Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano (Eighth part)

This essay argues 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 true fashion and not in a “tapliak-tapliak/sumrek-rummuar” way.

(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: for other articles on Ilokano life, culture, and society.  – Ed)

This essay argues 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 true fashion and not in a “tapliak-tapliak/sumrek-rummuar” way.

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.

In the act of appropriating—a technique, method, and theory espoused in hermenuetics—there is a certain dynamic that needs to be understood properly: that when an existing language happens not to 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 have to crack our head to avoid borrowing it but simply borrow it. Ditayon agimbabain, ala.

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.

In a tongue-in-cheek way, we have a running joke about the Tagalog language trying to be faithful to the words afforded by Tagalog, but as always, one cannot always succeed, as is the case of the following foreign words: chair, men’s brief, and ladies’ panty.

Your guess is as good as mine in terms of what impossible terms could come out: salumpuwit for chair because we do not want the Spanish cilla/silya. But what about the brief issue? And the ladies’ panty? One can be irreverent here—and I refuse to become a laughing stock by remaining faithful to the key concept of “salo”. Ha! Add this to the bra issue—and there we go!

The “Pilipino” method of “kung anong bigkas, siyang baybay—the manner it is spoken is the manner it is written”—is not a franchise of Pilipino or its genesis, as claimed by the uninformed advocates of what Tagalog is in terms of the r/evolution necessary to account a national language for the Filipino people.

That procedure has been used by languages long before—and is easily documented by going back to the history of a word or a concept for that matter—and as the whole thing is seen in the context of a bigger dynamic we could call “a study of the history of ideas.”

The idea for adopting the spelling and pronunciation of a foreign word in the manner and form a term/concept a word is spelled and pronounced in the borrowing language is the way to go.

Why so?

One, the word/term borrowed gets to assume a more ‘naturalized’ position/entry in the lexicon of the language and thus, would not any longer, looking strange, foreign, and ‘unnatural/unnaturalized’; this will pave the way for it to become totally ‘natural’ in the borrowing language.

Two, this approach would make the borrowing one of ownership, which is a condition for the term/word to get to become a ‘natural’ lexicon of the language.

Three, the appropriation becomes complete as the borrowed word/concept/term cannot be returned as it has been spelled by the borrowing language such that, the language from which the original word came about cannot any longer claim as its own even if, conceptually and linguistically, it came from it.

When a foreign language/term/concept is retained, you will encounter many problems such as:

1) Can the phonetic system allow it to be pronounced in the original way it is pronounced? It is likely that the borrowed word is pronounced differently, as is the case, of “computer.” Check the English dictionary and you will see that the way it is pronounced in its roots/etymology is not the same way the resulting word is pronounced, and this resulting word ‘computer’, for instance, could not be pronounced in the same way in Ilokano.

2) Can the spelling system allow it? It is unlikely that the spelling system allows it and that is the reason why the borrowed word must be spelled as well in the same spelling system of the borrowing word.

The ‘reintellectualization position’ of some philosophers of the Ilokano language does not hold water in toto: in some ways, that position can hold but in more ways than one, that simply cannot be sustained.

The loses are more than the gains. And if they do insist on this—on retaining the original spelling of the borrowed word because of (a) nostalgia for things American and Spanish and what not, including perhaps Arabic now where many Ilokanos go and return to the Ilokos with their Arabicized concepts and/or (b) respect for the language from which the word is coming from—then they must account a new phonetic, lexical, and spelling system, then they must account as well how to go about appropriating in a true fashion a new concept to account our new experience without importing extra-linguistic variables.

This is where their big and huge problem lies.

So there. I hope that this will address the issue raised and continually being raised.

(To be continued)