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

Revisiting ‘Ilokano’ and its convoluted logics

CERTAINLY, the exchange from various sectors that are all advocates of the Ilokano language and the kind of culture that it preserves and perpetuate have a legitimate right to ask about what to do with the variants that seem to be standing in the way of self-identification of the Ilokano. What is he really of all the many names that have been cropping up, in the literature and in the life of his own people? Is he Iluko, Ilokan, Iluco, Ilocan, Yluco, Ilocano, Ilokano?

Mario Rosal, in his book “Zarzuelang Iloko” (takes off from that simpler variant that does not make use of the redundant ‘ano’ suffix which, some scholars claim, is a tautology as both the prefix ‘i’ and the ‘ano’ function the same way and mean the same thing. In the introduction of that book, as translated into ‘Tagalog’ (note that I am using here the more appropriate linguistic label ‘Tagalog’ to account that, one, this is not Tagalog as claimed by its translator Noemi Rosal but a rendering into Tagalog what was originally an English material, with the Tagalog rendering automatically labeled ‘Filipino’ as claimed by many scholars like Noemi Rosal, who, unable to distinguish the two, make Tagalog automatically Filipino), Noemi Rosal distinguishes the term ‘Iloko’ to mean the language and the culture and ‘Ilokano’ to mean the people, an approach that was followed by some people including Jose Bragado, who served GUMIL Filipinas as president and lectured extensively on this ‘distinguo, amico’ approach to separating the person from his language and culture (and being unable, therefore, to see that a person can be—and it should be—his own language and culture).

Of the many scholars who take this view about the convoluted logic of the term ‘Ilokano,’ Faye Dumagat has launched a historical and linguistic criticism that points to the need to revisit the term ‘Ilokano’—and this term includes its variant, ‘Ilocano’—and reminds us, like some other scholars who have pointed this out in the past, that the word reeks of a tautological construction since the ‘i’, a prefix marking off  ‘a place of origin’ in the sense of ‘from’ is, somehow, synonymous to ‘ano’, a descriptive marker that is referring to, and is a borrowing from, the Spanish suffix ‘an’ or ‘ano,’ as in the case of ‘Mexicano’ for the people of Mexico and ‘Americano/Amerikano’ for the people of America, whether North or South, but popularly (and this is a misnomer as well) only referring to the people of the United States of America. While there is some truth to this tautological construction, a second look would tell us that there is something elided in using only one, and dropping it off invites, in contemporary context, the description of the people as we can see in ‘ano’ and the sense of ‘origin’ in the ‘i’, in which case, we have, in either Ilokano or Ilocano, a contextualized concept that points to this sense and only this sense: “a people that comes from the ‘lokos/locos,’ this place-name needing revisiting as well, as this since been the subject of many discourses that run the gamut of the etic way of self-definition to the more liberating ‘emic’ approach, depending on the scholarly purposes of the one researching and writing. A chapter of this series will be devoted to this continuing, unsettled and unsettling discourse on where the Ilokanos ever got their name, both for their place and for their language.

From the scholarly works of Marcelino Foronda, to wit his “Dallang” and his “Kailokuan: Historical and Bibliographical Studies,” he notes on his discussions of the ‘interchangeable’ quality of the following terms: Iloko, Iluco, Iloco, Ilocos, Ilokano, and Ilukano and for which he asserted that these are all terms that “designate the region, the people, and the language of the Northwestern Luzon provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union, the so-called ‘original’ Iloko provinces, and the inhabitants and the language of the Mountain Provinces (i.e. the present day provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Apayao-Kalinga (note: has since split into Kalinga and Apayao and independent of each other), Pangasinan, Tarlac, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Viscaya, the so-called ‘Ilokanized’ provinces, whose mother tongue is Iloko.”

Other works that implicitly takes a position on what to call the language—and by extension—the people, are those by Emma Bernabe, Virginia Lapid, and Bonifacio Sibayan’ s “Ilokano Lessons.” Together with Ernesto Constantino’s twin works, “Ilokano Dictionary” and “Ilokano Reference Grammar,” the term “Ilokano” gains currency—and is, as a matter of fact, a communal notion except for those who can afford to split hairs and who can afford to count how many angels can dance at the tip of a needle.

(To be continued)