Opinion

Unpopular Opinion: Baybayin Should Not Become a National Writing System

We do not need Baybayin to affirm that what we speak, write, or read is Filipino.
ILLUSTRATOR War Espejo
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When Manila Mayor Isko Moreno unveiled the new Lagusnilad Underpass, people were amazed to see Baybayin inscriptions on one of the entrances of the tunnel. 

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Currently, groups are pushing for Baybayin to become the Philippines’ national writing system. A quick search for “Baybayin” on Facebook reveals dozens of pages promoting the script, with one aptly named Baybayin Philippine National Writing System.  

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In one of the comments on social media, someone pointed out "Baybayin merely serves aesthetic purposes" because so few can understand the script. The comment received so much criticism that it was deleted. 

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But the comment has some merit that needs to be substantiated.  

Also Read: Spanish Words You Thought Were Filipino

What is Baybayin? 

Baybayin is a system of writing in the Philippines. The original Baybayin consisted of 17 symbols that represent 14 consonants (katinig) and 3 vowels (patinig). Below are the original Baybayin symbols used by precolonial Filipinos.

Baybayin Chart

Photo by Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino.
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When the Spaniards arrived in the Philippines in the 1500s, they found the Tagalog people were 100 percent literate. Baybayin was widely used at the time, so the Spaniards decided to study it and use it to communicate with the Indios. 

In 1593, the first book published in the Philippines, Doctrina Cristiana, was printed in both Spanish and Baybayin. 

Also Read: 5 English Words Inspired by the Filipino Language

Why We Should Reject Baybayin Philippine National Writing System

Baybayin should not become a national writing system because it defeats the purpose of language. Here are some reasons why. 

Primacy of Spoken Language 

Linguists recognize that spoken language has primacy over written language. The primacy of spoken language means whatever we learned to write, we first learned how to say, not the other way around. 

But because Baybayin has a very limited set of letters or characters, users will have to learn new ways to write words that already have their own spelling in the alphabet. 

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For example, Baybayin does not distinguish between the vowels o / u, and a / e, and you can see how this becomes problematic. Here is one example of how a simple sentence is distorted in Baybayin because of its lack of a symbol for the letter R (people use D as a substitute for R).

Photo by Mario Alvaro Limos.
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Also Read: Filipino Words With No English Equivalent

Going back to Baybayin is retrogression, not progression, of the Filipino language because so many new elements have been incorporated into Filipino.

Baybayin lacks the letter R, a crucial letter in the modern Filipino alphabet. Although it also lacks the letters F, C, Q, V, and Z, these are easily replaced with pa, ka, ba, and sa in Baybayin. 

Should we then sacrifice spoken language to accommodate an ancient system of writing?

Jose Rizal on Baybayin

Photo by WIKIMEDIA COMMONS.
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No less than Jose Rizal recognized the deficiencies of Baybayin in his Estudios Sobre La Lengua Tagala (Studies on the Tagalog Language) which was posthumously published in 1899.

In Estudios, Rizal recommended reforming the Tagalog orthography by embracing what he thought was a more efficient and flexible writing system: the Alphabet. 

Among the most crucial reforms he suggested were the use of the five vowels and 15 consonants, which became the basis for Lope K. SantosAbakada published in 1940. Here, the letter R was finally included. Distinctions were made between the vowels A and E and O and U. This brought the total letters in the Filipino alphabet to 20. 

Also Read: Dignified Filipino Words That Need to Make a Comeback

But orthographers were not satisfied with Rizal and Santos’ work, especially since the Filipino language, like most languages, had heavily borrowed foreign words. They also recognized that the Filipino language was rich in vocabulary that uses the letters C, F, J, Ñ, Q, V, X, and Z. That's why we use the current modern Filipino alphabet with 28 letters. 

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Modern Filipino Alhabet

It is also not true the Filipino language has no indigenous words that use these letters. Here are great examples: 

  • alifuffug (Itawes) tornado
  • safot (Ibaloy) spider’s web
  • falendag (Tiruray) a flute with a leaf on the mouthpiece
  • feyu (Kalinga) pipe made of a type of grass called tambo
  • jambangán (Tausug) plants
  • masjid (Tausug, Mëranaw from Arabic) a place of worship for Muslims
  • julúp (Tausug) bad behavior
  • avid (Ivatan) beauty
  • vakul (Ivatan) headgear made of grass, used to protect against rain and the sun’s heat
  • kuvat (Ibaloy) war
  • vuyu (Ibanag) meteor
  • vulan (Itawes) moon
  • kazzing (Itawes) goat
  • zigattu (Ibanag) east

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Source: Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino Manwal sa Masinop na Pagsulat

Going back to the primacy of spoken language, these words are written this way because that’s how their speakers pronounce them. 

It will be difficult to write these words in Baybayin while preserving their original orthography and pronunciation.

Baybayin Is Not the Only Indigenous Writing System in the Philippines

If we should promote Baybayin, we should also promote with equal vigor the Basahan of the Bicolanos, the Badlit of the Visayans, the Kurdita of the Ilocanos, the Kulitan of the Kapampangans, the Hanunuo and Buhid scripts of the Mangyans, the Tagbanua script of the Tagbanuas, and the Jawi of the Tausugs. 

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Baybayin was only used in the Tagalog-speaking regions during precolonial times until it was replaced by the Spaniards with the Roman alphabet. Why must we nationalize it?

Why are we pushing for a Baybayin Philippine National Writing System? 

We have to ask ourselves, why are we pushing for Baybayin to become the Philippine national writing system? 

In 2013, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino stated that Filipino orthography should be guided by the patient study of history to gain a sense of the traditions that shaped today’s systems of writing. 

But it also stressed that orthography should be flexible and easy to use

It is a novel idea to revive the use of Baybayin and even teach it as a system of writing in schools. Nothing is wrong with this, or with our current national writing system.

From a linguist’s point of view, we should also be proud of the current modern Filipino alphabet, which has stood the test of time, and most important, of globalization. 

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The fact that Filipino words are making waves globally, albeit with a tinge of controversy (Barkada, Filipinx), is a good sign that our Filipino alphabet and language is flexible, efficient, and easy to use. 

We do not need to look for a national indigenous script to affirm that what we speak, write, or read is Filipino.

Also Read: Leave the Filipinx Kids Alone

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Mario Alvaro Limos
Features Editor, Esquire Philippines
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