By DR. FLORANGEL ROSARIO BRAID
July 29, 2011, 10:58pm
MANILA, Philippines — Let me now share some developments in reviving my mother tongue, Pangasinan, which is perceived as a “dying language.” “We are a dying tribe on the verge of extinction,” notes Santiago Villafania, the province’s leading poet.
This lament is shared by some local writers and researchers who explain it as a consequence of factors such as migration of skilled and unskilled workers to other parts of the country or abroad, inter-ethnic marriages, changing language use, and what is described as “relative cultural prestige” of the language.
Pangasinenses have the tendency to use Iloko or Pilipino during conversations, notes writer A.R. Ravanzo who thinks this could be due to “penchant or uncanny ability for assimilation – to absorb oneself into the cultural tradition of another place, and the proclivity to belong, to survive against all odds.”
Many Pangasinenses are multilingual and proficient in English, Tagalog, and Ilokano. The continuing influx of immigrants to central Pangasinan may have also contributed to its erosion as they speak a different dialect.
Melchor Orpilla, poet and broadcaster, further notes that many young people in the province think that speaking Pangasinan is “bakya” (pedestrian). He advocates the use of media to counteract this existing mindset. But we need a regular publication like those in the other languages, he says. There are about 1.8 to 2 million people who speak the language but they are scattered outside the province or abroad.
To date, Pangasinan has yet to be introduced in the school curriculum despite availability of literary materials. These include works by two eminent zarzuela writers – Catalino Palisoc and Pablo Mejia, renowned educator and suffragist Maria Magsano who published the Silew magazine, and fiction writer Juan Villamil, according to Erwin Fernandez.
Advocates in the use of the mother tongue like myself see the move to revive an endangered language as a much bigger cause than the loss of technical knowledge. Victoria and James Anderson aptly describe it as much more “threatening,” as “losing one’s first language means forfeiting much of one’s social and cultural identity.”
A challenge, therefore, for local literati and cultural organizations (among others, Pangasinan Writers Association, Pangasinan Council for Culture and the Arts), and lately, the Pangasinan Historical and Cultural Commission (PHCC), is that of mobilizing resources for publications, advocacy, and similar projects.
The online e-group of PHCC has generated considerable interest and serves as a discussion venue for its members. An idea that drew enthusiastic response is the conduct of an Urduja Festival next year.
The creation of a Pangasinan Wikipedia has been approved. A radio program, Pinablin Taoir (treasured heritage) geared saving the language is now broadcast in Dagupan City. After learning that most Pangasinenses do not speak the language anymore, Archbishop Socrates Villegas initiated a choral competition called Project Sanengseng which gets additional support from local schools and city government.
Villafania, author of a poetry collection called Diurnal, hosts a website devoted to Pangasinan poetry (http://dalityapi.com). As studies show, languages have a better chance of surviving if standard written forms exist and if the speakers are literate and if literature and the media continue to be produced in the local language.
But there are periods in our history (such as the Japanese occupation) which yielded almost nothing in terms of documentary heritage. In fact, a group in Dagupan had taken the initiative to produce an adaptation of the zarzuela as there was then no other source of entertainment.
There could have been at least a dozen of scripts written as the show went on for some two years. My sister was with the regular cast and I, a fifth grader, already enamored with theater, would often join the production crew during performances. I am not aware of whether we still have access to what I consider a valuable cultural heritage.
It is for reasons such as these that our local UNESCO Committee on the Memory of the World had been pushing for the preservation of the Jawi alphabet. Jawi is one of the languages of Indonesia and Malaysia and our Moslem brothers in Mindanao. And like Pangasinan, it is also facing the threat of extinction.
We need further research on the impact of the first language on learning as most of the local studies are anecdotal. Perhaps later, a more systematic and controlled field study can be undertaken together with project implementation.
Santiago B. Villafania, a bilingual Filipino poet who writes in English and in his native language of Pangasinan, is the author of poetry collections Bonsaic Verses (2012), Pinabli and Other Poems (2012), Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles (2007), and Balikas na Caboloan (Voices from Caboloan, 2005) published by the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts (NCCA) under its UBOD New Authors Series. He has been published in several countries and translated into several languages. Villafania is one of the 11 Outstanding Pangasinan conferred with the 2010 ASNA Award for the Arts and Culture (literature) during the first Agew na Pangasinan and also the 430th Foundation Day of the province on April 2010. He is a member of Philippine PEN writes a regular weekly column for the Sunday Punch.
A collection of haiku, senryu, tanka, haiga, and other poems in English and Pangasinan language. Order now at Amazon.com
“Santiago Villafania is a searcher with a seemingly insatiable curiosity and endurance. His quest has brought him to explore world poetry from points East and West. He is no stranger to sophisticated verse forms such the Sapphic strophe nor to the diverse permutations of the Japanese haiku. But he is not a formalist, he has daringly explored Asian and Western cultures in a very personal way and writes his mind with a daring, invigorating, aesthetically pleasing ease. In his poetry Villafania displays not only a breadth, but it feels very much like a breath of fresh air.” – Ute Margaret Saine, poet, critic, translator, past president of PEN Orange County and the former editor of the California Poetry Quarterly
“Villafania’s emergence as a poet is a fine moment to celebrate. Another voice from the regions augurs a richer body of writing that Filipinos can hold up as a mirror of our native culture.” – Bienvenido Lumbera, National Artist for Literature
"The publication of Malagilion: Sonnets tan Villanelles by Santiago B. Villafania should be a source of rejoicing for readers of regional literatures. This second book by Pangasinan's leading poet today is impressive in both form and substance. Villafania has created 300 sonnets and 50 villanelles in his own language that attempt to reflect the primacy of native culture and return the poet to the central stage of social life." – A Boost to Pangasinan Literaturefrom Breaking Signs by Cirilo F. Bautista (Philippine Panorama, 16 Dec. 2007, pp.25-26)
"Villafania is not only a visionary poet, he is a linguistic philosopher who codifies the origin of language and culture, dissects the myths and the common beliefs of the people against the urban legends, juxtaposes the literary tradition against the modern influences by dialectically infusing them in his poetic revelation of truth." – Poetic Revelation in Language and Culture by Danny C. Sillada (Manila Bulletin, 12 May 2008, pp. F1-F2)
"Santiago Villafania's Balikas ed Caboloan certainly has reinvigorated the anlong tradition of Pangasinan that for a long period of time suffered silence from the hands of writers more attuned to English writing. Characteristically anacbanua, Villafania's poetry echoes his predecessors and presages a promising era for young writers in Pangasinan." – Dr. Marot Nelmida-Flores
Translations of Erolalia in German, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Bulgarian, and Hindi language. And here is the 1st version of the poem published in The Sunday Times (Manila Times, 11.23.2003).
Six of my poems translated into Arabic by Prof. Abdul-Settar Abdul-Latif (English Dept., College of Education, University of Basrah, Iraq) and have been published in TEXT - the Cultural Monthly Journal, Issue No.13