Were Our Schools Wrong About Languages and Dialects?

March 25, 2019

Contrary to popular belief and our own educational upbringing, Kapampángan is actually a language, and not just a dialect.

To differentiate both, let’s first take a look at their definitions.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of Current English, a language is:

The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way; a system of communication used by a particular country or community.

On the other hand, a dialect is:

A particular form of a language which is peculiar to a specific region or social group.

Clearly, these definitions can complicate one’s understanding, as we have to define both under a sociopolitical view and need to define what a specific region or social group really means. This may vary from one context and one country to the next.

There is, however, another way to differentiate language and dialect, and that is through MUTUAL INTELLIGIBILITY.

Pangilinan, Michael R.M. (2016). Slide 26: The Difference Between Language and Dialect via Mutual Intelligibility. In “Amánung Sísuan: What Kapampángans should know about their language.” [Powerpoint]. A lecture presented at the Angeles City Library and Information Center, 2016 August 19 & 26.

If one speaker does not understand another speaker, then each of them is speaking a different language. A Kapampángan speaker wouldn’t be able to understand someone speaking in Ilokano, and vice versa. This means that they’re speaking different languages, using different words with different grammatical rule sets, applying different sentence structures and so on.

Pangilinan, Michael R.M. (2016). Slide 27: The Difference Between Language and Dialect via Mutual Intelligibility. In “Amánung Sísuan: What Kapampángans should know about their language.” [Powerpoint]. A lecture presented at the Angeles City Library and Information Center, 2016 August 19 & 26.

However, if both speakers understand each other despite having minor differences in pronunciation and diction, then they are speaking a different dialect of the same language.


To demonstrate
Kapampángan dialects in action, let’s look at the words MAKANTÍNI and MAKANÍNI.

You may have had a conversation among your Kapampángan friends, and probably even argued which word is correct. The words both mean “like this” in English…  and both words are correct.

The difference lies in the origins of the word and where it is being used. Kapampángans from Florida Blanca and nearby towns would say MAKANTÍNI. Whereas folk from Angeles would often say MAKANÍNI.

This means that, while both sets of people from Florida Blanca and Angeles City speak the same Kapampángan language, they are not speaking the same Kapampángan dialect.

Other variations of the word include ANTÍ KANÍNI, MAKÂ ANTÍ INÎ, MAKÂ ANTÍ ITÎ, MAKÂ  ANTÍTI, and PAKANTÍTI.

The difference can also be seen in words such as melaparis vs. mepalaris, salwan vs salian, awsan vs asuan, etc.

Did our schools teach us wrong?

Schools have mistakenly taught us that Kapampángan is just a dialect of the national language, Filipino.

Growing up and studying in a Catholic school in Angeles, we as students were encouraged to speak in English on campus all the time. I had no real qualms about this, especially since it gave me the proper foundation to function in my day job today, writing articles, creating marketing campaigns, and performing social media management for a foreign client using English as a medium.

However, this same school located in Pampanga also penalized us for, and I quote, “SPEAKING in the DIALECT”, which was Kapampángan. Back then, this did not strike me as strange, but now, as I’ve eventually learned that the Kapampángan language is definitely endangered, I now look back at this perplexed, and can’t help but say that our training in school might’ve had a hand in slowly killing the language.

It was as if we were being discriminated in our own home.

To add insult to injury, because schools are now known to penalize “dialect speakers”, new parents would just drop Kapampangan entirely, with some even dropping Tagalog, and just teaching English to their children, so that they could somehow gain an educational advantage.

Also, why did we have this feeling that Kapampangan was seen as an informal, language, while Tagalog and English were more accepted in formal, and more educational settings?

In classrooms, we were allowed to speak in Tagalog, and even had Filipino classes. But why was Kapampángan considered taboo? In all my years of learning, why did I have this feeling at the back of my head that I would be vilified and even branded as disrespectful if I respond to my teachers in Kapampángan, despite the fact that I am living and studying in Pampanga?

A New Profound Understanding

We have to let our children know that Tausug, Ivatan, Hiligaynon, Tagalog, Ilokano, Bisaya, Sinama, Bikol, Chabacano, Akeanon, Bajaw, and Kapampangan are NOT mere dialects — they are all languages, each with their own linguistic differences.

As educational institutions, schools have the responsibility to train children to become multilingual, especially in countries such as the Philippines, where a melting pot of cultures defines its people.

Clearly knowing the difference between what a language and a dialect brings a new profound understanding of our language, and in turn, gives us a better view and appreciation of our culture.

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  1. Thank you so much for writing this! I have tried to explain this even to a Kapampangan well into his 60s, insisting that Tagalog was a language while all the others were dialects. “Dialects of what language” I asked, which he could not answer.

    I use the analogy of four villages along a river system to explain the difference between a language and dialect. If villages A and B can comprehend each other, they speak the same language. If villages A and C can comprehend each other, in spite of some word variations, they are speaking two dialects of the same language. However, if villages A and D completely cannot comprehend each other, then they are speaking two different languages. Same concept, but easy to visualize, especially since it was a norm for villages to be situated along rivers.

    In Ilocos, it was said that there were eight different dialects, but now is generally split into northern and southern, and diasporic Ilocano dialects, whether due to regional differences, the adoption of words from neighboring ethnolinguistic groups, or former languages that were once endemic to a region, but was swallowed by the invading language.

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