I along with many in the Philippine linguistic community am encouraged by DepEd and the Philippine government’s initiatives to promote education in students’ mother tongues. Though the Sinama language is not included in the list of major languages for which MLE is being mandated, efforts are being made to develop curriculum in Sinama as well. I certainly applaud these efforts. I am only concerned that in some cases, like in the case of Sinama, they may be trying to re-invent the wheel.
Did you know that linguists have been tackling the task of analyzing all of the Filipino languages for over 50 years? The orthography for the Central Sinama language* is a systematic alphabet well suited for describing the Sinama language in writing. By now I should hope it would be well established for use among Sama speakers. Unfortunately this is not the case, for in many Filipino languages it is not the creation of orthographies (the alphabet) or even reading primers and literacy materials that are lacking, but it is the promotion of such materials that has been problematic.
Did you know that work on the Sinama language dates back as far as 1962? Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were accessible to researchers at that time. They lived and worked there. Names like Kemp Pallesen and H. Arlo Nimmo come to mind. Workshops were held addressing the linguistics issues that
DepEd is trying to tackle now in their MLE implementation. Foreigners, educators, and Sama worked together to produce a proper alphabet and literacy materials. In 1969 one workshop was held at Jolo, Sulu that had 100 DepEd teachers in attendance.
Sadly the results of these workshops and the research done are largely unheard of in DepEd today. Instead of developing a new alphabet it is important to teach the already established one. Instead of duplicating reading primer after reading primer the Sama need more reading material and need to be able to enjoy reading it.
This is one of the areas that I believe Sinama.org can play an important role in. Reading Sinama will always be awkward even for the most learned of the Sama unless Sinama is used regularly for reading and writing. Sinama.org provides a chance for Sama to interact with each other, create friendships, and reflect on their culture and current happenings in the world. Also we are trying to incorporate the lessons learned by past researchers into our website. That is why you can find articles on the Sinama orthography as well as a downloadable updated version of the 1969 reading primer. We are always looking for new material that we can make easily accessible to the Sama on our website. By creating an online Sama community, the Sama can hopefully bridge into this technological era without losing their cultural identity.
As the Department of Education continues with their drive to teach multilingual education by the means of student’s mother tongues, I hope that they will not ignore what has been done in the past, but instead help us promote past advances in language research.
* Central Sinama is a language classification used by linguists but not by the Sama themselves. Generally this refers to Sama from Siasi, Jolo, and parts of Tawi-Tawi, especially Tabawan as well as the Sama Dilaut, a more transient Sama group whom most outsiders know as the Badjao. The Central Sinama language is spoken throughout Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. High populations of Central Sinama speaking Sama can be found in Sabah Malaysia.