Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano (Fifth part)

The bone of contention in this piece is this: the sounds in Ilokano are important and indispensable in the accounting of new experiences, the experiences that are ever-new because of the march of history.

(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)


The bone of contention in this piece is this: the sounds in Ilokano are important and indispensable in the accounting of new experiences, the experiences that are ever-new because of the march of history.

Simply put: there is no place for the purist mind to remain in that illusion of purity of the Ilokano language when that mind cannot even prove that, among others, the reality of “computer” and “text messaging” existed during the time of Pedro Bukaneg.

Purism or its attendant attitude is Nazism without any courage and boldness and daring and systematic way of seeing and doing things. Which is even worse than the Auschwitz and Dachau of this abominable social movement that murdered men and minds, civilizations and cities, and truths and story-telling.

Before a language becomes a play of letters, it is first and foremost a play of sounds.

Ceteris paribus, language is sound, the play of sounds coming into a euphony and cacophony, into silence and noise, into fullness of meaning or its lack, into sense and nonsense.

The onomatopeia in language, still quite evident, as in the Ilokano “sarimadek/saradaddeng”, for instance, clearly tells you of some beginning or some evolution from an imitatory past. I hear sounds of the foot here, sounds of the ground, of the wooden floor, of the sounds of the mind unable to decide for himself. That is the same way with purists of the Ilokano language in our midst who believe that they got the Ilokano language from an email or fax from God. I think that they should better get that needed “murmuray” if not the “kidag”, that friendly jolting of the rib.

Did our early ancestors feel the need to communicate in a manner and mode rooted in the sounds of nature and yet transcending it?

How do we deny an imitatory past when the crowing of the rooster is still “tartaraok” whichever way you look at it?

I am aware of some “cultural” variables here, and the play of cognition is linked with the play of culture—and the play of sounds in a specific culture such that we can render the same “objective phenomenon” of the crowing of roosters in various ways depending on how a certain culture, and thus, language, perceives the “objective phenomenon” (read: the “crowing” example; here, the play of language qua sounds comes really into play: “tiltilaok” for the Tagalog, “crow-crow” for English.)

What gives here? Why the disparity?

Simple: perception is not one and the same—and cognition as well.

You move from one culture to another and you see how cognition, or its bigger philosophical possibilities, i.e., epistemology, gets to read and understand and order the universe within and out—the universe which is material and physical, the overwhelming universe of which we are only a speck, and the universe which is inside us, that world within which forms part of what we are, individually as well as socially and collectively.

What does this mean? What does this say about the “naming” power of/in language?
Simple: language is a convention, and thus always arbitrary.

It is not one kind of a gift from the heavens, some kind of a manna from somewhere, even if we do acknowledge that there could be something sacred and divine in language. But this is another story.

What I am saying is this: that some hypothetical agreement/contract-signing is in operation in the way language gets to grow and develop as is the case with its beginnings.

The key is the term “hypothetical” and is meant to account the fact that when one is born into a language—yes, we are born into a language as we are born into a culture and into a society—we become inheritors of that language and even if we did not sign the social contract, the fact of our birth has poised us to become a signatory of that social contract.

It is one of those accidents of human life—this being born into a language—that we cannot do without, like that of our parents, one we cannot choose precisely because we were never given the chance to choose in the first place.

(To be continued)