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Fieldnotes: Missing Languages

Online conversation is filled with postings about how we should speak our own language or languages. Common on Facebook is the exhortation about how we, Bikolanos, should speak Bikol languages because we are Bikolanos. These sites and their administrators, without perhaps their meaning to, reveal and or conceal very strong regionalism. There is nothing intrinsically wrong or limiting about regionalism as it is a love of regions, of a locality. That passion for the local or one’s ground or place speaks about a hundred and one assumptions. That a region to which we can say we belong to is power. That our existence will only have meaning at present and follows a direction in the near and in the far, indeterminate, when we can call a land, a huge land, our region.

How one’s conceptualization of identity can subvert or even compromise a bigger proposal for a love of nation is one thing that we are, for better or worse, not open to admitting.

Interestingly and this is the irony of it all, the same individuals who propose for the primacy of one’s language or location are the same individuals who would propound a very keen sense of the nation. The same individuals asking that we speak the language of the region may not be dramatically aware that, in the process, they are favoring one language over the other.

When one language or culture is favored over other languages or cultures, then forget about equality and all those sentimental notions of brotherhood or sisterhood. Those frothy thoughts, believe, me belong to beauty contests, which, after all these years, remain deeply embedded in the organic bad taste of many of us. But this is another topic we can dissect to disclose within many of us chauvinism and bigotry of the first order.

Language is culture. The old, old dictum is eternal. Remember the old warhorse of a perspective, the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis? Vastly discredited by the linguists who came after Edward Sapir ( an anthropologist and linguist) and Benjamin Lee-Whorf (a chemical engineer), the notion of relativity of languages is still relevant to our present pressing concerns.

What did Sapir say? He is famously quoted for these lines: “Human beings do not live in the objective world alone, nor alone in the world of social activity as ordinarily understood, but are very much at the mercy of the particular language which has become the medium of expression for their society.”

Of course, there is human agency, the fact that as members of the human group, we cannot be at the mercy of the tools of languages. We can, in fact, construct other languages, invent our own regional or even claim that our own language is even more superior than the avowed national language. For this political purpose, we can quote not the hypothesis but just Sapir who stated: ‘National languages are all huge systems of vested interests which sullenly resist critical inquiry.”

Back to Facebook, there is a charming page developed by Afred Vergara Yrastorza named “Memories of Naga and Bicol.”Yrastorza posted rules, which are interesting. For the Primer, he requests everyone to “post and share, be it memories or any interesting historical facts/events/notes about places or persons.” I like the rules. For example, it says: “Strictly no Politics or links” related to any political issues or persons. We are all enjoined “to respect views of others” and “no bullying or demeaning comments on posts.” The person who knows everything from muffin to music has no place in this online community. I love this group.

What “Memories of Naga and Bicol” tells me though is that identity is not merely constructed by way of being scholarly with languages. In fact, with the group, members talk about languages as spoken and not as thought of. What this online sharing tells us is how memories of a place can create strong and positive identities. Memory is individuated. One recalls the ordinary events or the regular food or the common person that we encountered some years ago.

The monumental and grand do not have a place in this discourse. The quotidian wins. We are all equal before the passage of time.

At one point, over a subject matter, a debate was getting heated. Then I started to see a note at the bottom: the administrator has terminated all the comments on the issue.

The page and this gathering of Bikolanos, I suppose, who are merely interested in the beauty of those ordinary days and the partaking of those forgotten candies and delicacy, should do more for our own region and places than all those pretentions portents of pretentious scholars.

Memories – our very own – can be greater than the histories we can never understand.

As I write this, I could hear over the radio a newcaster spending precious hours analyzing what dress this Nadine and what suit this James would wear during a network’s ball. The investigation even goes to mention another nonentity with the inscrutably dumb screen name Maymay and posing the puzzle for us to consider in our most sacred hours whether she would steal the thunder again from other stars. Who cares!

These are not the memories that shall be with me when I look at the last sunrise or noon, or breathe ultimately the scent of those orchids my mother has planted.

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