Waray as a social identity

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on March 8, 2021

My travels around the world make me appreciate my mother tongue more than ever. It is fascinating to learn and practice different languages in the places we’ve lived in. I learned enough Japanese and French to get around in Japan and Belgium, and learned some basic words during the two years we spent in Korea. I enjoy listening to locals speak their language when we travel, but I feel a special kind of excitement when I hear kababayans abroad speak Tagalog or Cebuano.

My ears perk up and my heart blooms when I hear Waray being spoken. I immediately feel a sense of belonging because of how Warays immediately treat each other as long-lost family members, and the innate trust that we will look out for one another wherever we may be. Michael Byram’s research on language and identities for the Council of Europe confirmed that language creates a sense of belonging, a national identity. Tagalog is the national identity of every Filipino.

Children learn to read, write, and speak Tagalog in Filipino classes at school. People default to speaking Tagalog when they meet other Filipinos from other regions. Byram also wrote about the social identity that represents the language learned naturally at home. Waray is the fifth most-spoken language in the Philippines, a language acquired through the family and mastered through sheer exposure from childbirth. There are about three million speakers in Leyte and Samar, and many more in large communities in Manila, Cebu, and around the world.

Because we learn Waray from the moment we can talk, schools put more focus in teaching English and Filipino, paving the way for Warays to be natural polyglots. Students learn and speak three languages at once, the young minds already wired to pick up other popular languages like Cebuano and Ilonggo easily.

These days, Waray is more of an oral language than a written one. We hear Waray on radio stations but we do not read it on a regular basis. Even our regional newspapers, and this article for that matter, is written in English. What can we do to preserve and grow the Waray language? The problem stems from the lack of venue to publish in the target language.

The early 1900s to the 1950s represented a golden era of Waray literature. An Lantawan, Sanghiran san Binisaya, and Eco de Samar y Leyte were publications that propelled the rise of Waray prose and poetry.

Local newspapers can start dedicating some space for the native tongue, and local governments can provide more support through literary competitions or public libraries dedicated to the language or Waray authors. We also need to campaign for Waray to be created as a separate regional languages division in the prestigious Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature.

Awards like this will encourage poets and writers to create quality work. It is because of traveling and seeing the power of language and the sense of belonging it brings to a person that I decided to write bilingual stories like the Maya series. Waray is such a beautiful language, a social identity that singularly represents who we are and the gateway to our culture, arts, and traditions. Through the Maya series, I declare: Waray ako.

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