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Interpretation: Our Mother Tongue

IF truly a people dearly love
The tongue to them by Heaven sent,
They'll surely yearn for liberty
Like a bird above in the firmament.

In this first stanza we note that Rizal considers a people's mother tongue as a gift from heaven. Growing up in the Catholic faith where language, according to the Bible, originated from the fall of the Tower of Babel, the poet must certainly have considered the Filipino language as a unique blessing to a unique people who, if they only realize the value of the treasure they hold in the tips of their tongues, would surely yearn for the freedom to build an identity for themselves, free from the influence of foreign lands.

BECAUSE by its language one can judge
A town, a barrio, and kingdom;
And like any other created thing
Every human being loves his freedom.

Here the poet explains why language is linked to the need for freedom, why language is more than just a group of words people use to communicate to each other. It is, according to Rizal, the standard by which outsiders judge a community, a culture, a civilization.

ONE who doesn't love his native tongue,
Is worse than putrid fish and beast;
AND like a truly precious thing
It therefore deserves to be cherished.

In this third stanza we find the origin of Rizal's well-known proverb, "He who does not love his own language is worse than an animal and smelly fish. ("Ang hindi magmahal sa sariling wika, daig pa ang hayop at malansang isda.") He then further stresses that a nation's language is a treasure to be valued and cherished.

THE Tagalog language's akin to Latin,
To English, Spanish, angelical tongue;
For God who knows how to look after us
This language He bestowed us upon.

It is only right for Filipinos to consider Tagalog not as a lower form of language; it is "akin to English, Spanish" and even to the language of angels. It can be supposed from this stanza, then, that the regard people have for their native tongue has a great influence on the regard they have for their own identity as a nation. Tagalog is a language given by God, as are Latin, English and Spanish. It is, therefore, not to be treated as one inferior to other tongues. Filipinos, likewise, ought not to feel inferior to other nations and should desire freedom for they, like everyone else, are capable of upholding their identity themselves.

AS others, our language is the same
With alphabet and letters of its own,
It was lost because a storm did destroy
On the lake the bangka in years bygone.

Letters unique only to the Filipino language could be traced back to Baybayin. The origins and disappearance of the use of this alphabet is a long chapter in history.

Need more of this? Uncover the meaning of ALL of of Rizal's relevant poetry and verses by buying the book.

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