Scenic low-angle view of Capurpuraoan Rocks, also Kapurpurawan Rock Formation at the coast near Burgos, Ilocos Norte, North Luzon, Philippines, Asia

Language of the Month April 2022: Ilocano

By Will Boodon

My favorite linguistics course in college was LING 450: Workshop in Applied Linguistics. Over the course of the semester we, a group of around 10, interviewed 3 native speakers of languages from around the world. We then developed detailed profiles of each language based solely on translations of English words, phrases, and sentences with which we prompted each speaker. The first of the languages was Ilocano, an Austronesian language from Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines. For nostalgic purposes, as well as to highlight some linguistic traits which I find highly interesting, I’ve selected Ilocano as April’s Language of the Month.

Ilocano is the third most spoken language of the Philippines, with 11 million total speakers. In the US there are 85 thousand Ilocano speakers, most of whom live in Hawaii or California. The majority of Ilocano speakers in the Philippines live in the Ilocos and Cagayan Valley regions of northern Luzon, with other speakers living in other parts of Luzon, Mindoro, and Mindanao. It is recognized as a minority language of the Philippines in addition to being an official provincial language of La Union. 

One aspect of Ilocano I found interesting in my studies was its use of reduplication; that is, changing the meaning of a phrase by repeating some part of it. This can be seen in English in several minor instances, such as in the classic childhood dilemma of “Do you like them, or do you like like them?” In Ilocano, by contrast, reduplication is highly semantically productive and syntactically necessary. Reduplication can indicate plurality in nouns (ima, “hand” > im-ima, “hands”), progressive aspect in verbs (maturog “to sleep” > matmaturog “sleeping”), and the intensity of an adjective’s meaning (baknang “wealthy” > nakabakbaknang “extremely wealthy”), among many other uses. 

Today’s Ilocano is written with the Latin alphabet, but prior to European colonialism, the language was written in the Kur-itan script, a version of the Baybayin script of the Philippines. This script is an abugida, meaning each character represents a consonant-vowel syllable, and the vowel is written as a diacritic on the consonant. Here is the entire script along with an example of its usage:

As a direct descendant of the Brahmi script of ancient India, Kur-itan is ultimately distantly related to the script that would eventually supplant it in the wake of Spanish occupation. An interesting development in recent times has been a shift from a Spanish-style orthography to a Tagalog-style orthography. The Spanish system, favored by older generations, more closely follows Spanish spelling conventions, whereas the Tagalog system is more accurate to the actual pronunciation of the words. To better show this contrast, here are the two systems used to write the Lord’s Prayer:

Amami, ñga addaca sadi lañgit,

Madaydayao coma ti Naganmo.

Umay cuma ti pagariam.

Maaramid cuma ti pagayatam

Cas sadi lañgit casta met ditoy daga.

Itedmo cadacam ita ti taraonmi iti inaldao.

Quet pacaoanennacami cadaguiti ut-utangmi,

A cas met panamacaoanmi

Cadaguiti nacautang cadacami.

Quet dinacam iyeg iti pannacasulisog,

No di quet isalacannacami iti daques.

Amami, nga addaka sadi langit,

Madaydayaw koma ti Naganmo.

Umay koma ti pagariam.

Maaramid koma ti pagayatam

Kas sadi langit kasta met ditoy daga.

Itedmo kadakami iti taraonmi iti inaldaw.

Ket pakawanennakami kadagiti ut-utangmi,

A kas met panamakawanmi

Kadagiti nakautang kadakami.

Ket dinakam iyeg iti pannakasulisog,

No di ket isalakannakami iti dakes.

The evolution of Ilocano’s writing systems is representative of the process many languages around the world are undergoing today. The widespread adoption of a distinctly more Filipino writing system is one of many instances of a people reclaiming their identity as some of the scars of colonialism begin to heal.

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Fanni is Radnóti's wife
Located near the Tang capital city of Chang’an, site of the modern city of Xi’an in Shaanxi province, in central China.
Soldiers of that time commonly wore a white head cloth, similar to what is still worn by some peasants in China today.  The implication is that the conscripts were so young that they didn’t know how to wrap their head cloths, and needed help from elders.
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
The area of Guanxi, meaning “west of the passes”, refers to the area around the capital city of Chang’an.
This is an alternative name for a province in western China, now known as Qinghai, which literally means “blue sea”.  Kokonor Lake, located in Qinghai, is the largest saline lake in China.  
Before China’s unification under the Qin dynasty in 221 B.C. there were several competing smaller kingdoms.  Han and Qin were two of these kingdoms. Han was located east of famous mountain passes that separated that area from the power base of the Qin dynasty, with its capital in Chang’an. The Qin dynasty itself only lasted about 15 years after unification due to its draconian rule, but soldiers under Qin rule retained a reputation as strong fighters.
Oulart Hollow was the site of a famous victory of the Irish rebels over British troops, which took place on May 27, 1798. The rebels killed nearly all the British attackers in this battle. (Source: Maxwell, W. H. History of the Irish Rebellion in 1798. H. H. Bohn, London 1854, pp 92-93, at archive.org)
The phrase "United Men" is elaborated upon in the Notes section below.

Ghetto


An Italian word meaning “foundry.” It originally referred to a part of the city of Venice where the Jews of that city were forced to live; the area was called “the ghetto” because there was a foundry nearby. The term eventually came to refer to any part of a city in which a minority group is forced to live as a result of social, legal, or economic pressure. Because of the restrictions placed upon them, ghetto residents are often impoverished.

"You’re five nine, I am do-uble two"


A reference to the year 1959 and the year 2020.

"The Currency"


Meaning US dollars - this is drawing attention to the fact that Cuba is effectively dollarized.

"Sixty years with the dom-ino stuck"


This sentence is a reference to the Cold War notion that countries would turn Communist one after the other - like dominos. Cuba was the first domino, but it got stuck - no one else followed through into communism.

رحلنا


رحلنا, or "rahalna," means "we have left."

Habibi


Habibi means "my love."

Ra7eel


Ra7eel, or "raheel," means "departure."

3awda


3awda, or "awda," means "returning."

أهلاً


أهلاً, or "ahalan," means "welcome."

a5 ya baba


a5 ya baba, pronounced "akh ya baba," means "Oh my father."

golpe


Treece translates "golpe" as "beating", which is correct, however misses the secondary meaning of the word: "coup".

Carlos


The “Carlos” referred to in the poem is most likely Carlos Bolsonaro, a politician from Rio de Janeiro and the second son of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president. His and his father’s involvement in Marielle’s murder has been questioned and investigated.