Intellectualizing a Language

rickynolascoIn a commentary, “Intellectualizing a language,” in the June 13, 2009 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Dr. Ricardo Ma. Nolasco, associate professor of the UP Department of Linguistics and adviser for multilingual education initiatives of the Foundation for Worldwide People Power Inc., made the following statement:

“…we will never be able to develop our languages for higher thinking unless we begin basic literacy and education in them. It isn’t a matter of first intellectualizing a language before using it. We can only intellectualize a language by using it.”

The new mother tongue-based multilingual education initiative, courtesy of DepEd’s DO #60 s. 2008, is in the right direction toward providing the opportunity for our languages–at least, realistically, the more vigorous ones in terms of population base, written literature, documentation of the language such as a dictionary or grammar, etc.  I cannot see how it is practical to even expect all of those 170 or so Philippine languages to venture into this direction, but who knows.  Especially given the rigorous process of intellectualizing a language that Bonifacio Sibayan described some 20 years ago in “The Intellectualization of Filipino“:

“The process of intellectualizing a language, say Filipino, so that it may be used as the language in the CDs (controlling domains) of language involves, among other processes, the building of (1) various populations who possess different knowledges and skills in Filipino, who have a good command of the registers needed in the domain and sub-domain, for example, agricultural scientists, medical doctors, lawyers, accountants, etc.  The language used in medicine differs from the language of law, that is, the two differ in registers so that even if both use English, the medical doctor may not understand the register of law and vice versa.  This is what is crucial in the development of an intellectualized language:  each domain, sub-domains and sub-sub-domains (fields of specialization) have specific registers.  The registers for practically all areas of knowledge are available in intellectualized languages, but not in Filipino.  The task of developing the registers of the various areas of knowledge in Filipino and educating the populations who can command and use these registers are formidable tasks in the intellectualization of Filipino.

A second task is the building of (2) support institutions and various structures such as colleges and universities, hospitals; learned organizations that publish journals in Filipino; service agencies such as publishing houses and other structures.  The population of a CD, say the sub-domain of medicine, consists of physicians, nurses, technicians, nurse aids, and others who speak and write the language required in medicine, in the Philippine case, English, an intellectualized language.  One cannot learn medicine in the Philippines with the use of Filipino.  The principal support institutions in medicine are Colleges of Medicine, hospitals, pharmaceutical labs, etc.  The computer programs for CT scans, hospital records are in English.  The intellectualization of Filipino as the language of medicine and the medical profession and other CDs of language is a giant undertaking.  Medical doctors say that it is impractical and impossible.

Consider the other CDs of language such as the sub- and sub-sub-domains of science and technology, e.g., mathematics, physics, chemistry, the agricultural sciences, and other areas of knowledge.  The task of building the populations, support institutions and services using Filipino to replace English is a task of the greatest magnitude.”

This brings up the argument that it is probably more practical to just adopt English as our national language–a language that has undergone centuries of intellectualization–and we don’t have a shortage of proponents for that.  Even PGMA got in the act to improve our students’ English skills with Exec. Order 210 s. 2003 requiring a whooping 70 percent of the instruction time allotment for high school courses to be conducted using English as the medium of instruction (MOI).

Sibayan’s claim that medical doctors say “the intellectualization of Filipino as the language of medicine and the medical profession and other CDs of language is a giant undertaking… is impractical and impossible” is true for the short term, like a generation.  This is even more true in the case of the non-Tagalog or non-Filipino languages the use of which has been curtailed so far under the current bilingual education program that promotes English and Filipino as the MOI in our schools.

With DepEd Order No. 60 s.2008, the outlook for the use of the child’s mother tongue, other than Tagalog or Filipino, as MOI in the first few years of his education is a good start in the direction of Nolasco’s argument that “We can only intellectualize a language by using it.”  The plan to use the mother tongue as a bridge to learn English and Filipino and other areas of knowledge using English and Filipino as MOI later, however, falls short of the required process to intellectualize any particular language, a process which any modern intellectualized language of significance, English included, took generations to develop.  That’s especially true if, according to Sibayan, the use of the language to be intellectualized has to encompass various language domains:

“…ones that have human populations and support institutions, structures, and services. There are three classes of language domains, namely: non-controlling domains (NCDs) those of the home and the lingua franca; semi-controlling domains (SCDs) which include religion, politics, and entertainment; controlling domains (CDs) chief of which are (1) government with sub-domains of executive, judiciary, and legislature, (2) education with sub-domains of elementary, secondary, vocational-technical, and higher education; (3) the professions such as law, medicine, accountancy, etc.; (4) science and technology; (5) business, commerce and industry; (6) information technology which includes mass media, (7) literature and (8) international relations.”

It is thus ironic that DepEd, through DepEd Order 55 s.2009 and DepEd Memo 560 s. 2008 finds it even more important to allow schools under the Bureau of Secondary Education to offer elective courses in Spanish (initially), French and Nihongo aimed to:

a) develop students’ skills in listening, reading, writing, speaking, and viewing as fundamental to acquiring communicative competence in a second foreign language;

b) prepare students for meaningful interaction in a linguistically diverse global workplace; and

c) develop understanding and appreciation of other people’s culture.

Well now, that’s a lot of bull given that most of our young students have difficulty writing and speaking fluently in their own mother tongue!  Or English, for that matter.

The knowledge of Spanish, French, and/or Nihongo may be good for the street vendors or the tourism industry people.  But common, how often do you hear someone say “Como esta?” instead of “komusta”?   Maybe it would help the many  who swear “Puñeta!” quite a lot without even knowing what the word actually means.

If anyone is really serious about learning another foreign language, let him do so at his own time and expense by immersing in the free self-paced language courses which abound in the Internet.

Nolasco is absolutely right:  “We can only intellectualize a language by using it.”  Let’s start with the mother tongues–and NOT JUST AS A BRIDGE.

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