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Is ‘K’ a Foreign Agent? Orthography and Patriotism in the Late 19th-Century Philippines1

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Colonial Inscription: The Hispanization of Written Tagalog

Before the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines, Tagalog had its own script, as did a few of the other many languages indigenous to the Philippines. However, there was, at the end of the nineteenth century, and remains, to this day, much disagreement about how many people could read and write this script, and what kinds of texts were written with it.13 Regardless, soon after the Spanish conquest, the old script fell into disuse, because the Spanish missionary friars, eager to learn Tagalog (whether to convert souls or to be effective rulers), recorded the sounds of Tagalog in their own Roman script and according to Spanish rules of spelling and pronunciation, about which we will learn more later. We might say that written Tagalog was hispanized not only because of its script and spelling rules, but also because of its content, because for centuries, the only texts written in Tagalog were religious in nature: catechisms, prayer books, and devotional poetry, all for use by Spanish friars, local clergy, and, later, other literate (and devout) locals.14 From the arrival of the Spaniards until the 1880s, very little non-religious material was published in Tagalog.15

The 1880s saw a significant shift in the kinds of texts published in the Philippines. In part a result of the economic transformation with the rise of agricultural production for export and the accompanying transformation of its ports into centers of commerce, Spanish-language publications--particularly periodicals--flourished in Manila and a few other major centers of trade. Many of these new newspapers featured practical instructional articles, in addition to religious articles, in part because the local press was not allowed to report on overtly political events (or at least on events that the censors deemed controversial), and in part because the rising local middle class had growing access to and interest in lay knowledge such as agriculture, medicine, law, and so forth. By 1888, a few young and ambitious local newspaper writers put into practice their plans to reach an audience beyond that which could be reached only in the Spanish language, and an era of bilingual newspapers began in the Philippines.

The Bilingual Press

The Revista Católica de Filipinas (Catholic Review of the Philippines), was the first of a series of bilingual newspapers that appeared in Manila in the late 1880s and early 1890s. As its title suggests, the newspaper was primarily religious in its content, but it also carried local news and articles of general education and interest. Half a year later, in July of 1889, a new bilingual periodical appeared in Manila: the weekly Castilian-Tagalog edition of La España Oriental (Eastern Spain). It had begun life the previous October as a Castilian-language paper, published every ten days in Manila, with a very secular orientation: it was “a magazine of sciences, administration, arts, letters, and interests preferential to the Philippines.”16 By April 1889, La España Oriental had become a weekly, and its publisher encouraged a young “native,” Isabelo de los Reyes to pursue his aspirations to publish a bilingual edition, with articles both in the Spanish language and in Manila’s local native tongue, Tagalog. De los Reyes was not himself a native Tagalog speaker, but rather an Ilocano-speaking indio who wrote prolifically in Spanish.17 The first issue of the bilingual edition led with an article called “Our Aims,” which announced that with this bilingual edition of the newspaper, the publisher hoped “to transmit to the indigenous people all that which is within the reach of their intelligence and useful to their civil and political state. We will endeavor to present to them all of the governmental and administrative regulations that they need to know . . .. We will give them, in short and easy articles, readings to popularize knowledge of the arts and sciences useful for practical life, concentrating above all on agriculture, industry and commerce, likewise on advice about matters of medicine and hygiene, and on improvements to their domestic life.”18 For permission to publish this edition, the editor thanked the Spanish Governor General of the Philippines, who, he said, showed by authorizing the publication of the bilingual edition that “he has understood with the most elevated judgment the utility and necessity of its publication, so that the lights of the press pursue the intellectual cultivation of the indigenous people, just as evangelical lights pursued their religious faith.”19

This brief statement of purpose speaks volumes about the political orientation of its writer and of the periodical, and indeed would have done so for its readers. By emphasizing the need for education in “agriculture, industry and commerce . . . medicine and hygiene,” the writer advocated programs and reforms that had long been a goal of liberal Spanish civil administrations and of the emerging local business class. These reforms had taken away some of the control over education from the friar orders and more generally from the Catholic Church. Thus, the hope that “the lights of the press [would] pursue the intellectual cultivation of the indigenous people, just as evangelical lights pursued their religious faith,” suggested that the work of the Catholic Church had been achieved, and that the work of the present and future was secular education, in this case, popular education as could be achieved by a vernacular press. In the guise of a complimentary nod to the Catholic Church, then, the new paper called for the kind of education most threatening to its partisans.

Unlike the educational reforms pushed by the liberal administrations, however, this newspaper was dedicated to secular education not only in Spanish but also in Tagalog. With a Tagalog-language publication, it hoped to accomplish the popular diffusion of modern knowledge and sciences among people who could not read the articles if they only appeared in Spanish. Unlike most of the Tagalog-language publications that were available, this paper was devoted not to religion but to propagating among Tagalogs knowledge and science that would help the people advance in their “civil and political state.” At the same time, the bilingual nature of the publication— parallel columns of the same text in both Tagalog and Spanish— would provide Tagalog-speakers with lessons not only in agriculture, industry, commerce, medicine, and hygiene, but also in the Spanish language, the language of education, law, Church, and State.

Despite the fact that the paper proclaimed these politically charged goals, they elicited not a murmur of response in the local press. Instead, what was most controversial about the newspaper turned out to be something that might seem to be a detail; indeed, it was literally a footnote to the opening article, a footnote in which the writer explained to his readers how the newspaper would spell words in the Tagalog language, saying that they would “use the orthography recently introduced by . . . learned Orientalists . . . thinking [or hoping, anticipating] that it better composes and represents the words of the Tagalog language.”20 The footnote then briefly outlined the features of the new orthography.

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