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Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano (Eleventh part)

These are my own peculiar way of looking at the lively and dynamic exchange of ideas on the Ilokano language at this time. The aim of this paper is to look at this lively and dynamic exchange and refer them back to what has happened in the history of the Ilokano language, the developments of the culture, and the discourses that have affected how we have received and respected and reclaimed the Ilokano language.

(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)

(This work is part of a larger work on Ilokano language, literature, and culture. The Tawid Magazine serialized a popular version of the work in its magazine and in its e-zine; another electric form is found in the author’s blog.).

O. Preliminaries

These are my own peculiar way of looking at the lively and dynamic exchange of ideas on the Ilokano language at this time. The aim of this paper is to look at this lively and dynamic exchange and refer them back to what has happened in the history of the Ilokano language, the developments of the culture, and the discourses that have affected how we have received and respected and reclaimed the Ilokano language. While the issue on reception is bound-up by the circumstances of birth, the issue on respect for the language is contentious depending on the “ideological and cultural” mindset of the Ilokano in question. The crucial issue that relates to the ideal of “reclaiming” the language is one of a dream, and in the diaspora, the difficulties are ever more present even if we can also say that the Ilokanos in the Philippines are not in a better position to say that they are, in fact, committed to the reclaiming of the language for themselves, for their people, and for the future generations. My hope is to offer some cursory “notes”, some ground to cover in the continuing and evolving discourse on what needs to be done to make Ilokano both a language of the present of the Ilokano people and a language of their future.

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, serious thinking is thinking hard and critically 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.

On the matter about the issues relative to the “modernization” of Ilokano language, I have been a witness to such serious thinking by way of the various positions, voices, and attitudes of writers, cultural workers, and thinkers of the Ilokano language. I have seen so much quality in them. As a teacher of this language and one of its practicing users as a writer, there is so much privilege in my having become a witness to this “renewed” interest on things Ilokano even if I would also say that despair and frustration ought to be recognized in other areas such as the teaching of the language in basic education; the lack of respect accorded to the language by the very policy makers of culture and education in the Philippines, by the people in power who should know better; and by the neocolonial attitude of many of its inheritors, both young and old, in and outside the country. To date, to my knowledge, there are only two schools that currently have a program in Ilokano language teaching: the University of the Philippines-Diliman, in the Philippines , and the University of Hawaii-Manoa , in Hawai‘i, the United States. While students of Philippine culture in the Philippines can work their way to some form of a “specialization” in Ilokano by way of their courses and their research, such “specialization” takes the form of working through a more elaborate, perhaps less committal, recognition of the importance of Ilokano in the larger scheme of things in the educational directions of the country. The University of Hawai’i’s bachelor’s program in Philippine Languages and Literatures has more teeth in providing a clearer, committed, and conscious direction to the teaching of Ilokano (Cf. Espiritu 2005).

 These attitudes, voices, and positions have so much quality that we are reminded that all is not lost, that there is much relevance in this collective act to resist the onslaught of a neocolonizing power that plans to stay forever in the minds of the many who have learned the difficult lessons about the terrible impact of “language and culture homogenization”, this systematic act of state power and its agents and executors to make people think only “mass” thoughts, one authored by the center of power and authority. There is a bonus in these attitudes, voices, and positions: there is care, there is 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’ and fall back to for guidance: Juan SP Hidalgo Jr, Greg Laconsay, Joe Bragado, the ‘Bannawag voice’, and scholars from the West 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 Lawrence Reid.

1. The Urgent, Critical Points

In the current exchanges, much of it by way of various blogs, I summarize the themes and provide my own view and/or response to the issue raised:

a) 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, and alibata. Abecederia is Hispanic, kur-itan is of the Ilocos Norte variety, kurditan is Ilocos Sur (as seen, for instance, in the Candon, Ilocos Sur variety of Reynaldo Duque), or alibata is Greek-Arabic-Hebrew before it ever became Tagalog, or Filipino, or Ilokano as it came from aleph and beta. We note that there is an interesting story on the alif-be-ta/“alibata” genesis of the Tagalog which can be seen in Paul Morrow’s account in which, quoting Paul Verzosa who became a member of the National Language Institute of the Philippines, coined the term “alibata” at the New York Public Library. Morrow cites Versoza further, saying that Versoza “based it on the Maguindanao arrangement of letters of the alphabet after the Arabic: alif, ba, ta,” with the letter “f” dropped “for euphony’s sake.” Morrow, of course, does not buy this strategy for inventing the unnecessary, as is the case of Verzosa’s, and does not use “alibata” in his works on the Philippine baybayin.

(To be continued)

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