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By: Dan Esdicul, September 2007

Every year, the month of August is usually celebrated as Language Month or “Buwan ng Wika” by the Department of Education. This year’s theme, “Maraming Wika, Matatag na Bansa” is indeed but fitting. As we all know, our country is an archipelago. It is widely understood that we have lots of different languages and one of these is our very own language – Ivatan.

We take this timely opportunity to assess this year’s theme to the Ivatan language and I say that, it is one of the most unique languages in the Philippines. Considering that it is believed to be one of the Austronesian languages, non-Ivatans are tongue-tied in speaking our language. Because of its uniqueness, they will need tutors to pronounce it correctly so as to avoid miscommunications.

Due to its inimitability, there are words with the same spelling but they have different meanings depending on its pronunciation. But of course, except for Itbayaten (the dialect of Itbayat Island), some of our words spoken or used everyday vary from every Municipality. But that’s not the real issue.

It has been observed here in Batanes Schools, both Elementary and High Schools and even in the College level, that indeed, majority of the language spoken is Ivatan. But once they are inside their school campuses they are taught and mandated to speak Filipino or English language and that is understandable. The fact is, outside these places, we will always hear this pupils and students apply what they have learned. We always observed that during normal conversations even in ordinary gatherings and especially street conversations, we speak our own language but sad to note that they tend to mix the Ivatan words to Filipino or vise versa in sentences, much worst is the combining or compounding of the Filipino words to the Ivatan words. One common example of this is – “mapatak”. This is derived from “marunong” (Filipino) and “chapatak” (Ivatan) which literally means “someone who knows” which were then compounded to form the word “mapatak”. This is actually the result of the influence of non-Ivatans who tend to speak our language presuming that they’ve got the right term. These were then eventually adopted by our kids and even the young-once in the streets which is considered as the second classroom outside the school campus, notwithstanding the incorrectness of usage of such word.

Another common mistakes that I often heard, not only from kids, but even adults, is the mispronunciation of the Ivatan word like “iskarayla” – the correct is “iskalayra” – which means “stairs”, and “tumaraya” – the correct is “tumayara – which means “going up”. It is sad to note that we are also tongue-tied with our own language.

Though these are minor ones in a sense that, it does not represent a great percentage to the totality of our language, it is already considered alarming because this will probably be passed on from this present generation to the next generation if not corrected. It will become a dilemma to the future generations because they will feel that this is correct and so it continuous to spread just like a virus in the computer which can eventually destroy all the files if not corrected or removed.

With this kind of situation, we are slowly killing the Ivatan language as well as the Ivatan culture by adopting and mixing these from foreign words. It will slowly penetrate or attack the uniqueness thereby killing or forgetting our very own individuality. While it is evidently attributed to the effects of the tri-media which is now widely accepted in our locality and of course, the effect of the non-Ivatans who don’t speak correct Ivatan language. But, I am not blaming these non-Ivatans because they depend much on us, the true Ivatans (as we call ourselves) on how do we teach them without haste. It is but fitting to act on this while it is still in the stage of transition and still curable. We should not allow these influences to outrun us.

On the other hand, we also acknowledge the fact that we have enormous street language. We call it street language because it emanated from the streets. Examples of these are: “tanchew”, coined from “mirwa ta anchiyaw” – literally means “we’ll meet again later”, and “nganmu”, coined from “jinu ngayan mu” – literally means “where are you going”. These are results of shortening the Ivatan phrases or sentences into one or two words depending on its usage. These are quite accepted for the fact that we understand what it means. Though we tend to shorten it, we are not actually changing the word itself. It is just like when you type your message in your cell phone or simply “texting” where you minimize space by omitting some letters and saving your load. Again, that is one unique characteristic of the Ivatan Language.

I understand that there is no subject intended for the purpose in the curriculum of the Department of Education where it teaches Ivatan language, literature and culture here in Batanes. This maybe one of the reasons why, we Ivatans, sometimes become foreigners of our own land. This is a proven theory. We become foreigners of our own province not only in language or culture but especially in places of interest like our tourists spots. One of the programs of the Government is the social infrastructure, where it aims to boost ecotourism industry in our province and one of its components deals with the preservation of culture which is the very basic of ecotourism. I think it’s about time to include if not study the effects of incorporating this to the curriculum from Elementary to High School so as to give importance to the Ivatans per se.

I go with the same sentiments of Mrs. Elena Alcantara, who in one or the other worked for the preservation of our language by co-authoring the Ivatan Dictionary. In her article entitled “Tongue Tied” published in Readers Digest (March 2003), it is very alarming to note that our language may be one of the languages around the world that will be extinct in the next 50 years, as quoted from its previous articles. I wouldn’t want to see or happen what she quoted that “when a language dies, something unique dies with it”. I just hope that this will serve as a reminder if not a basis to take the next step towards the preservation of our language as well as culture.

At present we are still awaiting the much coveted enlistment of Batanes to the UNESCO World Heritage List, which one of its major component is ecotourism. Now, if we do not act right away, we might as well loose our unique identity if we will not preserve the very root of our uniqueness – the Ivatan Language. By adopting the Ivatan culture and literature, it should include the language, its uses or composition because this is the basic survival of one’s culture. I believe that there are competent teachers or professionals to do the job. Let us explore the beauty of the Ivatan.

The presence of non-Ivatans in the teaching profession in our schools would not entail such problem. If it is a mandate to teach them Filipino or English, I believe there is always a room for them to teach the right terms or pronunciation as well as to enhance the beauty of speaking Ivatan language, because that is our very own identity. Though this is the first language taught to us by our parents or families, this is not enough, it also requires enhancements if not improvements. This is one way of educating the Ivatans as well as other people living in Batanes that indeed, our language is important.

If this will be properly addressed or planned and achieve sustainable program for the coming years, it will definitely contribute a lot to the development of Batanes as the next ecotourism destination of the Philippines.


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