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Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano (Part 16)

IN THESE libraries, I realized many things. At the National Library, I saw a bundle of “Revolutionary Papers”, was it RPI that they called then, a Katipunan set of documents attesting to the membership of the signatories of the documents to the nationalist movement. One of the membership documents I saw was one signed by an Agcaoili, in an elaborate handwriting, and saying that it was signed, as with the rest of them, in their own blood.

(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).

IN THESE libraries, I realized many things. At the National Library, I saw a bundle of “Revolutionary Papers”, was it RPI that they called then, a Katipunan set of documents attesting to the membership of the signatories of the documents to the nationalist movement. One of the membership documents I saw was one signed by an Agcaoili, in an elaborate handwriting, and saying that it was signed, as with the rest of them, in their own blood.

 At the UP Main Library, I read up on that famous debate on the Ilokano language by the “Ilokanistas” of old, in the 30s, 40s, and onward. I saw the Ilokano version of the “Silaw” series of novelettes, the same kind that we would revive as Lailo Romances of the ICRI Writers Cooperative, or Juan SP Hidalgo’s literary projects, or another by the Milan Enterprises. At the Rizal Library, I saw Santiago Fonacier’s unreadable “read: unreadable, and unreadable because the Ilokano rendering is too darn bad and incomprehensible” translation of the Noli and the Fili.

 This knowledge of the Katipunan documents from the National Archives of the National Library would forever haunt me, and in my writings, in poetry as in the short stories and my ambitious novels, this would inform and shape my aesthetic lifework forever.
In all these old documents, I have come across the Ilokano language written in the way people in those times would look at the grammar and semantics of their own knowledge of who they were and what they wanted to pursue.

 In short, I saw all those “qs” and “cs” and all those Hispanicized expressions that, even if they contained some sense of clarity, were also inviting confusion. There was some elegance in the nostalgia of a “beautiful Hispanic past” if this were romanticized and idealized as some kind of a period of Ilokano history where only the good and beautiful and the true things happened.

But the social reality was not so.

The Spaniards betrayed us by conniving with then imperialist upstart United States and we know what the deal was: $20 M dollars for our liberty, for that one fat chance to declare our independence from Spain.

No, the Catholic Spaniards had more sinister notions about empire and religious mis/evangelization and setting us free would make a mockery of their “superior status” as a colonizer, this status the very reason for some of us unenlightened Ilokano scholars and writers to keep on holding to our “qs” in the “ket” and the “ken” and the “cs” in the “caramba” and “carajo”. But who says “caramba” and ‘carajo” still? I have not heard this in Vigan in a long while and neither in Laoag. Let those who have so much love for the useless remnants of the language cry foul and say, “You, you arrogant young people who never respect the past.”

I imagine I would answer back to the accusation to that charge of linguistic betrayal: “We are easing out the “qs” in the “ket” and the ‘ket” and in other words because we know more of the social and linguistic history of the Ilokano language than those who insist on the relevance of irrelevant fossils.” I would also add: ‘We want to think, and we want to think clearly so we want to simplify our Ilokano language the best way we know how. As it is, the language is already difficult to learn even if you speak it. Why add another cross to the already heavy cross of learning your own language because in reality you do not know enough about it?”

That answer, of course, is also addressed to me. I do not know much about the Ilokano language. Perhaps I know enough to have that empty boast and that empty stance. But I am willing to listen and learn if somebody can pinpoint to me a clear logic for doing so, with proofs and persuasive argument. So do we need nostalgia as a principle in the accounting of what ought to prevail in standardizing the Ilokano language?
 What do I tell the people who ask about standardizing our Ilokano language? Do I see a problem here? What can I say as a writer? What can I say as a teacher of the language?

I have only one answer: We have a tacit standard Ilokano. Discover it, use it, and listen to it so you can help out in the evolving of a richer and more dynamic repertoire of the language.

 And I tell them as well: What we need to do is reaffirm its power and its legitimacy, and we go from there. I admit there is no explicit standard at this time. This is the reason why there are these varying voices, attitudes, and positions. Then again, have we arrived at a point where we have a sufficient repertoire so we can now move on to standardizing our language in an academic sense?

So what do we do with the borrowed words? I argue for the need to spell the borrowed words in accord with the spelling and phonetic system of the borrowing language. This argument is based on the urgency of going through appropriation in a manner that is historically appropriate.
In particular, it argues for the illogicality of retaining the spelling of the borrowed word in Ilokano when such a word admits the possibility and actuality of a spelling in accord with the spelling and phonetic system of Ilokano. It argues further that there can be exceptions to this rule, but the exceptions are, by themselves, exceptions.

6.Appropriating appropriation

In the act of appropriating, a technique, method, and theory espoused in hermeneutics, there is a certain dynamic that needs to be understood properly: that when an existing language happens to not have the term/word, in classical philosophy, these are not the same but I am using these in a generic sense, for a new experience and that another language happens to have it, or happens to have invented it ahead of the others and that invention has gained currency, then we do not have to crack our head to avoid borrowing it but simply borrow it. Coming up with our own is a waste of time, and there could be some cognitive, epistemic, interpretive, and linguistic problems generated if we keep on trying harder just to ‘remain faithful’ to the terms or words or concepts of the language we are borrowing from.

(To be continued)

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