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Ilocanos rise to protect their orthography

A language storm savagely dangles over the Ilocos Mountain ranges as well as the Sierra Madre and north of the Caraballo Mountains following what observers say is the inadmissible blitz by the Commission of the Filipino Language or the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino.

Recently, academics, cultural workers, creative writers and language advocates gathered at the Mariano Marcos State University Graduate School in Laoag City to protest what they called the “unilateral imposition” of the KWF’s “unilaterally crafted “Ortograpiyang Ilokano” years after they had published their own orthography.

From the Greek “orthographia” which means “correct writing,” an orthography is a way to represent words by having set ways to spell and write them.

This means orthography helps students, researchers, and language learners identify words so they can figure out their meanings.

In another lingo, an existing Ilokano orthography is the system of writing conventions used to represent spoken Ilokano in written form that allows the readers to connect spelling to sound and then to meaning.

The mass action in Ilocos Norte on Oct. 28 was initiated by GUMIL Ilocos Norte, through its president Joel Manuel.

GUMIL Ilocos Norte is the provincial chapter of the 50-year-old national association of Ilocano writers at home and abroad, which at one point had 3,000 active members speaking and writing in the various genres including, but not limited to novels, plays, other fiction and poetry.

The protest action was joined by other groups including the Nakem Conferences Philippines, through its president Dr. Alegria Tan Visaya; Dr. Marlina Lino, program coordinator of the MMSU MA cohort in Ilokano Studies; and Leo Tejano of Nakem Yoiuth.

Dr. Aurelio S. Agcaoili of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, in a statement obtained by the Manila Standard, said the stakeholders were one in their official position in rejecting what they called the “authoritarian imposition of (KWF’s) own brand of ‘Ortograpiyang Ilokano’ that is patterned after its imposed ‘Ortograpiyang Pambansa.’”

In their statement, Agcaoili, Debralyn Andres and Dean Domingo of the International Committee for the Protection of the Ilokano language and Nakem Conferences International, said:

“We have a variety of already productive orthographies, to wit: academic orthographies from the University of Hawaii Ilokano Program, the Mariano Marcos State University Graduate School Program in Ilokano Studies, the popular forms as seen from a number of magazines and newspapers, and the religious corpus as seen from the various faith communities in the Philippines and abroad.”

They added: “All these productive forms that are existing have been respectful of the history of the Ilokano language and are deemed not destroying each other but perfecting each other; this is not the case with the imposed ‘Ortograpiyang Ilokano.’”

The group, endorsed by other academics, language experts and teachers, said the Ilokanos “do not need an orthography that is not respectful of what we have got at the moment, that is not respectful of the history of the language, and that is antithetical to the aim of (a) deploying the current orthographies to make full of use of the language in the various domains of our life as Ilokanos whether in the Philippines or in the diaspora, and (b) educating our young people in that act of emancipatory knowledge that demands skills in ‘naming’ our world and experiences.

“This insistent act of disrespect and incompetence of the commission is a case of betrayal of the mandate given to that commission, and the same mandate given to the Ilokano commissioner, Purificacion Delima.

“We, therefore, demand that the Ilokano commission (sic) resign from her post: she does not have the expertise to represent the Ilokano people and their language.”

Nakem Youth itself said in a statement “As the inheritors of this cultural resource of the Ilokano people, the Ilokano language, as used and represented and written in various acceptable forms today, has been respectful of the history of the language from its precolonial form to today’s era of fast-paced technology.

“We are saddened by this mindless imposition of the KWF of its own orthography that it claims is based on the expertise of its writers and consultations.

“Unless these experts can prove to us their expertise and unless these consultations are proven to have followed real and not imagined democratic process, and unless the real stakeholders of the Ilokano language have been consulted as well, we univocally protest and reject such an imposed orthography that will predictably destroy our right to such a cultural resource and as inheritors of that resource.”

The School Principal of Ferdinand E. Marcos Senior High School in the City Schools Division of Batac, Carmencita Polendey-Lorenzo, told Manila Standard: “I don’t want to witness Generation ‘Ortograpiya’ kids conversing with the present generation of learners in the future, not able to understand one another.

“Generation ‘Ortograpiya’ kids would sound like some migrants acting like trying hard Ilocanos with their Tagalized lingo...”

Ilokano language observers said KWF, since its imposition of the “national orthography” in 2013, had chosen to work on its own by handpicking people of questionable Ilokano language expertise to write its own idea of Ilokano orthography.

They noted that the commission then began to tinker with the working orthographies of the various Philippine languages, requiring those even with a written tradition such as Ilokano, to comply with the “Pambansang Ortograpiya” of KWF headed by National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario of San Miguel, Bulacan.

Ilokanos and other language groups have protested this imposition, arguing the history of their languages had evolved a character “not necessarily following the imagined national orthography that is based largely on the Tagalog language in its contemporary form, with KWF deceitfully passing off as the Filipino language.”

KWF has argued there is need for the “harmonization” of the written form of the Philippine languages, but experts stressed KWF had not considered respect for the history of these languages.

“There is no rhyme and reason for that dreamed-of harmonization as each of these 185 indigenous languages per the Ethnologue count of 2005 have their own sound system and syntax,” the experts said.

They added: “These two basic features of a language—the sounds and the way it arranges its words to make sense and to capture the meaning of what it aims to communicates—are inherent in each language.

“The project to harmonize these 185 languages by making all these behave as Tagalog being passed off as Filipino...is meant to hegemonize and destroy diversity in the country.”

Nakem Conferences Philippines and Nakem Conferences International, two groups that have collaborated to hold annual international conferences to promote diversity and inclusive education, have consistently issued out statements rejecting this national orthography as the basis for the orthography of other Philippine language groups.

Forming an alliance, the protesting groups in Laoag have vowed to bring the protest to the Department of Education and to the Office of the President in Manila.

More protests are being planned, the groups said in their statement.

(HBC, former three-term director of the Unyon ng mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas, was Executive Council Member of the 13-member Committee on Literary Arts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts from 1999 to 2004, and president of GUMIL Filipinas from 1995 to 1999.)

Topics: Ilocos Mountain , Caraballo Mountains , Mariano Marcos State University Graduate School , Orthography , Nakem Conferences Philippines
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