Language and Dialect Preference: A Tool of Peace to Bridge Cultural Gaps

Written by COL FEROZALDO PAUL T REGENCIA INF (GSC) PA, MWGI. Posted in Commanders Blog

“Everyone knows that the best way to get away from the vicious cycle of poverty is through education. Yet, year in and year out, education in the country is not getting any better at all. We’re cranking out graduates who cannot even communicate, much less speak in understandable English. But the reality on the ground is that even in language issues, Filipinos cannot be united.”

Bobit S Avila “Inside Cebu” Philippine Star 15 June 2007

If we want to achieve unity the way we envisioned it to be, we must accept needed and necessary transformation that would lead us to recognize that the Philippines is one nation with diverse cultures and languages. Only then can we truly say that we can understand each other, work cohesively and be finally united as one people.

In 1996, the Civil-Military Operations School (CMOS) of the Philippine Army commissioned a team to research/survey on the diversity of the dialects spoken in the country. For the initial reason that knowing these dialects will pave the way for Filipinos to learn most of the major ones, if not all and may eventually make us understand each other and eliminate entirely one identified social problem concern in Philippine society i.e. on the tendency of clustering in respective regionalistic ethno-linguistic group. Such may result, aside from simple animosities, dislikes, loathing, ill feeling, antagonism and to a great extent engaging in “gang wars” and getting at each other’s throat so to speak. Learning our predominant dialects will ease the soldiers CMO concerns and apprehensions specifically in dealing with the people anywhere they are deployed.

 Initial findings then, though was not conclusively assessed and the research document, materials/references were put on archived due to relevance and time constraints, found out that there were 92 active dialects spoken nationwide and most Filipinos aside from their native tongue can speak at least two (2) other dialects/languages. There were some who can speak more than three (3) but are very few. Not all Filipinos know that Jose Rizal, our most famous and extraordinarily multi-talented patriot, among other things aside from being an eye surgeon, a skillful artist, a sportsman, a writer and propagandist is competent in 22 languages.

According to latest information from open sources (i.e. internet, magazines, journals, etc.); the Republic of the Philippines with a population of 86,241,697 with two (2) national or official languages: Pilipino and English which are being taught all over the country. Literacy rate is registered at 88% to 89% of the total population. Also includes Basque, French (698), Hindi (2,415), Indonesian (2,580), Japanese (2,899), Korean, Sindhi (20,000), Standard German (961), Vietnamese, and Arabic. The number of languages/dialects listed for the Philippines is 175. Of those, 171 are living languages and 4 are extinct and some are already on the verge of vanishing if not cared for.The count includes the “endangered languages” and the “threatened languages.” The endangered and threatened languages are increasing due to the close personal interactions of different ethnic communities and the opportunity for these communities to adopt the stronger language and replace the weaker language between and among the interacting communities.

          Another reason why some languages begin to deteriorate is because some community members become simply “lazy” to speak their own language once they discover that there is another language that is more conveniently acceptable to many and that their language can be replaced with great ease and carries a high social acceptability.  The strength of the language is measured by the number of people using a language for communication especially in education, commerce and day-to-day social activities.

Case in point: according to the people behind WIKA (Wika ng Kultura at Agham, Inc.) who belong to the so-called “ultra nationalists” insist that the language Filipinos should have to be only Tagalog. WIKA is only promoting Tagalog nationalism which is totally detrimental to all the spoken languages of the Philippines, which is why today, Ilocano, Chabacano, Ilonggo, Waray, Karay-a and the many other spoken languages in the country have began its road to “extinction” because of the imposition of Tagalog as the so-called national language which to mind has not yet entirely served its purpose. Conflict arises if this level of argument reaches the sensibilities of others in consideration that each of us is entitled to respective rights and purpose of existence. David Crystal a British linguist talks about an attitude known to most of us as ‘racism’ or ‘discrimination’. If one were to go around saying that black skinned people from Africa constituted an inferior race, then “This extreme attitude would be condemned by most people.” What he is bringing forth to our consciousness is that if the foregoing circumstance is applied to ethno-linguistic people and their languages, few seem to mind and nobody may care to give a howl. Except maybe for the aggrieved party, who will single-handedly carry its corresponding burden and will look for ways to get back at their detractors, resulting to clashes and eventually may be detrimental to good orders.

Accordingly the Philippines have eight (8) major dialects: Bikol, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan and Tagalog from Luzon, Cebuano, Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), and Waray from the Visayas. The Cebuano dialect originated in Cebu, which is in central Philippines, however it spread to neighboring islands and in the northern and eastern parts of Mindanao. Southeastern Mindanao is populated with Ilocano, Ilonggo, Tagalog, and other dialects, but still Cebuano has become the dominant dialect in that area. The Ilocano dialect has spread out from its origin in the western coast of Luzon (Ilocandia). The spread of these dialects was probably facilitated by the American and Spanish policies to Christianize Mindanao. Meanwhile, the Tagalog and Bikol dialect boundaries seem to remain predominantly as they were centuries ago. It is also significant that we be familiar with the three (3) main dialects in the southern part of Mindanao: the Tausog, Maranao and Maguindanao

          The Political Warfare (POLWAR) Class 01 conducted by the PA Civil Military Operations School in 2001 aside from their Chinese language module, (POLWAR Class 02 and 03 studied the Bahasa language), prepared in partial fulfillment of the course a Tausug-Maranao-Maguindanao dictionary. This is a compilation of common words used by the three (3) main Bangsa Moro groups in Mindanao which could be a handy guide for our soldiers and interpreters to use in dealing with the peculiarities of the ethno-linguistic groups in that part of the country. While Class 04 in 2011 has the Fukien as their international language and each student was for 1 month studied another dialect they picked through a draw-lots and used in a presentation and conversation for a week after.

It is so assessed that to be effective in propagating peace one must be a linguist and the need to have one in a CMO team. Interpreters or translators are needed and a must during CMO activities, the knowledge of the different local dialects and how to understandably communicate is very important and helpful.

          How will we be able to influence the target audience (TA) purposely to push/drive necessary changes in society with little or better with no resistance at all? It is for us to assimilate with the TA, initially know and learn their language, norms, conduct, traditions and socio-cultural realities and involves them in development through information, inter-action and coordination. This will eventually bridge the gap and break all obstacles prevalent between two (2) or among many different “tribes”, strangers to each distinctiveness and may unmistakably suspicious of each other’s intent and motives. This is evidently true in not being able to understand the other in all aspect, except maybe through gestures, but then even the best manifestations through “body language” may still be misinterpreted and construed differently (getting the wrong idea or the wrong impression) which will be a cause of conflict and disputes. How then can we be accepted in the community and acknowledge to be a part of society? Initial effort would point to be meticulously adept of the TA language.

          A major factor in the establishment and acceptance of English in the Philippines is unquestionably related to the actual or perceived need for a lingua franca – a common language that could both link the people of the Philippines to each other and link the Philippines to the rest of the world.  The need for a lingua franca that could serve the economic and social needs of an evolving nation is readily apparent.  Compounding the problem or concern and issue is the diverse religious and social affiliations that identify the more than 90,000,000 inhabitants and the population growth patterns that have occurred over the last century.

Legend: Ilocano (ILO), Kapampangan (K), Tagalog (T), Cebuano (C), Ilonggo (HIL), Waray-Waray (W), Pangasinan (P).

  • bukid: field (farm) (T), hill/mountain (C, W & HIL).
  • gamot: medicine (T), roots of plants (C & W).
  • habol: pursue (T), blanket (C), dulled (C).
  • hilo: become nauseous (T), poison or thread (C).
  • ilog: river (T), quarrel over something (C).
  • irog: loved one (T), move over (C).
  • ibon: 'ebun'-egg (K), bird (T).
  • hubad: translate (C), naked (T).
  • kadyot: copulate (T), a moment (C).
  • karon: later (HIL), now (C).
  • katok: knock a door (T), silly/senseless (C).
  • kayat: want (ILO), copulate (C).
  • kumot: blanket (T), to crumple (C & W)
  • laban: against/opposed to (T), in support of (C)
  • lagay: put (T), male genitals (HIL & C), mud (W)
  • langgam: ant (T), bird (C).
  • libang: do leisurely things (T & W), defecate (C)
  • libog: lust (T), be confused (C).
  • paa: foot (T), leg (C & HIL).
  • pagod: tired (T), burnt/scorched (C).
  • palit: change/exchange (T), buy (C).
  • pagong: turtle (T), frog (HIL).
  • sabot: pubic hair (HIL), to understand (C).
  • sili: chili (T), chili (C), penis (W).
  • tapak: step on (T), patch a hole (C).
  • tete: bridge (K), Mammary glands (T, also titi -male penis).
  • tulo: drip and Syhilis (T), three (C & W).
  • usa: deer (T), one (C & W).
  • usap : talk (T), chew (C).
  • utong: nipple (T), holding one's breath (C).
  • wala : nothing (T, HIL & C), there is (P).

Case in point: Pedro who came from Bohol in the Visayas speaks the Cebuano dialect asked Juan whom he met in the pier of Cebu who came from Surigao del Sur in Mindanao and speaks the Kamayo dialect.

Pedro: Do you know what ship is going to Bohol?

Juan: “Inday Uno”

(translated literally Inday is a girl’s name while Uno is the number one); ships usually bear the name of people and designates a number to precede it classifying how many is in one’s fleet. Pedro for the whole of 24 hours was roaming thru and fro the pier looking for the ship “Inday Uno” to no avail. Frustrated and angry, he confronted Juan seeing him the day after.

Pedro: you have practically wasted my time, why did you lie to me?

Juan: I never lied to you.

Pedro: when I asked you yesterday if you knew what ship is going to Bohol, you answered me, “Inday Uno”!

Juan: Yes, I answered you “Inday Uno” which in our dialect means “I don’t know”.

You see, the advocacy to save the Philippine languages is not just a matter of protecting our “languages” but also protecting our Philippine “culture.”  Our culture and languages will define our true Filipino identity.  To fight for the preservation and protection of all languages in the Philippines, is not just a fight, but also a question of "RIGHT." And that RIGHT will give us the leverage to pursue a harmonious relationship with each other and a peaceful togetherness for the long term.


  • Article of Cristopher D. Witmer on Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), Japan, Copyright © 2001
  • Column of Bobit S Avila “Inside Cebu” Philippine Star 15 June 2007
  • Ethnologue report for Philippines, List of languages of Philippines
  • Bellwood, Peter; Fox, James; & Tryon, Darrell (1995). The Austronesians: Historical and comparative perspectives. Department of Anthropology, Australian National University. ISBN 0-7315-2132-3.
  • Ethnologue report for Philippines. Retrieved on July 28, 2005.
  • Lobel, Jason William & Wilmer Joseph S. Tria (2000). An Satuyang Tataramon: A Study of the Bikol language. Lobel & Tria Partnership Co.. ISBN 971-92226-0-3.
  • Malcolm Warren Mintz (2001). "Bikol". Facts About the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present.
  • author=Reid, Lawrence A., Philippine minor Languages: Word lists and phonologies, University of Hawai'i Press 1971 ISBN 0870226916
  • Rubino, Carl Ralph Galvez (1998). Tagalog-English English-Tagalog Dictionary. Hippocrene Books. ISBN 0-7818-0961-4.
  • Rubino, Carl Ralph Galvez (2000). Ilocano Dictionary and Grammar. University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-2088-6.
  • Carl Ralph Galvez Rubino. The Philippine National Proverb. Translated into various Philippine languages. Retrieved on July 28, 2005.
  • Sundita, Christopher Allen (2002). In Bahasa Sug: An Introduction to Tausug. Lobel & Tria Partnership, Co.. ISBN 971-92226-6-2.
  • Christopher Sundita. Languages or Dialects?. Understanding the Native Tongues of the Philippines. Retrieved on July 28, 2005.
  • Yap, Fe Aldave (1977). A Comparative Study of Philippine Lexicons. Institute of Philippine languages, Department of Education, Culture, and Sports. ISBN 971-8705-05-8.
  • Pacific Linguistics, C (44).
  • Facts About the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present.
  • Joseph Reylan B. Viray (2006). "Dagang Simbahan". Makata International Journal of Poetry, 7 (12).
  • Information mainly from L. A. Reid 1971; SIL 1954–2003.
  • Prof. Fred S. Cabuang, Manila Times, WHY SAVE PHILIPPINE LANGUAGES? August 3, 2007

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