Are Asi, Romblomanon and Unhan Dialects or Languages?

Dear Governor Beltran,

On behalf of DILA (Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the Archipelago and the Language and Culture Committee of the Federalist Forum of the Philippines, please allow me to contribute to the discussion on whether Asi, Romblomanon and Unhan are dialects or languages.

The official website of the Province of Romblon, http://www.romblonp claims: "The predominant dialects are the Asi and Romblomanon. Onhan dialect is also widely spoken. Tagalog or Filipino is extremely understood and spoken. English is the medium in Business and Trade."

As the whole of 2008 is UNESCO's International Year of Languages, it will be appropriate to revisit the Language versus dialect issue in the Philippine context. Here is the full text of what Dr. Isagani Cruz (former USec at DepEd and former Head of the Filipino Department at De La Salle University and a fellow UPSCA alumnus) wrote on languages and dialects, in his column "Mini Critique" at the Philippine Star, Thursday, March 25 issue,page 25 (my comments are given after his article below).
LANGUAGE MATTERS by Dr. Isagani Cruz
"LANGUAGE MATTERS: What's the difference between a language and a dialect? Tagalog and Cebuano are languages. Bulacan Tagalog, Laguna Tagalog, and Batangas Tagalog, are dialects of Tagalog. Cebu Cebuano, Bohol Cebuano, and Manila Cebuano are dialects of Cebuano.
Linguistics describes languages as "mutually unintelligible", which means that someone speaking one language cannot understand someone speaking another language. If they can understand each other except for a few words or structures, they are most likely speaking dialects of the same language..
The definition works well in theory, even if any Filipino can more or less understand any other Filipino. since many of the words in our different languages are actually the same. One way to describe the language called 'Filipino'. in fact, is to sa that it is that language that is a composite or the common denominator of all our different languages. Most (but not all) Philippine languages come from the same root language that people spoke once upon a time but deviated from when they got separated by water or land.
Of course, there are words that mean something in one Philippine language and quite another thing in another Philippine language (such as ibon and libog). The separation over time of various ethnic groups made our foreparents forget what the words meant to their former clan mates. The same phenomenon has been observed in other countries. American English, for instance, has been described as merely the dialect of British English that the original colonizers brought over from Britain; it acquired its own identity as a variety (one step higher up the scale than dialect) as time passed.
Everyone speaks a dialect of a language. Therefore, it is ridiculous to say that someone is "speaking the dialect", because there is no choice but to speak one. Americans, for example, speak some dialect or other (Bronx English, California English, Southern English, Black English, and so on). The people who live in London speak dialects that can sometimes be found only on certain streets or neighborhoods. (Watch My Fair Lady.)
Do not ever refer to Cebuano, Ilocano, or Tagalog as dialects because that will show your ignorance. They are languages in exactly the same way that English, French, or Spanish and Italian are languages.
We have, by the way, more than a hundred languages in the Philippines and thousands of dialects."
My comments:
1. Dr. Ricardo Nolasco, Chairman of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino has the same view as Dr. Isagani Cruz on what is a language and what is a dialect.
2. Tagalista purists and Tagalista ultra-nationalists will dispute Dr. Isagani Cuz' alternative definition of Filipino as "a composite or common denominator of all our (Philippine) languages." (Dr. Cruz' alternative definition would also seem to confirm the views of many of us that the so-called Filipino is an artificial language, and could not possibly have any native speakers.)
3. A clearer comparison of how our ancient common root language broke up into the different Philippine languages that we find today is probably how Latin broke up into Portuguese, Galician, Asturian, Leonese, Occitan, Castillian-Spanish, Catalan, Valencian, French,  Provencale, Langue d'Oc, Italian, Sicillian, Corsican, the Swiss Romanche languages, Romanian, and the various Romansh languages in parts of Eastern Europe.
4. Just as American English is a "variety" of English ("variety" is one step higher on the scale than dialect), Boholano is a variety of Cebuano, not a dialect thereof.
5. The various varieties and dialects of Cebuano would be akin to the dialects of Spanish such as Castillian Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Argentine Spanish, Centrial American Spanish. On the other hand, clearly Catalan and Galician are not dialects of Spanish. They are separate languages. Basque has no relation to Latin at all and is a language of its own category.
6. A clear example of dialectization due to geography is that two different dialects of Binutuanon are spoken on either side of the Agusan river in Butuan City. This probably happened because before the bridges of the 20th century, it was not easy to cross the mighty Agusan

I hope this has been of help in clarifying that Asi, Romblomanon and Unhan are languages in their own right. They certainly are not dialects of Tagalog.

Best Regards,

Manuel Lino G. Faelnar

Chairman for Language and Culture,
Federalist Forum of the Philippines

DILA Phils. Foundation, Inc.
(Defenders of the Indigenous Languages of the

Lubas sa Dagang Bisaya, Inc. (LUDABI)

"Without our language, we have no culture, we have no identity, we are nothing." Ornolfor Thorsson, adviser to President of Iceland.

"When you lose a language you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art."
Kenneth Hale, who taught linguistics at MIT.

"Words, if powerful enough, can transport people into a journey, real or imagined, that either creates a fantasy or confirms reality."
Rachelle Arlin Credo, poet and writer.