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

Revisiting ‘Ilokano’ and its convoluted logics

Ask around and you would invariably do not get that subtle divide between what to call a people and what to call his language, as is the case of the Bragado-Saludes position, which, at a certain point especially during the presidency of Bragado at the GUMIL Filipinas, became the dogma, and which, eventually was what was being mouthed by those coming from the ranks of the younger generations.

In an attempt to appear Hispanic, with that reference to a ‘glorious’ past with the Spanish colonizers that made the Ilocos open its legs to the white colonizers with their white god and white saints, Amelia Valdez Ramos, as publisher, launched in 2000 the one and only issue of  “Yloco” Journal, and in this journal was the declaration of the use of three existing Philippine languages that included English, ‘Filipino’ (the quotes are my addition in an attempt to register a protest here), and ‘Iluko.’ Somewhere is that distinction that Iluko is the language while Ilokano is a term to designate the people.

When I was an associate at the Center for Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines , I made it a point that we used ‘Ilokano’ to mean both the language and the people for consistency. This action was not meant to deny the historical background of the term neither was it meant to use only one term. As is the case of any cultural advocacy work, consistency sometimes point to the ways to solve constraints traceable to practice without denying that such a position invites contrary opinions. But here is a case of asking for that which is productive to the advocacy work each Ilokano writer is supposed to do—and in extensu, by each Ilokano, whether natively or ‘Ilokanized.’ I strongly urge the ‘Ilokanized’ Ilokanos, however, to teach us of the ways of the non-Ilokano peoples in the Amianan so that when Ilokano gets into a confluence with these languages, Ilokano is enriched, and the other Amianan languages get to be enriched as well. The young scholar Eric DC Grande has proven of this possibility in his work among the Yogad and Ilokanos of Echague, Isabela, in a paper he presented at the 2007 Nakem, “The Ilokanos Amidst the Yogads in Echague.” The courses that we taught, both the language and the literature, at the University of the Philippines at Diliman—the only University of the country that has the courage to teach the language and literature of the Ilokano people and yet the University is at the heart of Tagalog-land and Manila empire—bore, and still bears, ‘Ilokano’ to mean the language, the people, the culture, and the literature and no splitting of hairs.

Now, on the need to ‘orthographically’ render it as with a ‘c’ or a ‘k’ as some of the writers are wont to ask, I say, One is a variant of the other and feel free to use which of the variants suits your taste. Personally, I have no problems whether we write it with a ‘c’ of a ‘k’. But if we did want to work on a consistent ‘lexicographic’ entry—and if we did want to go back to what the Ilokano syllabary can teach us, we can glean from the “Doctrina Cristiana” as was reproduced in the work of Rubino, “Ilocano-English/English-Ilocano Dictionary and Phrasebook,” that the ‘c’ sound, veritably a Spanish introduction, is natively rendered by the ‘k’ sound, and that, therefore, in that problem term ‘Ilocano/Ilokano,’ the splitting of hair that tackles as if it were a problem of the world, whether we need to write it as ‘Ilocano’ or as ‘Ilokano’ is safely settled by either invoking a Hispanic influence and thus granting respect for that colonial influence whatever merit that colonial experience has over our lives. Or, the other equally legitimate way, rather convenient and ‘nativist’ in some way, is to summon the anitos and ask them once again the imploding power of the Ilokano syllabary as this syllabary comes into a head-on encounter with language change, and yet sticking by the indigenous pride that syllabary can grant to the consciousness of the Ilokano, a consciousness that is also imploding because expanding, and is expanding because becoming critical and reflexive.

I presume this is the only way we can settle scores: end the divide between a language and the people behind that language and therefore say, once and for all, that what we are referring to is plain and simple ‘Ilokano’ to mean both; and write ‘Ilokano’ with a ‘k’ (using the Ilokano syllabary as the reference point), but without pain of being accused of impurity and linguistic pollution when using the other variants. At the University of Hawai’i’s Ilokano Language and Literature Program, we are consistently using, in our classrooms and well as in our publications, ‘Ilokano.’ The score has been settled for us—and we try to become as aware as everyone else of the uneasy and difficult history behind this need to settle it.

(To be continued)