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

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Pardo de Tavera’s El Sanscrito en la Lengua Tagalog

Without being aware of each other’s work, then, during the years that followed the publication of Pardo de Tavera’s Contribución, both he and Rizal developed a new orthographic system that each believed would be more appropriate for the present and future nature and needs of the Tagalog language and its speakers. Rizal undertook this with his translations of Schiller and Andersen, using the new orthography in his novel, and in urging his friends and family to adopt the spelling reforms. Simultaneously, Pardo de Tavera was working on his next contribution to the study of Philippine languages, one which again shows his Orientalist training. Sanskrit in the Tagalog Language [El Sanscrito en la Lengua Tagalog] was published in 1887, shortly before Rizal’s Noli me Tangere.

The body of this work consisted of a list of Tagalog words that he believed had a Sanskrit origin, with a brief explanation of the Sanskrit root and its likely transformation into Tagalog for each entry. Preceding the list of words were two introductory chapters, the first a brief history of Sanskrit and Hindu culture in the area (mostly in Java), and the second a brief explanation of the new orthography that he advocated for the Tagalog language. Relatively few of the words in the list required any spelling changes to comply with his new system, but this publication was a logical place to introduce and to advocate the new orthography. For the words which would be spelled differently under the old (Spanish) and new orthographies, Pardo de Tavera offered the new spelling in parentheses after the old spelling which would have been more readily recognized by Tagalog readers at the time. The new spelling was written “with Latin characters that correspond more accurately to the orthography of the word, according to the ancient Tagalog characters, than do the letters now used according to Spanish orthography.”52 As the Tagalog words sit side by side with their Sanskrit counterparts, the Sanskrit words Romanized according to the standard convention of the time, one can easily recognize the regularity of the Sanskrit spellings, and the regularity of the new orthography when compared to the old. Sanskrit’s own script was a syllabic one, as the ancient Tagalog script had been. Romanization of Sanskrit was a way of recording Sanskrit syllables for Europeans who were not familiar with the Sanskrit alphabet; likewise, the new Romanization of Tagalog proposed by Pardo de Tavera was a way of representing Tagalog syllables for those who were familiar with Roman letters, not the ancient Tagalog script. The comparative method of Orientalist science allowed Pardo de Tavera to see a new possibility for representing the Tagalog syllabary with the Roman alphabet, in a process that paralleled how Orientalist scholars of Sanskrit represented the Sanskrit syllabary with Roman characters. Again, the suspicions of Poblete and Tecson were, in a sense, correct: Pardo de Tavera was able to recognize the structure of Tagalog and suggest a new orthography for it, not because he studied Tagalog to the exclusion of other languages, but exactly because he studied Tagalog in comparison with foreign languages.

Serrano Laktaw’s Diccionario

Shortly after Rizal’s Noli me Tangere and Pardo de Tavera’s Sanscrito appeared, Pedro Serrano, a young schoolteacher, secured permission from the authorities in Manila to publish his Diccionario Hispano-tagalog. The first volume, Spanish-Tagalog, appeared in 1889.53 Pardo de Tavera later noted that this was the first dictionary to be published using the new orthography, and it was path-breaking in other ways as well.54 Unlike Pardo de Tavera’s Sanscrito and Rizal’s Noli me Tángere; in Serrano Laktaw’s book, whole entries of Tagalog prose appeared in the new orthography, not just single words of Tagalog. As Pardo de Tavera noted, “even the second last name of the author, that had been written in a way that is imperfect (Lactao), presented an opportunity to apply the newly-introduced two consonants that he did not let pass.”55 Indeed the book was by “Pedro Serrano Laktaw,” Serrano Lactao’s name as it was written in the new orthography.56 The work began with notices to the reader, some in Tagalog, and others in Castilian. The last notice to the reader of Castilian announced, in words very similar to those used by La España Oriental in the same year, that the author would employ the new orthography:

We hope to make a contribution to philology by adopting the orthography employed by the learned Orientalists such as the Abbé Favre, D. Manuel Troyano, Humboldt, Jacquet, Pardo de Tavera, etc., and, finally, by the M. R. P. Toribio Minguella, Agustinian Recollect, learned philologist, author of various works in Tagalog, and to whom we owe the curious and no less thorough comparative studies of Tagalog and Sanskrit. In this manner [of employing the new orthography], it is easy to distinguish the root and the affixed components of each word, writing is less complicated, and the spoken word is represented more accurately, none of which is true with the orthography which has been used until now.57

The emphasis in making the change was on the ease with which Tagalog could be read and written. There was no question of loyalty to the Spanish orthography; no sense that anything was lost by employing a new orthography. Indeed, the question of loyalty was only relevant to the Tagalog language as it was spoken: the new orthography would more faithfully represent “the spoken word” than the Spanish orthography. By simplifying the process of reading and writing, Serrano Laktaw believed that the orthography was in line with the aims of his dictionary, aims which were perhaps most clear in the dedication and the prologue of the work.

The work was dedicated to Benigno Quiroga L. Ballesteros, who served in Manila under the liberal administration as director of the Civil Administration, and to the “development of education” in the Philippines. 58 For Serrano Laktaw, it was important to develop public instruction in the Philippines, to improve students’ ability to read and write in Castilian as well as in Tagalog. The prologue to the book was written by Del Pilar y Gatmaytan (formerly Del Pilar y Gatmaitan, and more famously known for his writings in Solidaridad), who emphasized the importance of teaching Castilian to students in the Philippines. Del Pilar praised the “aspirations of the government” to teach Castilian to all schoolchildren, and he hoped that the book would “contribute to the diffusion of Castilian in this archipelago, that [being] a part of Spain, should be Spanish in its language, just as it is Spanish in its government, Spanish in its religion, in its sentiments, in its habits and in its aspirations.”59 The new orthography clearly did not in this formulation represent anything un-Spanish. Indeed, in helping students to learn to read and write their own mother tongue, it would help them to learn with more ease the national language of Castilian, which would bring them closer to peninsular Spain itself; a peninsular Spain that, for Del Pilar, Serrano Laktaw, and the rest of the young propagandists in it at the time, had more liberties and more opportunities for debate and criticism, especially of the friar orders, than did their home country.

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