There is one thing that the Ilokano must remember in the attempt to modernize his language, and by ‘modernization’, I refer to that act, willful and committed, to make his language speak him, speak about him, and open a whole new world for him even if at the same time, the same language preserves and promotes those elements and concepts that have been there for so long and yet are still productive in his pursuit of the good life. I have tried to articulate this political purpose of Ilokano modernization in a 2006 work, ‘Some Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano,’ and a 2007 version, ‘Preliminary Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano.’ In both essays included as part of the Nakem Centennial Conference proceedings, “Saritaan ken Sukisok: Discourse and Research in Ilokano Language, Culture, and Politics,” and “Essays on Ilokano and Amianan Life, Language, and Literature,” I have argued for  “the need to adapt the language to the changing needs of the times in order to account the experiences that are currently not ‘sayable’ both in oral and written form—within the context of the linguistic system of the Ilokano.”

Modernizing the Ilokano Alphabet

Having seen cursorily that the attempt to fossilize the Ilokano language by romanticizing and idealizing its imagined glorious and glorified Hispanicized form is counter-productive as it presents a stagnant view of the language, with its misconceptions and orthographic errors, we need to go beyond the post-Hispanic form of Ilokano and account from the same kind of a genesis for a more productive perspective of this language. In discussing the historical development of the Ilokano language based on the experience of Bannawag, the long-lasting Ilokano magazine that first saw print in August 1934 and has since continued a weekly run except for a brief interlude during the Japanese regime, Gregorio Laconsay, in the ‘Introduction to Iluko Grammar’ of his 1993 dictionary “Iluko-English-Tagalog Dictionary,” writes that Bannawag “has made some innovations in its orthography and has done away with the archaic way of writing Iluko which old Ilocanos used.” The reasons for such innovations, he says, are three-fold: the innovations provide (a) economy, (b) fluency, and (c) uniformity.

These reasons for innovations of a language are not unique to the Ilokano language. One area of philosophy called ‘philosophy of language’ meditates on the very nature of language and suggests that language refuses to be simply a tool or an instrument but instead, according to the hermeneutists, an abode of being. In short, it is a home of a ‘who-ness’ or quiddity that is both prefiguring a sense of being and becoming at the same juncture, with being opening itself to becoming, and with becoming opening itself as well to becoming.

In 1971, Ernesto Constantino came up with “Ilokano Reference Grammar” as part of the Pacific and Asian Linguistics Institute of the University of Hawai’i. In that book, he lists 17 consonants—the contoids—for the ‘modern’ Ilokano, to wit: b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, ng, p, q, r, s, t, w, w; on the other hand, he lists the five vowels—the vocoids, to wit:  a, e, i, o, u.

The old syllabary, as was discussed in the previous part of this work, originally recognized only three vowels, with a kind of switching mechanism for the ‘e-i’ and the ‘o-u’ while ‘a’ remains its own sound. In his 1955 “Iloko Grammar,” Morice Vanoverbergh acknowledged the character of the old Ilokano vocoids but went further to recognize a more modern way of looking at them so that in that grammar book mentioned, he listed the five vowels instead of three. Some other observers of the Ilokano language, based on the reality of the dialects particularly from places that are heavily Ilokanized and moving outside the two acknowledged language and culture centers such as Laoag and Vigan, say that there is a sixth vowel, the hard ‘e,’ a sound that is commonly heard in the Ilokanized part of Pangasinan and in the rural areas of the Ilokos. But many language scholars now understand this hard ‘e’ sound as a dialect, a variant, rather than a new vocoid since what it means is not different from what the ‘e’ (as sounded off in the English word ‘met’, for instance) in the five-vowel modern Ilokano alphabet.

Laconsay mentions a group of Ilokano linguists who proposed an Ilokano grammar and proposed twenty letters of the Ilokano alphabet: a, c, d, e, g, i, k, l, ll, m, n, ng, o, p, r, s, t, u, w, and y. The group, he says, called their proposal “Kurditan ti Samtoy,” with the term ‘kurditan’ already explained to mean the Ilokano writing system and its result, that is, its literature, and the term ‘samtoy,’ a term intro-duced in the discussion on the Doctrina Christiana. ‘Samtoy’ has a long history and is a contraction of the phrase ‘saomi ditoy’—our language here—and refers, according to the Belarmino account, to the Ilokano language.

(To be continued)