The Ilokano Language: History, Culture and Structure (Part VI)

There has been some confusion on Ilokano orthography in the recent years, with proposals to revisit the kind of ‘popularized’ way of writing of the language that started with Bannawag and other printed media, but veritably initiated by creative writers who had access to the means for popular literary expressions, including the drama form, the ‘komedia’ and the zarzuela. From a diachronic perspective, we can trace these attempts towards the ‘modernization’ of the orthography with the 60’s that somehow traces its roots in the 50’s, with the initial movement for a new orthographic form of the language in the 40’s. One of the small acts to such an attempt is the initiative to gradually phase out of the cumbersome ‘quet’ and ‘quen’ that both saw their abbreviation into ‘qt’ and ‘qn’, respectively, in some of the writings of the creative writers and the letters of people that invariably began with that formulaic first sentence greeting, to wit, “Yaman quen ragsac ti adda kenca no dumanon ti napnuan iliw a suratco cadacayo amin a sangapada. Sapay ta pia quen caradcad ti adda coma amin cadacayo quet babaen ti bendision ti Apo a Namarsua quet taginayonenna coma ti pia quen caradcadyo. Quet no dacami met ti incayo damagen, pagyamanmi met iti Apo ta salun-at quen kired met ti adda kadakami a siiliw amin cadakayo — Thanks and joy be yours upon receipt of my letter to you, a letter filled with the feeling of missing you all. I hope that health and strength are with you and through the blessing of God the Creator may He continue to give you health and strength. And if you wish to ask how we are, we thank the Lord for the health and strength that we have, all of us who miss you all.” This formulaic salutation was common in Laoag in the 60’s and 70’s when the more popular forms of communication were the letter and the radio, and for serious matters, the telegram that was as economic as today’s text messaging except that it was only one way unlike the capability of the short messaging system for a continuing, almost endless to-and-fro of messages that border on the inane to the zany.

A rare book authored by Conchita Valdez, was published in Honolulu, Hawai’i presumably right after the Second World War. The book, “Combined Love Letters in English and Ilocano,” does not bear any year of printing but the letters bear the years spanning 1929 to 1946. Dedicating it to General Gregorio del Pilar, “the most romantic as well as the most heroic of all the officers of the Philippine Revolution” according to the author, the book contains the use of the ‘ken’ in its ‘k’ form and has dropped the references to the ‘q’ for the ‘k’ sound altogether, as was the custom of the previous period. We must understand that based on the dates of the sample letters, the printing of the third edition which is in my possession, is probably after the Second World War. The book’s reference to S.S. Maunawili, the last ship that would bring the last batch of workers from the Philippines to the plantations of Hawai’i, suggests that the “Letters” could have been printed in 1946 or a bit later. But we must understand that this book that I have is the third edition, which explains the earlier letters bearing the year 1929. Says the foreword in Ilokano, “Pakauna iti baro a pannakaideppelna”: “Nainayon iti daytoy a baro a pannakaideppelna, dagiti sumagmamano a naaramid kalpasan ti gubat, gubat a kadangkukan pay laeng a napasamak ditoy a lubong. Dagiti binalayan ni ayat ditoy Hawai’i, isuda a naipusing, iti saan laeng a lasag no di pay gapu iti saandan a pannakapagsursurat kas bunga ti gubat, a nanguram itoy lubong manipud idi Diciembre 1941 agingga iti pannakaluk-at ti Filipinas idi 1946, adda a masarakan ti katulad sursuratda kadagiti binulong daytoy a pagbasaan…. (Included in this new edition are several letters made after the war, the most atrocious war that happened in this world. For those who have fallen in love here in Hawai’i, those who were weaned away, not only in the flesh but also because they had not been able to write as a result of the war that set the world on fire from December 1941 until the liberation of the Philippines in 1946, here they find a template of their letters on the pages of this reading material….” The English preface, not an exact translation of the Ilokano version, says: “The book was written to meet the peculiar situations in which young Filipino lovers find themselves in Hawai’i , Amerika and Guam. Often the girl friends are thousands of miles away across the sea, in their barrios or neighboring towns in the Philippines. To write them is a problem, and to get them to consent to come to Hawai’i or America, once they succeed in their pursuit to love and be loved is another problem….”

(To be continued)