The Ilokano Language:
History, Culture, and Structure
Series 8, From Alphabet to History
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.)
Like many languages that have stood the test of time even if, from a diachronic sense, so many changes have happened, that, as was shown in the fragments of the Catholic prayers we quoted from the Doctrina Christiana of Belarmino we could hardly recognize what the words mean, Ilokano, even until now, continues to be faced with the realities of social change, and in extensu, language change. The forces for such change are coming from all over: the media, the opening up of the world of the Ilokano to the hegemonic consequences of the cultural and linguistic imposition of the language and culture from the center, the exposure of the Ilokano overseas contract workers to the languages and cultures of the international community, and the indirect effect of cultural assimilation of expatriate, exiles, and émigrés to the native language. English, the language of the controlling domains of Philippine society, continues to enrich or pollute, depending on how you view it, the Ilokano language, as all the other languages of the various ethnolinguistic groups of the country. We include this phenomenon of enrichment or pollution when we begin to account the impact of Tagalog, also known as P/Filipino, on our everyday transactions that involve language.
Having decided on the alphabet, our next goal is to offer a revisiting of the structure of the language by taking some samples of older text and compare the same with the texts of the present. I cite, as our first sample, the 1973 Ilokano translation of Santiago Fonacier of the first paragraph of Jose Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere,” which he translated as “Di Nak Sagiden.” The Ilokano text runs like this: “Iti arinunos ti Oktubre, ni Don Santiago de los Santos, nga addadda a nagnaganen dagiti tattatao iti Kapitan Tiago, nagsaganan iti maysa a daya a pangrabii, ket numan pay iti la daydi a malem ti inna pannakapaipakdaar, iso a di na kadawyan, ison ti sarsaritaen dagiti amin a tattao sadi Binondo, ka dagiti sabsabali pay nga ar-arrabal, ket uray payen sadi Intramuros. Ni Kapitan Tiago, ka dagidi nga al-aldaw, iso ti kaangkeran nga agpadaya, ket paggaammom a ti balay na, a kas met ti ili na, saan na a ripkan ti rungan na iti uray si asino man, malaksid iti panagtagilako wenno iti panunot a baro wenno natured.”
The first paragraph of the 1963 Ilokano translation of Rizal’s “El Filibusterismo” (“Ti Pilibusterismo”), on the other hand, says: “Maysa bigat ti bulan ti Disiembre, ti bapor TABO sursurongenna a sisusulit ti nagsikkusikko nga ayos ti karayan Pasig, nga aduda dagiti simmakay kenkuana nga agturong iti pangukuman a La Laguna. Ti bapor kita na ti nabungtog, nganngani nagbukel a kas iti tabo, isu a nagtaudan ti nagan na, nalaos a nagrugit, numan pay napintaan iti puraw, nabannayat ken nadagsen, iti pannakagagara nan iti in-inayad a pannagna. Nupay kasta, kaay-ayo dagiti tattao sadiay, nalabit gapu iti nagan na a Pilipino, wenno gapo ta addaan kadagiti gagangay a kabkababalin dagiti banbanag sadiay, kasla maysa a balligi iti pannakibakal iti irarang-ay, maysa a bapor a di met bapor a naminpinsan, maysa a kameng a di agsukat, saan a nasayaat, ngem di met mabalin a susiken, ket no kas ta kayatna a makuna a naayat met iti irarang-ay, umanayen ti pannakaparabaw ti daan a pinta na.”
There are, certainly, grammatical lapses in both these translation, as there are mistakes in the translation strategy adopted by the translator, Santiago Fonacier. We see, for instance, that basic inability of the translation to capture the fundamental structure of the Ilokan language, which is summarized by Rubino, in “Ilokano Dictionary and Grammar,” as: “(The Ilokano language), like its sister Philippine languages, is a predicate-initial language with a complex, head-marking, highly pre-fixing morphology.” If we go back to that translation, we sense right away a failure in coming to terms with the fact that the Ilokano language cannot be made to behave the way Spanish behaves, and more so in the kind of Spanish being used, for literary works, during the time of Jose Rizal. We see, for instance, as a result, that almost ‘illiterate’ construction of an Ilokano language that we cannot recognize if we compare it with the kind of literary language we used at the present.
We see this same mistake in the 1980 “Dagiti Letra Iti Ilokano/The Ilokano Alphabet” written by Fe Albano MacLean for the Hawai’i Bilingual/Bicultural Education Project of the State of Hawai’i Department of Education. In the “Pakauna” is the following: “Daytoy ti Libro ‘Dagiti Letra iti Ilokano’ nga inaramid ti Hawaii Bilingual/Bicultural Education Project. /Ti wagas nga inusar a mangiparang iti tunggal letra ti Ilokano ket babaen ti panangusar iti kultura ti Ilokano ket ti panagbiag na. Mangted daytoy iti ubing ti napateg a gundaway a mangusar iti kabukbukodan na a kultura iti baro a padas na iti panagadal. Makatulong pay iti ubing a makasursuro maipanggep iti bukod na a kultura kabayatan ti panagpapigsa na iti nasayaat a kapampanunotan iti bagi na./ Babaen kadagitoy a padas, nadardaras ti panagsursuro ti ubing iti Ingles ken kasta met a nadardaras ti pannakaawat na iti adalen iti Ingles.” (“’The Ilokano Alphabet’ book was developed by Hawai’i Bilingual/Bicultural Education Project./The approach used is introducing each letter of the Ilokano alphabet through meaningful association with the Ilokano culture and life-style. This link with familiar patterns provides the learner with a valuable opportunity to relate his cultural heritage to new learning experiences and in the process, the learner gains knowledge of his ethnic background which hopefully strengthens which strengthening his self-concept./Through these experiences the learner will make a smoother transition to the English language with the ultimate goal of achieving optimum in learning instruction in English.”) We soon realize the age-old, even archaic view of the Ilokano language even by those very teachers who are supposed to know how their own language ought to critically reflect their own experiences, even forgetting that there were other letters apart from the twenty ( a, b, k, d, e, g, h, i, l, m, n, ng, o, p, r, s, t, u, w, y) that they presented in that book. Those who are schooled in the Lope K. Santos’ Tagalog grammar, the ‘balarila,’ would recall how these same letters of the Ilokano alphabet are the exact replica of the Tagalog ‘alibata,’ with the familiar sounds that ring like this: a-ba-ka-da-e-ga-ha and so on.
These samples are instructive but a 1930 “Manual for the Progressive Laborer” written by Macario L. Alverne, one-time interpreter of the Honolulu Immigration Station, hints at our own understanding of the Ilokano grammar in those times. His book contains both an Ilokano translation which he himself did (“Manual ti Narang-ay A Makitegtegged”) and a Visayan translated by Marcelo Jumauan Baguio (“Manual sa Mauswagon’g Mammomoo”). We see in the “preface” the following: “Naaramid daytoy a pagbasaan tapno masungbatan dagiti nasansan ken nayunay-unay a dawdawat dagiti agkakanakem a gagayyem, ken tapno maitungpal ti pagkakalikagom dagiti karwayan dagiti Filipinos a maaddaan da ti Gramatica Inglesa a naisao ti Fini-filipino. Daytoy a libro naaramid inggat’ kabaelan a nangikabassit ken nangilawlawag. Naikari nga aramaten ti siasinoman a tao nga kayat na ti makaammo nga agbasa ken agsurat iti sao ti Ingles, ken Ilokano wenno Visaya, isoda nga ar-aramaten dagiti karwayan ti Filipino ditoy Hawaii. Ti nagaramid itoy a pagbasaan idaton na ti adda a kabaelan na nga agsao ka dagitoy a pagsasao iti nalaka ken iti ababa a panagadal. Makaunmanayen a pagdamoan da iti lecleccion a matagtagadtad iti ini-Ingles agraman panakaiulog na iti sao ti Iloko ken Visaya” (“This brief manual is written to meet the repeated and earnest requests of some good friends, and also to answer the popular demand of the Filipino community for a concise and practical English Grammar with Filipino translations. The book is planned to the best test of simplicity and briefness. It is intended for the use of any person who wants to gain knowledge in reading and speaking English, and Ilokano or Visayan, the two most popular dialects of the Filipinos in Hawaii. The author offers in this work a working knowledge of any of these tongues in a practical method in the shortest time possible. It is a sufficient Grammar for the beginner, the book containing exercises in such a way that the logical succession of the lessons are gradually brought together into a simplified English Grammar with translations in Ilokano and Visayan.”)
The same manual, as in the “Letters” of Valdez, contains templates of letters, and ‘Surat 21’ dated ‘Octubre 1, 1928’ will be useful for understanding the history of the Ilokano language. For this reason, I cite this letter verbatim: “Ay-ayatek a Rosita:/Diak magibusan nga isarita ti naiduma a ragsak ko idi innak naawat toy patgek unay a surat mo. Ngem idi nga innak maimatangan ti linas-odna, dagos laeng a simmal-lin ti nasaem unay a ladingit idi naganos nga essem itoy pusok. Wen, Pudno ket di masapol nga pasay-okan nak, ay-ayatek, ta kas pagaammom ngaruden nga pudnoak ket ipaypaysok dagiti isoamin nga naisaritak ken ka./ Wen, ay-ayatek a Rosita, ado dagiti pampanunot nga immapay kaniak a nakaigapo iti nabayag nga isusungbat mo. Umona, impapan ko nga pinalpali-iw ken rinikrikna nak pay laeng ken pinaneknekam pay met ti kinapudno. Maikadwa, mabalin met nga adda maysa ka dagiti kapulpulapol mo unay nga nagirugrugi a nagsarita ka dagiti bambanag a mabalin a mangyaw-awan ta pamanunotam maipapan itoy ayat ko ken ka. Wenno, mabalin met a diak maikari nga agayat ken ka, ket iti kasta diak karbengan ti maikaskaso. Ket agpapan ita diak pay la ammo no ania ka dagitoy ti Pudno./Binasak a silaladingit toy surat mo. Binalbaliwak a binasabasa, ngem di met la nagsukat ti nailas-od. Pinarparmatak ti narniag a tagtagainep ket sika kan pay idi ti adda idi nagtingngaan ti lawag; binalabalakon ti maysa a balay iti tangatang ket sika ti princesa na; ket inar-arapaap ko metten ti panagbiag ta a sipupunnot ragsak, gapo na nga dagiti balikas mo pagpigergeren ken paglidayen dak iti nakaro unay iso a diak magibusan nga ibaga ken ka. Impapan ko laeng a naragsak ta iti biang ti maysa ken maysa ka data, nagam-ammo ta iti sidon ni naan-anay a talentalek, ket impapan ko pay nga naammo tan a naimbag ti tunggal maysa kada ta ket diak impagarop a maminsan laengen a maipadaga dagiti inanamak. Pudno la nga kastan aya? Mabalin ngata a kasta ti ranggasmo, ay-ayatek? Agdawdawatak ita kaasim ta di nak pay kuma pampaminsanen a paayen ta tanangem pay kuma. Ket ipalubos mo kadi a sawek pay toy naindaklan nga panagayat ko ken ka. Di nak kad guraen, ala; yantangay diak gagem ti agranggas. Pudno unay, ket diak agdwadwa nga siammo ka, nga siksika laeng ti pagbiagan toy pusok. Ngarod, di ka kad ipaidam ti inka panangimatang manen itoy sungbat mo ket ipalubos mo kad met nga maaddaan manen inanama,/Toy sipupudno ken ka, Rosendo.” (“Dear Rosita:/ I cannot begin to tell you how happy I was when I received your letter. But when I noted its contents, the tender happiness in my heart was replaced with the deepest of all griefs. Of course, you do not have to flatter me, dearest, as you know I am serious and I mean all that I have told you./ Yes, Rosita, dear. I entertained many reasons why you were slow in your reply. First, I thought you were observing, studying or testing my sincerity. Second, some people around you may have started a rumor tending to mislead your thought as to the truthfulness of my love for you. Or, it may be because I am not qualified to love you and therefore, you must disregard me. Until now, I do not know which of these reasons is right./ I read your letter with the utmost sorrow. I read it over and over, but the contents remained the same. I had dreamed such a bright dream of which you are the central figure of light; I had built such a castle in the air of which you were the princess; I had seen such a vision of life full of felicity, that your words shock and distress me more than I can tell you. I did not expect them. I thought we had been so happy in each other’s society, we had met in such entire confidence; we have, I thought, understood each other so well that I had dared to think my love for your was not unreturned. Even yet I can hardly believe that all my hopes are so suddenly dashed to the ground. Are your serious? Can you be so cruel, dearest? I pray that you do not utterly reject me without a little respite. Let me once more say how much I love you. Do not be angry with me, please. I do not mean to be rude. Please do not think that I have no respect for your decision. Surely your know that you alone are the life of my heart. So please, do not refuse to reconsider your reply and let hope once more be with/Your ever sincere/Rosendo.”)
The clue to the difficulty, even in the ‘illiterate’ quality of the Ilokano as used in the foregoing sample text materials is the failure to recognize that the Ilokano language is a verb initial language unlike English which most often begins with a noun or an actor. As a verb initial language, it is action that hits right at the start of the sentence, not the actor, and which renders the use of the ‘ket’, sometimes functioning as a copula, not a good example of a vigorous and crisp Ilokano sentence.
(To be continued)