The Ilokano Language: History, Culture and Structure (PART I)

Revisiting ‘Ilokano’ and its convoluted logics

(This is a series of essays on the Ilokano language. The series—to number 54—hope to explore, together with the creative writers, the readers, and the Ilokano language and culture teachers, some of the productive ways by which we can explain the structure of the Ilokano language, and the history and culture of the Ilokano people that are embedded in that language. In this age of renewed calls for a Philippine discourse on diversity and multiculturalism as framework for nation building and development, a critical reflection on the Ilokano language is not only urgent but also necessary. This version does away with the scientific format but uses instead the popular version, but with references included within the text so that those who would like to verify the data may have a clue where to look for them. A parallel series in Ilokano is being prepared and will be made available for dissemination by the end of 2008. )

Why the need to study Ilokano?

Why not, indeed?

In the Philippines, Ilokano is spoken natively by millions of people especially those coming from the Amianan. Some estimates put the native speakers of Ilokano in the Philippines at roughly 12 percent of the Philippine population of 89 million. This does not include the Ilokanos abroad and those who speak Ilokano as their second or third language. In 1989, an estimate by Carl Rubino put the speakers of Ilokano at 9 million. Another estimate that includes those who speak the language as a second, third, or foreign language in and outside the Philippines such as the one done by Professor Prescila Espiritu, a retired professor of the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and former coordinator of the Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film Program of that University, puts the speakers at about 20 million.

In the United States, Ilokano is historically the language of the diaspora. This means that those who brought it upon themselves to go abroad to seek better opportunities the Ilocos would not afford them brought with them their language and culture and these people have been found in the plantations of Hawai’i, in the canneries of Alaska, in the corporate farms of California, and in the service and health sectors of the United States. Some accounts even antedate 1906 as the coming of the first Ilokanos, with 1906 the historical mark for the coming of the first fifteen plantation workers via a ship ride, on S.S. Doric from Port Salomague and then off to the camps in Hawai’i. And if there are languages that continue to resist the onslaught of internal and neocolonization happening rampantly and without our knowing in the Philippines, Ilokano is certainly one of them. We must understand that this internal colonization is happening before our very eyes under the guise of a concept of a ‘national language’, which is as ambiguous as the concept of ‘nation’, its proponents use, a concept that they inherited from Europe and fundamentally Quezonian in perspective in what a national language is supposed to be. A Quezonian perspective of what a ‘national language’ is all about is this: (a) an insertion of a provision of the fundamental law of the land, the Philippine Constitution of 1935 to be precise that says that the ‘national language’, contrary to the spirit of the deliberations and consensus of the delegates of that constitutional convention, shall be based on “one of the existing” native language on not on the proviso that was agreed upon which was rendered as a national language “based on the existing languages” of the country; (b) a presidential perspective that reveals a laziness of the mind and a flawed character that does not make any attempt to speak with the Ilokanos in their own language and if he did want to speak with them, the Ilokanos should speak with him in his language, the heavenly and Manila-powered Tagalog, which leads us to the next point: (c) that for practical purposes, we ought to talk about, see the constraints of looking to a national language other than Tagalog, as what Benilda Santos has reportedly said as her complimentary position to the shanghaiing mechanisms of the WIKA proponents of the Tagalog language as the constitutionally mandated language of all peoples of the Philippines, because, it is the language of Manila, the economic center of the country. Here we see the flaws of this decades-old argument of people who have benefited from their monolingualism at the expense of all the peoples of the Philippines. Of course, as in my previous exposes, Claro M. Recto, that once-touted ‘father’ of all our nationalist sentiments, worked with then Commonwealth President Manuel Luis Quezon to effect their notion of what a national language should be. Today, that partnership is now going on its eight decades and if we are to go back to that letter of Quezon to the Akademiya ng Wikang Tagalog in 1930, we are going to be hitting the 78th year of systematic rendering of all the other ethnic groups of the Philippines into invisibility. The fact that this action is state sanctioned, with the blessings of the cultural, political, and economic institutions, this act renders it more atrocious and its violence on the consciousness of our peoples is incalculable.

But why this long history of taking it in stride, this taking it as a matter of fact of this violence inflicted upon us? But why this absence of wit and wisdom pertinent to the active recognition that this country is a homeland of many ethnolinguistic groups—legitimately ‘nations’—before the Propaganda Movement ever thought of seizing the concept of ‘nacion’ from the Spanish colonizers?
(To be continued)