our blood. So, as a fellow student of philosophy (cause everyone with a critical mind like you, I consider a student of philosophy), please don’t give up on the wikang Filipino. You and I, and every single person studying Filipino, are all that’s left standing between Filipino and its extinction.

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