Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano (Part 15)

Anima is clearly confused here, mistaking “accretion” for fidelity to the character and behavior of the word being borrowed such that it ought to have that character and behavior as in the original. No change, no manipulation, no linguistic intervention is ever allowed here. Wrong move, as appropriation does not operate this 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 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).

Anima is clearly confused here, mistaking “accretion” for fidelity to the character and behavior of the word being borrowed such that it ought to have that character and behavior as in the original. No change, no manipulation, no linguistic intervention is ever allowed here. Wrong move, as appropriation does not operate this way.

4. Initial notes on enriching the Ilokano language

The formation of affixes, the coining of new words via word combination, and the invention of new ones are a product of the times: they are needed which was why they have to be thought out and put out before language users to use, or even to dismiss. To account sound association as ridiculous is to miss a fundamental point in appropriation as the key element in the concentric development and progress of a particular language.

Appropriation, also called borrowing and then owning it without returning to the source, makes sense only when what is borrowed is made to act and behave in the way the borrowing language acts and behaves.

We think of the borrowed words of English here, the words borrowed by the English language from so many sources and which it never returned but eventually made to behave as its own. Did the words “completely” and “totally” and “fully” retain their spelling and pronunciation? Some, but many did not. What was more important is that all of these borrowed words had to conform to the acceptable sound system of the English language.

Anima, in his confusion, denies this same thing to Ilokano. Think of a bundle of contradictions here and we see in the twisted logic of the Anima conference paper that purports to teach us a lesson or two on the “defiling” of the Ilokano language.

What about his claim about football and its rendering into Ilokano as “putbol”? And that “bert sirtipikit”? I say: why not? His notion of connotation and denotation totally misses the point on appropriating. Do the Japanese have a term for “computer”? The answer is, yes, they have. The Japanese term for “computer,” has been derived from the English “computer”; it has been rendered in the way the Japanese language is sounded off. Who determines whether “bert sirtipikit” will not work? Oh, well, the community of Ilokano speakers determines which lexicon is kept and which one is dropped or thrown away. If they will consider this as something that will make sense to them, they will keep it. Otherwise, it will go the way of words rendered obsolete.

f) Towards the end, of course, Anima’s way of writing, with orthography all his own, is being offered as the salving and redeeming in Ilokano language and writing. Anima says: “I have taken the first step by writing my first book in Iluco, Tartaraudi Ni Bucaneg, in the only manner it should be written. If you adopted the same in the writing of your own books, I strongly believe you and I can restore Iluco to its proper place.”

The huge problem with Anima is the huge ego in his huge project with no regard for the diachronia of the Ilokano language. He has forgotten many things including the fact that in the attempt to offer something redeeming and salving, dictatorship has no place. What he does is to dictate to us the “correct and proper way” to write in Ilokano, and this “correct and proper way” is arrogantly passed off as the Anima way. And he says, “This is the only way to do it.” He invokes Bucaneg, of course, forgetting that Ilokano scholarship is not even too certain of Pedro Bucaneg. In fine, he invokes Allah. But this does not make his argument divine and coming from the heavens of his cloudy thought.

5. Responding to the commitment to modernize Ilokano

Why we need to respond to these detailed issues being raised is a commitment to “modernizing” the Ilokano language. By modernization, I mean here the need to adopt the language to the changing needs of the times in order to account the experiences that are currently not “sayable”, both in oral and written form—within the context of the linguistic system of Ilokano. The resurgence as well of interests on things Ilokano in the Philippines and in the diaspora is also a factor that adds up to the urgent need to respond to these issues about the language and the culture in the language.

In the many gatherings that I have had the privilege to be part of and participate in the discussions, some as a speaker on the many topics of interest to these participants, the issue of standardization of the Ilokano language has always been of special import to me. It was at the University of the Philippines, College of Arts and Letters that I had had the first chance to look at the Ilokano language with a certain self-reflexivity.

As is the case of every person born to the language, you get the feeling, high and intoxicating but as empty as an empty boast when you know full well that you have been, by the force of the historical accidents of your birth, to the language born. You get the feeling that you have the privilege, the perk, the pelf, and you can wag your tail and do not care about the world, not a whit. Like a lion, you roar, but the roar, you realize much later on, can suggest some bluff, or could be a real bluff.

When I got to teach a doctoral course on Ilokano literature, yes, Virginia, the literature of the Ilokanos is being taught at the university, in the undergraduate program on a cycle, on a rotating basis; in the master’s program; and in the doctoral, I felt panic as if I have not known what panic was all about. It was, in a tongue-in-cheek way, panic on panic. What to do? The teachers and scholars and writers would be in my class, some of them my colleagues in the department, some of them from the other topnotch colleges or universities. They all came to University of the Philippines-Diliman for the fact that UP Diliman, of all the many universities of the country, has the best of the intellectual resources of the nation, the republic, and the country all rolled into one. The social and intellectual expectation was too much to bear. That gave me the jitters. I did not want to make a fool of myself.

So I had to scour the UP Main Library. I had to look in every corner and when I could not satisfy my curiosity, I went to the Rizal Library of the Ateneo and to the National Library on Kalaw.

(To be continued)