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Why we must revive writing in the vernacular


Culture is an inherent part of an individual’s identity; and an integral part of culture is language, which is vital for human connection, building relationships, and creating a sense of community.


All over the world, there are about 7,000 languages, half of which are already endangered, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). 


When a language vanishes, a whole system of traditional knowledge and beliefs intertwined with that language ceases with it. What is then left of the entire heritage that lived on that language and culture, their history and beliefs, their contribution to society and civilization?



There are efforts to save dying languages and to prevent such from happening to other native tongues. The United Nations General Assembly declared 2022-2032 the International Decade of Indigenous Languages (IDIL) to help promote and protect indigenous languages and improve the lives of those who speak and sign them.


On our own, in our respective countries, in our own communities, we should be initiating actions to preserve, revitalize, and promote our vernacular language.


Preserving our native languages


In the Philippines, we have an estimated 135 languages, according to the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF). The KWF is undertaking the documentation of these indigenous languages to help better protect and preserve them.


I believe one very effective way to promoting and preserving our native languages is to write in the vernacular. When we have written articles and books in our local languages, those who speak it can be motivated to keep speaking and writing in the vernacular and those who want to learn it will have the tools at hand.


We need to enrich the Filipino literature written in the vernacular to revitalize the richness of our nation’s diverse culture. We can begin with translating English Filipino-authored books to Filipino and the language in the author’s home region. If each Filipino author does this, imagine how rich our vernacular literature will become in the coming years.


I believe it is also a writer’s responsibility to help preserve his or her mother tongue. We pay homage to our ancestors and our traditions when we give back our talents through enriching our culture. 


Let us not be afraid of books collecting cobwebs on the shelves; we already have digital tools at our disposal. The internet and social media can be repositories of these written works.


There are also institutions that embrace literature in different languages. The Harvard Kennedy School Library, for instance, accepts books in the Filipino language to be part of their catalog.


We only need to take that first crucial step, and you will be surprised how many are willing to support such initiatives. For my part, I am fortunate that my publisher, the Manila Bulletin, is very supportive of this endeavor for my book, Night Owl: A Nationbuilder’s Manual, to be translated into Filipino, Ilokano, Bisaya, and Hiligaynon.


They say, we should not be afraid of the future even if it is uncertain. I think, we should also be fearless of looking back to where we came from and see how we can contribute to preserving, enriching, and promoting the language, culture, and traditions that have shaped us into citizens ready for the future. 

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