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Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano (First part)

If some ‘unenlightened’ Ilokanos, in their foolishness and ignorance say that ‘arak’ is all ours and it came right off from the split of the bamboo as if it were part of the Malakas-Maganda legend that became the rallying point for some ‘political agendum’ of the past, we can only guffaw here. Hello, hello, where were they when Apo Lung-aw showered grace and wisdom and light and knowledge?

(Aurelio S. Agcaoili, PhD, teaches at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and coordinates the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program of the Department of Hawaiian and Indo-Pacific Languages and Literatures. You can email him at: [email protected] or log on to his website: asagcaoili.blogspot.com for other articles on Ilokano life, culture, and society.  – Ed)

THESE are my own peculiar way of looking at the lively and dynamic exchange of ideas on the Ilokano language at this time.

There have been a number of positions, voices, and attitudes and all of them are salutary. They all point to a mind that is thinking, reflecting, ruminating, and caring.

For me, thinking is simply thinking hard and allowing reflexivity to come in and reside in the soul, the spirit, and the heart where fusion becomes the principle of each second of our thinking life.

This means that I have seen in these attitudes, voices, and positions such a quality. And then there is the bonus: care, a caring disposition which we all see in Roy Aragon, Joel Manuel, Joe Padre, Jake Ilic, Jim Raras, Jim Agpalo, and Nid Anima.

There are, of course, other previous voices we can allude to, refer back, and ‘archeologize’: JSP Hidalgo Jr, Greg Laconsay, Joe Bragado, the ‘Bannawag voice’, and scholars from the West who are not necessarily Ilokano but who have taken upon this task of helping us help ourselves by looking into how our language behaves. We name some: Prescila Espiritu, Carl Rubino, and Laurie Reid.

Now, the points:

1. On the ‘abecederia’ or kur-itan or kurditan or alibata.

Various literatures would tell you that the terms for the alphabet are many such as abecederia, kur-itan, kurditan, alibata. Abecederia is Hispanic, kur-itan is of the Ilocos Norte variety, kurditan is Ilocos Sur, or alibata is Greek-Arabic before it ever became Tagalog, or Filipino, or Ilokano as it came from aleph and beta.

You see that aleph and beta have been fused.

This has been done by allowing the process and power of neologism to come in to account a new linguistic and cultural human experience.

The sounds, when combined, were made to behave in a Tagalog and/or Ilokano way, hence the word ‘alibata’, clearly, aleph-beta, mispronounced and miswritten as it were, but now clearly appropriated. The notion of abecederia is the same thing: the a-be-ce of the Spanish language.

Every language is a sound, right? And the way to account the sound/s in a written form is arbitrary, convention-bound, historical, and cultural. In short, written accounting calls for a system, hence, some sense of constancy. And yet, to be democratic and just and fair, it must be an open system to admit change, some kind of a change that adds quality to human life.

We note here that the aleph-beta are the first letters in the way the letters of the Greek alphabet have been ordered; the Arabic language appropriated this, in some sense, which is the reason why we caught it as well by force of trade and commerce, possibly by way of the Arab and Indian traders(?), which accounts for the Sanskrit influence of our language, such as the Ilokano word ‘arak’.

If some ‘unenlightened’ Ilokanos, in their foolishness and ignorance say that ‘arak’ is all ours and it came right off from the split of the bamboo as if it were part of the Malakas-Maganda legend that became the rallying point for some ‘political agendum’ of the past, we can only guffaw here. Hello, hello, where were they when Apo Lung-aw showered grace and wisdom and light and knowledge?

Were they with me in the fields of Gumamugam, playing risay-baboy? We could have all been absent at that time. Absenerotay ngamin, gunggunatayo.

Every ‘alphabet’ is a linguistic, cultural, and historical convention.

And it is a political act and fact.

This means that some time in the past, some people have tacitly agreed to work things out this way and their way of ‘working things out’ this way became the convention.

Does it matter what we call? Do we have to choose which is ‘better’?

My answer is: No way, Jose.

Forget your linguistic dictatorship or your cultural authoritarianism.

There is some kind of a political unconscious in language and we must, at all times, be wary and ever-ready to unmask those that are meant to deceive us. For language, as it were, is already a lie. We are to create another one and we are done in.

Any attitude that points to a generous and genuine idea of what democracy is, in concept as well as in practice to account an orthopraxis of what we are and what we want to be, ought to be the guiding light, our guiding light.

When we dream of and pursue democracy, we extend that, in toto and without exception, to all that which concerns ‘life’: social, political, economic, cultural, and linguistic.

On the letters of the alphabet.

My position, take them all.

And you have to be bold and daring. You have to be brave.

In some ways, writers and cultural workers like Aragon, Manuel, Agpalo, and Padre have joined the fray to re-visiting and re-thinking about the letters of the kur-itan/kurditan and their position of accounting new sounds is the right way to go.

[ To be continued) ]