February 6, 2018

The Bannawag and the Development of the Official Ilokano Orthography

The Bannawag and the Development of the Official Ilokano Orthography

Imagine the English language with loose spelling rules and grammar. This was the Ilokano language even long after the turn of the 20th century. Relegated to the sidelines, there was no serious attempt to study the language.

The Ilocos, having been under the Spanish regime for more than 300 years, had their language written the way the Spanish clerics wanted it to be. Thus its Hispanized spelling.

It was only in 1956, when Ilokano editors, tired of the archaic spelling, “Ilokanized” the spelling and the letters “c, j, q, v, and z” became “k, h, k, b , and s” respectively. Following the orders of the then Surian ng Wikang Pambansa that the Ilokano language (and all Philippine languages with written literature for that matter) should be written like the Tagalog language (now Filipino), Ilokano editors even used the letter “y” and “w” in words which could have been written more simple if Ilokano writers could have their own way then. It took a year or two before they found out that the SWP order was not applicable to the Ilokano way of writing.

In the forefront of establishing a standardized Ilokano spelling and grammar is the Bannawag magazine. Founded in 1934, the magazine attracted—and continues to attract —the best in Ilokano writing. Bereft of support from the government, unlike that of the Tagalog language, it is not surprising that the editors of the magazine found themselves also as the arbiters of what is right or wrong in the Ilokano language. The Ilokano nation is as diverse as its many dialects and the editors of the Bannawag have to see it also that the language used in the magazine can be understood by the majority of the Ilokanos or by their perceived readers. This is one of the reasons staff members of the magazine, since its inception, have always come from different Ilokano-speaking provinces.

The Bannawag then, which became a vibrant marketplace of ideas, was able to develop a better Ilokano (language) in terms of spelling and grammar than what had been used up to the middle of the 20th century. Moreso, given the fact that one of its editors (Gregorio C. Laconsay of Pangasinan) came up with an Ilokano dictionary (published in the Bannawag in its on June 2, 1969 issue up to January 13, 1975), which up to this day is being used as a guide to Ilokano spelling.

But still, all was not well with the Ilokano orthography. Although the spelling used was now better than its predecessors, there was not yet a written set of spelling rules for writers to use as a guide and this needs also be official (official in the sense that an authoritative body, like the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino--the SWP of yesteryears-- gives its imprimatur to it).

Years passed and came the time when the Department of Education (DepEd) was contemplating to implement the K-12 program where it will introduce the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE), specifically in Kindergarten, Grades 1, 2 and 3. Thus, in the Ilokanospeaking provinces, teachers will use Ilokano as the medium of instruction from Kinder to Grade 3.

Sensing that a written Ilokano orthography will be needed in the writing of textbooks, a progressive-thinking commissioner of the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino representing the Ilokano language asked the Bannawag to come up with a written Ilokano spelling guide – and the Tarabay iti Ortograpia ti Pagsasao nga Ilokano (Guide to Ilokano Orthography) was created and after a series of consultations with stakeholders, this was approved by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino in 2012. Said orthography is now the basis of the spelling of all Ilokano and reading materials issued or approved by the Department of Education. The Bannawag, with the support of its writers and all those who love the Ilokano language, takes great pride in this achievement.To Ilokanos, the approval of the Ilokano Orthography is a milestone in the development of the Ilokano language and in assuring that the language will continue to flourish inspite of the onslaught of seemingly more dominant cultures.

(Manila Bulletin, 118th Anniversary Special, February 2, 2018, page SS-38.)

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