Author: Dave Ryan Mikhail Go
Edited by: Louward Zubiri, Gaby Flores, Hui-Giok Lim, Steffi Chong
Lánnang-uè is a mixed language that resulted from multilingualism: Hokkien-proficient Chinese migrants from Fujian in the Philippines (and their descendants) formed a new linguistic code that includes elements from both the ancestral language Hokkien as well the regional languages. Specifically, it was created by combining bits of Philippine Hokkien dialects (e.g. Jinjiang, Amoy Hokkien), Philippine English, and at least one Philippine language (e.g. Tagalog). As a bird of a different feather, Lánnang-uè came to be reflective of the mixed identity of Lannangs, or people in the Philippines who share a mixed Chinese and Filipino cultural heritage (Gonzales, 2018). In linguistics, languages like Lánnang-uè fall under the category of “contact languages” -- or languages when groups of people who speak different languages come together (Wenz, 2020). Like various other contact languages, Lánnang-uè is facing endangerment due to stigma of many members and a lack of use (Wenz, 2020).
Contact Languages, Stigma and Preservation
At times, we tend to view languages with mixed influences from different languages (also known as heterogeneous languages) as “inferior” or even “broken.” However, we have to understand that there is no such thing as a “correct” or “better” language. Languages evolve, are reflective of the ethnic group’s history and affinity to a region and environment, and uniquely serve the purpose of a certain community. While there is no such thing as a “superior” or “inferior” language, we tend to view certain languages as such due to societies and social constructs that make us view them as either “inferior” or “superior” (ibid.). This mindset is also influenced by the attitudes of many members of the community, such as the stigma that most Lannangs have regarding the language. For instance, many members of the older generation view the language as a very Filipino variety (with a negative connotation) and a failed Hokkien. We should decolonize our perceptions regarding language (viewing certain languages as superior and others as inferior) and reflect on the influences on our heritage.
Image from ABS CBN News Twitter, no changes made
In essence, language is a means for people to communicate. In the case of mixed languages, such languages reflect a common lingua franca between different peoples or a means of communication between multilingual peoples. Examples of mixed or contact languages can be found all over the world. For instance, Jamaican Creole, Nigerian Pidgin English, and Chavacano have emerged due to unique histories, cultural influences and contact between various groups. They have resulted from trade, slavery, immigration and other factors (ibid.). We should not deny ourselves of the history and the mixed cultural influences in our heritage. By acknowledging Lánnang-uè, we acknowledge our history and cultural influences as a diaspora. Indeed, there is no such thing as a pure culture or language. Different languages and cultures have been in contact with one another and have changed and evolved (Gonzales, 2018). If we want to preserve our unique mixed heritage and culture, we can begin by preserving and promoting Lánnang-uè and decreasing the stigma created by many, but not all, community members.
Mixed Culture and History
If we look back at the history of our ethnic group, we can see that the cultural heritage and even the ethnic language of our ancestors have heterogeneous and mixed origins. Before the arrival of the Han Chinese, the province of Fujian was originally inhabited by indigenous peoples of Southeast Asian origin (perhaps related to the Austronesian, Kra-Dai, Austroasiatic, and Hmong-Mien peoples like the natives of the Philippines, Thailand, etc.). These people were known as the Min Yue or the Mân Việt and had a culture similar to their aboriginal neighbors, as evidenced in the use of snake totems, tattoos, pile dwellings, and cliff burials. After the Han Empire fought wars against the Yue people of the area and their kingdom, the people were made to culturally assimilate and follow the dominant Han Chinese culture. Furthermore, when the Northern Chinese were invaded by tribal groups from the North, many fled to Fujian (Brindley, 2015).
Image from Trip China Guide: She Ethnic Kids, no changes made
Hokkien peoples share a mixed ancestry as a result of cultural hybridity and intermarriages between the natives and the Northerners. Moreover, the “pure Hokkien” that we know of can be also described as a contact language descended from the Old Chinese that was in contact with the Minyue language (Norman, 1988; Ting, 1983). Being the terminus or the end of the Silk Road, Fujian was also a prosperous trading area that attracted Europeans, Middle Easterners, Indians, and Southeast Asians. These foreigners also resided in the cities, brought their influences and wealth, and even intermarried with some of the locals (Wang, 2008). With the rich history and cultural heritage of our ancestral province, we should show pride and acknowledge that there can be richness in diversity and a blended culture.
At the same time, the Hoklo peoples are known to be a widespread diasporic community. There are unique communities built in Southeast Asia (Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, etc.), Latin America, North America, and various places around the world. As the descendants of the community adopt the traditions and languages of their settled homelands, they begin to create a unique third culture: one that is different from the cultures of their ancestral land and that of their settled land (Skeleton, 2003). For instance, the Hokkien used in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, and Singapore has influences from the Malay/Indonesian language. There are even mixed languages that have resulted due to the multilingual background of these descendants (Wei & Hua, 2010; ibid., 2013). We should celebrate these mixed languages because they reflect the history of our ancestors and how they adapted to new cultures and languages, creating something new and unique. These languages reflect how over time, the Hoklo community evolved into cultures that are diverse and unique in their own right — including our own.
A Story of Comparison: The Ashkenazim and Sephardim
If we want to look at an ethnic group that has a similar experience with mixed cultures and languages as those in a diaspora in settled lands, we can look at the stories of the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. The groups lived in exile and settled in various lands around the world. Like the Hokkien peoples, they have a mixed ancestry (they are descended from the Jews exiled from Israel and convert European or Middle Eastern spouses), mixed contact languages, and a mixed cultural heritage (Wade, 2010; Wettstein, 2002). With regard to their languages, they used Yiddish and Ladino. While some would consider them to be foreign or “inferior” languages due to the large amount of German and Spanish used, the communities still consider them to be Jewish languages or “mother tongues” (Prince, 2001; Bunis, 2017). For instance, in their languages, they still code-switch and use some Hebrew and Aramaic words while speaking mostly in a language that primarily uses German, Spanish, or any other language’s words (Kahn, 2018), similar as to how Lánnang-uè uses words from English and Tagalog alongside words from Philippine Hokkien.
Image from Re-imagining Migration: The Jewish Diaspora in New York, no changes made
As the diasporic Jewish communities began to settle in places, such as Eastern Europe, Africa, the Arab world, Persia, India, China, and the Americas, they began to adopt parts of the culture and traditions of their non-Jewish neighbors. This is natural because cultures that come in contact influence one another. While they adopted these things from their neighbors, they still kept their Levantine and Israelite heritage alive. Even if some of them do not practice the religion (similar to how some Lannangs no longer practice ancestral rites), they still give acknowledgement to the ancestral heritage and tradition (Wettstein, 2002).
We can still be proud of our mixed culture and languages, even if other people, such as our elders and outsiders think otherwise. They reflect our historical experiences and the unique heritage that we have created. Like the Lannangs and other diasporic Chinese communities, the diasporic Jewish ancestors worked hard and persevered, even in the midst of persecution, culture shocks, discrimination, and other negative factors. They strived hard to bring a legacy, a good education, and a better future for their descendants (Perry & Schweitzer, 2005). Their descendants are proud to talk about their mixed origins and the region of their diaspora (Wettstein, 2002). At the same time, as Lannangs, we can be proud to talk about our mixed culture and take pride in the Philippines as our homeland. We can also start by acknowledging the richness and complexity of our mixed language.
Lánnang-uè is the story of a diaspora and their experiences and blended heritage in their adopted and settled homeland. We can be proud of our complex identity and uniqueness. As mentioned previously, Lánnang-uè is not something foreign to us or something that is different from our ancestral heritage. It is a mixed language that we can consider to be a “heritage language” or “our people’s language/speech” (as they call it in Philippine Hokkien). At a time when mixed contact languages are becoming endangered due to stigma and other factors, our community can help combat several misconceptions and promote the language.
Image from Just Watch: Mano Po 7: Chinoy, no changes
Here, at the Lannang Archives, we believe in preserving and documenting this unique heritage. In our organization, we promote the use of the language and spread awareness through videos, campaigns and various other media platforms. For instance, we collect recordings and data from participants speaking the language with their consent in our project “My Language, My Heritage.” We plan on creating learning materials and dictionaries for heritage learners and non-Lannangs who are interested. We can enrich and further Lánnang-uè if we appreciate our mixed culture and heritage.
About the author
Dave Ryan Mikhail Go graduated from Ateneo de Manila with History and Diplomacy and International Relations. He has minors in Asian and European Studies, Literature and Cultural Heritage. Due to his passion for languages and history, he is currently taking his Master's in Linguistics in UP Diliman. He also works as a teacher and will be in Japan. Being in the Lannang Archives, he believes in advocating for and preserving this unique heritage and language.
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