March 28, 2023
MANILA — Harvard University will soon offer a course on Tagalog, the fourth most spoken language in the United States, according to a report in the student paper Harvard Crimson.
The university’s Department of South Asian Studies will hire three instructors to teach Tagalog, Bahasa Indonesia, and Thai for the academic year 2023 to 2024, the report said.
Teaching positions under a three-year term appointment and renewable for up to five additional years will be supported by a $1-million budget secured through fundraising initiatives, it added.
James Robson, a professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations and director of Harvard’s Asia Center, said the department had been working toward expanding education about Southeast Asia in the university for more than two years.
Through the Tagalog course, he said the Harvard department hoped to demonstrate the demand for Southeast Asian languages, and “hopefully we can also use this to convince the administration to further support Southeast Asian studies.”
Tagalog is one of the major languages in the Philippines, from which the national language, Filipino, is largely derived. Filipino and English are the country’s two official languages.
Eleanor Wikstrom, co-president of the Harvard Philippine Forum (HPF) and Crimson editorial chair, said getting the Tagalog language offered at the university had been one of the group’s goals.
HPF is a community of Filipinos, Filipino Americans, and friends who celebrate and share the importance of Philippine culture and tradition within Harvard.
Only 1 course on PH
In a column also published in the Crimson, Wikstrom said that while she was “elated” by the news, she felt that the legacy of Harvard was “still largely a form of manufactured ignorance.”
She criticized the lack of a dedicated formal department for Southeast Asia and how only one course on the Philippines was offered in the university, which was part of a survey course on the history of Southeast Asia.
“The hiring of a Tagalog preceptor is a necessary first step; it is also just one instantiation in a legacy made of instantiations, one novel articulation in a century-long speech. So while I am undeniably elated by the news of Tagalog’s offering, I refuse to celebrate Harvard for a legacy it has yet to remake,” she said.
HPF’s copresident, Marcky Antonio, said that while he considered it a “big win for the Filipino community back home,” the university still needed to ensure that the language and Filipino culture would be taught properly.
“While this is the first Tagalog language course that’s ever been offered in Harvard’s history, I think there’s also this sense that we need to make sure we teach this right — not only Tagalog language, but Filipino culture as a whole,” he said.
Harvard, one of the world’s top universities, is not the first American school to offer Tagalog to students.
University of Washington in Seattle offers a Tagalog course under its American Ethnic Studies program, starting with TAGLG 101 Basic Tagalog, which introduces the Filipino language and culture to students at the novice level, up to TAGLG 303 Advanced Tagalog, which includes readings of contemporary Filipino prose, poetry and drama, and advanced conversation and composition.
Filipino or Tagalog courses are also offered at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia; the University of California San Diego in La Jolla, California; Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
At the University of Hawaii in Manoa in Honolulu, students may earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philippine Language and Culture.