MOMENTS | Speak in Tongues

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Kids Playing in Chavayan, Batanes

The wind whipped like there was no tomorrow through the narrow streets of Chavayan Village. I was in Batanes, the dream destination of most travelers in the country. There was almost no one around except the silent stone houses and a bunch of giggling kids rolling a plastic drum. Approaching them, I asked what they were doing. They replied in tongues foreign to my ears, controlling their laughter at the task at hand, that is to roll the drum with another kid riding inside.

Ivatan Kids at Chavayan Village in Batanes

While absolutely no trace of the Filipino language was uttered from their innocent mouths, I was still able to communicate through smiles and gestures with these Ivatan children.

A realization occurred to me then—had they spoken to me in Filipino, that magical moment I witnessed would have been totally different. It would have transformed it into something ordinary; reduced to a street scene perhaps at the crowded alleyways of Manila.

It would have lost its magic. It would have lost its charm.

A Local Picking Weeds at Dumaguete Boulevard

“You’re from Dumaguete City, right? How come you speak in straight unaccented Filipino?”

“I’ve been in Manila for a couple of years now, coming here to find better work. But every time I started to speak, everyone would tease and laugh at me for my accent, saying how hard my tongue is.”

Meet E. While we’re not really tight friends, I’ve known her for quite a bit since we move around the same traveling circle. Her being denied of her own dialect and her being forced to change her accent to fit with the Manila crowd saddens me.

During the first half of my life, the metropolitan culture led me to believe that people with any other provincial accent or punto, as we tend to call it, especially those from the south, is nothing short of lowly. It is a harsh generalization, especially for our Visayan brethren, but we tend to take it in stride and act as if it’s nothing but natural.

The Congested Cities of Metro Manila

With the advent of people from the provinces looking for greener pastures in Manila, the people of the metro started to associate these tones of a different accent to citizens with lowly jobs; our maids, the stevedores, the market vendors, that cashier in the supermarket.

We laugh how they mispronounce words. We ridicule the way they speak.

We Filipinos tend to view ourselves as above racism, but it is happening right within our very own backyards, within our very homes. And I don’t think we’re even aware of it.

The Famous Ruins of Metro Bacolod

”Ate pabili naman po ng dalawang hamburger at softdrinks. Magkano po yun?” (Hi, can I buy two hamburgers and a bottle of softdrinks? How much?)

I was in Bacolod City. A neophyte traveler stepping for the first time on the Island of Visayas. The girl started to speak to me in Ilonggo and things started to run through my head. How rude, I thought. I spoke to her in Filipino and she answered in another dialect. I’m pretty sure she knew how to speak Filipino but it seems she refused to want to. I know for a fact that the Filipino language is taught to all the schools in the Philippines.

It took me some time to understand this incident.

Fiery Bacolod Sunset

It never occurred to me that I was the visitor in their land. Why should they bend to my own language when they have their own? Would I have reacted the same if I was in another country and I get a reply, not in English, but in Nihongo? Parallel to this, doesn’t the world look to Japan for their sense of nationalism; when almost everything else in the world is in English, they still steadfastly adhere to their own language?

The Mahatao Lighthouse in Batanes

I was standing there, amidst these kids in Batanes, speaking to them in Filipino, and them, returning their answers in Ivatan when something finally clicked in my mind. I started to imagine a Batanes without the Ivatan-speaking populace; these same Ivatan kids, but speaking in straight flawless Filipino.

It felt wrong. It wouldn’t be the same magical Batanes that I’m experiencing that very moment.

The Sun Setting at the Marlboro Country in Batanes

The realization that being different is not a bad thing hit me hard. I started to appreciate how things would start to lose their character once they start to conform. And the last thing one should compromise is one’s own language. It is the root of who you are as a people.

I started to see things differently.

Change is inevitable but these changes should not bury your roots.

An Old Ivatan Fetching Water at Sabtang Island in Batanes

Visiting the schools in the island of Batanes, I saw how teachers use their native language to teach lessons in classrooms. I saw how they’re able to preserve their own customs while still managing to adapt at the changing times.

The Ivatans who has gone through school now know how to speak in Filipino, but when on their own, they still relish the sound of their own native tongue. And it made me respect them for it.

Valugan Beach Sunrise in Batanes

Traveling does that to you.

It changes your perspective on things you would normally not have noticed. It teaches you humility. It embodies a sense of respect. It makes you understand people—be sensible to their actions, their ways. It tells you that you are not the standard after all and that everyone else is equal. You become a totally different individual through the experiences on the road.

And after years and years of being pre-conditioned by my environment to look down on other people, it made me realize how wrong I was. How wrong society is in passing judgment just by hearing the tongues of another individual different from them.

It started me on path to make people understand this. But letting people understand this seemingly simple thing is not an easy task in itself. Instead of sounding like a preacher, what I advise people to do is to travel.

Travel, and let the world change you.

You Might Also Like


  1. I think E might have learned the Tagalog (Manila) accent but has retained her Cebuano accent at the same time. And hopefully, she's not disowning it because for one, Cebuanos have a very rich and beautiful culture. "Denial" is a very sad word, and I hope she isn't denying anything, much more her Visayan heritage. And as a Cebuano, I agree with execerpt from anotehr article: "If somebody from Manila visits the Visayas and speaks to the locals in Tagalog, the locals will answer back in English, even though they can speak Tagalog well (they must learn it in school). Again, the point is that I love this sense of pride that Bisaya people have in their language, culture, and food..." Meaning, we, Visayan people, are proud of who and what we are. And with that pride comes the knowledge that as Filipinos, we can adapt well linguistically and speak Tagalog like a native tongue, but that doesn't mean denying our Visayan roots, much more our beautiful Cebuano language.

    Eto ba pang we go entry? Kudos and good luck!

    1. I also admire how Visayan people have this sense of pride in them. To the uninitiated, they would seem mayabang, but that's not really it. They just have a real sense of who they are. :)

    2. hindi, mayabang talaga kami. ahahahaha!

  2. Very well said and written with humility and passion. Thanks for sharing.

    1. You’re welcome James. I’m glad you liked my post.

      I was actually hesitant to post this at first as it might trigger some not so nice reactions, I’m just relieved that people are finding it to be good. :)

  3. You have an enviable job, Kabayan Christian. But as wise men say, "When you love what you're doing, it's not a job!"

    1. Salamat sir! It doesn't pay as much as a regular job in the office, but it pays so much in so many different ways.

    2. I know. I like the way you write, too. Especially this piece about the Ivatan children. Huling-huling ko ang sentiment. Feel na feel ko ang emotion. Like I always say: "Keep on shooting! (and in your case, "Keep on writing, as well!").

    3. Salamat po, it makes it so much worth it pag may nagbabasa nung mga sinusulat ko :)

  4. Hi Christian. I have been a follower of your blog. I love reading your travels. I take a break from being your silent reader to comment on this because I speak the Bisaya dialect. I have always been proud of my roots. I hail from the rich and diverse culture of Northern Mindanao.

    I have always resented this discrimination towards my native tongue. There are just really locals in the Metro who feel, I'm sorry to say, superior just because they speak Tagalog. They tend to condescend. Always. Whether you be a successful professional or not. Sad, sad reality.

    1. I feel for you Edaj. I hope someday, this discrimination and looking down on people with another dialect stops. This issue has been bothering me for a long time and I've been meaning to write about it, I just can't find the proper way to express it until I actually sat down and started to write.

  5. You nailed it sir Christian. I used to mock the someone through their Visayan accent and when I finally Visited the Central Visayas, jeez they are so proud of it. When I visited the SU Museum in Dumaguete City, I asked the student assitant on the univ.'s history (Tagalog) she confidently answered me in straight English. No language is inferior/superior than the other, each has its characteristic.

    Growing up in MNL with roots all over from Visayas and Mindanao, I gotta respect them. To your post daghang salamat.

    proud na dabawenyo here.

    1. Ones view of the world indeed changes once you start to travel, right? It's hard to explain this thing to someone who hasn't done so, they would simply look at you like a righteous preacher, telling them what to do and what not to.

  6. Christian, i had tears in my eyes after i read your blog, very poignant memories had awaken some intense feelings that i've experienced in life not because i felt so indifferent when people here in Canada noticed my filipino accent even when i speak fluent english but rather felt some kind of real national pride being a true-blooded pinoy. of course, i'm so proud to tell them that i am a filipino-canadian. yes, maybe i have a canadian passport but deep down inside of me i am still a true filipino. so when i found out that there's a republic act in our own country that allows natural-born citizens to have dual citizenship, i was very glad to avail of that privilege right away, having two passports is awesome. now i can truly say that i am a filipino-canadian. that is speaking internationally.
    what about in our own native land? yes, i have met some regional discrimination as a dipolognon because of my bisayan accent, although i can disguise my tagalog accent in manila and they will never know i'm from mindanao where i grew up and speaks fluent bisayan dialect. although i'm very proud to be a cebuano because of our great heritage. then of course, i can speak other dialects with their own accents; like kapampangan, ilocano, chavacano and our national language, tagalog. i was born in tarlac known as the melting pot in luzon where people speak so many dialects and that to me didn't matter much.
    what i'm trying to say here is that even in our own country there is regional discrimination. that we can't deny and it's such a disgrace to discriminate on others just because they are from other regions and speak another dialect with a different accent than the one we are used to. we should just learn how to accept regional differences and live with it, then have so much pride as filipinos like i've always done myself.
    i have travelled far and wide, where i have met people of different cultures but i've never been more discouraged than what i've experienced traveling in our country from luzon, to the visayas and to mindanao. if you speak their dialect in their accented tone, they accept you and if not, sorry to say that you are on your own. it's easy for me to adapt because i can speak so many dialects fluently so i've never really felt out of place on any island that i've visited in our country. what about others who can only speak one dialect? if only people will travel often then maybe they will learn to be more considerate of others. with all of that said and done, i rest my case. daghan kaayong salamat, what a great post. bravo!

    1. Thank you for the beautiful comment ma'am Oly. I guess you'd really know about this from what you have all went through. Grabe po yung comment mo, pwede nang isang blog article :)

  7. For a minute there, I thought I was somewhere else. Great writing, idol!

  8. You got me nodding several times while reading this. It's a nice read. Coming up with this piece is brilliant. :)

  9. You got me nodding several times while reading this. It's a nice read. Coming up with this piece is brilliance. :)

  10. Well written piece, Christian! and pwede bako mg four thumbs up? Tho that's a bothering reality dito sa pinas, especially for us, bisayas who speak tagalog in a different tone/accent na laging pinagtatawanan and ginagawang katawa tawa.

  11. Hi, Christian. I'm Issa. :)

    I'd like to stay on topic, but first let me just praise the photos you've taken. They're downright impressive. :)

    Now on speaking another tongue.. I currently live in Cebu but I was raised in Manila. To fit in, I had to learn Cebuano. It was tough.haha.. The quirks of this language is just too hard to master though I've been here more than 6 mos. Anyway, they've been kind enough to wait 'til I adjust my tongue. I think it's the intention that counts. Really. They want to see if you're making enough effort to really reach them out.

    Oh my, that's such a long story. :D Anyway, I'm wondering if this piece won the WEGO contest.. because it deserves so. :)

    1. Hi Issa, I guess it's the other way around for you eh? Unfortunately it didn't won the contest, but I love how it touched a lot of people :)

  12. wow...what a slap on my face dude :)..a month ago i was in Surigao and being a pure Tagalog tongue i was irked by a lady in the airport while i was talking to her in Tagalog she keep on replying Visayan Language or Surigaonon i'm not sure a big realization bcoz of your post :)..thanks and kudos..

    1. No problem Philip, I was also in your shoes back in the day :)