The Philippines has been a colonized country way back in 1521 under the Spanish Empire led by the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan until the Philippine Revolution in 1898. After which Spanish – American war took place and the U.S took possession of the Philippines prompting again another war, the Philippine – American war from 1899 to 1902. This year, the Philippines will celebrate its 122 years of independence.
Baybayin: The Native Script
Before Filipinos learned Spanish and other dialects, Filipino ancestors had an alphabet of their own. From the Tagalog term meaning “alphabet”, it is recorded to have been existed since the 16th century. Baybayin is more of a syllabary, it comes from the root word “Baybay” which means “to spell”. Some dubbed it as “Alibata” which is according to Paul Rodriguez Versoza came from the arrangement of the Arabic alphabet: alif, ba, ta, eliminating the letter “f“. He is a member of the old National Language Institute and also the person behind the alibata name. However, due to the inaccuracy and illegitimacy of evidence, it never materialized.
There are early Spanish accounts stating that baybayin is also called Tagalog letters or Tagalog writings. Visayan natives called it Moro writing. Many writing systems in Southeast Asia originated from the ancient scripts used in India about 2,000 years ago, and baybayin shares the same important features. Despite its spread in the Philippines around the 1500s, it began to decline in the 1600s. Some say due to practicality, others noted social expediency. However, in some parts of the country, it was never lost or forgotten, instead, it developed into distinct styles spoken by other natives.
Today, baybayin is taught in schools and some millennials are keen on learning it. For someone like me who is new to these ancient scripts, and despite my age, it piqued my interest. After learning a little of the Japanese scripts – Hiragana, Katakana, and Kanji, I find the baybayin almost similar to it including other scripts like Arabic. Take note though that I didn’t learn how to write Arabic and I badly needed a refresher from Japanese because I forgot as of this writing. And I have a not-so-good personal memory about the time I am learning the Japanese scripts (so, please bear with me).
Learning baybayin is fun, I felt the Filipino pride somewhere in my heart. However, while it is fun learning it, I had a hard time with some letters since it doesn’t have an equivalent in baybayin. Some English words especially consonants don’t have a Baybayin equivalent. I have to transfer it to Tagalog in order to write its Baybayin scripts.
The Baybayin Vowels
Similar to the vowels in the English alphabet, the English alphabet consists of vowels such as a, e, i, o, u, in the baybayin scripts the vowels, however, are a, u/o, and i/e. However, to make an accurate sound, you have to put kudlit marks. An abugida is a method of writing in baybayin. The vowels along with kudlit marks work together to emphasize the sound. If the kudlit mark is placed above the letter, the a changes to i or e sound. While when placing the kudlit mark below the letter, it will sound like o or u.
The Baybayin Consonants
Similar to the Japanese Hiragana and Katakana, baybayin has consonants: ba, ka, da, ga, ha, la, ma, na, nga, pa, ta, wa, ya. Almost like in Japanese or other alphabets, it is written to how it sounded.
The difficulty when writing consonants in Baybayin scripts is when the consonants has no vowels. Generally, those letters are omitted. But there is also a way how to write it. Based in Doctrina Christiana of 1593, the oldest surviving example of baybayin and similar to Japanese script, consonants can be separated by inserting a vowel in between and usually, it’s the same vowel that follows the consonant pair.
The Non-Baybayin Scripts
Similar to Kanji in Japanese, there are also some baybayin scripts that doesn’t have a direct equivalent. These letters are substituted as b for letter v, p for letter f, k or s for letter c as few of the examples.
This language of ours is like any other,“To My Fellow Children”,
it once had an alphabet and its own letters
that vanished as though a tempest had set upon
a boat on a lake in a time now long gone.
attributed to Jose Rizal, 1869
English translation by P. Morrow
Learning something new especially when it has to do something with your country’s tradition and rich history is fun and exciting. I got to write my name in baybayin.
You can use this link to generate your baybayin name.
Did you learn something? Do you see the similarity of Baybayin from other foreign alphabets? Tell us in the comments section below.