Ilokano Language Series-1

Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, PhD

The Ilokano Language Speaks the Ilokano People

First of a Series

To write two dictionaries is not a walk in park. It is a commitment of a lifetime. Once it is begun, the work is endless.

Even a native speaker like me has to contend with the difficulty of coming to terms with the ambiguous and the impossible. Indeed, the native speaker is not necessarily the best authority of his language.

There are two things I used to account the thoughts and wisdom of the Ilokano people through the twin works I lately wrote: the Contemporary English-Ilokano Dictionary (2010, 2011) and the Kontemporaneo a Diksionario nga Ilokano-Ingles (2012).

In embarking on these projects, I faced a fundamental difficulty: how to be true to the linguistic ways of the Ilokano people, and how to push those ways to account the complexities of their contemporary life.

I tried to solve these issues by following two approaches.  

The first approach is to describe how the Ilokano people exactly use their language everyday given a variety of possibilities. These people have moved from one place to another, have moved out of the Ilocos, and have interacted with other communities, cultures, and countries. This interaction has reshaped their language, even as it has reshaped their way of looking at the world that has become larger, much larger than the Ilocos they know, or used to know.

There are two movements in this act of describing the Ilokano language in the attempt to understand what is it all about: one, the fact of the matter in the field, and two, the changing, almost shifting, character of the everyday life of the Ilokano in all the times and climes where he finds himself.

The second approach is how to push that description to account a renewed vision on how the Ilokano people can fully exploit the Ilokano language in order to mediate a vision for the evolving of their own contemporary language that speaks them and speaks about them.

Part of that vision is to make sense of the Ilokano language as a universal medium for the articulation of that ever-rich and ever-changing Ilokano experience.

It is a vision that is bold and daring as it is no longer confined to the declarations and pronouncements of the Ilokano linguistic police people, but assures the speakers a recognition of the legitimacy of their speech first and foremost, a speech that is self-reflective. But it is also a speech that recognizes the fundamental requisites of education.

Education here is meant a cultivation of the mind, of the faculty of thought,  of the faculty that is discriminating and critical, of consciousness that is mindful of the continuum of the time of the Ilokano experience, the time of the human experience, the time as fused in an ever-continual way, the time as dialectical and exploratory, time asa fusion of all the tenses: past as present, present as  present, and present as future all rolled into one, marking all of the Ilokano words, marking what constitutes the contemporary Ilokano language. This means that we locate Ilocano language within the matrix of this notion of time, a location in a future that is grounded in the past-as-present.

Which leads us to the need to tease out the Ilokano language from this continuum of time and push it to the limit of that which is possible so that we can have all the time to make the Ilokano language at the service of all the Ilokano people everywhere.

There is thus the need to locate the contemporary Ilokano language within at least two times: the past-as-present, and the present-as-future.

We thus need to wean the Ilokano language away from a romanticized view of its past, from its fossilized form. I have done this in the recasting of the kur-itan, the Ilokano system of writing it shares with other indigenous cultures of the Philippines; I have removed the kur-itan from its ‘old’ syllabary form to account an alphabet which is less equivocal, and more to the point in terms of accounting the minutest of all the sound elements of a language.

In preparing the almost innumerable list of words for these dictionaries, I was guided by this respect for the past, and yet, I was also drawn into what can be done to the Ilokano language to serve as a springboard—a platform indeed—for the production of a liberating consciousness for the Ilokano people all over the world.

There are several things that must be underscored here—and these are all in keeping with the ambivalent nature of being a speaker of one’s own language, especially when in that act of speaking, the speaker has been bombarded with official acts of nonrecognition of your own speech, relegating your word—and thus, your language—to the margins, to the shadows, to the periphery.

You act like like a thief, snatching a second you can snatch to make you utter just one word of the language whose truths, music, cadence, and power you were accustomed to when younger but now have to push it to a space-time where there is safety because  there, in the hidden recesses of the private life where your language has been relegated, you have not broken the rules of an internally colonized Philippine world.

(To be continued) 

Observer, August 2012

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