Language Change in the Cordillera

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013


THERE are terminologies that past generations use that we no longer hear, or seldom if ever heard, in the present age band.

This was one of the main points that have interested me in a paper presented by a classmate, Ms. Jacqueline Gumangan at the Benguet State University graduate school regarding Kan-kanaey as spoken in Kayan, Tadian, Mountain Province. What has most drawn my attention was the presentation of those terminologies to back up the assertion as lifted from translations made by Kayan community elders of some Biblical text, prayer service guide, and Catholic prayers used in a Basic Ecclesial Community. Let me re-present some of these words for this column (in the following format -terminology used in the past/equivalent terminology commonly heard now (English meaning)): Manpuot/mansaludsod (to ask); initba/insungbat (replied); alluban/asawa (spouse); sang-adom/ed kasin (in the olden times); inibbeng/binaynay-an (forsaken); iyawad/idaton (offer); maipananam-os/maparparigat (oppressed); itutuyo/ibabawi (remorse); indundun/inbaa (sent); nakwas/nalpas (finished); napgangak/makain-inumak (I thirst).

The list is of course longer in her presentation, and she contends that more could possibly be documented.

This scenario of outdated words, if it can be referred to as such, is certainly not just of the Kayan Kankanaey among the languages in the Cordillera. Probably true to all. In my own native Ifugao language, there are words that are more commonly used today in substitute to what can be said as an older terminology. I would say older as the newer word may have been borrowed from other languages such as Ilocano. Listed below are some examples (arranged in the following format – Ifugao terminology commonly used at the present/ a more authentic Ifugao terminology (English meaning).)
Kumkumutti/um-umiddal (moving); sakit/dogo (illness); simmongbat/tinumbal (replied); niigid/nipingngit (on the side or edge); ipadas/ipatna (try); naimas/mapolhat (delicious); masukatan/mapallogan (to be changed); bahul/liwat (sin); nasabaliyan/nalumanan (changed); pinya/gaga’ad (pineapple).

Apparently, there is change happening in the languages. And of course, there is more to it than simply the replacement of commonplace terminologies in a current generation as compared to past generations. There are instances when change is synonymous to loss. Loss of words is for various reasons. One is economic. For instance, in my native tongue, balkog, dukkun, ihhai and pihhita – 1,5,10 and 20 centavos respectively, are seldom used for obvious reasons).

Another is technological advancement. Again, in the Ifugao language, muntalanu (cock’s crow), mun-abi-a (daybreak), munawiwi’it (early morning), nunggawa (sun is up), nawod (sun is high), naiwil (just after high noon), nalimuy algo (sun has set), munhinag (twilight) are now seldom heard in every conversation because of more precise way of telling time such from a watch and the mobile phone. The most dispiriting part though of losing words, or in general the language is when the opportunity of learning does not exist or is missed. Example, many including myself do not know the species of trees indigenous to Cordillera forests nor the weeds and flowers that simply sprout along the everyday path.

Also, the ethnic names of tools and wares are not popular to the present generation. Yet, the indigenous flora and fauna, ethnic tools and wares are part of the traditional knowledge of a people.

Experts say that language change is a natural phenomenon. Yet it should concern us because it is the medium by which indigenous knowledge and identity as a people is transmitted from one generation to the other. Lawrence Reid in his paper entitled “Who are the Indigenous?” published in the Cordillera Review: Journal of Philippine Culture and Society dated March 2009 (accessible from www2.hawaii.edu) said that it is “disheartening” when the “unique richness” of a language is endangered.

The Kan-kanaey language, the Ifugao language, or the other Cordilleran language that we speak today certainly will no longer be the same language that will be spoken tomorrow. The point is, they should still be known as Kan-kanaey, Ifugao or whatever name they known today. That is, their uniqueness should be preserved. One author said, the Old English evolved into what is now known as New English but we knew that there was Old English because we still read literature written in that language today(also read as the Old English is still relevant because it is preserved even if it evolved). In the same way, the our language can be known New Kan-kanaey, New Ifugao, etc. in the future but people then will know our words today because writings have them.

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 22, 2013.

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