The Ilokano Language:
History, Culture, and Structure
Series 2, Revisiting ‘Ilokano’ and its convoluted logics
By Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Ph.D.
Program Coordinator, Ilokano and Philippine Drama and Film
University of Hawai’i at Manoa
(This is a series of essays on the Ilokano language. The series—to number 54—hopes to explore, together with the creative writers, the readers, and the Ilokano language and culture teachers, some of the productive ways by which we can explain the structure of the Ilokano language, and the history and culture of the Ilokano people that are embedded in that language. In this age of renewed calls for a Philippine discourse on diversity and multiculturalism as framework for nation building and development, a critical reflection on the Ilokano language is not only urgent but also necessary. This version does away with the scientific format but uses instead the popular version, but with references included within the text so that those who would like to verify the data may have a clue where to look for them. A parallel series in Ilokano is being prepared and will be made available for dissemination by the end of 2008.)
Certainly, the exchange from various sectors that are all advocates of the Ilokano language and the kind of culture that it preserves and perpetuates have a legitimate right to ask about what to do with the variants that seem to be standing in the way of self-identification of the Ilokano. What is he really of all the many names that have been cropping up, in the literature and in the life of his own people? Is he Iluko, Ilokan, Iluco, Ilocan, Yluco, Ilocano, Ilokano?
Mario Rosal, in his book “Zarzuelang Iloko” (takes off from that simpler variant that does not make use of the redundant ‘ano’ suffix which, some scholars claim, is a tautology as both the prefix ‘i’ and the ‘ano’ function the same way and mean the same thing. In the introduction of that book, as translated into ‘Tagalog’ (note that I am using here the more appropriate linguistic label ‘Tagalog’ to account that, one, this is not Tagalog as claimed by its translator Noemi Rosal but a rendering into Tagalog what was originally an English material, with the Tagalog rendering automatically labeled ‘Filipino’ as claimed by many scholars like Noemi Rosal, who, unable to distinguish the two, make Tagalog automatically Filipino), Noemi Rosal distinguishes the term ‘Iloko’ to mean the language and the culture and ‘Ilokano’ to mean the people, an approach that was followed by some people including Jose Bragado, who served GUMIL Filipinas as president and lectured extensively on this ‘distinguo, amico’ approach to separating the person from his language and culture (and being unable, therefore, to see that a person can be—and it should be—his own language and culture).
Of the many scholars who take this view about the convoluted logic of the term ‘Ilokano,’ Faye Dumagat has launched a historical and linguistic criticism that points to the need to revisit the term ‘Ilokano’—and this term includes its variant, ‘Ilocano’—and reminds us, like some other scholars who have pointed this out in the past, that the word reeks of a tautological construction since the ‘i’, a prefix marking off ‘a place of origin’ in the sense of ‘from’ is, somehow, synonymous to ‘ano’, a descriptive marker that is referring to, and is a borrowing from, the Spanish suffix ‘an’ or ‘ano,’ as in the case of ‘Mexicano’ for the people of Mexico and ‘Americano/Amerikano’ for the people of America, whether North or South, but popularly (and this is a misnomer as well) only referring to the people of the United States of America. While there is some truth to this tautological construction, a second look would tell us that there is something elided in using only one, and dropping it off invites, in contemporary context, the description of the people as we can see in ‘ano’ and the sense of ‘origin’ in the ‘i’, in which case, we have, in either Ilokano or Ilocano, a contextualized concept that points to this sense and only this sense: “a people that comes from the ‘lokos/locos,’ this place-name needing revisiting as well, as this since been the subject of many discourses that run the gamut of the etic way of self-definition to the more liberating ‘emic’ approach, depending on the scholarly purposes of the one researching and writing. A chapter of this series will be devoted to this continuing, unsettled and unsettling discourse on where the Ilokanos ever got their name, both for their place and for their language.
From the scholarly works of Marcelino Foronda, to wit his “Dallang” and his “Kailokuan: Historical and Bibliographical Studies,” he notes on his discussions of the ‘interchangeable’ quality of the following terms: Iloko, Iluco, Iloco, Ilocos, Ilokano, and Ilukano and for which he asserted that these are all terms that “designate the region, the people, and the language of the Northwestern Luzon provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Abra and La Union, the so-called ‘original’ Iloko provinces, and the inhabitants and the language of the Mountain Province (i.e. the present day provinces of Benguet, Ifugao, Bontoc, Apayao-Kalinga (note: has since split into Kalinga and Apayao and independent of each other), Pangasinan, Tarlac, Zambales, Nueva Ecija, Cagayan, Isabela, and Nueva Viscaya, the so-called ‘Ilokanized’ provinces, whose mother tongue is Iloko.”
Other works that implicitly takes a position on what to call the language—and by extension—the people, are those by Emma Bernabe, Virginia Lapid, and Bonifacio Sibayan’ s “Ilokano Lessons.” Together with Ernesto Constantino’s twin works, “Ilokano Dictionary” and “Ilokano Reference Grammar,” the term “Ilokano” gains currency—and is, as a matter of fact, a communal notion except for those who can afford to split hairs and who can afford to count how many angels can dance at the tip of a needle. Ask around and you would invariably do not get that subtle divide between what to call a people and what to call his language, as is the case of the Bragado-Saludes position, which, at a certain point especially during the presidency of Bragado at the GUMIL Filipinas, became the dogma, and which, eventually was what was being mouthed by those coming from the ranks of the younger generations.
In an attempt to appear Hispanic, with that reference to a ‘glorious’ past with the Spanish colonizers that made the Ilocos open its legs to the white colonizers with their white god and white saints, Amelia Valdez Ramos, as publisher, launched in 2000 the one and only issue of “Yloco” Journal, and in this journal was the declaration of the use of three existing Philippine languages that included English, ‘Filipino’ (the quotes are my addition in an attempt to register a protest here), and ‘Iluko.’ Somewhere is that distinction that Iluko is the language while Ilokano is a term to designate the people.
When I was an associate at the Center for Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines, I made it a point that we used ‘Ilokano’ to mean both the language and the people for consistency. This action was not meant to deny the historical background of the term neither was it meant to use only one term. As is the case of any cultural advocacy work, consistency sometimes point to the ways to solve constraints traceable to practice without denying that such a position invites contrary opinions. But here is a case of asking for that which is productive to the advocacy work each Ilokano writer is supposed to do—and in extensu, by each Ilokano, whether natively or ‘Ilokanized.’ I strongly urge the ‘Ilokanized’ Ilokanos, however, to teach us of the ways of the non-Ilokano peoples in the Amianan so that when Ilokano gets into a confluence with these languages, Ilokano is enriched, and the other Amianan languages get to be enriched as well. The young scholar Eric DC Grande has proven of this possibility in his work among the Yogad and Ilokanos of Echague, Isabela, in a paper he presented at the 2007 Nakem, “The Ilokanos Amidst the Yogads in Echague.” The courses that we taught, both the language and the literature, at the University of the Philippines at Diliman—the only University of the country that has the courage to teach the language and literature of the Ilokano people and yet the University is at the heart of Tagalog-land and Manila empire—bore, and still bears, ‘Ilokano’ to mean the language, the people, the culture, and the literature and no splitting of hairs.
Now, on the need to ‘orthographically’ render it as with a ‘c’ or a ‘k’ as some of the writers are wont to ask, I say, One is a variant of the other and feel free to use which of the variants suits your taste. Personally, I have no problems whether we write it with a ‘c’ of a ‘k’. But if we did want to work on a consistent ‘lexicographic’ entry—and if we did want to go back to what the Ilokano syllabary can teach us, we can glean from the “Doctrina Cristiana” as was reproduced in the work of Rubino, “Ilocano-English/English-Ilocano Dictionary and Phrasebook,” that the ‘c’ sound, veritably a Spanish introduction, is natively rendered by the ‘k’ sound, and that, therefore, in that problem term ‘Ilocano/Ilokano,’ the splitting of hair that tackles as if it were a problem of the world, whether we need to write it as ‘Ilocano’ or as ‘Ilokano’ is safely settled by either invoking a Hispanic influence and thus granting respect for that colonial influence whatever merit that colonial experience has over our lives. Or, the other equally legitimate way, rather convenient and ‘nativist’ in some way, is to summon the anitos and ask them once again the imploding power of the Ilokano syllabary as this syllabary comes into a head-on encounter with language change, and yet sticking by the indigenous pride that syllabary can grant to the consciousness of the Ilokano, a consciousness that is also imploding because expanding, and is expanding because becoming critical and reflexive.
I presume this is the only way we can settle scores: end the divide between a language and the people behind that language and therefore say, once and for all, that what we are referring to is plain and simple ‘Ilokano’ to mean both; and write ‘Ilokano’ with a ‘k’ (using the Ilokano syllabary as the reference point), but without pain of being accused of impurity and linguistic pollution when using the other variants. At the University of Hawai’i’s Ilokano Language and Literature Program, we are consistently using, in our classrooms and well as in our publications, ‘Ilokano.’ The score has been settled for us—and we try to become as aware as everyone else of the uneasy and difficult history behind this need to settle it.
(To be continued)