Saturday, March 24, 2007

Language maps

One way to improve articles on Wikipedia is to include images. How does this work for language-related articles? For starters, you could include a map of the area where the language is spoken.

For Philippine languages, this can be quite tricky. The Philippine situation is unlike the situation in, say, Japan where almost everyone speaks Japanese. So all you'd need to do is put a map of Japan and color it green and say "everyone there speaks Japanese!"

Ok, ok, the pedant in me says screams that Japan is not that simple either. I mean, for a more detailed map you'd need to show where dialects such as Kansai-ben and Kagoshima-ben, not to mention coloring areas where the dying Ryukyuan and Ainu languages are spoken. But you get the idea.

One of the problems is the famous question concerning dialects, where does a language begin and end? Even native speakers themselves have a hard time drawing a line in the sand. Yes, there is Ethnologue, which says there are over 160 Philippine languages but both you and I know that number can change at a moment's notice, depending on whom you speak to. This is because that there is little research done on speech varieties spoken in a different areas - from my understandings, SIL linguists have to go on Swadesh lists and the like. But as time goes on, more definitive research comes in and thus a clearer picture of the Philippine language situation becomes reality.

A related problem is the issue of names. In a previous blog entry, I mentioned that millions of Cebuano speakers simply disappeared in the 2000 Census's Mother Tongue category between the years 1995 and 2000. What was the problem? The appearance of a new "Bisaya/Binisaya" category was to blame. Many people in the Visayan islands simply call their respective languages "Bisaya" or "Binisaya" whether they are living in Allen, Northern Samar or Davao City! Many native speakers simply do not use the linguistic names that linguists have assigned to their languages, be it Dispoholnon or Porohanon - it's just plain Bisaya. Others have no specific names, like Bantayan Visayan. This is reflected in the Bikol, Ifugao, and Manobo languages as well.

Then you have problems like Davaoeño - which could refer to a dialect of Cebuano, Tagalog, or Chavacano or even the language related to Mansakan. Ay ay ay!

The four main sources that I consulted were Ethnologue, the 2000 Census, Dr. Curtis McFarland 1983 work A Linguistic Atlas of the Philippines, and Dr. R. David Zorc's 1977 The Bisayan Dialects of the Philippines.

I really want to get a copy of the CD from the National Statistics Office. It has statistics down to the barangay! That would really help in making the maps more detailed. The CDs are available here but no one has answered my e-mail. :-(

In any case, the maps are below. Click to enlarge.


Cebuano is spoken in various provinces in the Visayas and Mindanao and goes by different names. In Bohol, it's called Boholano and in Leyte it can be called Leyteño, Leytehanon, or Kana. Cebu is basically the de-facto capital of the region and its influence is reflected in the written language, so I guess its dialect gets dibs on being the most famous one. Though I'm all for an inclusive name, but not too inclusive like Visayan.

I had a difficult time with the provinces of Surigao Norte, Surigao Sur, and the newly-created Dinagat Islands. There are four main dialects of Surigaonon spoken there, and they have a lot of Cebuano influence. People have claimed that Cebuano is spoken there, but I can't ascertain it. I don't doubt that Cebuano is spoken there, so for now I have put it in light blue coloring. I am not comfortable with this designation, so I need to research this more.


Doing Kapampangan was more simple. The majority of Kapampangans are concentrated in Pampanga. However, linguistic borders do not always represent political ones. Southern Tarlac is Kapampangan-dominated, and there are communities of Kapampangan-speakers in southwestern Nueva Ecija, northeastern Bataan, and western Bulacan.


Tagalog was easier as well. Looking at the map, it makes you wonder how a language that's relegated to a smaller area could be the national language of the country for decades. With that aside, I have some doubts about Mindoro. I have conflicting information about where exactly Tagalog is spoken. It appears the interior is dominated by Mangyan languages, but are they mingling with Tagalog speakers? Or do they themselves speak Tagalog? Also, the southern ends of Mindoro are home to Visayan-speakers.

People may argue that this map should cover ALL of the Philippines since over 96% of the population speaks it. But I felt the map would be more useful and more accurate if it showed the areas where Tagalog is native.

Visayan languages

I am quite proud of this map. I've been wanting to do this map for the longest time. It challenges the popular notion of what a Visayan is and what they speak. As you can see, Visayan languages are native to the southern end of Luzon (however, the people there consider themselves Bicolanos) all the way to Jolo (the people there do not consider themselves Visayans either).

One problem that I had with this map was related to Cebuano. For now it's been classified in its own subbranch of Visayan languages. But I feel that it's a South Visayan language just like Tausug, Surigaonon, and Butuanon are. But I can't impose my hypotheses on Wikipedia, so I have to go with current research.

On a side note, I suggested to another Wikipedian that we should do a Venn diagram on what a Visayan is. Since there are geographic, linguistic, ethnic, and political perspectives.

For example:
  • A Cebuano is a Visayan under all those criteria.
  • A native of Cagayan de Oro is a Visayan but not geographically and politically.
  • A Tausug and a Sorsoganon is only Visayan in terms of language. As a matter of fact, in Tausug, "Bisaya" means "Christian."
  • An Abaknon from Capul Island is only politically, geographically, and perhaps ethnically Visayan but not linguistic; their language is Sama-Bajaw (related to the languages near Jolo).
  • And since 2005, Palawanons are now politically Visayan!


jun said...

hi. please send me an email.. i need to send and ask info re: Philippine Blog Awards. Am part of the organizing committe with Gail and Abe and Jayvee

Christopher Sundita said...

Hi, Jun. I'd be glad to contact you, but you didn't leave me an e-mail address. What is it?



jun said...

i sent you email in your yahoo account... re: Awards Night. You may want to send a representative (preferably a blogger). Will send more details soon.

PEPE ALAS said...

Re: "I am one of the finalists and they said I need a representative since I can't go to Makati. Are you interested?"

It would be my honor, sir.

L.A said...

Hi. We sent you the e-Ticket for the Philippine Blog Awards 2007. Please show this at the registration table. You will then be given two entrance tickets: one for you and another for your guest. If you have not received your e-Ticket or have any questions please email philippineblogawards [at] gmail [dot] com. Best of luck to you and your blog. See you there!

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Anonymous said...

There's a free Q and A session tonight at 8pm-930pm.

This includes Facebook Marketing and Virtual Assistant Life Questions for Jomar Hilario, the author of Social Mentoring Club.