Intellectualizing the Bikol Languages: Once More with Intelligence and Passion

October 16, 2020


It is easy to say we intellectualize Bikol language even before knowing what intellectualization entails. After we have resolved that, we need to think deeply why we need to make our language more intellectual or deeply intellectual, with the assumption that it is even intellectual. 

Who has the right to imagine how intellectualized or not intellectualized our languages are? Deep in the universe where that language rules, or, in areas where those other languages persist, how do we step out, look back, judge, and finally exclaim: sa patal palan an tataramon na Bikol?

So, what is intellectualization? The late Andrew Gonzales, a La Salle Brother and a linguist, has a paper entitled, “Language Planning and Intellectualisation.” In that paper, he writes:

“Intellectualisation is one aspect of language development. Following Ferguson (1968) and Haugen (1968), language development usually begins with selection of a living language as the basis of a national language if the society is multilingual; once selected, the language is propagated or disseminated, resulting in its spread across a geographical area. As it spreads and as it is increasingly written, it undergoes a process of standardization whereby forms and structures become more or less uniform by social consensus among its speakers, or by the declarations of a national language planning agency.” 

To poets and literary writers, their sociolinguistic antennae should rise and sway erect with the word “standardization.” It is, as the updated literature on consciousness will tell us, not a neutral or harmless proposition. To “standardize” is to induce uniformity: measurements are global; qualities are vetted across boundaries. It is a strong path to “mondialisation” or globalization, a totalizing process. Standardization also means erasure of other languages. 

In language, standardization can be understood in the foundation and evolution of grammar. 

One avenue of standardization is grammar, and not just grammar for its sake but for the sake of teaching or pedagogy. The Bikol language must not be simply talked in or talked about but taught preferably in a systematic way. And where better to generate a system than in a class and situating that class in a room – virtual or real face-to-face.

What are the other byways to standardize? Be happy, for one of the standardization paths is in us already: dictionaries. A great companion to dictionaries is the study on Bikol Orthography, a study conducted by Fr. Wilmer Tria. The completion of the orthography happened in two phases: the consultation/forum, which included journalists and other writers, teachers and other academics. Once sifted through discussion, Kristian Cordero and I, who were both part of the research team, went around selected sites in the region to present the orthography and listen maintly to students this time. We are happy that orthography is being used a lot online by bloggers.

There are more steps to follow if standardization is to be realized. Following the Gonzales paper, he talks of language being subjected to planning. In that state, the language is considered by members of a language academy and given status. Is it the official language? Is it the national language?

Gonzales discusses the process of gathering a body of writings, which builds into themes. From these themes, which are contained in bodies of writings, the scholar can look into the area of language registers. 
It is at this level of registers where we can participate because one major register is that used for school teaching. What language or languages do we use in classrooms to teach a particular subject? What languages we employ to develop knowledge of science – social and physical – and religion?

Back in the 80s, I had the opportunity to work with the authority on bilingualism, Dr Emy C. Pascasio. You are right, we were looking into the state of intellectualization of Pilipino. Our two-year research project did not begin by proposing we intellectualize the “national language”; we started by assuming the language was intellectualized. The study was couched in this question: what socio-anthropological concepts in English have their equivalent in Pilipino? The sub-question was: when teachers teach social sciences in Pilipino, where do they get the Pilipino concepts. Take note: we did not search for “translations.”

The first step was for us to gather the basic concepts sociologists, anthropologists (in the university Linguistics, following the old American tradition, is part of Anthropology, together with Archaeology) use in classrooms. As Emy and I were handling the subject called SA (Sociology/Anthropology) 21, a prerequisite subject for all students of Ateneo de Manila University, we knew what concepts we were interested in. These were terms or words we use in that introductory subject – concepts such as “class,” “social stratification,” “ethnocentrism,” “discursive formation,” “language,” “linguistic relativity,” “peasants,” “social science,” and more. Our fieldsites were in libraries, poring over books, journals, lectures, monographs, occasional papers, documented conversations, etc.

Were there equivalents? A lot? Were they standardized? No. Did we standardize? No. Remember, we were/are into social science and not into weights and measurements. 

There is another register we are, in a sense, presently excelling in: the formation of literatures. Gonzales calls them “imaginative literature” and “other types of writing especially for use at all levels of schooling from elementary to tertiary, assuming that the language becomes a language of the schools.” Here is where intellectualization comes in – in the “thematisation of topics at the highest levels of discourse in academia,” where “the language then becomes used not only in everyday conversational discourse in the community but as a means of learning subject matter especially at the highest levels of intellectual application and displaced discourse about abstract (concrete) realities.”

People are writing in different Bikol languages. Our poems when we write in English are not necessarily the English of Gluck or Auden. Writing in Pilipino, what is hindering us from using Tigaonon or Hiligaynon terms? [The Japanese for all their claim to purity of race has borrowed from the French, German, and English languages]. We are translating bodies of literatures and religious documents, which belong to another register. We negotiate with the Divine using the Bikol languages with Latin, Greek, and Hebrew references. We do not ululate our prayers; we articulate them in deep, reverential languages that push us to run to dictionaries or to priests, not to confess but to consult about meanings. 
Are the Bikol languages intellectualized?

Are we able to teach Physics and Geometry using any or all of the Bikol languages? Have we ever tried? In those so-called hard sciences are more paths to intellectualization but let us leave them, for a moment, to physicists and mathematicians, those who know their science and their Bikol languages.

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