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Annual James O’Brien, SJ, Memorial Lecture Series: Preserving the Bikol Language

Is Bikol an endangered language?

By definition, an endangered language is one that is likely to become extinct in the future. How languages become extinct is explained by Anthony Woodbury of the Linguistic Society of America. He once wrote: “Outright genocide is one cause of language extinction. For example, when European invaders exterminated the Tasmanians in the early 19th century, an unknown number of languages died as well. Far more often, however, languages become extinct when a community finds itself under pressure to integrate with a larger or more powerful group. Sometimes the people learn the outsiders’ language in addition to their own; this has happened in Greenland, a territory of Denmark, where Kalaallisut is learned alongside Danish. But often the community is pressured to give up its language and even its ethnic and cultural identity. This has been the case for the ethnic Kurds in Turkey, who are forbidden by law to print or formally teach their language. It has also been the case for younger speakers of Native American languages, who, as recently as the 1960s, were punished for speaking their native languages at boarding schools.”

The current state of Bikol as a language might not exactly fall in any of the categories mentioned by Woodbury, but there are indications that many Bikolanos are now speaking Tagalog rather than Bikol. If this trend is not reversed, Bikol might become extinct within the next century when the last speaker dies.

Research has shown that diminishing number of native speakers is one of the reasons that can cause languages to be endangered.

When I first taught at the University of Nueva Caceres four years ago, I was flabbergasted to hear a good number of students talking among themselves in Tagalog. I know a young girl in RJ Village in Haring who is more fluent in Tagalog and English than in Bikol. And, lo and behold, at SM Mall the preferred language of all cashiers when conversing with their customers is Tagalog.

What’s this phenomenon all about?

It appears that there’s a trend among the generations of Bikolano children and young adults to speak Tagalog. And, of course, the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools seems to exacerbate the situation.

The Bikol Mail editorial last week got it right with these words: “Problema lang ta mantang nagdadakol an populasyon sa rona kan Bikol nagdidikit man logod an naguusar kan mother tongue o sadiring tataramon.” According to The New York Times, “Of the estimated 7,000 languages spoken in the world today, linguists say nearly half are in danger of extinction and likely to disappear in this century, In fact, they are now falling out of use at a rate of about one every two weeks.”

Is Bikol one of these languages that face extinction?

We cannot afford to lose our language which is a symbol of our identity. Language is very much a part of our lives. Our cultural heritage, our prayers, our songs, our stories, our religious devotions, and many cultural practices are experienced through our language. It is of utmost important, therefore, that Bikol language is preserved. When a language disappears, it takes away with it everything about us.

In an effort to create awareness among Bikolanos about the importance of preserving the Bikol language, the topic for this year’s Third Annual James O’Brien, SJ, Memorial Lecture Series is: Preserving the Bikol Language – A Challenge to Bikolanos. It will be held at the Ateneo de Naga on September 6. The public is invited.

The main lecturer is Dr. Jesus Federico Hernandez, Associate Professor at the Department of Linguistics, University of the Philippines, and is currently the Director for Training of the Linguistics Society in the Philippines. The reactors are Fr. Wilmer Tria and Jess Volante.

The annual lecture series is sponsored by O’Bikoliana, the Golden Legacy Project of the Ateneo de Naga High School Class of 1966.

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