Notes on the Modernization of Ilokano, VIII

One of the better metaphors and paradigms to understand the r/evolution of Ilokano language is from the religious literatures particularly the main religious texts of the established and organized churches.

In August, the writers Lorenzo and Sinamar Tabin, now based in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Unites States of America, gifted me with their latest translation work of “The Book of Mormons.” While I have not had the chance to look closely at their strategy for translation, I have an initial assessment, however tentative this is: that the translated work has the same elegance of language of the original work.

I am aware of the philosophical issues of translation, even the linguistic dilemmas that every translator has to face and resolve right on the dot.

My experience as translator and as a translation consultant in a number of organizations both government and private and both in the United States and the Philippines has given me a vantage point that made me realize that, to quote one of the pillars of Ilokano Literature Juan SP Hidalgo Jr in our long distance telephone conversation on September 20, 2006 “to translate is as difficult as to write an original piece.”

I remember that in my work as an associate of the Institute of Creative Writing of the University of the Philippines, I was tasked to render to Filipino (but the expectation was Tagalog!) the Ilokano poems and short stories selected for inclusion to the annual National Writers Workshop.

I admit that some of the entries were good you did not do much except to discover ways to have the worlds created in these pieces commensurate with the worlds in the translation.

But some were also not so good, and we did not have much choice.

My dilemma was whether I would have to endorse a not-so-good work as part of the National Writers Workshop or simply say “No Way Jose!” and our space for inclusion in the national discourse on writings from the regions would disappear fast.

I held out, following more of the strategy for recognition for many of our rising younger writers. I did not mind the mediocrity of some of the works but moved on from there and tinkered with the translation to let it appear that some of these works has some luster, quality, brilliance. I did not tell the younger writers this strategy, preferring not to offend at the early part of their thankless writing career in Ilokano.

I thought that my translation was a ‘better’ rendition of their mediocre original—and some writers even had the temerity of saying that my rendition in Filipino/Tagalog was far off from the Ilokano original.

The lesson I got from here is that: a bad original can be rendered good in the translation but you may be accused of making worse than the mediocre original.

I remembered that to defend myself in these literary and translation assaults, I had to give a long lecture on the hermeneutic basis of my translation technique and strategy. I do not know if I made sense but I thought that having heard me made them realize, the young writers and teaching fellows, that I learned my hermeneutics well and that I was not absent when I enrolled for my linguistics course.

This leads us to the strategy utilized by the Watchtower Bible Society that published what would popularly be called as the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ version of the Ilokano Bible.

This Ilokano Bible published in 1987 and is widely used by the Ilokano congregations of this religious group in Hawaii and in the Philippines, has the permission as well of the Philippine Bible Society, a kind of a symbol for authoritativeness in the translation.

If we look closely at this version of the Bible—and I must say that I am not a member of the Jehovah’s Witness but I share their passion for getting at the heart of the Word of God—we see two complementing strategies for the two covenants.

The Old Testament has all the orthography of the Ilokano-Castilian variety, with all the c's all over. The New Testament, however, has evolved a form of writing that is more recognizable today by our access to what may be termed as popular literature: comics, novelettes, the popular magazines, documents, newspapers, and the media.

Those in their twenties today, I am sure, cannot read the Old Testament in that form, and from a visual standpoint, the spelling would not work as it would not register well. Reading is essentially visual and seeing a word being written sometimes reminds us that somewhere that word spelled wrongly visually hints that.

There is an emotional and psychic investment in reading and I would say that I will never read Shakespeare again if the condition for reading him again is to read him in the original medieval Anglo-Saxon spelling. No, thank you. That kind of English does not sit well with my vision and with my mind.

This, I think, is one problem that the ‘reintellectualization’ philosophers of the Ilokano language has to contend with, a position that we see in the extremist position of Nid Anima and tempered, in some ways, by the more enlightened position of Juan SP Hidalgo, Joel Manuel, Roy Aragon, Joe Padre, Jim Raras, and Jim Agpalo.

I surface here a linguistic issue, one that calls for regression rather than progression, a return to Old Testament orthography in an effort to enrich the Ilokano language, forgetting the vast possibilities for progression to commence with the New Testament approach.

Let me be clear here: I am not espousing the Bible per se.

What I am putting forward is the trope, rich and enriching, that this Bible presents to us from a linguistic standpoint. And this linguistic issue concerns us as this presents to us alternatives to revisiting the manner by which we write, in a modernized way, the Ilokano langguage.

I am certain of the issues of the content of translation. One issue I have been harking on, for instance, is that point about the “Our Father”, a key prayer in many feudalistic, medieval and patriarchal religious groups.

One thing, for instance, has always made me extra vigilant: In the original Aramaic in which that prayer was recited by Jesus, was there a gendered reference to a God that is all-powerful and almighty? I have a guess: gendering and sexualization of a God is a result of the gendering and sexualization of that world invented by the West, a world categorized and hierarchized in terms of the male gaze, oblivious of other possible, and perhaps more fecund, gazes.

The same alternative gaze--or gazes--is what we need to rethink the issues connected to the standardization of the Ilokano language.

But this is beside the point now. At least for now.

A Solver Agcaoili
Waipahu, HI
Sept 23, 2006


abril said...

Iti kabayagen ti pannakaiexpose kaniak ti agdama nga ar-aramatentayo nga orotogropia, kasla marigatanakon nga agsubli iti daan nga ortograpia..nakodision san ti matak ken utekko, manong, ken saan ngata a napinpintas nga isurat kas pagarigan...kudeta imbes a cudeta (from coup d'etat)?

Ariel said...

agpayso ti kunam, ading. adda met ket estetika ti ortograpia ket. isu dayta ti linaon ti kunam.
agbiagka! kudetaentay ketdin tapno malpas, ala!
ngem saan a kas bangkok a!

ie said...

i am not sure i understand itay, but let me spell out what i think i got from your work:

first, is a regression, an archeological dive into, possibly, the greatest archaic pool of any language, i.e, (written) literature/scriptures;

second, is the weaving of this once-unnoticed past to the complexity and perks of modern life, to re/create and thus, develop, ilokano as a language;

third, in connection to the second, is the adoption and adaptation of the religious text, if only for the political, sociological, epistemological, and spiritual evolution of ilokano as a language.

now if these three assumptions are correct, this is aptly what i have to say:

wala lang. astig. :]

Ariel said...

astig ka talaga, dude! negosyante ka pa!

Ariel said...

o dude, i forgot to say as well that you seem to have learned your philosophy of language well, so darn well! thanks for the sharp points you raised to create a co(n)text--CO(N)TEXT!--to the points I raised. i only wish you learned Ilokano so well. but of course, I was busy earning a living to put food on the table when you were growing up I did not have the time to speak to you in my sacred language. I hope you will still learn to pick it up though. and help me push for a modernized Ilokano as with the other thinking and tinking creative writers are doing.

ie said...


the difference between you and me is that there is no sacredness attached to the ilokano language, at least in my perspective, in my tongue. your ilokano is my filipino, however feeble or wishy-washy the latter is as compared to the former, especially in terms of its attachment to a particular culture.

dito ako sinilang itay sa maynila, dito ako lumaki, and it's hard for me to reflect and ponder on a language vis-a-vis a culture i was never really a part of, to begin with.

i will only be, bastardizing a term from plato, a spectator to the dev't of the iloko language, and it would be pretentious of me to act otherwise.

i hope you understand.

rva said...

halaka ngamin, manong ariel, apay a dim' sinuruan nga agiloko da ayi ken camille?

ngem mapadpadasak met ti kas iti kapadasam nga agpatanor iti ubbing. tagalog ti sao ken panagsao dagiti annakko ita. baduy kano ti iloko. idiay schoolda, maiparit ti agsao iti iloko, itawes, ibanag, tagalog/filipino. singiren iti sagpipiso dagiti madre dagiti ubbing iti kada balikas a sawenda iti vernacular.

ngem makaawat ketdi iti iloko dagiti ubbingko. makasaoda pay no kayatda. iloko ti pakisasaok kadakuada. ken nalaingda nga agbasa iti bannawag, hehehe!

Ariel said...

roy and ayi:
good points. ito ang sinasabi nilang paghahalu-halo ng mga kultura natin. mahirap magturo ng wika; mas madali kung doon ka isinilang, isang aksidente ng ating kapanganakan. ang tanging magagawa ay buksan na lang isip kung ano ang maaari nating makitang mundo sa mga wika naeengkuwentro natin, siguro. siguro...