Reviving a Language One Post at a Time

Kapampangan vloggers maximise social media use to save their native tongue

Six-year-old Nicole gets her white dress soiled while playing with her kurang-kurangan (toy kitchen set) with her cousins in their verdant backyard in Minalin, Pampanga, about 82 kilometres north of Manila, on a hot Saturday afternoon.

Without minding the plastic pan, the makeshift stove, and the leaves and twigs she ‘cooks’, one would think that Nicole is an expert in the kitchen—a trait most Kapampangans like her, the inhabitants of Pampanga province, possess.

She pretends to cook sisig, a native Kapampangan dish made of grilled pork ears, liver, chili, and Philippine lime. Nicole prepares another plate to transfer the ‘cooked food’. She seems excited about the finished product. But before she can serve her specialty, her mother calls for her: ‘Nicole! Dinner is ready!’

Despite being born to Kapampangan parents, Nicole doesn’t know how to speak the Kapampangan language. Her parents speak to her in Filipino, the Philippines’ national language, which is widely based in Tagalog. Tagalog is mostly used by those residing in Manila and other parts of the National Capital Region, as well as Southern Luzon.

‘They get used to Tagalog since that’s what they speak in school,’ Kaye, Nicole’s mother, explains.

This is one of the major factors as to why the Kapampangan language is considered to be highly threatened, according to Kapampangan linguist and historian Mike Pangilinan. Pangilinan studied linguistics at the Heinrich Heine Universität Düsseldorf in Germany and has devoted his time to the promotion and preservation of the Kapampangan language and culture.

‘They see Kapampangan as a lower language. They just use it when they’re mad or cursing but they speak in Tagalog for their everyday communication,’ Pangilinan explains.

A ‘dying’ language

In her opinion column on Philstar.com entitled ‘Kapampangan—a Dying Language, a Serious Threat to Culture and Identity’ published on 29 January 2019, writer and educator Sara Soliven-de Guzman states that a language dies when it is only used for oral expression and not for written communication.

Pangilinan, however, clarified that the debate on whether to label Kapampangan as a ‘dying’ language is still ongoing. According to him, at least 75% of the population need to speak a language for it to survive into the next generation.

Pampanga has a population of 2,437,709 based on the 2020 Census of the Philippine Statistics Authority, 78% of which use Kapampangan as their medium of communication, according to Pangilinan.

‘I won’t say it’s a dying language because we’re still many. But the question is what are we, the 78%, doing to our language? Are we passing it to our children?’ Pangilinan continued.

But the possible demise of the Kapampangan language cannot be blamed on Kapampangan parents who speak to their children in Tagalog alone—this is a result of more complex events in national history.

Robby Tantingco, Director of the Center for Kapampangan Studies at the Holy Angel University (CKS-HAU), argues that the relegation of Kapampangan as a third language, next to English and Tagalog, can be traced back to the Commonwealth Period when Filipinos were propagating Tagalog as the national language—a form resistance against the American colonisation.

He refers to this as the nationalism in language, which resulted in the extreme influence of the Filipino or Tagalog language in the media, the education system, and professional institutions.

‘It was the government that wanted to unify the nation through the popularisation of a national history and a national language,’ Tantingco said.

Local migration, especially in the cities of Angeles, San Fernando, and Mabalacat has forced businesses in Pampanga to cater to migrants, emphasising the use of Tagalog in most of the establishments. The proximity of the province to Metro Manila, the centre of the Tagalog region, is another factor that has led to the neglect of the Kapampangan language, according to Tantingco.

Meanwhile, Pangilinan says the decline in usage of the Kapampangan language started during the time of former president and dictator Ferdinand Marcos. Since Marcos’ political enemies were mostly Kapampangans, Pangilinan says the strongman intentionally demoralised them and their perceived arrogance.

‘There is a deliberate state suppression against our language and culture… How do you demoralise a group of people? Suppress their language, destroy them in the media and ensure that they won’t have anything to read about themselves,’ Pangilinan explained.

Montalbo’s Facebook posts about speaking Kapampangan to his kids has gathered much appreciation from the public.| Photo by Bruno Tioutuico | Kevin Montalbo
Montalbo’s Facebook posts about speaking Kapampangan to his kids has gathered much appreciation from the public.| Photo by Bruno Tioutuico | Kevin Montalbo

Staying ‘alive’

Four-year-old Kalia rides her bike around her family’s subdivision in Angeles City. Her father, Kevin Montalbo, follows behind with a handy video camera.

‘Kalia, wait for me. Don’t be in a rush, I’ll take video,’ Montalbo calls as he runs after his daughter.

According to the Article 30 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), a child has the right to enjoy their culture, practice their religion and speak their language, whether or not these are shared by the majority of the people in the country.

Insert Montalbo Family Pic Caption: Fig. 2 Montalbo’s Facebook posts about speaking Kapampangan with his kids has gathered much appreciation from the public. | Photo by Bruno Tioutuico | Kevin Montalbo

This is one of the reasons why Montalbo speaks to his daughter in the local vernacular. Unlike Kaye, Montalbo says he doesn’t want to deprive his daughter of her own language. He also believes speaking to Kalia in Kapampangan will benefit her cognitive development.

‘If you are prohibiting your child to speak in Kapampangan, you’re violating her rights,’ Montalbo explained.

Montalbo says it was no question on his part to teach his daughter Kapampangan.

‘It’s just common sense, we are Kapampangan parents, we live in Pampanga. We raise our child here so why shall we speak to her in Tagalog,’ Montalbo said.

But this ‘common sense’ Montalbo is trying to adhere to is not limited to the confines of their humble home.

We The Lokal loves to feature great food from local eateries around Angeles City. In this photo, Montalbo is joined by WTL members Celine Buensuceso, Nica Remollo, and Migs Campanilla. | Photo by Boogie Yu | We The Lokal
We The Lokal loves to feature great food from local eateries around Angeles City. In this photo, Montalbo is joined by WTL members Celine Buensuceso, Nica Remollo, and Migs Campanilla. | Photo by Boogie Yu | We The Lokal
Montalbo and Tiotuico first worked with each other at the City Information of Angeles. On 4 January 2018, Montalbo was inspired by a post he saw on Reddit about Ikigai, the Japanese concept of ‘purpose in life’. Weeks after seeing the post, he texted Tiotuico inviting him to start ‘something’. The rest was history. | Photo by Boogie Yu | We The Lokal
Montalbo and Tiotuico first worked with each other at the City Information of Angeles. On 4 January 2018, Montalbo was inspired by a post he saw on Reddit about Ikigai, the Japanese concept of ‘purpose in life’. Weeks after seeing the post, he texted Tiotuico inviting him to start ‘something’. The rest was history. | Photo by Boogie Yu | We The Lokal

Going ‘lokal’

Montalbo is an online content creator. In 2018, he co-founded We The Lokal: Kapampangan Videos and Vlogs with Bruno Tiotuico.  He now serves as the vlogs’ creative director and works closely with Tiotuico, Miguel Campanilla, Nica Remollo and Celine Buensuceso, Morrisey Hans Racca, and Boogie Yu.

As of October 2023, We The Lokal has a total of 91,000 followers on Facebook and 12,900 subscribers on YouTube. Their content varies from topics about Kapampangan food and festivals, to language tutorials—and they use Kapampangan as their main language. Their video entitled ‘How Kapampangans Speak in Tagalog’ now has 71,000 views on YouTube.

PHOTO We The Lokal Food Trip Caption:  Fig 3. We The Lokal loves to feature great food from local eateries around Angeles City. In this photo, Montalbo is joined by WTL members Celine Buensuceso, Nica Remollo, and Migs Campanilla. | Photo by Boogie Yu |  We The Lokal

Despite being labelled as ‘the Kapampangan vloggers’ and one of the new advocates of the Kapampangan language, Montalbo says they did not really intend to project that image.

We The Lokal is a product of a passionate desire to create something different from their regular job.

‘We wanted to come up with something local. Thus, our name… We weren’t sure what the content was going to be. What we were sure of, however, was that it was going to be relatable to Kapampangans,’ Montalbo said.

The group first released a video about the top five best pandesal (bread) in Angeles City. Montalbo says shooting that vlog in five different bakeries in the city one early morning was their first time meeting as a group. Because of their chemistry, charm, and bubbly personalities, they started gaining followers in the Kapampangan-speaking region—that includes the whole of Pampanga, parts of the provinces of Tarlac, Bataan, Bulacan, and Nueva Ecija. Today, they post videos in the forms of interviews, skits, and even educational clips.

INSERT We the Lokal Caption: Fig. 4 Montalbo and Tiotuico first worked with each other at the City Information of Angeles. 1on 4 January 2018, Montalbo got inspired by a post he saw on Reddit about Ikigai, the Japanese concept of ‘purpose in life’. Weeks after seeing the post, he texted Tiotuico inviting him to start ‘something’. The rest was history. | Photo by Boogie Yu | We The Lokal

Montalbo adds they just wanted to embrace their own Kapampangan identity and they felt more genuine when they did not pretend to be native speakers of Tagalog or English.

‘Little did we know that, with this decision, we were filling a niche in the market that no one knew they needed,’ Montalbo said about their move not to venture into Tagalog vlogging, which he believes is overly saturated.

According to Montalbo, We The Lokal does not generate much income as they don’t monetise their videos on Facebook, and their subscribers on YouTube are still few compared to others. He shares they receive their funding from sponsorships, merchandise, and donations.

‘Doing this opened our eyes to advocating Kapampangan culture, language, etc. So, nowadays, yes, we are aware of what we’re doing, and we’d love to continue doing it,’ Montalbo said.

Pangilinan used to be the executive director of the Aguman Sinupuan Singsing in Angeles City. During his stint, he maximised social media use to educate the public about the Kapampangan language and the Kapampangan indigenous script Kulitan. | Image from Aguman Sinupan Singsing
Pangilinan used to be the executive director of the Aguman Sinupuan Singsing in Angeles City. During his stint, he maximised social media use to educate the public about the Kapampangan language and the Kapampangan indigenous script Kulitan. | Image from Aguman Sinupan Singsing

A threat or an advantage

While Montalbo knows that social media is a global medium, he doesn’t think We The Lokal is wasting their potential to reach a larger audience by opting to use a local language.

‘It makes us unique and we stand out from the thousands of content creators out there. And the Kapampangans are our actual target audience,’ Montalbo explained.

In the book PLATFORM: Get Noticed in a Noisy World, author Michael Hyatt explains people are more distracted than ever in the internet world. However, finding the right product and right niche will lead to success, according to the online expert who pioneered social networking and blogging.

And this is where Montalbo and his group are coming from—creating Kapampangan content for a Kapampangan audience.

Montalbo adds they just wanted to embrace their own Kapampangan identity and they felt more genuine when they did not pretend to be native speakers of Tagalog or English. ‘Little did we know that, with this decision, we were filling a niche in the market that no one knew they needed,’

Pangilinan also sees the potential of social media to promote the use of the Kapampangan language. According to him, social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have allowed public dialogue pertaining to the use of Kapampangan language to flourish.

INSERT Mike Pangilinan Caption: Fig. 5 Pangilinan used to be the executive director of the Aguman Sinupuan Singsing in Angeles City. During his stint, he maximised social media use to educate the public about the Kapampangan language and the Kapampangan indigenous script Kulitan. | Image from Aguman Sinupan Singsing

He asserts that social media is instrumental in providing a platform for people to challenge old norms that are detrimental to the Kapampangan language, such as imposing fines to those who use it in schools.

‘Kapampangans don’t have a voice to question these things. This is where social media gets in the picture. Finally, someone stood up against these norms,’ Pangilinan said.

He further notes that the increased awareness and the free space social media brings not only benefits the revival of the Kapampangan language. In fact, several minorities and indigenous groups in the world like the Berbers of Morocco and the Minangkabau of Indonesia suddenly became empowered by using their respective languages.

‘Suddenly they can use their own language because no one prohibits them from doing so,’ Pangilinan elaborated.

In her article ‘New Media, New Audiences?’, London School of Economics professor Sonia Livingstone stated that the internet has created different audience behaviour. Since it is perceived as a more ‘personal’ medium, Livingstone explained that people feel more connected and empowered on social media.

‘It has to be social media’

The Center of Kapampangan Studies at the Holy Angel University (CKS-HAU) is also now looking at different ways to promote the Kapampangan language to the youth of today. Tantingco says social media plays an important role in reaching out to the three million Kapampangans scattered all over the world.

Aside from the traditional media such as books, magazines, television and radio programmes, and even movies, Tantingco says they have started using social media with the aim to spread awareness regarding Kapampangan culture and language.

In September 2015, CKS-HAU launched Bergaño Dictionario, a mobile app version of the Kapampangan dictionary written by Fray Diego Bergaño in 1732. Tantingco says the app is very useful to both native and non-native speakers of Kapampangan. As of October 2023, the app has more than 50,000 downloads on Google Playstore.

CKS-HAU has also invited vlogger Jericho Arceo to be the host of the television and social media program entitled Aro Jericho!, which used to stream on Facebook and air on regional television station CLTV36. Arceo is one of the most famous Kapampangan content-creators, with over 735,000 followers on Facebook, and 666,000 subscribers on YouTube at the time of this article.

‘It has to be social media; it cannot be any other. I’m sorry to say but we have discarded or minimised the use of traditional media because they are no longer popular,’ Tantingco stated.

Tantingco says they are seeing a positive response brought about by their efforts to keep the Kapampangan language alive. However, he believes these efforts will all be put to waste if parents and other elders like Kaye do not speak to the younger generation in Kapampangan.

‘We call our language Amanung Sisuan, or language suckled from the mother’s breast. We have to make our children speak it,’ Tantingco declared.

Find this story and more in

ARTIQULATE #03

ArtIQulate is a publication associated with the Adenauer Fellowship, a scholarship programme by the Media Programme Asia, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Ltd.
About the author

Justine Dizon

Justine Y. Dizon is a journalist based in Pampanga, Philippines. He was raised in a Kapampangan household but was restricted from using his mother tongue and forced to speak and write a different language in primary school. Dizon works on stories about local governance, culture, and economy as the Chief Editor of CLTV36 and cocreator of pampanga360.com.

Connect with Justine Dizon

More articles by Justine Dizon

This author has only one article. Browse others

ARTIQULATE #03