Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Why until now Filipino spelling and alphabet remain imperfect

Basically, I found no standard rule on what vowel to use when spelling a Tagalog word. Why some prefer o and other choose u, and why i is used while others put e instead. What I only know is that some publications set a vowel preference in their stylebook, and yet again the stylebooks are not the same from one publication to another and they made variations and revisions from time to time. 

Tagalog orthography actually and more often used o and u interchangeably and it continues to evolve even to these days. Even the Filipino alphabet   could not settle yet until now on what letters to include and exclude. We are still using the “most pretentious alphabet ever made in this world.” But wait, contemporary Pinoy dictionaries now started to drop NG and fused it under N. A UP cultural dictionary has entries that followed the pattern of English alphabet. It has entries with letters that you cannot find yet until now in Filipino alphabet. Have we not realized that there are consonants that we do write and read every day in our lives that are still inexistent in Philippine alphabet. 

Have you noticed recently that most Pinoy dictionaries now have “K” that is no longer after “B” (as in A B K D - abakada)? It is moved next to “I”.  Is there still no need for us to overhaul and create a modern Pinoy alphabet?  Well, we cannot ignore that our National Hero’s name is Dr. Jose P. Rizal and that our national language is Filipino.  What crime do you commit if you replace J with H (to make Jose a Hose) and Z with S (so we can have Rizal as Risal)? Legally, the answer is that you commit no crime, but sarcastically you can be guilty of murdering the name of our National hero. If you insist that you are a Pilipino, your declaration could be a violation to our constitution (Hence, unconstitutional blah-blah-blah) for it had been declared literally in the Preamble of the Philippine Constitution that we are the sovereign Filipino people, and our language is also called Filipino. Yes, with letter F that you cannot find until now in our very own alphabet. Do we really  have to follow strictly the alphabet that our educational institutions and school mentors obliged us to recite? Go around and look around and you will find that street names are spelled with letters you cannot find in our Abakada alphabet. There are more: family names (check the names of Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino officers and the names of the Presidents of the Republic of the Philippines), food names, plant names, name of cities, names of planets (e.g. Venus, Jupiter), book names and peculiar names of places and people in the Bible, computer lingo, etc.). Why not overhaul the Filipino alphabet and stop pretending that we can spell all words with Abakada.  It was a long due that we have to include C, F, J, Q, V, X, Z in our alphabet. Shall we not remove NG and move K next to J now? I suppose that Ñ should be included also as replacement to Ng. We are not living, writing, and communicating in the past anymore. If you call it preservation of Filipino literature and culture, don't worry, we can hang the Abakada on the wall of the Philippine National Museum for all to see the history of our own alphabet.

In my blogs, I once wrote that this was the same dilemma encountered by John U. Wolf when he compiled his Cebuano dictionary. He obviously and seriously got confused on how to spell Cebuano words using our alphabet that he was obliged to put  kumbinsiyun  as an entry  for “convention”, and Lawril for Laurel that refers to Pres. Jose P. Laurel), San Huwan Bawtista for San Juan Bautista, and more… Cebuanos found the entries awkward and unacceptable. Wolf also used “u” heavily in his dictionary that he seemed forgot that “o” do exist in our alphabet.  Wolf’s unintended misspelling reminds me of some Tagalog words spelled with u even if the word has a soft o-sounding word. It flashes back my childhood memories of reading the old printed prayer books in our altar and some religious reading pamphlets sold nearby and around Quiapo church in Manila and other old churches across the country. I could vividly recall the balloons (dialog) of my old favorite Tagalog and Cebuano comic magazines that used letter “u” heavily.  Here comes the latest in the list I just found in the Philippine Daily Inquirer's front page: "The Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) launched its 73-page “Patnubay sa Weder Forkasting.”  Can you spot the unfamiliar words and how they are spelt. Don't ask anybody from Pag-asa, they already admitted that our weathermen were confused by the terms translated by KWF for them.

news clipping from http://newsinfo.inquirer.net

The evolution of Pinoy spelling these past few decades had some publications (newspapers, tabloids, vernacular magazines, etc.) started using o in place of u and among them is the way they spell inom (drink), another notable spelling I observed is when they adopted to spell balut for balot (boiled fertilized duck egg) for o that turned into u. The changing of vowels eventually stirred the norm on how to spell correctly the Tagalog words.  Our spelling even got worse when other literary writers and publications decided to spell words based on how we stress the five vowels (a-e-i-o-u) and match it on how we pronounce the vernacular words. The more popular contemporary publications (newspapers, book publishers, literary writers, etc.) tried to standardize by claiming that their stylebook should served as the standard. That’s why we have now irregular Tagalog words that for no reasons or lack of explanations decided to change vowels across tenses and conjugations.  

In my recent and first food dictionary project with ANVIL, my proof readers called my attention to look over if I made a mistake of using inum for inom and vice versa. Well, the answer is really a mind boggling for me to explain. To make things easy for me, I settled to agree the trend of using u and o in the dictionaries of Prof Almario and Fr. English to help set the standard of Tagalog spelling.  But for now, I had a reservation as to whether or not to include inum as an alternative for Tagalog inom in my PFCDD. I need much time to dig this spelling confusion.


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Author of Philippine Food, Cooking, and Dining Dictionary. A lexicographer since the age of 14.  Filipino Linguist. Blogger with 11 blog sites. Researcher of food culture, pop culture, places, structures, transportations, churches and whatever interest him about the Philippines. Visual artist. Photographer. Traveler who had been to all four corners of the Philippine archipelago, and still setting more footprints. 

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