Young Igorot children in Baguio City dressed in Filipiniana. They speak in several languages.

Long considered the epitome of culture, languages reflect how people live, how they think, how they dress, how they work, their belief systems, what they eat, and the whole gamut of existence. In earlier times when our communities were more or less isolated even from our neighbors, either by geography and topography or by ethnocentric bias, our languages also developed differently.

A difference of a few kilometers between villages resulted in variations of the language, with different enunciation and pronunciation, different contextual use of terms, or the use of entirely different terms for the same idea.

In Kalinga, people of neighboring villages do not even understand each other’s language, a testament to the extent of isolation of their villages from each other.

Bugnay, Tinglayan, Kalinga. This is the home village of Macliing Dulag, Cordillera martyr. People of this village belong to the Butbut tribe, but they have trouble communicating with the neighboring Basao tribe in their original language, thus communication is done in Ilocano.

The variations of language in history and in present times, and the misunderstandings or lack of communication that result, are often the subject of our jokes and puns, and not in a few instances when have these also resulted in conflicts between individuals or entire villages.

In a sense, our languages or dialects served their purpose, for we were able to communicate with the people we interacted most with, our families and the village of our birth. There was no pressing need to learn other languages, because the villages were relatively self-sufficient (even if merely subsistent), and thus interaction with other villages was limited. Further, these small villages had their biases and fears of their neighbors, further restricting interaction.

The isolation of our villages eventually loosened. We began to interact with people other than those of our village. The traditional biases we held against our neighbors were relieved by the intermarriages we had with them. People strove to develop common terms for use in our communication with others. We varied our enunciation and pronunciation in order that we would be understood by other communities.

Neighboring villages normally did not have much difficulty in communicating with each other, with minimal adjustments in the dialect. However, the farther away one goes away from his village, communication became a bigger problem. True, it was not impossible to communicate, but it was not easy.

This development in our languages became necessary specially as our people began to congregate in population centers, whether it be in the cities, the mining boom towns, or provincial capitals. As we interacted with people from faraway villages, it became necessary to find a common language that could bridge the chasm of communication.

The people of the Cordilleras thus adopted the Ilocano language. While initially Ilocano was a language as alien as any other, it assumed character as a regional language. The extent of this adoption is best exemplified by the Kalinga villages mentioned earlier. They could not understand each other in their dialects, but they could arrive at an understanding using Ilocano.

Our becoming Ilocano speakers was by no means sudden, and many an old folk left this world not understanding the language. Even at this time, there are people from our villages who have difficulty with it, liberally spicing their discourse with terms unique to their native language. Yet there is no question that with some knowledge of Ilocano, they could get themselves understood.

As our horizons expanded, we eventually learned to speak other languages, like Tagalog (or, as it is now officially known, Filipino). We also learned English, long the language used in our schools.

Correctly or not, we generally considered our proficiency in English as superior to that of other Filipinos, even. Of course we also observed that this “advantage” has somehow been diluted, with latter generations suffering from the perceived national “decline of education.”

Schoolchildren at Easter College in Baguio City participate in the celebration of the Philippines' "Linggo ng Wika," showcasing the national language, Filipino.

At present, most of our people speak several languages: our native dialect, Ilocano, Tagalog, and English. With varying degrees of fluency, of course, but conversant enough. Our exposure to these different languages results in a hybrid language, where terms from our many tongues often get mixed up in everyday conversation. Communication-wise, it is no problem, for we understand each other quite easily. However, we tend to confuse the syntax of one language for another, or make literal translations that mangle grammar and language rules.

As we continue to use the hybrid language, our children could no longer distinguish from whence the different terms come. What we pass on to them is a language that is effective for communication, but at the same time it is a language that is neither English, Tagalog, Ilocano, or our native dialect.

This hybrid language is the native language of our children.

We, the earlier generations, could readily distinguish which of the terms we are using came from what language, and if necessary, we could revert to an unadulterated discourse solely in our native dialect. We could also speak in Ilocano without the smattering of un-Ilocano terms. And we could speak in relatively fluent English as well. In this sense, we are truly multilingual, for we do speak in several languages.

Alas for our kids, for the language they speak is neither this nor that.

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