Design

This App Will Teach You How to Write in Ancient Filipino Script

Kulitan, or Súlat Kapampángan, is the indigenous Kapampangan script that has survived since the 1300s.
IMAGE Keith Liam Manaloto
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Learn Kulitan is a mobile application developed by proud Kapampangan and University of the Philippines Los Banos graduate Keith Liam Manaloto. According to Manaloto, he developed the app for the purpose of raising awareness about and accessibility to the ancient Kapampangan writing system.

“I think the root cause of its low usage is that a lot of people don't know that it exists,” said Manaloto. “Whenever I tell people that there exist several scripts in our country aside from Baybayin, they are often surprised and curious.”

Contrary to popular belief, Baybayin is not the only indigenous script of pre-colonial Filipinos. In fact, there are hundreds of languages and writing systems that exist in the Philippines, each unique to a certain ethnolinguistic group. In Pampanga, where they speak Kapampangan, the indigenous script of their pre-colonial society was called Kulitan.

Photo by Keith Liam Manaloto.
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Photo by Keith Liam Manaloto.

Manaloto’s app has two main functions: to teach you how to read and write in Kulitan. As an abugida or alphasyllabary, each Kulitan glyph represents a consonant-vowel pair that can be altered with a diacritical mark to change the vowel sound. This is similar to how Baybayin glyphs are formed. However, unlike Baybayin (and more like Japanese Kanji and Chinese Hanzi characters), Kulitan is written from top to bottom, right to left—the only Filipino script to do so. Apparently, this is meant to symbolize how the sun rises in the east and sets in the west.

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Aside from teaching you to recognize and write each Kulitan glyph, the app also has a feature that lets you transcribe Kapampangan written in Romanized text into Kulitan script, and vice versa. The transcribe feature also has a Kulitan keyboard where you can swipe certain keys up or down to add diacritical marks to the glyphs.

But language can’t exist without context, which Manaloto addresses by providing users with a history on Kulitan as well as a detailed guide on how to use the script, with the help of historian and philosopher Siuálâ ding Meángûbié.

Photo by Keith Liam Manaloto.
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Photo by Keith Liam Manaloto.

In the grander scheme of things, Kulitan hopes to remind people of the diversity of our cultural identity. In an effort to “unite” the people, Filipino (which is really just Tagalog) has been used as the national language since 1937, disappointing many of the non-Tagalog communities across the country. The move from the House of Representatives to make Baybayin the national writing system also neglects to recognize the various other ancient scripts of the Philippines, like Surat Mangyan (Mindoro), Kulitan (Pampanga), and Suwat Bisaya (Visayas).

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“It might also give people the idea that Baybayin is special, when in fact all of the scripts in the Philippines are equally special, and others even need attention because their usage is alarmingly declining,” said Manaloto. “I hope they would revise [the bill] and consider all of our indigenous scripts!”

Complicated and reflective of a culturally rich society, Kulitan has survived hundreds of years despite attempts to phase out the writing system by Spanish colonizers. And Manaloto hopes that it will survive for hundreds of years more.

“I plan to continue developing more apps and fonts, hoping that I would inspire other people throughout the process,” said Manaloto. “Imagine the future where street signs, billboards, mall directories, and newspapers are written in Kulitan and everyone is well-educated on reading and writing the script.” 

Manaloto is also working to submit a Unicode proposal that will support the Kulitan script, which would allow users to type on a Kulitan keyboard and change their phone's language script to Kulitan.

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The Kulitan Handwriting font is also available online for free. 

You can download the Learn Kulitan app on Google Play.

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Anri Ichimura
Staff Writer, Esquire Philippines
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