Newspaper article, socio-cultural

Growing Up In A Multilingual Household

This is one of my articles published in the now defunct The Philippine Post newspaper.  I posted this on my websites. But since the advent of Web 2.0 and the popularity of blogs, I have abandoned my websites. I am posting this in this blog, for posterity’s sake.

I added a list of the languages, with detailed linguistic description, spoken in our household in Davao City when I was growing up.

Half of the full page article in The Philippine Post

The Philippines has 171 languages –168 of these are still living while three are already extinct. On the other hand, the country’s dialects number in the thousands, according to one website in the World Wide Web. The list includes all languages spoken in the Philippines including English, Spanish and three Chinese languages (Mandarin, Min Nan and Yue). Arabic was not included.

The dead languages are not listed, but two dialects of Chavacano are listed as extinct; namely: Ermitaño and Davaweño-Zamboangueño. The former used to be spoken in Ermita, Manila while the latter was spoken by some people in Zamboanga. Davaweño is distinct from Davawenyo, which is a living language and spoken in Davao City and its environs. However, with the huge influx of Cebuanos, the native tongue of the hijos de Davao is now facing extinction. The list includes some 50 languages, subdivided into many dialects, native to Mindanao.

In Manila, as in most parts of Luzon and Visayas, one can get by with only just one language, usually the lingua franca of the particular place. However, Mindanao, especially the non-Muslim part, has become such a melting pot that it pays to know two or more languages. One is simply not enough.

Growing up in our household in Mindanao in the ’60’s was like living in a Tower of Babel. At least a dozen languages were spoken by its residents and visitors. For natural polyglots like my mother, it was a breeze. But I was sure my father must have felt like a stranger in his own house. He spoke three languages: Maranao, English and Tagalog (he went to high school and law school in Manila). Unfortunately for him, these languages were hardly the favorites in our house.

My grandmother used Maguindanaon when talking to my mother and to relatives from Buayan and Maguindanao. They both spoke Manobo, Tagakaulo and B’la-an to the helpmates and visitors from the nearby provinces. My mother spoke Davawenyo to her barkada, Cebuano to the servants, Ilocano to her visiting cousins (from her hometown in Malita, Davao del Sur) and Tausug to her elder children and other relatives living in the city. My elder brothers and sisters, who grew up in Sulu, talked to one another in Tausug. To their classmates and friends, they spoke either Davawenyo, Chavacano or Cebuano.

To my father’s chagrin, it appeared that practically nobody spoke his languages in his own home. Maranao was spoken only when relatives from Lanao came over. Tagalog and English were spoken only during parties. As CFI judge, Macapanton Abbas, Sr. must have vented his ire on the lawyers. Stories of his strict use of the English language — proper grammar, diction, idiom and all– were circulated in the city, especially among law students. Lawyers appearing in his sala usually came prepared — with dictionary and grammar books.

On one occasion, a lawyer asked the witness: “Mr. Witness, what do you do on the 14th day of last month?” My father interrupted and said “Did.” The lawyer re-phrased his question: “Mr. Witness, what did you did on the 14th of last month?” “Do!”, my father interjected. The lawyer got so rattled he ended up asking: “Mr. Witness, how do you do?” !

According to linguists, a Maranao speaker can understand about 52% of Maguindanaon They are related languages belonging to the Southern Philippine, Danao sub-families under the Western Malayo-Polynesian family of languages. This means that, theoretically speaking, when my grandmother and mother conversed in Maguindanaon, my father could understand about half of what they were saying. But for other languages like Davawenyo and Manobo, he could only guess what they meant.

Perhaps in order to control the situation a little, my father declared that in his house, the lingua franca would be English and/or Tagalog. All the children would have to speak to him only in these languages. Because of this dictum, my other sisters and one brother, who grew up in Davao, never learned Davawenyo, Manobo, Tagakaulo, etc. They concentrated on English, Tagalog and a bit of Cebuano.

Me? I was overwhelmed by this confusion of tongues. I welcomed my father’s order and learned only those two languages. But I hated it when my mother or elder brothers and sisters talked in what seemed to me like secret codes. So years later, I made sure that I would learn a language that my family would not understand. I studied Spanish and French. They might understand Spanish because of their Chavacano, but French will always remain a mystery to them.


The above article, with some family photos, was printed in The Philippine Post on July 5, 1999



CHAVACANO (ZAMBOANGUEÑO, CHABAKANO) [CBK] 280,000 (1981 SIL), including 155,000 Zamboangueño (1989 J. Holm), 27,841 Caviteño, 3,750 Ternateño (1975 census), 5,473 Cotabato Chavacano (1981 Wurm and Hattori). Zamboanga, Basilan, Kabasalan, Siay, Margosatubig, Ipil, Malangas, Lapuyan, Buug, Tungawa, Alicia, Isabela, Lamitan, Maluso, Malamawi, Cotabato city, Mindanao; Cavite, Ternate, and Ermita near Manila. The 1970 census listed speakers in 60 of the 66 provinces. Also one village in Sabah, Malaysia. Creole, Spanish based. Dialects: CAVITEÑO, TERNATEÑO (TERNATEÑO CHAVACANO), ERMITAÑO (ERMITEÑO), DAVAWENYO ZAMBOANGUENYO (ABAKAY SPANISH, DAVAO CHAVACANO, DAVAOEÑO, DAVAWEÑO), COTOBATO CHAVACANO, ZAMBOANGUEÑO (CHAVACANO). A creole with predominantly Spanish vocabulary and Philippine-type grammatical structure. Ermiteño is extinct, and Davaweño Zamboangueño may be. Nearly all Caviteño speak Tagalog, but many still speak Caviteño. The major language of Zamboanga city; used in radio, newspapers, and primary education. 80% literate. NT 1981.

DAVAWENYO (MATINO, DAVAOEÑO, DAVAWEÑO) [DAW] 124,486 (1975 census). Davao Oriental, Davao del Sur,Mindanao. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Meso Philippine, Central Philippine, Mansakan, Davawenyo. Synthesis of Tagalog, Cebuano, other Visayan dialects. Some Spanish words. Not Spanish Creole. Different from Davaweño which is dialect of Chavacano. Two dialects: East Coast with 90% of speakers, and Davao City and environs (Whinnom 1956). Lowland Davaweño is bilingual in Cebuano 91% to 97%, highland Davaweño has much lower comprehension of Cebuano; 89% intelligibility of Kamayo. Survey needed.

MAGINDANAON (MAGUINDANAO, MAGINDANAW) [MDH] 1,000,000 (1995 WA) including 674,000 in Magindanaon, 241,000 in Iranun (1981 SIL); 1.7% of the population. Maguindanao, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Sultan Kuderat, and Zamboanga del Sur provinces; Iranun also in Bukidnon, Mindanao. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Southern Philippine, Danao, Magindanao. Dialects: LAYA, ILUD, BIWANGAN, SIBUGAY, IRANUN (ILANON, ILLANON, ILANUM, IRANON), TAGAKAWANAN. 84% intelligibility of Iranun, 60% of Maranao. Iranun has 98% intelligibility of Maguindanaon; 96% of Illanun of Sabah, Malaysia and 95% of Maranao. Subdialects of Iranun: Iranun and Isebanganen. Comprehension of Tagalog is low

MANOBO, TAGABAWA (TAGABAWA, TAGABAWA BAGOBO) [BGS] 40,000 (1987 SIL). Mindanao, Davao City, slopes of Mt. Apo. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Southern Philippine, Manobo, South. 45% intelligibility of Tigwa Manobo; low comprehension of Cebuano; 62% lexical similarity with Sarangani Manobo; 34% lexical similarity with Bagobo (Giangan). The official name is Tagabawa.

MARANAO (RANAO, MARANAW) [MRW] 602,613 (1975 census); 1.4% of the population. Mindanao, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur provinces. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Southern Philippine, Danao, Maranao-Iranon. 87% intelligibility of Iranun (see Magindanaon); 52% of Magindanaon.

TAUSUG (TAW SUG, SULU, SULUK, TAUSOG, MORO JOLOANO) [TSG] 330,000 in the Philippines (1975 census); 110,000 in Sabah, Malaysia (1982 SIL); 12,000 in Kalimantan, Indonesia (1981 Wurm and Hattori); 492,000 in all countries (1981 Parshall). 500,000 others speak it as second language in the Philippines (1986 SIL). Jolo, Sulu Archipelago. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Meso Philippine, Central Philippine, Bisayan, South, Butuan-Tausug.

ILOCANO (ILOKO, ILOKANO) [ILO] 8,000,000 (1991 UBS); about 11.1% of the population. Northwestern Luzon, La Union and Ilocos provinces, Cagayan Valley, Babuyan, Mindoro, Mindanao. Also in USA, including Hawaii. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Northern Philippine, Northern Luzon, Ilocano. Roman alphabet. Language of wider communication

ENGLISH [ENG] 15,371 in Philippines (1975 census); 52% claimed they could speak it as a second language (1980 census); 322,000,000 in all countries (1995 WA). Indo-European, Germanic, West, North Sea, English.    National language.

CEBUANO (SUGBUHANON, SUGBUANON, VISAYAN, BISAYAN, BINISAYA, SEBUANO) [CEB] 15,230,000 in the Philippines (1993 Johnstone); about 24.4% of the population. Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Visayas and parts of Mindanao. Also in USA, including Hawaii. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Meso Philippine, Central Philippine, Bisayan, Cebuan. Dialects: CEBU, BOHOLANO, LEYTE, MINDANAO VISAYAN. Boholano is sometimes considered a separate language. Language of wider communication.

TAGALOG (FILIPINO, PILIPINO) [TGL] 14,850,000 first language speakers (1993 Johnstone); about 23.8% of the population; used to some degree by 39,000,000 (1991 WA); 377,000 in USA (1975 Govt. report); 20,896 in Canada (1974 Govt. report); 50,000 in United Arab Emirates (1986); 24,000 in Guam (1986); 15,322,000 in all countries. Manila, most of Luzon, and Mindoro. Also in Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Meso Philippine, Central Philippine, Tagalog. Dialects: LUBANG, MANILA, MARINDUQUE, BATAAN, BATANGAS, BULACAN, TANAY-PAETE, TAYABAS. Roman alphabet. Used in the schools. Pilipino is presently the national language. Filipino is to be developed from it to replace it. National language.

KALAGAN, TAGAKAULU (TAGAKAOLO) [KLG] 37,830 (1975 census). Southern Mindanao, South Cotabato, south of Kalagan. Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Meso Philippine, Central Philippine, Mansakan, Western. Related to Mandaya. 84% intelligibility of Piso dialect (Kalagan); 78% of Cebuano; 54% of Kagan Kalagan.

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