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Monday, February 11, 2008

ALIBATA: The Lost Alphabet of the Philippines






Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Philippines would also have their own letters and alphabet? A writing system distinctly unique and recognizable the world over? – That would be great!

While the Thais, the Khmers, the Burmese and the Laotians kept theirs…the Vietnamese “Chữ thuần nôm”, the Malay “Jawi”, the Javanese “Kawi” and the Filipino “Alibata” was lost in the colonial era.

This struck my curiosity when I and my friends visited a museum in Manila last weekend. There was this sheet of paper written in strange symbols that look like…well -- hearts and worms and sticks. LOL. This reminds me of a Filipino friend commenting that Thai letters looks like “wiggly worms” to him. Ha! There. You got worms too, dude!

Kidding aside, I was just wondering why the Philippines did not “revive” this writing system. A country of ultra-proud people aspiring cultural identity in the likes of the great Romulo, Magsaysay and Rizal – there won’t be any greater statement than to refuse the Western alphabet in those days.

The Alibata or sometimes called Baybayin is written like our Thai alphabet in the form of Abugida system – the combination of consonants and vowels with marks (placed up or down) for variations. But, of course the Thai alphabet system is totally different. The Alibata was used as early as the 1300s until the Spanish booted it out. I was also told it was derived from the Javanese “Kawi” alphabet of Indonesia.

The Roman letters we see today on the Philippine alphabet is actually the entire English alphabet plus the Spanish “Ñ” and the Tagalog “Ng” -- So there are 28.


Our own writing system is the ultimate national identity. These are evidences that we are already sophisticated civilizations before the westerners came. Some of us were able to keep it, but some wasn’t –
- but is it too late to revive it?


****

-- Pisanu in Manila
11 Feb 2008

33 Comments:

Arzizi Ahmad said...

Whoaaah! This is wicked mate! Where did you find it? It's cool you tried to write it by yourself! COOOOL!

Arzizi Ahmad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sanne Dee said...

Intriguing! I love this new piece of information from BISEAN again. Sometimes I wish I have the potion to make me able to speak and write all languages. Too bad, I don't have any 'worms' to flaunt.

Menchu said...

ang gleng gleng mo nman tlaga pisanu. alam mo mahal na tlaga kta. i heart u.

Carrie Puyat said...

Who would expect this topic here? My hats off again to BISEAN. See you later at dinner > Prince of Jaipur, don't forget. I'll pay. lol

Jake Tornado said...

Dude...there are efforts to revive the Alibata but not enough support seems to come from the government and the civil society. Probably for the innumerable reasons we can imagine. First, the inconvenience of "re-learning" the art of writing Alibata (I call it an "art" and not a skill due to its specialized manner). Second, the inconvenience of understanding Alibata for a country so "poisoned" with American junk (y'know, 50 years under Hollywood-style form of government, Filipinos became so "yankee-minded" that learning to write exotic letter seems to threaten their newfound "social status"). But hey, I agree with you, the Alibata should be PRESERVED...as in PRESERVED. I probably would start learning it and start writing you love letters using these characters. And I will not wonder why the Spaniards did not encourage writing in Alibata during their reign from 1521 to 1898. This is simply because they are afraid that Filipinos would start conspiring to conduct a rebellion through some sort of "secret codes" such as the Alibata. I LUUUUVVVV THIS PARTICULAR POST !!! Good job!

Jake Tornado said...

Uhhh, I love Prince of Jaipur. Am I invited for dinner! LOL

Q The Conqueror said...

The University of the Philippines Seal is written in Alibata. They shout their cheer in alibata as well (U-Na-I-Ba-E-Ra-Sa-I-Da-A-Da...).

I think the main reason that Alibata wasn't made the national system of writing is because it wasn't that - National. There were different versions of Alibata for different parts of the islands while the southern part used Arabic. Its an argument going on in historian's circles here that there was no Philippines before the Spanish came - there was Cebu, Maynila, Sulu and so on, independent nations. :P Its a very lengthy debate. Hehe.

And oh yeah, Enjoy your stay here! :P I'll keep an eye out for tall Eurasians when I move about town. :)

Nam said...

Romanized alphabets have been in Vietnam since the late 17th century when the French Catholic priests first developed them. It was, however, due to ground-up nationalist movement that led to their spread among the population at large and the eventual adoption as the official Vietnamese writing in early 20th century. The adoption of Romanized characters was seen as a mean to reduce illiteracy because Chu Nom was a lot harder to learn than the Romanized form. In other word, you could say Romanized Vietnamese was a product of the colonialism but its adoption was due largely and ironically to the anti-colonialist forces which sees Romanized characters as means to lift the population out of the darkness of illiteracy, a vehicle to more effectively and quickly spreading the revolutionary causes, helping the country on the road of national liberation. For that reason and popularity of Romanized system of writing Vietnamese these days, I can not see any movement strong enough to galvanize popular support for a reversal back to the old way of writing now or any time soon in the future.

Akhyari said...

OMG, this is interesting. I don't know but is it possible it was derived from the arabic? The 3 first letters arabic are ALIF, BA, TA. In Indonesia, first learners of arabic would be called an "ALIF BA TA learners".
And hey, i've been manila, angeles city, legazpi, and i was soo amazed when they spelled numbers in tagalog. It's a hundred percent like javanese numbers in 1400 era. Or maybe some parts of philippines were under Majapahit era? That is still unknown. anyway, thanks a lot for this great post.

MischMensch said...

Wohoooo another ancient writing!

curbside_puppet said...

it should in nowise be advertised althroughout the archipelago! we were taught the alibata for a trimester during 6th grade. since our school controls its own curicullum! am not sure if other schools study the alibata as well.

but i lost my alibata knowledge already!

i hope the education department would make this as an official part of the filipino subject! this is something that the country should and must preserve!

and i hope that street signs should have alibata underneath it as well or even in lrt and mrt stations so that everyone should have an access to this marvelous filipino alphabet.

a great post pisanu! minsan lang ako humanga!

ellechic_nyc said...

I remember learning in passing about Alibata when I studied grade school in the Philippines. But I have to agree with q the conqueror in terms of it being not becoming a nationalized alphabet since it is unlikely for the country to adopt one written language when there are multiple and various languages already being used in different parts of the country way before Philippines were colonized by Spain.
However, jake tornado and curbside_puppet brought up a good point. It SHOULD BE PRESERVED. A national movement should be done to not necessarily have it as the new language (due to reasons mentioned above) but to spread awareness and knowledge about Alibata through cultural festivals and education system, especially the younger generations, (i,e, putting more emphasis on it in Philippine history class (SIBIKA - is that still how it is called? It's been ages for me).

@ Pisanu: Thanks for this entry. It's always nice to learn and re-learn one's own culture. I'm ashamed to say that I am losing some of my knowledge of Philippine history and culture, but this will motivate me to do some individual research - when I find snippets of free time in between work and school.

Brent a.k.a. yourkidatheart said...

@Jake: were you able to dine with them? (Nakakatuwang isipin na malapit lang kayo sa bahay namin.)

Woohoo!!! An Alibata, a.k.a. Baybayin, post!

Thanks to your post, Akhyari just informed us, or maybe just me, of something new! ALIF, BA, TA eh? Interesting indeed... ^_^

Enjoy your stay guys!

artur said...

lost alphabet is always the case, but is someone care about this issue over there - apart from travelers?

JOSH said...

yup, i think we should lobby that this ALIBATA should be a mandatory part of our curriculum and not just in passing like a day of discussion in our class b4.

Cheers to d Bisean and all who share thoughts here, esp my fellow pinoy bloggers. :) dats nice, alibat in Street signs. :)

eyron said...

alibata or baybayin is the alphabet of the tagalog and it is the most popular, there were different ancient alphabet. some of these are the kumintang of the batangas, the kulitan of the kapampangans and the regions in the bulacan, ilocos, visayas, bicol and pangasinan. mostly spanish priest studied their form and variations.

@akhyari, the pampanga region which comprised the entire central luzon plains in the early years are descendant of the majapahit empire and its langauage is much more related to bahasa

eyron said...

and i also have the copy of these different script. guys, if you want just email me: eyronn@msn.com

ryan jeff said...

hello, is there anybody home?

Anonymous said...

yipee!woopee!happy!... finally i'm here.i'm so glad that i was able to enter this very interesting, informative and inspiring blogsite of yours pisanu, sofia and morgan. keep it up!

Brent a.k.a. yourkidatheart said...

It's nice that there's a good, well-meaning, Anonymous for a change. Whew!

Dear authors, please let me have the pleasure to welcome Anonymous...

Welcome to bisean, Anonymous, enjoy reading as much as we do! ^_^

Anonymous said...

thanks brent! by the way you can call me nayr, just to make distinction to the other anonymous, so you will not be confused.

Brent a.k.a. yourkidatheart said...

You're welcome Nayr! Let's try to use the chatbox that you'll find on the middle left portion of this blog.
<-----------------
You'll find it very useful when other readers are online! :)

Erique Fat Owl said...

Pisanu - great post, very informative and entertaining as usual,

In Indonesia's case...
We do have tons of traditional alphabets & scripts, like the one you mentioned (kawi). HOWEVER, the reason why Indonesians would never consider re-adapting traditional writing system is because they're faced with this single question:

Which one?

Indonesia is made up of hundreds of cultures and languages. Each unique, each has its own writing systems. If you choose one of them to be the national writing system, the others will envy - while the Indonesian government's main objective is to ensure unity in our extremely diverse nation. That's why they adapt the Bahasa Indonesia, derived from the Bahasa Melayu, which has for centuries been the lingua franca of the archipelago. The Malay language is written in Jawi (which is close to Arabic script), but Indonesia refused to adapt that because it will anger other ethnic groups, who each has established writing system themselves. To remedy this situation, the Latin alphabet was chosen because it does NOT originate from Indonesia.

It's also interesting to know that students in the Sumatran provinces still have to learn the Malay Jawi script in their school curriculum (the Batak script in North Sumatra's case), and the students in the Sulawesi provinces still have to learn the Lontara script of their native Makasarese language. I'm just mentioning a few instances here. There are many, many more.

car said...

alibata has always been part of the curriculum. some people may not have remembered it because of the lack of practical uses but it has always been taught in schools.

ohmski said...

its sad that even us Filipinos dont look up to the roots. im glad you brought this up. Im practicing writing in alibata somehow. But the language has been mixed with other languages so it's a bit hard to get to it again. but this was an enlightening post.

Anonymous said...

too tame... would've been nicer to read how a Pinoy mestizo learning Alibata tastes like in bed.... hmmp!!

Steff said...

Hellooo i need someone`s helping hands?!?! maybe there is someone who could translate for me a english sentence in tagalog- alibata?

just askin..

if yes? add me on my msn messenger or send me a email on island_P4Flavour@hotmail.com


thanksss and ingatzz palagi

raissa said...

I LOVE this post. I agree Alibata must be PRESERVED! I am so interested to learn it again, though it may need some art skills which I dont have. LOL Great post! Thanks for bringing it to light. Translating is not so easy I tried it from a site I found online where the symbols are there. Its hard but I think a few lessons should do the trick.

Alexis said...

I read from a website that the Spanish itself created BAYBAYIN.

I'm a very proud Filipino and would really loved for BAYBAYIN to take the world stage again. It is an easy writing system not like Chinese but more like Katakana of Japan. You just need to learn the language and writing is like a piece of cake.

But some obstacle is that Philippine Language/Dialogue has evolve. It not only have Spanish in it but now it has English which would be really hard to write using BAYBAYIN.

But BAYBAYIN has got my vote its just up to the government to introduce it to school system.

blumage said...

How can Filipinos learn Alibata if they already have difficulty in speaking their own language? Many Filipinos can't understand deep tagalog words. Filipinos also usually tend to code switch thus speaking taglish, so learning a new alphabet will make things pretty much harder for the struggling Philippine's language. Which is already a mix of Bahasa,Spanish,Chinese and so on.....

jezy said...

...pisanu, i hav just read one of ur blog nd it really surprised me especially the MM's stand in southeast asia, and now this alibata...u had made me laugh when u said it is lyk worms..lol..just an appreciation to ur works well done..thanks..im a filipino btw..u really boost my hope that sumday my country would rise up once again..keep up the good work..i would to extend my thanks to sofia and morgan..

Renante Malinao said...

useless na para matuto ng baybayin o alibata. sana kung maraming nakapreserved na ancient books na dapat i-decode to extract important information/knowledge na nakatago lang sa mga lumang kasulatan. Bago dumating ang mga kastila, there were primitive societies sa ibat-ibang panig ng pilipinas. walang matatag na systemang pang-edukasyon at pang- kalakalan kaya madali nilang na-colonized ang mga isla. Not to learn alibata o baybayin ay di ibig sabihin ay wala tayong sariling identity, after all mas mahalaga pa rin ang pagmamahal sa ating bansang sinilangan; pagpapahalaga at pangangasiwa sa mga likas na yaman, pananaliksik at pagpapaunlad at pagpapalaganap ng mga bagong kaalaman. kung may dapat man matutunan ulit ang pinas, iyon ay walang iba kundi ang salitang espanol.

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