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Is Bikol as a Language in Danger of Extinction?



Is Bikol an endangered language?


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.


Woodbury 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 in Tagalog rather than in Bikol. If this trend continues, Bikol might become extinct within the next century when the last speaker dies.


I remember reading about Ken Hale, an activist who argued that losing a language was “like dropping a bomb on the Louvre.”


When I first taught at the University of Nueva Caceres (UNC) seven years ago, I was flabbergasted to hear a good number of students talking endlessly among themselves in Tagalog. I noticed that everywhere I went, even in restaurants, I could hear young adults conversing 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 in Naga the preferred language of cashiers when conversing with their customers is Tagalog.


And, of course, the use of English as a medium of instruction in schools, the lack of subjects on Bikol History and Culture or Bikol Language Appreciation appear to exacerbate the situation.


Faced with this alarming reality, Bicol Mail wrote in one of its editorials not too long ago: “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.”


The urgent question to ask is: Is Bikol as a language one of them?


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 importance, therefore, that Bikol language is preserved and taught. When a language disappears, it takes away from it everything about us.


It was the late Fr. James O’Brien, SJ, who taught his students at the Ateneo de Naga that language and culture are totally inseparable. One can infer from his wisdom that if our Bikol language goes extinct, we will not just lose a language. We will lose our cultural heritage.

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