by E. SAN JUAN, Jr.
Fellow, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas
I’m Miss American Dream since I was 17
Don’t matter if I step on the scene or sneak away to the Philippines
They still goin’ put pictures of my derriere in the magazine
You want a piece of me? You want a piece of me?
—BRITNEY SPEARS, “Piece of Me”
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion…..
How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign tongue?
It is also a misfortune to understand various languages because thus one has more occasions to hear stupidities and nonsense.
–JOSE RIZAL, “Travel Diary, 4 July 1889
Everywhere I roam I listen for my native language with a crying heart because it means my roots in this faraway soil [the United States]; it means my only communication with the living and those who died without a gift of expression. My dear brother, I remember the song of the birds in the morning, the boundless hills of home, the sound of the language….
–CARLOS BULOSAN (Letter of 2 June 1953)
In this current situation of portentous upheaval in the Philippines, any discussion of the “language question,” like the “woman question,” is bound to be imcendiary and contentious. The issue of language is always explosive, a crux of symptoms afflicting the body politic. It is like a fuse or trigger that ignites a whole bundle of inflammable issues, scandalously questioning the existence of God in front of an audience of believers. Or the immortality of souls among the faithful. Perhaps my saying outright that I am a partisan for a national language, Filipino, may outrage the postmodernists and cosmopolites among you—how can you say such a thing when you are speaking in English? Or, as Senator Diokno once said, “English of a sort.” How dare I infuriate the loyal speakers of Cebuano, Ilocano, Pampagueno, Ilonggo, Taglish, Filipino English, and a hundred or more languages used in these seven thousand islands. One gives up: it can’t be helped. Or we can help lift the ideological smog and draw more lucidly the lines of demarcation in the battleground of ideas and social practices.
One suspects that this is almost unavoidable, in a society where to raise the need for one national language, say “Filipino” (as mandated by the Constitution) is certain to arouse immediate opposition. Or, if not immediately, it is deferred and sublimated into other pretexts for debate and argumentation. Fortunately, we have not reached the point of armed skirmishes and violent confrontations for the sake of our mother/father tongue, as in India and other countries. My partisanship for Filipino (not Tagalog) is bound to inflame Cebuanos, Bicolanos, Ilocanos, and so on, including Filipino speakers-writers of English, or Filipino English. We probably try to defuse any brewing conflict quickly by using the colonizer’s tongue, or compromise babel-wise. My view is that only a continuing historical analysis can help explain the present contradictory conjuncture, and disclose the options it offers us. Only engagement in the current political struggles can resolve the linguistic aporia/antinomy and clarify the import and consequence of the controversy over the national language, over the fate of Filipino and English in our society.
Sa kasalukuyang matinding sigalot sa bansa, anumang talakayan hinggil sa wika ay tiyak na magbubunsod sa isang away o maingay na pagtatalo. Kahawig nito ang usapin ng kababaihan. Laging matinik ang isyu ng pambansang wika, isang sintomas ng pinaglikom na mga sakit ng body politic. Tila ito isang mitsang magpapasabog sa pinakabuod na mga kontradiksiyong bumubuo sa istruktura ng lipunang siyang nakatanghal na larangan ng digmaan ng mga uri at iba’t ibang sektor.
Lalong masahol siguro kung sabihin kong nasa panig ako ng mga nagsususog sa isang pambansang wikang tinaguriang “Filipino.” Tiyak na tututol ang mga Sebuano, Ilokano, Ilonggo, mga alagad ng Taglish, o Ingles, o Filipino-Ingles. Ngunit hindi ito maiiwasan, kaya tuloy na tayong makipagbuno sa usaping ito upang mailinaw ang linya ng paghahati’t pamumukod, at sa gayo’y makarating sa antas ng pagtutuos at pagpapasiya.
One would expect that this issue would have been resolved a long time ago. But, given the dire condition of the Philippine political economy in this epoch of globalized terrorism of the U.S. hegemon, a plight that is the product of more than a century of colonial/neocolonial domination, all the controversies surrounding this proposal of a national language since the time of the Philippine Commonwealth when Quezon convened the Institute of National Language under Jaime de Veyra, have risen again like ravenous ghouls. I believe this specter can never be properly laid to rest until we have acquired genuine sovereignty, until national self-determination has been fully exercised, and the Filipino people—three thousand everyday, more than a million every year–will no longer be leaving in droves as Overseas Contract Workers, the whole nation becoming a global subaltern to the transnational corporations, to the World Bank-World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund, and the predatory finance capital of the global North. If we cannot help but be interpellated by the sirens of the global market and transformed into exchangeable warm bodies, we can at least interrogate the conditions of our subordination—if only as a gesture of resistance by a nascent, irrepressible agency.
Saan mang lugar, ang usapin ng pambansang wika ay kumakatawan sa pagtatalo tungkol sa mga mahalagang usapin sa pulitika at ekonomya. Buti naman, hindi pa tayo nagpapatayan sa ngalan ng wika, tulad ng nangyayari sa India at iba pang bansa. Marahil, napapahinahon ang bawat isa kung Ingles, ang wika ng dating kolonisador, ang wika ng globalisasyon ngayon, ang ating gagamitin. Di ko lang tiyak kung maiging magkakaunawaan ang lahat sapagkat ang pagsasalin o translation, kalimitan, ang siyang nagbubunga ng karagdagang basag-gulo. Ngunit ang pagbaling sa Ingles ay pagsuko lamang sa dominasyon ng kapangyarihang global sa ilalim ng kasalukuyang hegemon, ang Estados Unidos. Ang makalulutas ng krisis, sa tingin ko, ay isang pakikisangkot sa nangyayaring labanang pampulitika at pang-ideolohya, laluna ang pakikibaka tungo sa tunay na kasarinlan at demokrasyang popular, sa gitna ng dominasyon ng mga mayayama’t makapangyarihang bansa sa Europa, Norte Amerika, Hapon, at iba pa.
Bagamat mula pa noong panahon ni Quezon hanggang sa ngayon, ang isyu ng “pambansang wika” ay naipaloob na sa Konstitusyon, bumangon ito muli na tila mga kaluluwang uhaw sa dugo. Maireresolba lang ang isyung ito kung may tunay na soberanya na tayo, at namamayani ang kapangyarihan ng nakararami, mga pesante’t manggagawa, at nabuwag na ang poder ng mga may-aring kakutsaba ng imperyalismo. Sa ngayon, walang kalutasan ito, sintomas ng bayang naghihirap, hanggang ang relasyong sosyal ay kontrolado ng naghaharing uri, laluna ng mga komprador at maylupang pabor sa Ingles, wikang may prestihiyo at kinagawiang wika sa pakikipag-ugnay sa kanilang mga patrong Amerikano, Hapon, Intsik at iba pa.
In the hope of avoiding such a situation, which is almost ineluctable, I would like to offer the following seven theses that may initiate a new approach to the question, if not offer heuristic points of departure for reflection. In contrast to the dominant neoliberal philosophically idealist-metaphysical approach, I apply a historical materialist one whose method is not only historicizing and dialectical—not merely deploying the “Aufhebung” of Hegel within an eclectic, neoWeberian framework (as Fernando Zialcita does in his provocative book–Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity (2005)—but also, as Marx said, standing it on its head in the complex and changing social relations of production within concrete historical settings. The materialist dialectic offers a method of analysis and elucidation of the context in which questions about a national language can be clarified and the nuances of its practical implications elaborated.
Language is not a self-sufficient entity or phenomenon in itself but a component of the social forms of consciousness of any given social formation. Marx considered language a productive force, conceived as “practical consciousness,” as he elaborates in the Grundrisse: “Language itself is just as much the product of a community, as in another aspect it is the existence of the community–it is, as it were, the communal being speaking for itself” (quoted in Rossi-Landi 1983, 170). As such, it can only be properly addressed within the historical specificity of a given mode of production and attendant social-political formation. It has no history of its own but is a constituent part and constitutive of the ideological terrain on which the struggle of classes and historic blocs are fought, always in an uneven and combined mode of development. It forms part of the conflicted evolution of the integral state, as Gramsci conceived it as the combination of political society and civil society. The issue of language is located right at the heart of the construction of this integral state. Hence not only its synchronic but also diachronic dimensions should be dialectically comprehended in grasping its worth and contribution to the liberation and fulfillment of the human potential.
The function and nature of language then cannot be adequately discussed in a neutral and positivistic-empiricist way, given its insertion into conflicted relations of production, at least since the emergence of class-divided societies in history. Ferruccio Rossi-Landi explains the imbrication of language in social-historical praxis: “The typically social operation of speaking can only be performed by a historically determined individual or group; it must be performed in a given language, that is, within a determined structure which is always itself, to some extent, both an ideological product and an ideological instrument already; lastly, the audience is determined as well” by the historical-social situation (1983, 169). Language use, in short, the process of communication, cannot escape the necessity of sociopolitical overdetermination.
In the Philippines, the status and function of various languages—Spanish, English, and the numerous vernaculars or regional languages—cannot be assayed without inscribing them in the history of colonial and neocolonial domination of the peoples in these islands. In this regard, the terms “national-popular” and “nation-people”—as Gramsci (1971) employed them in a historical-materialist discourse–should be used in referring to Filipinos in the process of expressing themselves (albeit in a contradiction-filled way) as diverse communities, interpellating other nationalities, and conducting dialogue with themselves and other conversers.
It is necessary to assert the fundamental premise of the “national-popular,” the nation as constituted by the working masses (in our country, workers and peasants), not the patricians. Otherwise, the nation (in the archive of Western-oriented or Eurocentric history) is usually identified with the elite, the propertied classes, the national bourgeoisie, or the comprador bourgeoisie and its allies, the bureaucrats and feudal landlords and their retinue of gangsters, private armies, paramilitary thugs, etc. Actually, today, we inhabit a neocolony dominated by a comprador-bureaucratic bloc of the propertied classes allied with and supported in manifold ways by the U.S. hegemon and its regional accomplices.
The recent unilateral policy pronouncement of the de facto Philippine president Arroyo that English should be re-instated as the official medium of instruction in all schools can only be read as a total subservience to the ideology of English as a global language free from all imperialist intent. Obviously this is propagated by free-market ideologues inside and outside government, even though a bill has recently been proposed in the Congress to institute the mother tongue as the medium of instruction up to grade six of the elementary school. (One needs to interject here that this idea of using the mother tongue in the first years of education is not new; it was first planned and tested in the Sta. Barbara, Panay, experiment conducted by Dr. Jose V. Aguilar in the late forties and fifties. But this finding has been buried and forgotten by the neocolonialist policies of all administrations since 1946.) As Peter Ives pointed out in his Language and Hegemony in Gramsci, issues of language policy in organizing schools and testing curriculum need to be connected to “political questions of democracy, growing inequalities in wealth and neo-imperialism” (2004, 164), since the daily acts of speaking and writing–in effect, the dynamic field of social communication– involves the struggle for hegemony in the realm of civil society, state institutions, and practices of everyday life.
Sa halip na sipatin ang isyung ito sa kinagawiang empirical na lapit, tulad ng ginagamit ng mga postmodernistang iskolar, dapat ipataw ang isang materyalismo- istorikal na pananaw at ang diyalektikong paraan upang makalikha ng praktikang agenda na tutugon sa tanong kung ano ba ang wikang pambansang magsisilbing mabisang sandata sa mapagpalayang pakikipagsapalaran ng sambayanan.
Ang wika ay hindi isang bagay na may sariling halaga kundi bahagi ito ng kategorya ng kamalayang sosyal, isang kamalayang praktika—“practical consciousness,” ayon kay Marx—na gumaganap sa buhay bilang lakas ng produksiyon. Matutukoy lamang ito sa gitna ng isang partikular na mode of production sa isang determinadong pormasyonag sosyal. Hindi ito bukod sa pagtatagisang pang-ideolohiya. Kalahok ito sa pagbubuo ng integral state (konseptong galing kay Gramsci), tambalan ng lipunang sibil at lipunang pampulitika. Ang usapin ng wika ay di maihihiwalay sa yugto ng kasaysayan ng bayan, na laging komplikado at di-pantay ang pagsulong ng iba’t ibang bahagi—uneven and combined development. Samakatwid, sa ating sitwasyon, ang suliraning pang-wika ay di maihihiwalay sa programa tungo sa tunay na kasarinlan at kasaganaan, mula sa kasalukuyang neocolonial at naghihikahos na bayan.
The Filipino nation is an unfinished and continuing project, an unfinished work, constantly being re-invented but not under conditions of its own making. Becoming Filipinos is a process of decolonization and radical democratization of the social formation, a sequence of collective choices. This is almost a cliché among the progressive forces with a nationalist orientation. It bears repeating that Filipino sovereignty is a dynamic totality whose premises are political independence and economic self-sufficiency. We have not yet achieved those premises.
Given the current alignment of nation-states in the world-system under U.S. hegemony, whose hegemony is unstable, precarious, sustained by manifold antagonisms, and perpetually challenged by other regional blocs, becoming Filipino is an ever-renewing trajectory of creation and re-creation, a process overdetermined by legacies of the past and unpredictable incidences of the present and the future. Within this configuration, an evolving, emergent Filipino language may be conceived as both a medium and substantive element in fashioning this sequence of becoming-Filipino, a sequence grasped not as a cultural essence but a network of dynamic political affiliations and commitments. It is also an aesthetic modality of counterhegemonic, anti-imperialist expression.
Only within the project of achieving genuine, substantive national independence and egalitarian democracy can we argue for the need for one national language as an effective means of unifying the masses of peasants, workers and middle strata and allowing them integral participation in a hegemonic process.
Note that this is not just a question of cultural identity within the larger agenda of a reformist-individualist politics of identity/recognition.
Without changing the unequal and unjust property/power relations, a distinctive Filipino culture incorporating all the diverse elements that have entered everyday lives of the masses can not be defined and allowed to flourish. Without the prosperous development of the material resources and political instrumentalities, a Filipino cultural identity can only be an artificial, hybrid fabrication of the elite—an excrescence of global consumerism, a symptom of the power of transnationalized commodity-fetishism that, right now, dominates the popular consciousness via the mass media, in particular television, films, music, food and fashion styles, packaged life-styles that permeate the everyday practices of ordinary Filipinos across class, ethnicities, age and localities.
The consumerist habitus (to use Pierre Bourdieu’s  concept) acquired from decades of colonial education and indoctrination has almost entirely conquered and occupied the psyche of every Filipino, except for those consciously aware of it and collectively resisting it. With the rise of globalization, it has been a fashionable if tendentious practice among the floating litterateurs, mostly resident in colleges and universities, to advocate the maintenance of the status quo; that is, English as the prestigious language, Taglish as the media lingua franca, and Filipino and the other languages as utilitarian devices for specific tasks. But soon we find that this imitated pluralistic/multiculturalist stand only functions as the effective ploy of neoliberal finance capital. This seemingly pragmatist, accomodationist stance ultimately serves neocolonial goals: the Filipino as presumptive world-citizen functioning as compensation for the lack of effective national sovereignty. Its obverse is regional/ethnic separatism. The culturalist or civilizationalist program, often linked to NGOs and deceptive philanthropic schemes, skips the required dialectical mediation and posits an abstract universality, though disguised in a self-satisfied particularism now in vogue among postcolonial deconstructionists eulogizing the importance of place, locality, indigeneity, organic roots, etc.
We discover in time that this trend serves as a useful adjunct for enhancing the festishistic magic, aura and seductive lure of commodities—from brand-name luxury goods to the whole world of images, sounds, theoretical discourses, and multimedia confections manufactured by the transnational culture industry and marketed as symbolic capital for the pettybourgeoisie of the periphery and other subalternized sectors within the metropole.
Sa Pilipinas, ang lagay at papel na ginagampanan ng wika ay maipapaliwanag lamang sa pagsingit nito sa ugnayang panlipunan, sa kontradiksyon ng sumusulong na puwersa ng produksyon at namamayaning balangkas na pumipigil sa pagsulong ng buong lipunan. Ang katayuan ng wika ay nakabatay sa kasaysayan ng bansa, sa kolonyal at neokolonyal na dominasyon ng Kastila, Amerika at Hapon, at sa himagsik ng sambayanan laban sa pang-aapi. Ang mga katagang “nasyonal-popular” o pambansa-makamasa—na iminungkahi ni Gramsci—ang dapat ilapat sa nakararami na nag-aadhikang makapagpahayag ng kanilang pagkatao sa iba’t ibang paraan, tigib ng kontradiksiyon na bunga ng di-pantay at pinagtambal na pagsulong ng iba’t ibang sangkap ng kabuuang istruktura ng lipunan. Ang wika ay nakalubog sa daloy ng mga kontradiksiyon sa lipunan.
Kailangang idiin ang prinsipyo ng nasyonal-popular, pambansa-makamasa, ang bansa na binubuo’t pinapatnubayan ng masang walang pag-aari—mga manggagawa, magsasaka, at gitnang sangay (mga propesyonal, petiburgesyang uri, mga minorya). Kung hindi, ang bansa ay mabibigyan-kahulugan ng mga naghaharing uri, ang iilan na nag-mamay-ari, ang oligarkong tuta ng imperyalismo, mga ahente ng global finance-capital.
Spanish and English are global languages needed for communication and participation in world affairs. They are recognized as richly developed languages of aesthetic and intellectual power useful for certain purposes—English particularly in the scientific and technical fields. But they have a political history and resonance for “third world peoples” who have suffered from their uses. Its sedimented patterns of thought and action cannot so easily be ignored or elided. The discursive genres of law, business, liturgy, pedagogy, and so on, in English and their institutionalized instrumentalities cannot be judged on their own terms without understanding the political role they played, and continue to play, as effective instruments in the colonial domination of the various peoples in the Philippines and their total subordination to the political-cultural hegemony of the Spanish empire, and then of the American empire from 1899 to 1946, and of U.S. neocolonial control after formal independence in 1946. Everyone knows that while Rizal used Spanish to reach an enlightened Spanish public and an ilustrado-influenced audience, the masses who participated in the Malolos Republic and the war against the Americans used Tagalog, and other vernaculars, in fighting for cultural autonomy and national independence. Historically the national and democratic project of the Philippine revolution—still unfinished and continuing—provides the only viable perspective within which we can explore the need for a national language as a means of uniting and mobilizing the people for this project.
The use and promotion of a national language does not imply the neglect, elimination, or inferiorization of other regional languages spoken and used by diverse communities involved in the national-democratic struggle. In fact, it implies their preservation and cultivation. But that is contingent on the attainment of genuine national sovereignty and the emancipation of the masses, their integration into active participation in governance. Their inferiorization is tied to the oppression of their users/speakers by virtue of class, nationality, religion, ethinicity, locality, and so on. (My friends in Panay who use Kinaray-a, Ilonggo or Akenaon should not fear being dominated by a Manila-centric hegemony as long as they address crucial political questions of social justice and sovereignty in a manner that commands directive force, displacing the question of form with the substantive totality of communication across ethnic and local differences to forge a flexible but principled united front for national democracy and socialist liberation.)
Meanwhile, in the course of the national-liberation struggle, all languages should and are being used for mobilization, political education, and cultural self-affirmation. Simultaneously, the dissemination and development of one national language becomes a political and economic-cultural necessity for unifying the diverse communities under a common political program—which does not imply a monolithic ideological unity– in front of the monstrous power of finance-capital using English as an instrument of subordination and neocolonial aggression.
In this regard, I would argue that the unity and collective pride attendant on the use of one national language provides the groundwork and fundamental requisite for the promotion and development of other ethnic/regional languages within the national polity. This is a psychological-ideological imperative that cannot be deferred. A dialectical approach should be applied to the historically contentious relations between a dominant vernaculat (Tagalog) and its subalternized counterparts (Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon, etc.) in order to transcend historically sedimented prejudices and promote creative dialogue and intertextuality among all the languages spoken in the Philippines.
Ang bansang Pilipinas na may kasarinlan at matipunong industriya ay isang proyektong di pa tapos, nagpapatuloy, laging iniimbento ngunit hindi sa anumang kondisyon. Ang pagiging Filipino ay isang proseso ng dekolonisasyon at demokratisasyong radikal, isang kaganapan na likha ng kolektibong pagpapasya, hindi indibidwal na kagustuhan. Ang proyektong ito ay hinuhubog at niyayari ng maraming lakas, ng minanang ugali at sari-saring idea at institusyon katutubo o hiram. Hindi ito nakatutok sa pagtatamo ng isang esensiya, kundi makikilatis ito bilang isang masalimuot na pagbubuklod ng dinamikong pakikisamang pampulitika at mga komitment. Ito’y isa ring estetikong kalakaran sa kontra-gahum na paglikhang makasining.
Sa loob lamang ng pangitaing ito, sa proyekto ng pagsisikap makamit ang tunay na pambansang kasarinlan at demokrasyang radikal makatuturang mahihimay ang problema ng pangangailangan ng wikang pambansa, isang wikang mabisang makapag-iisa sa masa at mga komunidad sa teritoryo ng Pilipinas, at makapagdudulot ng mabisang partisipasyon sa pagbuo ng isang gahum o lideratong moral-intelektwal ng masang manggagawa. Paano mayayari ang mapagpalayang gahum kung walang pagkakaisang kinakatawan ng/kumakatawan sa sariling wika ng komunikasyon at pag-iisip?
Hegemony, the moral and intellectual leadership of the Filipino working masses, the scaffold within which an authentic Filipino identity can grow, assumes the rise of organic Filipino intellectuals who will use and develop Filipino as the evolving national language. Again, this does not mean suppressing other regional languages. Nor does it mean prohibiting the use and teaching of English or other international languages (Spanish, French, Chinese, etc.). It simply means the establishment of a required platform, basis or foundation, without which the productive forces of the people within this particular geopolitical boundary can be harnessed, refined, and released in order to, first, benefit the physical and spritual health of Filipinos, repair and recover the damage inflicted by centuries of colonial oppression and exploitation, and thus be able to contribute to the cultural heritage of humankind. That is why mandating the continued teaching of English equally with Filipino, with the mother language as auxiliary, at the secondary level, betokens a schizophrenic if not treacherous and treasonous policy of the ruling class beholden to U.S. and transnational corporate interests.
Without an independent national physiognomy, Filipinos have nothing distinctive to share with other nations and peoples. Without national self-determination and a historically defined identity, there is no way Filipinos can contribute their distinctive share in global culture. In fact, it is impossible to be a global citizen unless you have fully grown and matured as an effective democratic participant in the making of a prosperous, egalitarian nation-people in a historically specific territory defined by a concretely differentiated sequence of events not replicated elsewhere.
Ang layon natin ay hindi lamang kultural na identidad, o kasiyaang pang-kalinangan. Sa gitna ng komodipikasyon ng lahat, sa gitna ng laganap na konsumerismo at paghahari ng halagang-pamalit (exchange-value), ang reipikasyon at alyenasyon ng ugnayan ng mga tao ay siyang nagpapalabo sa usapin ng wika. Hindi malulutas ang mga tanong tungkol sa wika hanggang hindi nahaharap ang mistipikasyon ng pakikipagkapwa, na ngayo’y natatabingan at nalalambungan ng mga komoditi, bilihin, salapi, na tila siyang umuugit, nagpapagalaw, namamahala’t gumagabay sa lahat ng bagay. Ang mistipikasyong ito ay mawawala lamang kung mapapanaw ang paghahari ng global na kapital, ang patakaran na tubo/yaman muna bago kapakanan ng tao—na, sa ngayon, ay nagsasalita sa Ingles, ang wika ng kongkistador na pumalit sa mga Kastila.
Ang pagbuo’t pagpapayaman ng isang pambansang wika, Filipino, ay hindi nangangahulugan ng pagsasaisantabi o pagbabalewala sa ibang mga wikang ginagamit ng maraming komunidad. Ang pagpapalawig at pagsuporta sa mga wikang ito ay matutupad kung may basehan lamang: ang kasarinlan ng bansa batay sa pagpapalaya sa masa. Sa harap ng higanteng lakas ng kapitalismong global, maisusulong lamang ang proyektong nabanggit ko kung makikibaka tayo sa programa ng pagbabago tungo sa pamamayani, gahum, ng masang gumagawa. Ang wika ay maaaring maging mapagpalayang sandata kung ito’y binubuhay ng masa sa pang-araw-araw na kilos at gawa.
Historical examples are often misleading, but sometimes elucidatory. It may be irrelevant and even Eurocentric to invoke the examples of Italy and Germany as nations that experienced unified mobilization through the affirmation of national-popular languages, Italy vis-à-vis the Papal ascendancy, and Germany vis-à-vis Latin/Roman Catholic hegemony. In any case, again, the social and historical function and character of language cannot be adequately grasped without situating them in the complex dynamics of the conflict of social classes in history since the break-up of the communal tribes in the hunting-gathering stage, since the rise of private property in the means of production, and the intricate dialectics of culture and collective psyche in the political economy of any social formation. In short, language is not just a permanently undecidable chain of signifiers, always deconstructing itself and falling into abysmal meaninglessness, a vertigo of nonsense and silly absurdities quite appropriate, of course, for pettybourgeois careerists, dilettantes, and hirelings of the oligarchs. Rather, language is a social convention and a site of struggle, the signifier conceived as “an arena of class struggle” (1986, 23) to use Mikhail Bakhtin’s synthesizing phrase.
To conclude these reflections with an open-ended marker: I believe that only from this historical materialist perspective, and within the parameters of the political project of attaining genuine autonomy as a nation-people, can the discussion of a Filipino national language be intelligible and productive. But, again, such a discussion finds its value and validity as part of the total engagement of the people for justice, authentic national independence, and all-sided emancipation from the nightmares of the past and the terrorist fascism of the present.
Ang wika ay isang larangan o arena ng tunggalian ng mga uri, ayon kay Mikhail Bakhtin. Naniniwala ako na ang usaping ito, kung ano talaga ang wikang pambansa, ay masasagot lamang sa loob ng proyektong pampulitika, tinimbang at sinipat sa isang materyalistiko-istorikal na pananaw. Ang wika ay praktipang panlipunan, isang produktibong lakas ng sambayanan. Nakapanahon ngang maintindihan natin ito ngayon kung matagumpay na madalumat at mapahalagahann ang kolektibong saloobin ng sambayanan, na ngayon ay naisasatinig sa anagramatikong islogan: ZOBRA NA, TAMA NA, EXIT NA! Samantala, panahon na ngayon at pagkakataong mapakinggan ang iba pang tinig ng madla rito sa makasaysayang hapong ito, una muna ang kasamang Bien Lumbera.-
Bakhtin, Mikhail/V/ N. Voloshinov. 1986. Marxism and the Philosophy of Language, translated by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1998. Practical Reason. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited by Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. New York: International Publishers.
Ives, Peter. 2004. Language and Hegemony in Gramsci. London: Pluto Press.
Rossi-Landi, Ferruccio. 1983. Language as Work and Trade. South Hadley, Mass: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, Inc.
Zialcita, Fernando. 2005. Authentic Though Not Exotic: Essays on Filipino Identity. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.
[Remarks made on 12 March 2008, at the launching of Balik-Bayang Sinta: An E. San Juan Reader published by Ateneo University Press under the directorship of Maria Corazon Baytion, sponsored by Kritika Kultura and its editor, Prof. Maria Luisa Torres-Reyes of the Department of English, Ateneo de Manila University, Quezon City, Philippines. Special thanks to Professor Bienvenido Lumbera, Ms. Esther Pacheco, and Prof. Gary Devilles for their solidarity; and to Prof. John Iremil Teodoro, director of the Fray Luis de Leon Creative Writing Center, University of San Agustin; and Prof. Tomas Talledo, head of the Creating Writing Program, University of the Philippines-Visayas, for inviting me to the historic first-All-Panay Writers Conference at the University of San Agustin, Iloilo City, entitled “Textualizing Human Rights,” on 14 February 2008, simultaneous with the book-launching of my Salud Algabre at iba pang tula published by the University of San Agustin Press. A revised version appeared in Essays on Philippine Language and Literature, edited by Ruth Elynia S. Mabanglo and Rosita Galang (Manila: Anvil,2010) and E. San Juan, Jr., Toward Filipino Self-Determination (Albany: SUNY Press, 2009).]