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As the years go by, and with the advancement of communication technology, globalisation is becoming more and more of a reality. People are no longer separated by geographical or cultural barriers, and the use of English (the universal language) is widely encouraged across the globe. The language is seen as a marker of success in countries where English is not the mother tongue – if you speak it fluently, you are seen as smarter, more articulate. Opportunities to live, study, and work in other countries open up, and As a result, in this age of globalisation, less importance is placed on learning and speaking your mother tongue. And with the loss of mother tongue, comes the loss of a solid cultural identity.
Why is cultural identity so important, you might ask. Well, studies have shown that This issue rears its ugly head especially when dealing with mother tongue in the Philippines. The country has a long history of being colonised – most notably by Spain and the United States. As such, the use of Tagalog and other Filipino languages had already been discouraged for a long time, and this notion that the use of our native language is unimportant continues to be present in modern social spheres. As a result, newer generations of Filipinos have been exposed less and less to Tagalog, which in turn suggests that we have a weaker sense of cultural identity.
Having lived in the Philippines for most of my formative years, I feel that I have dealt with this issue personally. And from my personal experience, I would have to agree. Growing up, I was mostly exposed to Western media – movies, TV shows, books, and the like. In fact, consuming this media is what led me to learning English – so at a relatively young age, I was already speaking and reading English quite well. In contrast, the only time I was using Tagalog was at home. My parents made sure to speak with me in the language, to make sure I understood it and could speak it conversationally, but the use ended there. In almost every other social situation I was in, I would use English. I would talk to my friends in English, I would order food in English. In school, I always did better in English class than Tagalog class – if truth be told, Tagalog was the one subject I consistently struggled with.
My disconnect with my mother tongue was then exacerbated by moving to Singapore. Before, Tagalog was still something I was exposed to – the people around me would speak it, and I would see commercials using it, among other examples. Except now in this new country my exposure to the language was really only limited to interactions with my family. Over time my grasp on Tagalog deteriorated to the point where I can now only remember how to say a few words and phrases, and reading it proves to be a great difficulty. I can still understand most of spoken Tagalog, but it’s clear that I’ve forgotten some of the most crucial parts of language fluency – speaking and reading in Tagalog.
My complicated relationship with my mother tongue then affected how I viewed myself within the context of Filipino culture. I feel separated from the culture of my homeland – even back when I was living there, and now, when I am living somewhere else. Recently I’ve found myself dreading the thought of living there again – I feel that I will have trouble assimilating, trouble connecting with the culture and the people and so on. If I had been more exposed to Tagalog when I was younger, or had made more of an effort to learn it properly, I would certainly feel more comfortable in my own cultural identity.
Language is a fundamental aspect of culture – without any type of language, there would be no way for us to preserve our cultural heritage – from oral traditions to poetry to religion, none of these things would persist throughout history, or even exist, if not for language.
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