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Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano (Part 13)

There is no pure language, and neither is there a pure culture, unless that language, in fiction as well as in fact, is so historically and geographically isolated that its speakers have not have any form of contact with other speakers of another language since time immemorial. All of human acts, customs, traditions, and languages are ‘polluted’. Here and there we borrowed something and we never returned.

(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 website).

There is no pure language, and neither is there a pure culture, unless that language, in fiction as well as in fact, is so historically and geographically isolated that its speakers have not have any form of contact with other speakers of another language since time immemorial. All of human acts, customs, traditions, and languages are ‘polluted’. Here and there we borrowed something and we never returned.

d) On ket/ken, and other remnants of the Spanish language

I present an argument here: That the way to go to modernize the linkers and/or conjunctive markers ‘ket’ and ‘ken’ is not to go back to the way they wrote two generations ago, with their Spanish penchant for the impossible ‘Q’ for ‘quen’ and ‘quet’.

The way to go to modernize our language is to adopt the ‘k’ sound more obviously in keeping with the kur-itan/kurditan phones and with the more contemporary usage of many publications, to include Bannawag, Sirmata, Tawid, the Bible with many versions and other textbooks and literary materials. Here, widespread usage dictates.

 We have to accept the dynamic of language use and usage: that those who use it in writing will eventually win out, at least for a time, until some other stronger forces will challenge that and unless a real, hard to undermine-kind of standardization has been put in place. The English language went through this a lot; its history of appropriating words and concepts from many source languages is a fountain of lessons for Ilokanos. The argument about allowing linguistic defilement to destroy what the Ilokano language has got is not in keeping with what happens everyday.

The clinicalized and deodorized way of looking at the Ilokano language is borne by a certain nostalgia for that which is untenable and illogical today, but nostalgia nonetheless for a time of that past that is not any longer our own time in the first place. And this time is not even ideal because it evokes the real defilement that we have to resist, and keep on resisting, this colonization and neocolonization of the Ilokano mind.

 The principle for relevance of the praxis of language is its ability to express the mind-set/s, world-view/s, and perspective/s of the current users and not the way some people two or more generations ago thought of how the language ought to look like and to be written. Appropriation is the key: we borrow, take it as our own, and do not, not ever, return.

 One thing that ought to govern us all in the collective attempt to ‘modernize’ Ilokano is to figure out a way to economize the way this language expresses itself and not to be extravagant with the expression. With the stereotype about Ilokanos being spendthrift and tightwad, why put in ‘qu’ when you can use ‘k’ instead, and more direct at that? Modernizing language is making it short, simple, and to the point.

2. Languages in history/history and language

Old languages tended to be represented in long ways and forms. They can even be reduplicative, verbose, ornate, florid, snaking unnecessarily towards hills and valleys and plains of thought instead of following the route straight ahead. Newer ones tend to economize their expression. Think of text/texting as a form of language. We see a lot of possibilities here.

This is also the principle of good writing, which opens to us a new way of looking at the literary. The ‘Qu’ is unpoetic; ‘k’ is. For one, poetry seems to be more exciting because it follows this rule on economy of expression. The prosaic “is” prosaic. That is why it remains true to say that: a good short story should have, first, the kernel of a poem, and, second, the kernel of a novel. The cue and clue here is the required economy of expression as part of the aesthetic strategy.

One example I could tell right off is Roy Aragon’s “Indong Kagit”. That is one perfect short story: poetic, and containing your novel’s seed of creation and construction; his could have been one chapter of a good novel that indicts our society’s injustices. The stories that are coming out, for instance, are not in accord with the notions of ‘modernizing language’ but following the prosaic excursions of the ‘scientific world’ that tries to explain everything even if some things need no explaining anyway.

Or we revisit the classic Johnny SP Hidalgo piece—classic because it is a pillar in short story writing— “Bituen ti Rosales.” We read up on the grammar, the semantic promises, and the vast semiotic possibilities of that piece and we see that here is an aesthetic landmark whose meaning/s escape/s us all. I have probed Hidalgo’s art and it escapes me. I have written about his poetic project in his poems and in his paintings and both escape me—the poetic in the painting and the painting in the poetic.

Here, it is not a question of going through the ‘motions of Bannawag orthography’ and allowing it, before our very eyes, its collective act of ‘defiling’ our language. Bannawag has its own interests to protect. To accuse this popular magazine of defilement, a magazine that has become an institution in Ilokano literature, is not according to form. Here, we see Nid Anima’s impossible—impossible because it is a historical—concept of ‘defilement’.

We account the subtexts here: (a) a pure Ilokano language; (b) an undefiled Ilokano language; (c) a pristine Ilokano language, untouched by human hands, colonization, pollution, diffusion, cross-cultural encounter and exchange. Tell me about the Ilokano/Tagalog word ‘arak/alak’ and let us see whether the illusion of grandeur about a pristine and pure and primeval Ilokano language holds water.

We need to see the wisdom of the present, that wisdom that we use to write the words in question. We need to drop the Qu in quen and quet and put “k” instead for the reason that the more economical the expression, the better is the possibility that communication happens. Do we ever recall why in the documents the “Qu” form of our linker and conjunctive marker had become cumbersome, until probably the 60’s and so the documents would shorten them, writing them as simply ‘Qn’ and ‘Qt’? This, to me, is the clue to orthographic economy.

(To be continued)

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