Friday, March 30, 2012

How to kill a language

Step 1: Invite a European country to invade and colonize the region where the language is spoken. The Europeans will teach you to regard their language as being superior to yours and you'll start thinking it's cooler to know their language.

Step 2: Somehow get the Europeans to leave your region.

Step 3: Randomly decide to form a country with a bunch of regions around you. Claim it makes more sense geographically.

Step 4: Allow one of the other regions to convince you to adopt their language as the "national language".

Step 5: Start teaching your kids the national language in school. Also start watching movies/listening to music in said national language. People will soon follow your example and start changing shop boards and road signs to the national language too.

Step 6: You have reached your goal! Your grandchild will know little or nothing about the existance of the language. Tada.

And no, this is not about what you think it is. I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine from the Phillipines. She told me a story about the fight of two(and more) languages..

See, long long ago, the Spanish colonised the Phillipines. The Spanish are notorious for destroying native traditions. Their dealings with the Mayans and other Central American tribes are well known. When they colonised the Phillipines, it was no different. They made the natives give up their religion, their language, their culture and follow the Spanish traditions. A few of the native tribes put up resistance so they were allowed to keep a part of their religion, but the nice friendly welcoming settlements were converted. Their books and scripts were destroyed.

Eventually, Phillipines gained their independence. They decided to group together a bunch of Islands and call it a new country. The question arose, as it always does whenever a new country is formed, on what language to use as a mode of communication. Using Spanish was opposed because, well, they deemed it a "foreign language".

Now the capital of Philipines is Manila and all the policy makers are from around there and since they spoke in this language Tagalog, they pushed for it to be the national language. Since only 1/3rd of the population spoke it, they tried to pacify them by invening a new language, "Filipino" which was basically Tagalog with a few words thrown in from other languages and this is the language that is taught in school.

My friend says that since there is no written literature for her language (Visayan), she was not taught to read and write the language - the language is passed on from generation to generation, from parent to child by word of mouth. And since it isn't taught in school, people just end up communicating in Filipino and a little in Spanish and English. It's only when they talk to their parents and grandparents that they default to their mothertongue.

She says that the difference in the vocabulary of the younger and older generations is quite noticible and the language is slowly dying. She even admits that she doesn't know how to count in her language. She sadly hopes that something could be done and her language and her script could be revived.

I hope so too.

Disclaimer: If you are from Philipines and reading this, please note that I did not mean to offend you in any way. I admit I have not done any personal research and everything here was my understanding of a story told to me.