BRIDGING THE GAP
Do you speak Bisaya?
There are about 2,500 hundred inhabited islands in the Philippine archipelago. Even though most of the islands are only a few miles apart, there are more than 150 languages and dialects spoken in the country. Tagalog, generally claimed by Philippine educational and political leaders as "Filipino" and the official language of the nation, is considered as the mother tounge of some 17 million. It is estimated that some 57 million people in the country can speak or understand Tagalog.
But yet, some 20 million Filipinos also speak Bisaya, the language sub-family spoken in the central part of the country, covering the islands of Panay, Guimaras, Negros, Siquijor, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte and Samar. Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Kinaray-a and Akeanon are the communication tools in Panay, Guimaras and Negros Occidental. Cebuano is the medium of conversation in Cebu, Negros Oriental, Bohol, Leyte and Siquijor. It is interesting to note, however, that Cebuano spoken in Bohol maybe similar in vocabulary to the Cebuano used in Cebu but not in pronunciation and even intonation. The "j" sound instead of the "h" and "i" sound is prominent in Bohol. Waray, on the other hand, is the language of the people in Samar and in some parts of northern Leyte.
Bisaya, whether Hiligaynon or Cebuano, is also the dominant language in Mindanao, except in Muslim-dominated areas. South Cotabato is definitely an enclave of Hiligaynon while the Misamis provinces, Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte, Butuan, and the Agusan and Surigao provinces are principally Cebuano speaking.
Hiligaynon is known for its sing-song intonation and is popularly known as a tender language. It is softly spoken to the point that a non-Ilonggo, because he is not aware of the intricacies of the language, may not even know whether the speaker is already mad or not. It is the language of commerce and of vernacular literature in Western Visayas in the past. Kinaray-a or Karay-a is assumed to be an older language than Hiligaynon. It is the medium of communication in the Province of Antique and in the interior towns of Iloilo. It is distinguishable by its dominant "r" sound rather than the "l" sound which is the case with Hiligaynon. Akeanon, on its part, is naturally the vehicle of interaction in the province of Aklan and is noted for its unique way of pronouncing letter "l" with an "ae" but with a slight "g" sound.
Cebuano is the dominant language in Eastern Visayas. Non-Cebuanos' general impression of the language is that it is spoken in a rapid and loud manner. Maybe, this is the reason why non-Cebuanos sometimes mistake Cebuanos talking to each other as if quarreling. Boholano or Bol-anon is Cebuano in many respect but is quite different because of its prominent "j" sound, replacing some consonant sounds. "Iya-iya", therefore, may sound like "ija-ija". Waray, on the other hand, although vocabulary-wise is different, is similar to Kinaray-a in one respect and that is, the dominance of the "r" sound.
Generally, the people in the Visayas speak at least three languages fluently: Bisaya in whatever variant, Tagalog and English. English, the second official language, is used in government circles, the academe and business. Often it is spoken with part of the sentence in Bisaya.
Some scholars say that language spoken in the Philippines and elsewhere in archipelagic Southeast Asia and the smaller islands in the Pacific Ocean evolved from Sanskrit into Bahasa as tribes moved across Asia. They use the language family classification Malayo-Polynesian when referring to Philippine languages. Whatever their origins are and whatever their origins are and whatever their language family affiliation is, some studies show that Bisaya and other Philippine languages are similar to Bahasa spoken in both Indonesia and Malaysia, in many respects. "Salamat" means "thank you" in all three countries, for instance. In fact, some Visayans who had been to as far away as Papua New Guinea have testified that they can even make themselves understand there in some cases.
Bisaya speakers ought to be proud of themselves. Bisaya is a dominant communication tool in the Philippines and in fact has spread its wings in many parts of the country. Language is an effective vehicle of cultural transmission and heritage conservation. It is through Bisaya that Visayan culture, particularly Ilonggo and Cebuano, has influenced and enriched other groups of people in the country. The Visayans are identified to be Visayans because of the language that they speak. Bisaya is the central focus in the people's ethnic identity as Visayans.