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Preserving Bicol languages for future generations

By Marivic Osi-Jornales

Language can be thought of as the heart and soul of a society. Cultural norms and values are embodied in the language, thus preserving a specific language entails protecting a society’s heritage, culture, and history. When a language fades out in a society, significant cultural elements are lost to future generations. As a result of globalization, migration, language imperialism, and language shift, as well as the economic opportunities connected with the use of dominant languages such as English, this is to be expected.

Local languages are dying out quickly because most people are switching to a national language (like Filipino) or global language (like English), and this is one of the most critical problems facing modern society today. When Bicolanos cultivate this Filipino- or English-centric mentality, what impact does it have on Bikol languages? The answer is simple: the Bikol languages spoken in the region may be in danger of dying out. The term “language death” refers to this phenomenon.

Language expert David Crystal defined language death as the gradual loss of a spoken language because there are no native speakers left in a speech community. When elders die and people’s ways of life are altered, the language responsible for transmitting cultural knowledge is endangered. When this happens, both the language and the culture of a speech community may be lost. In context, if we Bicolanos allow our Bikol languages to vanish, we will lose elements of our culture and our identity.

In the Bicol Region, numerous languages and dialects are spoken. However, some of them are vulnerable to language extinction. The preference to speak Filipino and English at home and the perception that proficiency in these languages is more essential than Bikol are contributing factors. It is then necessary for Bikol languages to be documented, described, archived, preserved, maintained, and revitalized expeditiously to prevent their extinction.

Since the majority of documentations of languages in the Philippines were created by non-Filipinos, there is an urgent need for more Filipinos to participate in the documentation of minor languages and translate this into lexicographic resources geared towards language preservation, maintenance, and revitalization. The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) mentioned in a 2021 webinar that only about 38 out of an estimated 130 indigenous languages in the country have been documented, so the agency appealed for potential language documentation collaborators to intensify its language preservation programs. Academic institutions should also act swiftly and collaborate with speech communities and language experts before some Bikol varieties become extinct without proper documentation. Language authorities should also address the misconceptions and biases regarding Bikol languages. Teachers should also promote the use of the local languages in the classrooms.

Many things can be done to safeguard the Bikol languages from extinction. The construction of dictionaries is one method to keep these languages alive and documented. In fact, dictionary initiatives around the globe can be categorized into dictionaries for language preservation, maintenance, and revitalization, according to the linguist and lexicographer Dr. Sarah Ogilvie. However, Bikol lexicography (the art and science of making dictionaries) is still insufficient but promising. Most dictionaries are for Central Bikol, the most widely spoken variant, but lexicographic texts for other Bikol types are scarce and should be expanded. Thus, making dictionaries to record the minor languages spoken in the Bicol Peninsula is an essential task.

Another way to preserve a Bikol language is to teach it to children in schools and urge parents to let their children speak it at home. When parents and children speak their mother tongue, they feel closer and more engaged, and studies show that fluency in the child’s local language can also enhance brain growth, link the child to society, and help the child learn other languages. The internet also allows for the publishing of materials and the use of available features like translation, writing, and language corpora, making it an essential instrument for language preservation. Writing Bikol songs, poems, and stories, reading Bikol texts in literary courses, joining language revival groups, and translating Filipino and English texts into Bikol are other ways to strengthen Bikol.

But speaking our native language is the best way to keep it alive for future generations and make it stronger. The Bikol languages will not perish if Bicolanos contribute to their preservation and maintenance. Although their deaths are still quite remote, they are not immune from extinction risks. Let us not forget that our native language also deserves our respect and attention, so let’s use it and pass it on to the next generation, shall we?

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