The New Challenge of the Mother Tongues: The Future of Philippine Postcolonial Language Politics
For much of postcolonial language politics around the world, the fight has largely been between a foreign (read: colonial) language and (a) dominant local language(s). This is true in the Philippines where the debates have focused on English and Filipino, the Tagalog-based national language. In recent years, however, the mother tongues have posed a challenge to the ideological structure of the debates. Although local languages have long been acknowledged as positively contributing to the enhancement of learning in school, they have been co-opted mostly as a nationalist argument against English, American (neo)colonialism and imperialist globalization. The current initiatives to establish mother tongue-based education reconfigure the terms of engagement in Philippine postcolonial language politics: it must account for the fact that the mother tongues could be the rightful media of instruction. In the process, it must tease out issues concerning the decoupling of Filipino as the national language and Filipino as a/the medium of instruction, and deal with the politics of inclusion and exclusion in “bilingual” and “multilingual’” education. Nevertheless, this paper ends with a general critique of language debates in the country, arguing that “content” has been sidelined in much of the discussion. The future of postcolonial language politics in the Philippines should not be about language per se, but about how the entanglements of language with the larger (neo)colonial infrastructures of education where medium, substance and structures are needed to advance the nationalist imagining of the multilingual nation.