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.