Today is International Mother Language Day! Observed every 21st of February since 2000, this event aims to “promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multiculturalism.” This makes it a very relevant celebration for our country whose citizens speak almost two hundred tongues and also the perfect opportunity to bust some myths and promote our languages in one go.
- Acknowledge them as languages—not dialects. One of the biggest misconceptions on the classification of the languages in our country is that Cebuano, Pangasinan, Tausug, and other ethnic languages are dialects of the Filipino language. Nope, these are languages! Dialects are technically variations of a language; Tagalog, for example, has dialects that include those spoken in Bulacan, Rizal, Quezon Province, etc.
- Languages are not hierarchical. All languages are equal and have their own set of unique characteristics. So English is not superior to Filipino, just as Filipino is not superior to other Philippine languages. We also have to recognize that a mother tongue is not a synonym for “regional language.” For example, English and Filipino are the mother tongues of children who speak these as their first languages.
- Respect their names. We can express our respect and pride for our languages by taking the time to know their names, correct spelling, and pronunciation so that we can also avoid using pejorative or incorrect terms to describe ethnic groups/their languages. Blaan, for instance, is the right name for both the language and the people instead of Bilaan and B’laan. Pangasinan is the name of the language and not Pangasinense, the people, nor Pangalatok, which is considered offensive.
A reason to commemorate this day is the success of the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) program. MTB-MLE requires the use of the students’ first language, called the mother language or mother tongue, in learning subjects from Kinder to Grade 3. This program is founded on numerous studies proving that strength in a child’s mother language positively affects the learning of a second language. Like any infant program, however, MTB-MLE is still growing and faces a lot of challenges, such as the dearth of reading materials in the different languages and insufficient number of teachers who are skilled to teach in their mother tongue.
We can help raise awareness about the need for materials in our mother tongues by telling stories, poems, and other works in our own languages. For sure, children will enjoy reading books in their mother tongue or will be engaged to listen to stories passed down by their older generation. You can grab copies of the books in your local libraries, shops, or publishing houses. The Adarna House catalogue also contains books translated into Ilocano and Cebuano.
It’s high time to recognize the importance and propagate the use of our mother tongue, the language closest to our heart.