Ilokano Linguistics for Liberation


Aurelio Solver Agcaoili
U of Hawaii at Manoa


Thank you so much for that kind introduction, Professor Che Suarez. You have given me complete control of my work, for which reason I am able to continue to honor our Ilokano people’s heritage, culture, and language through these continuing dictionary projects.

I wish to thank  Dr Miriam Pascua, president of the Mariano Marcos State University System, for giving me another chance to present my work to the Ilokano public through this dictionary launch, and through this lecture. Let me record my gratitude to her for making it sure the Nakem Conferences movement will thrive at her university by planting the first seed of all the Nakem work and engagements at MMSU. That was in 2007 and today, we have the honor of continually witnessing the fruit of your visionary leadership to partner with us without any questions.

I can never forget the generosity of Dr Carmelo Esteban, dean of the MMSU Graduate School, for always being open to activities like this one, and for providing support for this launching. Last year, he opened the door of the graduate school for the launching of the first volume of the dictionary. This is the second time that he does it, and I hope and pray there will be a third, a fourth, and a fifth time. Dean Estaban, mahalo nui loa.

I wish to thank the entire board of the Nakem Conferences Philippines for giving me this chance to work with them again. In particular, I want to thank Dr Alegria Tan Visaya, president of Nakem Philippines, for taking up the challenge of coordinating this event. I am certain that she is one of the gateways to the reclaiming of our heritage. There have been numerous times that she has extended her gift of heart and wisdome and knowledge to me. I am sure I can never pay her back except to say, Agyamanak unay-unay.

The president of the MMSU Graduate School Student Council, __________________, is certainly one heck of a guy you can entrust your life with. When Dr Visaya opened this launching idea to him, he approved right away, and promised to deliver the goods, and he did. Except that he is busy with his comprehensives, for which reason he is not with us this morning. Ibagayo koma kenkuana, apo, a nakautangak kenkuana iti naimbag a nakem. Ti nakem ti puli ti agsubalitto kenkuana.

I also wish to thank the MMSU Graduate School professors, such as Dr Lino and many others, who brought their students to this gathering. I can only thank you for believing that this event is worth your time and those of your students’.

And to all our people gathered here, thank you so much for coming.

1.0  Epistemological Challenges in Dictionary Making

Let me start my talk by asking you to revisit with me the title of my presentation, and by scrutinizing some of the key concepts and phrases, that when not clarified, may obscure our conversation.

Let me start with Ilokano linguistics.

What I mean by this is a general conception and practice of the art and science of comprehending what constitutes the Ilokano language as a cultural artifact, and as a medium for articulating the vision of a people.

When I say linguistics for liberation, I mean here the general direction of my lexicographic and critical work on language, culture, heritage education, and emancipatory education in general.

I look at linguistics as the art and science of understanding language, but it is the art and science of the constitutive elements of language, elements that are always-already sited in the narrative of struggle of a people, a struggle that requires the constancy of articulation and re-articulation of what human freedom is all about.

In the main, I do not regard linguistics as value-free, or neutral, but takes it out into the open and permits it to dialogue with the difficult texts of our lives.

In particular, I frame language as a universal medium of communication, and thus, any enactments that relate to the communicative power of language reflects life in the raw, and life as it should be lived. 

In fine, I look at life’s narrativity, and establish its connection with facts; I bring those facts into an ethical mode of inquiry, and revisit them in the level of the ‘ought’. 

Any of these ethical markers should instruct us that to do linguistics in an environment that is not value-free is to always invite engagement in cultural criticism, and to deploy the techniques of falling into the discourse of emancipatory conversation with many other extra-linguistic factors, such as the factors of social institutions that relate to politics, economics, and culture.

Here, I am particularly aware that language—our very own Ilokano language for that matter—has been used against us in order to deprive us of our political power.

The continuing discourse of practically all political matters in two languages that are foreign to the Ilokano people—in English and in Tagalog—has impacted our current inability to take part in a national conversation that pertains to the democratization of our collective political life.

Here, I am particularly aware that language—our very own Ilokano language for matter—has been used against us in order to deny us of access to economic stability.

The isomorphism of economic development and the use of Tagalog and English has led us to disastrous consequences, with us deceived on a whole-scale way that to leave our Ilokano language behind is the best way for us to improve our economic lot.

We have left our Ilokano language at home, and we have not learned much for the last 80 years or so since 1935, and we have proven that this imbalance in the linguistic and cultural policy of this country has rendered us ignorant of who we are in our own terms.

We know that ignorance does not exempt us from our responsibilities, for which reason we must now begin to take action and say to ourselves that the deception that has happened to us as a people for decades must come to an end.

Here, I am particularly aware that language—the Ilokano language for that matter—has been used against us to stunt our cultural development and growth, relegating what we know about ourselves as post-it notes on a book on what rabid but narrow-minded nationalists call national culture with a homogenized slant.

Here, I must be very clear in this direction: that I insist that to form a Philippine national culture can never be done with the hegemonic center of Manila dictating the terms and conditions of what our ‘national’ culture is supposed to be, with all our other cultural expressions labeled as exhibits, or as exotic manifestations of the national core.

If we continue to insist on this—on the evolving of a national culture that valorizes one culture at the expense of another—there will always be cleavages, chasms, and cracks.

Dissidence—as always has been—will not be hard to come by as a logical consequence.

I am particularly alarmed in what is happening to the school system, that social institution that makes it possible for our young people to be equipped with life-long skills, skills that will prepare them for jobs, but skills as well that prepare them to become truly human, and to become productive citizens of their own country.

In this life, it is not only economic productivity that spells that difference between being educated and being ignorant.

We must be also knowledgeable of all things that matter to us, in memory as well as in our traditions and heritage.

For to sever ourselves from the significant and meaningful past as re-inscribed in the present is to sever ourselves from our connection to the spring of our human knowing, to the very spring of human capacities to link ourselves back to the source of what we are. 

Let us do a guessing game here.

Our Ilokano students know more about English and Tagalog authors than any of our local authors.

They know more about English and Tagalog poems and songs and stories than any of the Ilokano poems and songs and stories.

They probably do not even know that many of the better writers of our own Ilokano language are here in this room, and that the scientists and artists of this nation are also here.

Such widespread ignorance can never be condoned.

To say the least, it is unconscionable.

To say that we cannot continue doing this is to register a protest that should have been registered a long time ago.

2. Approaches in Ilokano Lexicography

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.

The dictionary maker—or sometimes technically referred to as a lexicographer—realizes that he must come to terms with the infinite possibilities of articulating a linguistic world, a world that must be constantly teased out of the innumerable articulations of human experience, whether significant or not.

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.

One cannot always claim—sometimes we can, but most of the time we fail—that the speaker of the Ilokano language is the best judge of that language.

This means that I have to rely on other sources to validate my analysis, claims, and judgments of the Ilokano language.

In research methodology, we call this the extra-linguistic proof, or the proof outside the subject matter being studied.

There are two things I used to account the thoughts and wisdom of the Ilokano people through the twin works I recently 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 am, of course, using the phrase ‘linguistic ways’ advisedly to account not only what happens in language, but also what a people can do with their language.

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.

The word ‘exactly’, of course, is not ‘exact’ in all counts.

We need to understand variations of the language here, and the dialectal possibilities.

In the main, we must understand that in truth and in fact, language is not the one that is being spoken: the truth of the matter is that language is a conception, and the one that is being used in our everyday life is a dialect, not language really.

We must bear in mind that the Ilokano 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—re-formed—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 wording of a world, their own world, the world of their ever rich and ever-changing Ilokano experience.

It is a vision that is bold and daring—and it must be so.

That vision—a statement of a reality recast in the light of a present-qua-future—is no longer confined to the declarations and pronouncements of the Ilokano linguistic police, but assures the speakers of the Ilokano language recognition of the legitimacy of their speech first and foremost.

Let me make an aside about the Ilokano linguistic police.

Many of these are writers who are schooled in the age-old traditions of fossilizing the Ilokano language, and have not had any substantial access to other bodies of knowledge outside that which is being provided by their communities, or by their own small circle of acquaintances.

Some members of the Ilokano linguistic police are teachers like myself, teachers who have not broadened their perspectives about education and about cultural enhancement, such that what they use as yardstick in the education of their students is the yellowed-sheet of paper they inherited from their own old masters and teachers.

So we pass on the same mossy lessons about ourselves, lessons whose truths are debatable, or at best, unfounded and dubious.

What I then call as Ilokano language as used in these dictionaries is a form of Ilokano speech, or utterance, used philosophically, and thus discursively.

It is a speech that is self-reflective, with the capacity to look at the world with both old and new eyes, with the capacity to rethink of itself using both old and new categories depending on a variety of situations and contexts, and with the capacity to reexamine itself, and provide self-corrective mechanisms for areas where self-correction is necessary.

But it is also a speech that recognizes the fundamental requisites of education.

Education here is meant a cultivation of the mind, a bettering of the faculty of thought, a development of the faculty of erudition, a refining of human consciousness.

In this very act of cultivating the mind, we insist here the urgency of a discriminating and critical consciousness, a 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, the time as a fusion of all the tenses: past-qua-present, present-qua-present, and present-qua-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 time as concrete, and yet time outside Time.

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 these three categories of time.

It cannot be otherwise.

We thus need to wean the Ilokano language away from a romanticized view of its past, from its fossilized form.

To speak of a language as a gift of the primeval past, as a gift of the ancestors, as a gift of a historical past with no relation to the present is to exactly do what we should not do in understanding what the Ilokano language is and what is it supposed to be.

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 list of words for these dictionaries, I have been guided by this respect for the past.

And yet, I have been drawn into a powerful idea about 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 non-recognition of your own speech, relegating your word—and thus, your language—to the margins, to the shadows, to the periphery.

When you live in a country that has committed all acts of cultural and linguistic injustice against its own people, when you have been practically banned to use your language in your public, or official life, you act like a thief.

You have to learn to act like a thief.

You snatch 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.

For the lexicographer of the Ilokano language, this is a difficult reality.

It is also ugly—as it is raw and bloody.

The rawness and blood in this unjust linguistic situation marked by cultural tyranny and fascism is not literal, at least not yet, unlike in other languages and cultures where the very act of martyrdom is intertwined with the act of insisting that one’s language ought to be used in life and in the world of dreams, fantasia, imagination, creation, self-creation, and communal creativeness.

The blood is symbolic, but its power is beyond the sounds of the language. 

Thus, language in general, and the Ilokano language in particular, reframes our view of the world, our view of reality, our sense of what makes sense, our sense of what is meaningful.

All these relate to the very act of knowing—and the urgency of this act.

This sense of urgency is dictated by the need to know in order to live the good life—and the need to survive, to exist, to thrive.

When I was drawing up my research design for these dictionaries, I had my own self-doubts.

First of my self-doubts is how to fight back—fight back more than 400 years of conditioning about what the Ilokano language is all about, and how is it constituted, and how it ought to be constituted.

Second is how to correct misconceptions—there are a lot of these—an act of the level of the ‘ought’ to finally put an end to speculations that are not based on the logic of facts, but based largely on the logic of convenience and comfort.

For instance, one of the funny examples about the Ilokano language is the insistent—but otherwise largely ignorant view about whether Ilokano is written with a ‘k’ or with a ‘c’.

The Internet alone is replete with this insidious tactic of the 1960s mindset of pulp writers writing largely for a popular magazine and catering to readers who, pitifully, did not have access to other perspectives.

Such a group of writers, for instance, even came up with the illogical formulation—a blatant one at that—that ‘Iluko’ is the language, while ‘Ilokano’ is the people.

This counterproductive hair-splitting technique lacks the subtlety of the reality of the field.

It has no basis.

The utterance of the Ilokano people says otherwise: that there is no distinction, but both relate to the same reality.

To check: our people did not do this hair-splitting, but only some of the old Ilokano writers following the logic of patriarchal knowledge.

In fact, the number one aberration—an anomaly if you wish—is the very word Ilokano.

Coming from a template such as Hispano, or Mexicano, the people of the ‘lukong’, once this term became a denonym, followed the aberrant route of ‘Iluko/Ilukong’ and accepting an unnecessary and repetitious suffix ‘ano’, to eventually form the word ‘Ilokano.’

We note here that from a morphophonemic sense, the ‘i’ in the ‘lukong’ functions in the same way as the ‘ano’.

Let me cite another example, also aberrant, but has since become normalized—and thus naturalized in Ilokano speech, and mindset, for that matter.

There are several theories on the origin of the word Ilocos, and its other derivatives, such as Ilokano, whether written with a ‘c’ or a ‘k’.

We now know that the orthographic rendition of either of these letters is a result of the long history of colonization of the Ilokano people since 1872 by the Spaniards whose practice is to render as ‘c’ any of the hard sounds of ‘k’ and to render the ‘k’ sounds as ‘qu’.

This leads us to: i + loc + ano, or its roots, i + locos.

One theory talks of ‘locos’ as a metathesis of the Tagalog ‘looc’, which takes its roots from a more primeval Austronesian root, which means cove.

Another extraneous theory is the story of an imposed naming of a place from an outsider’s perspective, which leads us to the ‘iloc’, which means ‘river’ (in Tagalog), with the explanation that the terminal ‘g’ is not found in the Spanish language, and is replaced with a ‘c’ for phonological reasons.

Still another is a Calip theory that talked about a ‘liu-kiu’ or ‘riu-kiu’ in the Chinese language.

The word meant ‘the island adjacent to the mainland’, which suggests a relationship existing between the Chinese mainland, and the island, probably Luzon, below it.

To account the Ilokano experience as comprising all of Luzon is something glorifying for the Ilokano people and their civilization.

But to believe that that is so is to make whole scale the Luzon experience as practically a history and civilization of the Ilokano people, with the equation in the end that Ilocos is equal to Luzon, no more, no less.

Even if it has been proven that the Ilokano language—with its orientation from the south of Formosa, now called south of Taiwan—is the source of practically the roots of the many Indo-Pacific languages and cultures from Guam to Rapa Nui (or sometimes called the Easter Islands) of Chile, and unless proved by further analysis, we cannot make a grandiose claim that the Ilocos is the mother of all Luzon cultures and languages.

Today, we cannot prove this.

At least, not yet.

A claim to the contrary is simply superfluous unless the evidences are put in place.

What we can bring into the discussion is that there was a Kingdom of Ryu-Kyu, which up to the late 19th century was a self-sustaining and prosperous kingdom popularly called Okinawa.

Ryu-Kyu entered into a treaty with a young country at that time, the United States of American, prior to the kingdom’s gobbling up by the Japanese.

Still a contentious history, with Ryu-Kyu now practically non-existent but exists only as a nostalgic reference to Okinawa in the cultural and linguistic representation of the Japanese political imagination, this Ryu-Kyu could have been the Riu-kiu or Liu-kiu referred to in the Chinese account of the ‘island adjacent to the mainland.’

3. Solving the Lexical Puzzles, Solving the Cultural Puzzles

How did I solve a contentious issue such as this one?

What techniques were available to me in accounting all the possible gauzy, fuzzy, and ambiguous experiences of the Ilokanos?

What criteria should be used to provide an explicandum to these explicans needing resolving once and for all?

Where are the areas where theory can come in with plausibility so that unless another theory comes in and offers a stronger set of logical arguments, that theory can hold water in the meantime?

All these questions need to be asked.

A lexicographer—or a dictionary writer or maker—is not simply a person who lists words that he hears.

A lexicographer must be discriminating.

He must know where language ends so that a dialect can begin, or dialects can be inaugurated and celebrated in a more honest accounting of the experiences of a people, a community, a time, and an epoch.

At the same time, a lexicographer must be steeped in a vision about what a language can do, about the power of language, and about how human freedom germinates within the very corm of a language.

Let me go back to the issue of the genesis of the word Ilocos.

In this dictionary, I insisted a strong position for the virtue of self-naming.

When a people names itself, that people have taken up the cudgels of resorting to their power of self-identification, a power rooted in the self, a power from within, and a power that summons the collective strength of a community.

We have seen this in the account of Biag ni Lam-ang.

We all know that story clearly: As soon as Lam-ang was able to speak, he announced to his own mother that his name should be Lam-ang.

Lam-ang did not wait for another to name him: he named himself.

This leads me to the dynamic of naming one’s own place of residence, one of the few principles involved in accounting a people’s name: where they come from.

They call this the dialectic of the toponym.

The dynamic of a people’s self-identification by resorting to their use of their place of origin continues up until today, to wit, Kavintaran in Nueva Vizcaya for a community peopled by farmers originally from Vintar, Ilocos Norte.

This is not an isolated case, but a pattern in other places outside Luzon.

And it can be the reverse.

In Quirino, for instance, there is a barrio in Diffun town called Aklan.

That place is people by farmers from Aklan in the Visayas who came all the way from the far reaches of that island group to eke out a new life in that Ilokanized place in the Cagayan Valley Region.

If the terrain of a community speaks well of a people, their character, their history, their comportment, their culture, and thus, their self-identification, then the idea of Ilocos as coming from the root ‘lukong’ comes close.

Luko, or lukong, in this dictionary, is a depression of a land.

It is a large swath of earth that caves in from the mountains or hills, and from there, leads to a large body of water, such as the sea.

In the case of the Ilocos, it is the West Philippine Sea awaiting this depression from the Cordilleras.

From on top, we see this clearly: the land depressing into what is called a lukong from the Cordilleras, and that depression, magnificent in some ways, while depressive in some others, is exactly what the Ilocos is all about: a depressed land, a piece of earth under the sun announcing its presence between a body of water and the gigantic mountain ranges.

Following this logic, we can dismiss the first three theories and say that when the Ilocanos began to become aware of themselves, they eventually resorted to their land and their environment to account who they are.

The logic of this approach is plausible.

The tentative binary was in operation here: i + lukong as opposed to i + gulod/gulot/golot: the people of the plains (or depressed portion of a bigger area) and the people of the mountains, or the upland people.

We must, of course, be aware that this binary must be used only as a tactic of analysis, or as a heuristics.

For there is certain porousness between these two cultures that we have yet to bring to the surface in order to prove that the division between the upland cultures and lowland cultures is not fixed and permanent.

Our sense of direction, for instance, underscores the cosmological grounding of our terminologies.

The wind is summoned, and that wind becomes a geographic point such that ‘amian’ or its derivative ‘amianan’ talks of where the wind comes from, from the north, in much the same that the ‘abagat’ refers to another wind, and finally fixing that to the south.

Daya is where the ‘raya’—the rays of the sun—comes off streaking through the trees and mountains in the early morning hours.

Laud, where the sun figuratively sets and hides, is where the sea is, the ‘laot’ of old, the laot of an older, more primeval Austronesian root.

These are not innocent terms.

These are terms imbued with a people’s deep knowledge of themselves, their experiences, and their own physical world.

The clue here is the relational—and no less.

4. Lessons in Appropriation

In the philosophy of culture and language, and in the reality involved in language contact, there is the reality of appropriation, otherwise also known as borrowing from a source culture and language.

But it is not borrowing per se.

It is borrowing with the intention of not returning it.

The beauty of languages and cultures is that they are not confined to a place and time, as in the case of the confinement we find in material objects we borrow.

When segments, or aspects, of a language or culture is borrowed by another, the borrower makes his language or culture richer, not poorer.

The surprise here is the enchantment that happens when the meaning and the world of the borrowing culture expands in a concentric circle, the expansion coming in as a result, inaugurating a new truth, and accounting a new way of looking at reality, even if this was an old reality.

Take the case of the word ‘marunggay’.

Or the case of the Ilokano word ‘arak’.

The first term—marunggay—is not indigenous to the Ilokano language, but eventually naturalized, and thus, indigenized, by that language.

It is Tamil.

This suggests that marunggay must have been endemic to the Tamil regions of India, and then was brought here a long time ago, indigenized, acculturated, acclimatized, naturalized, and appropriated to the full, until we can no longer recognize that originally it was alien to the Ilokano language and people centuries ago.

The second term, arak, comes from Sanskrit, and Arabic.

Spelled ‘aracq’ when it was borrowed, it now has dropped all the references to its foreign source such that we now have a ‘k’ for the terminal consonantal sound, with the ‘r’ retained by the Ilokano language, but substituted with an ‘l’ by the Tagalog language.

We see here the connections and interconnections, and when possible, I showed these sources in this dictionary. Some of these sources—more than a hundred of them—are: 

Akk, Akkadian
Akl, Aklanon
Ap, Apayao
Ar, Aramaic
Arb, Arabic
Arw, Arawakan (of the Carribbean; rel. to Taino)
Aus, Australian (English)
AusA, Australian aboriginal
Az, Aztec
Bag, Bagobo
Bgo, Bago
Bik, Bikol
Blt, Balti (a Tibetan language)
Bal, Balinese
Bor, Borneo
Ber, Berber
Bol, Bolinao
Bon, Bontoc
Cant, Cantonese
CenAm, Central American variety of Spanish; cf. Mex
Cham, Chamorro
Chav, Chavacano
Chk, Chuukese
Chn, Chinese
Crb, Caribe
Czk, Czech
Dyk, Dyak (of Borneo)
Dch, Dutch
Egp, Egyptian
Eng, English
Esp, Esperanto
Eth, Ethiopian
Ew, Ewe
Fij, Fiji
Fn, Fon
Fr, French
Fuk, Fukien, or Fukien Chinese
Gad, Gaddang
Gal, Galician
Ger, Germanic
Grk, Greek
Haw, Hawaiian
HaP, Hawaii Ilokano/Ilokano Pidgin 
Heb, Hebrew
HGer, High German
Hil, Hiligayon
Hok, Hokkien
Hnd, Hindi
Ib, Ibanag
Iba, Ibaloi
If, Ifugao
Igb, Igbo
Ika, Ikalahan, or Kalanguya
Ilg, Ilonggo
Ilk, Old Ilokano
Ind, Indonesian
Ir, Iranian
Itn, Itneg
Is, Isinay
It, Itawis
Ital, Italian
Ivt, Ivatan
Jap, Japanese
Jav, Javanese
Kag, Kagayanon
Kal, Kalinga
Kly, Kalanguya
Kan, Kankanaey
Kap, Kapampangan, or Pampanga
Kin, Kinaray-a
Kor, Korean
Kuy, Kuyunon
L, Latin
Lao, Laotian
Mag, Maguindanao
Mal, Malay
Malb, Malabar, or Malayalam
Man, Manobo
Mng, Mongolian
Mang, Mangyan
Mao, Maori (refers to Cook Islands, unless specified)
Mar, Marshallese
Marq, Marquesas
Maw, Maranao
May, Mayan
Mex, Mexican variety of Spanish
Nhl, Nahuatl, or Aztec 
OFr, Old French
Pal, Palauan
Palw, Palawanon, a dialect cluster of Palawan
PEP, Proto-East-Polynesian
Per, Persian
Ph, Phoenician
PhE, Philippine English
PMP, Proto-Malayo-Polynesian
Png, Pangasinan
Prt, Portuguese
PrtB, Portuguese Brazilian
PrP, Proto-Polynesian
Rot, Rotuman
Rus, Russian
Sata, Satawalese
Sam, Sambali
Samo, Samoan
SCre, Santiago Creole
Sin, Sinhalese
Sk, Sanskrit
SLt, Samar-Leyte (syn. Waray): Samar-Leyte is used in this dictionary
Sub, Subanen
Sul, Sulu
Sum, Sumerian
Sur, Surigaonon
Sp, Spanish
Swed, Swedish
Tag, Tagalog
Tgbn, Tagbanua
Tah, Tahitian
Tai, Taino
Tam, Tamil
Th, Thai
Tgn, Tingguian
Tib, Tibetan
Tibo, Tiboli
Tong, Tongan
Trk, Turkish
Tsw, Tswana (or Setswana)
Urd, Urdu
Viet, Vietnamese
Vis, Visayan, Bisayan, Sebuano, or Cebuano Visayan
Yak, Yakan
Yap, Yapese
Yid, Yiddish
Yor, Yoruba
Zam, Zambali

5. Contemporizing the Alphabet

When I contemporized the Ilokano alphabets, I followed the following principles: (1) the principle of description; (2) the principle of resistance; and (3) the principle of insistence.

Let me explain what these things are.

In describing the Ilokano language, I attempted to draw up a picture of it using a variety of sources, both domestically and internationally.

In the Philippines, I travelled all over Ilocos, and checked and rechecked terms deployed in a variety of areas, in a variety of occasions, usually communal, some festive, some more formal such as in meetings, or conferences.

I also travelled to places in the Ilokanized regions of the North, in the Visayas where some prominent people speak Ilokano (and Visayan at the same time), and in Mindanao where communities of Ilokanos (usually landowners) have been formed.

Abroad, I have had the chance to hear Ilokano being spoken in a number of states, including the State of Hawaii where about 90% of the roughly one-fourth of the total statewide population is of Philippine descent.

Other personal experiences colored my lexicographic work, including teaching the Ilokano language in the university; teaching computer fundamentals using the Ilokano language; being an examiner in licensure examinations in interpretation in Ilokano; being an examiner in oral proficiency in Ilokano for a variety of clients, both government and non-government all over the United States; my mass media practice in television and radio production as announcer, and host and producer of my own public television program; my work as an editor-in-chief of two newspapers circulated in the United States; my work as translator of literary works; my work as translator of policy papers and public service texts for the government and the private sector; my work as a playwright and stage director using the Ilokano language as a tool for community education of issues important to the Ilokano people in the diaspora, particularly in Hawaii; and my own literary practice.

Given these variety of situations that I have had to deal with, I realized more and more the infecundity of approaching the Ilokano language from its fossilized form.

Instead, I have recast that language to account all the sounds that have been operative in that language in its contemporary form.

In my view, the contemporary Ilokano language is made up of 30 letters and no less.

These 30 letters form part of the body of sounds—sounds that eventually form part of the body of words—of this language.

The sounds are: a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, ng, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, r, z. 

At day-end, I wanted to assure our young people that they can write their name, or the place where they come from, with these letters that we have.

If one were coming from Vigan, that ‘v’ must be in the Ilokano language.

If one were coming from Barangay Quezon, that ‘q’ must be in there, and so on.

If one were named Ferdinand, or Francine, that letter ‘f’ must be there.

And if one were named Victor, or surnamed Llanes  or Quiñones, those ‘v’ and ‘ll’ and ‘ñ’ must be there.

The lesson I learned is this: to deny the legitimacy of the basic sounds of one’s own name, or the place one comes from, and to insist on an alphabet that does not recognize you is to permit a particular language to become a tool of deprivation and exploitation.

Here is where resistance, and its twin, insistence, come into the picture.

We resist the onslaught of language loss, marginalization, and education without a vision for the protection of a people’s right to their language and culture.

We insist upon the need for the Philippines to start honoring its own people, to start recognizing the diversity of its communities, and to account the plurality of the lives and cultural experiences of its citizens.

We are going to do this with the Ilokano language in our attempt at making it more contemporary.

We make the Ilokano language critically reflective of current situation, and yet also able to articulate our visions, dreams, and aspirations.

In the case of the flora and fauna, I attempted to take an interlingual direction, in the hope of coming up with a dictionary of Ilokano plants and animals, but with a cross-reference to other Philippine languages, preferably with a distribution and representation in the three big island groups, the Visayas and Mindanao.

Whenever possible, I put in the scientifc name, and marked it as ‘s. n.’ in order to introduce to the students of the need to evolve a scientific knowledge for our people.

6. Implications in Research and Emancipatory Education

All these approaches are by no means definitive and final.

I have always looked at human knowledge, following a hermeneutic tradition, that holds that human knowledge is not value-free, and that it is never neutral nor objective.

Human knowledge is always-already implicated in tradition, culture, and history—and thus, implicated by human language.

It is implicated precisely because it is mediated by human language.

My principal aim was to explore—or to show the way to exploring—the Ilokano language, and discover its beauty, its magic, and its promise of liberatory human knowledge for the Ilokano people of today, and for the Ilokano people of tomorrow.

There is so much to learn from our language, from our culture, from our people.

We have not learned enough.

We have not researched enough about ourselves.

I have always dreamed that one-day soon, many researches, masters’ thesis, and doctoral dissertations shall be written in Ilokano.

When that happens, that will be my happiest moment.

That will be the glorious moment of the Ilokano people. -30-

 Talked delivered at the MMSU Graduate School, Laoag City, during the launching of the Kontemporaneo a Diksionario nga Ilokano-Ingles, Agosto 11, 2012

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