THE ILOKANO LANGUAGE: HISTORY, CULTURE AND STRUCTURE: From Alphabet to History

Like many languages that have stood the test of time even if, from a diachronic sense, so many changes have happened, that, as was shown in the fragments of the Catholic prayers we quoted from the Doctrina Christiana of Belarmino we could hardly recognize what the words mean, Ilokano, even until now, continues to be faced with the realities of social change, and in extensu, language change. The forces for such change are coming from all over: the media, the opening up of the world of the Ilokano to the hegemonic consequences of the cultural and linguistic imposition of the language and culture from the center, the exposure of the Ilokano overseas contract workers to the languages and cultures of the international community, and the indirect effect of cultural assimilation of expatriate, exiles, and émigrés to the native language. English, the language of the controlling domains of Philippine society, continues to enrich or pollute, depending on how you view it, the Ilokano language, as all the other languages of the various ethnolinguistic groups of the country. We include this phenomenon of enrichment or pollution when we begin to account the impact of Tagalog, also known as P/Filipino, on our everyday transactions that involve language.

Having decided on the alphabet, our next goal is to offer a revisiting of the structure of the language by taking some samples of older text and compare the same with the texts of the present. I cite, as our first sample, the 1973 Ilokano translation of Santiago Fonacier of the first paragraph of Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere,” which he translated as “Di Nak Sagiden.” The Ilokano text runs like this: “Iti arinunos ti Oktubre, ni Don Santiago de los Santos, nga addadda a nagnaganen dagiti tattatao iti Kapitan Tiago, nagsaganan iti maysa a daya a pangrabii, ket numan pay iti la daydi a malem ti inna pannakapaipakdaar, iso a di na kadawyan, ison ti sarsaritaen dagiti amin a tattao sadi Binondo, ka dagiti sabsabali pay nga ar-arrabal, ket uray payen sadi Intramuros. Ni Kapitan Tiago, ka dagidi nga al-aldaw, iso ti kaangkeran nga agpadaya, ket paggaammom a ti balay na, a kas met ti ili na, saan na a ripkan ti rungan na iti uray si asino man, malaksid iti panagtagilako wenno iti panunot a baro wenno natured.”

The first paragraph of the 1963 Ilokano translation of  Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo” (“Ti Pilibusterismo”), on the other hand, says: “Maysa bigat ti bulan ti Disiembre, ti bapor TABO sursurongenna a sisusulit ti nagsikkusikko nga ayos ti karayan Pasig, nga aduda dagiti simmakay kenkuana nga agturong iti pangukuman a La Laguna. Ti bapor kita na ti nabungtog, nganngani nagbukel a kas iti tabo, isu a nagtaudan ti nagan na, nalaos a nagrugit, numan pay napintaan iti puraw, nabannayat ken nadagsen, iti pannakagagara nan iti in-inayad a pannagna. Nupay kasta, kaay-ayo dagiti tattao sadiay, nalabit gapu iti nagan na a Pilipino, wenno gapo ta addaan kadagiti gagangay a kabkababalin dagiti banbanag sadiay, kasla maysa a balligi iti pannakibakal iti irarang-ay, maysa a bapor a di met bapor a naminpinsan, maysa a kameng a di agsukat, saan a nasayaat, ngem di met mabalin a susiken, ket no kas ta kayatna a makuna a naayat met iti irarang-ay, umanayen ti pannakaparabaw ti daan a pinta na.”

There are, certainly, grammatical lapses in both these translation, as there are mistakes in the translation strategy adopted by the translator, Santiago Fonacier. We see, for instance, that basic inability of the translation to capture the fundamental structure of the Ilokano language, which is summarized by Rubino, in “Ilokano Dictionary and Grammar,” as: “(The Ilokano language), like its sister Philippine languages, is a predicate-initial language with a complex, head-marking, highly pre-fixing morphology.” If we go back to that translation, we sense right away a failure in coming to terms with the fact that the Ilokano language cannot be made to behave the way Spanish behaves, and more so in the kind of Spanish being used, for literary works, during the time of Jose Rizal. We see, for instance, as a result, that almost ‘illiterate’ construction of an Ilokano language that we cannot recognize if we compare it with the kind of literary language we used at the present.