Book Review: The Grammar of Ilokano Dreams


Intermediate Ilokano: An Integrated Language

and Culture Reading Text

By Prof. Precy Espiritu

U of Hawaii-Manoa

Word Becoming World: the Grammar of Ilokano Dreams

By Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.


Holding all other things equal, words are all we are—and have. The world, as it comes to us and as we receive it, is word—yes, word that creates and destroys what is, word that shapes and misshapes our thoughts, word that forms and deforms our way of seeing. In a manner of speaking, word becomes world—and it always does. The relation, thus, between word and world is one of both being and becoming. But both being and becoming, intertwined as they are, are eternal, perennial, continuing, unending, unfolding. This is the sense in which Intermediate Ilokano, Professor Precy Espiritu’s gift to the Ilokano, could be put in context. For in this book, she makes permanent the word of the Ilokano—his language, the very language through which he comes to know of himself, of his roots, of his being. She also puts into play that world inhabited by him, the very world where he takes spiritual residence, the world of his people in and outside the Ilocos of the past and the present. It is the same world where dreams and desires—his and his people’s—collapse with the future so that in this collapsing, dream and desire become word and world at the same time.

In this age of estrangement and exile, of diaspora and rootlessness, of collective amnesia and the glossolalia of chaos and crisis, the word comes to us in a balm, soothes us, and brings us to a healing, a certain wholeness, we who are residents of the linguistic world. This then makes us recollect ourselves and re-gather our thoughts. We are reminded that we can come home, with finality, indeed, to language—to a language which is us, to a language which is all we have. And for the Ilokano, this language is the one in which the soul and the spirit and the mind reside.


The Ilokano, his literature and history tell us, has always been a party to the national and now global diaspora. He has long been an exile in and outside his country, in and outside his language, in and outside his culture. This condition that has afflicted him has become almost a social malady. We see him, the Ilokano without a home, the Ilokano that is always in search of home. We see him in the most likely places; we see him in the most unlikely places. We see him roaming around in all corners of the globe, his roaming around sometimes aimless, sometimes senseless. He is omnipresent, this Ilokano émigré, a traveler seeking emplacement, a visitor seeking an appointment with time, that time of the heart and mind that takes root in stories, in language, in culture—in short, in that abode of the soul, in that indwelling of the spirit. He is in all places and in all times, this pursuer of lands and loves and lives. Because this has become his lot for so long, this Ilokano émigré: To keep on looking for a place in the sun he can call his own, a residence he can come home to, a place of rest and calm for his bones, and body, and his souls, too—for souls according to the folk stories he has declaimed in his heart and committed to memory—for souls on the look out for what is real beyond that which has been constructed and invented for him by the lords of his social life, many of these lords lying to him through his dream of the good life. His dream takes on the form of the marvelous sometimes. He calls it lung-aw, yes, the dram named after his god of the time before time, the god of appeasement, satiation, progress, development, contentment. Otherwise, he calls it kinabaknang, the fabled riches he can never have in the homeland, the wealth that will always elude him, running away from him for as long as the big man of his land, the naturay, the agtuturay—will remain looking only after his own interest, his own welfare.


For we sort out the world and life and experience and community according to the taxonomic promises and possibilities of this language which is ours, true, but which we share with those who have the pathos to commune with us, the passion to see us as a people through the lens of our words, our logos, our pagsasao. For indeed, as in other communities, imagined or real, the world that we know s only made possible by word, by our words, by the language which mediates all of our understanding, by the logic of sounds and syntax becoming ours, becoming us, oneing with us. Word becoming world—this is the situs of Professor Precy Espiritu’s Intermediate Ilokano. Through this and because of this book, the first of its kind that does not—and rightly so—exoticize the language of the Ilokanos, the grammar of our Ilokano dreams will finally take shape and form, meaning and substance, content and truth.


Part of the radical positioning of the Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature of the University of the Philippines is to look at all Philippine languages and Filipino cultural practices as instruments through which the Filipino people express their view of the world. This world-view, in reality, is in the plural—world-views—since Filipinos express their own understanding of the world in more than a hundred languages. The challenge for this academic department was to teach the main languages and literatures of our people and thus, at a certain point as a faculty of that department, I taught Ilokano language and literature in both the graduate and the undergraduate programs.

Prof. Espiritu’s book, Let’s Speak Ilokano, rescued me at a time when I did not know how to start teaching my own language to students who was to study my language for the first time as an academic requirement in both the bachelor’s and the master’s program. Now I realize that it is not easy teaching your own language and literature. This act demands a lot of self-reflection, so much amount of self-questioning, so much assessment of instructional method and methodology.

In the teaching of the Ilokano language, certain hermeneutic principles guided me along the way. First, I had to accept that the Ilokano language, even if it was also conditioned, preconditions Ilokano thought. Second, understanding Ilokano thought does not necessarily require any extra-linguistic given. Third, Ilokano language learners learn the language better when they are equipped with a certain mastery and grasp of the “structure” of the Ilokano sense of the ontological and the cosmological. I see all these principles present in Intermediate Ilokano.

What is the relevance, then, of this newest book of Prof. Espiritu?

One thing is clear: That Prof. Espiritu has blazed a trail for all of us. There is so much virtue in what she did with this new book: She went where there is no path to follow and she left a trail. Espiritu’s contribution is to show us the way to a productive teaching of Ilokano by making us realize that we ought to look at the language simultaneously from the framework of its being a part of a convention and a discourse. Language as a convention tells us of “categories and rules (that) have developed under the influence of the structure of interaction in society.” Language as a discourse related to its focus “on the social and cultural contexts in which (the Ilokano) language operates.”

Intermediate Ilokano, Prof. Espiritu’s gift to the Ilokanos all over the world and to all serious students of language education and teaching, is therefore, a must read.

(Partly written while on the teaching staff of the University of the Philippines-Diliman; part of the material was published as an introduction to the book; the latter part was written for The Weekly Inquirer Philippines, California, USA, Jun 20, 2005)

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