August 25, 2019
IN its long-ago life, my province trained its bright and ambitious young men to pay attention to spoken and written Kapampangan. As if it were the first and only step toward mastering and conquering the official lingua francas. Moving out into the world and finding success would come later. That was very true then.
The late President Diosdado Macapagal, before the full-blown development of his political oratory, was a Kapampangan poet first. A deviation in form and structure from the craft of his playwright-father Urbano, a writer-producer of native zarzuelas. The poetry of Dadong Macapagal, mostly about undying love, is still being read by the current generation of Kapampangan poets. A US-based friend, Johnny Cayanan, knows every single line of Cong Dadong’s poetry.
OK, this is just trivia, but it should be said. The late matinee idol Rogelio de la Rosa, the first movie actor-senator with real presidential ambitions (he backed out after he realized he would be competing with Macapagal, a brother-in-law, childhood friend and neighbor) first gained his acting chops in the Kapampangan zarzuelas produced and written by Urbano Macapagal.
Dadong Macapagal from Lubao town had a political and literary rival, Amado Yuzon, from the nearby town of Guagua, and the two men had turns representing the then first congressional district of Pampanga in the House of Representatives. Yuzon, it was said, was more committed to literature than to politics. Macapagal became president of the Republic; Yuzon, on the basis of his impressive body of poetry, became an International Poet Laureate.
The late Jose Luna Castro, a journalism great, longtime editor of the pre-martial law Manila Times and the author of the first handbook on journalism, came from a family of Methodist pastors. That meant mastering the Kapampangan bible, which is not only a scriptural gem but also a showcase of the depth, breadth and substantive reach of the Kapampangan language.
Today, it is different .
I am sure — I am depressed rather — that more than two-thirds of regular churchgoers in my province now either do not fully grasp or just half understand the homilies, as the priests draw from the biblical passages of a bible probably translated into Kapampangan early in the 20th century. Because I am an old man, who often lapses into a form of Kapampangan that is as ancient as the Kapampangan bible, I am often misunderstood by the young. During the August 18 homily, the priest spoke of “pami-sagsagan,” which could either mean division or strife, depending on the context. After Mass, I asked the young churchgoers if that word was clearly understood by them and in what particular context was it used. They all said “No.”
It never registered. And August was supposed to be the Buwan ng Wika, the month we pay tribute to Filipino and the other languages, Kapampangan included.
I have this fear that soon Kapampangan will no longer be the medium of communication in my province. That it would go the way of Zambal, the language of Zambales, which is a neighboring province. Today, Zambales communicates in two languages, Ilocano and Tagalog, and the joke is that former senator and first lady Loi Estrada is the only Zambal-speaking person left. There are a few others, of course, mostly of Dra. Loi’s age. But admittedly, Zambal will soon join the list of vanished languages.
The slow death of Kapampangan as a vibrant language started with the designation of the capital town of San Fernando (now a major, first-class city) into the regional center of Central Luzon in the 1970s. All the regional offices of the major government agencies were relocated, along with the staff. Overnight, this transformed San
Fernando into a babel of regional tongues. The regional directors of these offices, because the practice then was a de facto security of tenure, moved into the town with their families, maids and drivers. Literally, San Fernando started speaking in tongues. The many tongues eventually settled for a unifying language and that was Tagalog.
The avalanche of non-Kapampangan speakers was so overwhelming that it also overwhelmed Kapampangan. At the secondary and tertiary educational institutions where the migrants sent their kids, Kapampangan was set aside even by the natives to communicate with the new arrivals.
More, a frontline government department has moved its headquarters to the Clark Freeport Zone and others would soon follow. The business mix of locators at Clark requires employees and staff from across the country and this would mean a repeat of the 1970s, the arrival of many tongues at the booming Freeport.
In the City of San Fernando and the Metro Clark areas (Angeles and Mabalacat cities primarily), fast-food employees now ask for orders in Tagalog, and Tagalog is the de facto lingua franca at the major tertiary schools. Men and women of a certain age who speak with the full singsong of the native tongue are often looked at as Martians, or from another world.
Kapampangan, early in the 20th century, was the language native to a vast spread of Central Luzon, the whole of Pampanga, the eastern towns of Bataan, the Nueva Ecija towns of Cabiao up to parts of Guimba and what is now the first congressional district of Tarlac, from Bamban to Tarlac City.
It is no longer spoken in Bataan, except for some barrios in Hermosa. It is no longer spoken in Nueva Ecija, except for some barrios of Cabiao. If it is dying at home, why indeed would it survive elsewhere?
For one reason or another, it is thriving in the Kapampangan-speaking towns of Tarlac, from Bamban to Tarlac City. Though residing in a Makati village, former senator
Tessie Oreta of Concepcion, Tarlac, for example, still speaks in the classic Kapampangan, with the pronounced lilt and tilt that is evident in a native — and an unwavering speaker.
At the rate that Kapampangan is dying, the last speakers will be the people of southern Tarlac, where it is still spoken in the classic manner and in the full glory of its antebellum nuances.
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