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

THE first letter of March 10, 1929 says: “Miss Maria Bumanglag, Ipakpakaunak met ken ka iti disso a napatak, a nanipod pay idi damo a pannakayammo-ammom kaniak ken apaman a ginuyogoymo toy conciensiak a tulongan ka iti tarigagayam, babaen ti panangkitak kadagiti gagayyemko timmauden toy nasam-it a kalikagum a sika koma ti mapagasatan ken mabalangatan a tumugaw iti trono ni dayaw.” The author’s translation runs: “But to be frank with you, in the beginning when you first asked me to help you see my friends in behalf of your candidacy I had only a disinterested desire for you to sit on the throne amidst the applause and admiration of the multitude and this was the reason of my help and sacrifice.” The point of the matter here is that if it were true that the year 1929 was the time the letter as a template for the lover letter-writing pursuits of love-starved Ilokano lovers in the plantations, then we can go back to that year as the beginning of the getting away from the Hispanicized rendition of the ‘ken’ and ‘ket’, two of the most easily spotted ‘indigenous’ words of the Ilokano language that admitted representation in writing using the ‘q’.

These issues reflect the kind of a syllabary the Ilokanos had prior to the coming of the Spanish colonizers. That long book, as copied out in full by Marcelino Foronda in his book “Dallang: An Introduction to Philippine Literature in Ilokano and Other Essays,” bears the “Libro a Naisuratan amin ti bagas/ti Doctrina Christiana/nga naisurat iti Libro ti Cardinal a agnagan Belarmino, ket inacu ti P. Fr. Francisco Lopez/padre a Agustin iti Siansamtoy/Ad dandam Scientiam Salu/ti plebes ejus/Cant. Bach.” Foronda says in his note that this book is a translation by Francisco Lopez of the catechetical work of Cardinal Belarmino, which saw its first printing in 1620, an extant copy of which is found at the Lopez Memorial Museum in Pasay City. Foronda also says that a latter version bearing the 1621, as the year of publication was the first known version before the 1620 version was discovered. We note here that the title of the 1620 version as copied out by Foronda in his note uses the ‘ket’ in the ‘k’ form and not in the ‘q’ as was the custom found in many documents during the longer period of colonization. However, the 1621 version referred to by Rubino in his discussion of the Ilokano syllabary, “an Indic syllabary similar to that used by Tagalog speakers,” has this title with the ‘q’ in the ‘quet’: “Doctrina Cristiana (Libro a naisuratan amin ti bagas ti Doctrina Cristiana nga naisurat iti libro ti cardenal agnagan Belarmino quet inaon ti Fr. Francisco Lopes, padre a San Agustin iti sinasantoy).” We note here the orthographic changes in the following words: Christiana-Cristiana, ket-quet, and Siansamtoy-sinasantoy.

Using these are samples to get into the bottom of that difficult task of writing the Ilokano language today—a real problem, indeed—with the lack of an honest-to-goodness body to propose a standardized form of the language’s orthography—and now, its grammar, we can deduce this clearly: that while there was—there is—the Ilokano syllabary, it has not presented itself as capable of reflecting critically the changes of the Ilokano language as a result of its continuing contacts with other languages including the duty to reflect the various opportunities for language development as needed by the speech community of Ilokanos. This is not to invite a cynical, even pessimistic and dismissive view, as some of the uninformed scholars and researchers tend to do, that holds that there is not yet a ‘correct’ form of writing the language and that there is not yet ‘a legitimate rendering’ of its grammatical structure. This is certainly not true, as I pointed out in our workshop at the Mariano Marcos State University in July 2007 when, in that workshop, someone remarked that there is not yet a standard Ilokano grammar. Such a reckless remark from people who should be in the know ought not to be taken for granted but must be used as a battleground for reminding people that the Ilokano language has since have its various forms of writing and that it does have its ‘standard’ grammar, however inchoate this is. A review of the literature of those who had worked on the Ilokano language tells us that there has been serious researches since the beginning of the 19th century, not to mention the work of preservation, however fragmented and flawed, by the friars and other members of the religious institutions across the Ilokano colonial history.

To understand how we decide on the orthography, it is important that we understand the history of the sounds of the Ilokano language in the beginning, how this sounds were represented in writing through the Ilokano syllabary, how the language got into contact with other languages, hence the borrowing, and how the old form of pronunciation and writing resulting from this contact and borrowing created a deficit, and thus, the need to open up the phonetic and orthographic system to these challenges.

Rubino, in “Ilocano: Ilokano-English/English-Ilocano Dictionary and Phrasebook,” reproduced the Ilokano syllabary based on the Doctrina Christiana and from there we see the three vocoids (a, e-i, o-u) and the 14 contoids (ba, ka, da, ga, nga, la, ma, na, pa, ha, sa, ta, va, ya). A return to these representations of these native sounds reveals to us the kind of mind operative in the early form of Ilokano. We see that from this fundamental form of the syllabary, it would soon grow to include other words, and other sounds, including the need to adjust the syllabary to reflect the changes due to the linguistic and cultural contact with the colonizers and other socio-economic forces.

(To be continued.)