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Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano (Sixth part)

I understand the fear—well, call it the linguistic paranoia of the many Ilokano writers and observers of Ilokano culture—when they say that, in an exaggerated way, we have to look for an Ilokano word for “computer” because if we do adopt “computer” in the Ilokano language, this language will be polluted, will be rendered impure, will be adulterated.

(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)

I understand the fear—well, call it the linguistic paranoia of the many Ilokano writers and observers of Ilokano culture—when they say that, in an exaggerated way, we have to look for an Ilokano word for “computer” because if we do adopt “computer” in the Ilokano language, this language will be polluted, will be rendered impure, will be adulterated.

There is smallness in such a mind, whoever owns it.

And this same mind has no sense of the delightful drumbeats of history and its technologies.

The first question here is: are we to draw up a descriptive word in Ilokano in order to account this objective experience of “computer” in our midst? What descriptive word are we to use?

For the sake of argument, we can try—and I am trying hard now just to go into the small minds of the purists and those who do not know how to think and think clearly: “Ti computer ket maysa a makina a pagan-andaren ti kuriente (mark this “kuriente” word as well) a no agsuratka iti daniw iti Ilokano ket ugedanna amin ta dina met piman mabasa ti Ilokano ket iti panagkunana ket biddut amin nga ispelling (mark this “ispelling” word again).”

What happens here?

This is plain and simple crucifixion. And it is not even a Good Friday yet. Why say in a long, convoluted way that which you can say in one, single, and lone (but not lonely) word, that word we use: computer/kompiuter? Are we to spell it with a “c”?

Ha, that is a non-issue, if you have read my previous pieces.

Here, we are making a mockery of ourselves—and we live in that grand illusion that “computer” in English is one grand “pure” and “pristine” and “primeval” English term.

Here as well, we are as colonial as the person next to us, oblivious to the fact that English and other Romance languages, for that matter, borrowed much from Latin, but Latin, in its poverty of concepts and cultural experiences despite the braggadocio of its conquering emperors, borrowed much from the Greeks. But are the Greeks the genesis of everything? No, clearly, because it borrowed also from other sources.

The English word computer, for instance, did not even sound like its etymology: com + putare, although it approximated the sound of “com” depending on whose English you are using. (Yes, there are “Englishes” if you do not know it: the English of the abominable Simon Cowell when he insulted Jasmin Trias in his kind of English one hates, with the cockiness of the accent that made the whole of India a colony and neocolony until now and Hollywood and that sub-culture of pop culture we call “American Idolism” as against the prim and proper English of the prim and proper Hillary Clinton as against the “Philippine English” of Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as against the “Ilokano English” of the former president Fidel Ramos).

What was the original meaning of computer? Oh well, it was simply not referring to the machine but to a concept: “to be together in mind” and “to reckon something”.

So what to do? What lessons do we get from the “history of words”?

Simple: read history well and put to heart its lessons.

Do we have to maintain the original spelling?

What original spelling do we talk about?

Language is already confusing as it is always a lie, as this lie is based on mis/representation. Why add another confusion? Come on, Ilokano advocates, get real. Forget the company of Nid Anima and his pupils who all argue on the basis of a “glorified and glorious Ilokano language” during the time of the frailes and Isabelo delos Reyes and Leon Pichay and Pascual Agcaoili. They are all confused. Or they are all—all—babbling, as in a Babel .

One, you cannot maintain the original spelling for always. You have a real problem there. If your system of sounds, based initially on the kur-itan/kurditan does not account that or does not reckon it as in the “putare” of the Latin, then you have no business maintaining that spelling as you are, as a matter of fact, allowing confusion to set in. How do you say, in Ilokano, “Computerize the poem of Jim Agpalo”? Simply say: “Ikompiutermo ti daniw ni Jim Agpalo.”

What do we have here?

You have borrowed the concept, you formed it into the image of the Ilokano language by making it behave as if it were your own, and you did not return it. This is the real sense of borrowing, the real sense of appropriation.

I guess that if it were true that the revered Juan SP Hidalgo, as claimed by other commentators, has pushed for the retention of the English/foreign spelling in accounting these new experiences in Ilokano culture and from our language, then the revered Juan SP Hidalgo is veritably mistaken.

There is no reason why we should be afraid to appropriate words that we do not have. The English language is an example of the best bastard and rich language we ever have.

What about “text messaging.” Oh, come on, say: “text mesedying.” Do I have to explain?

(To be continued)