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


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Spanish and Tagalog?


Why would a debate about orthography produce such strong sentiments? At the most basic level, the debate reveals just how strongly language is associated with patriotism. That is, the question for some of these writers was whether Tagalog was, in effect, a “Spanish” language. It was perfectly understood that Tagalog was not the same as Castilian, but it somehow made sense that Tagalog was nonetheless a “Spanish” language, Spanish in the sense that it was spoken by Spanish subjects, that it was spoken in Spanish territories, and that it was written with Spanish letters. Perhaps it is not so strange if we consider the status of other languages of the peninsula: Basque was putatively a Spanish language (though not the Spanish language), despite the fact that it was completely unrelated to other languages of the Peninsula; less drastically, Catalan, for instance, had its own separate traditions and literatures. Those on the other side of the debate, however, argued that Tagalog was not a Spanish language, in the sense that it was not related to Castilian linguistically, but they believed that this fact in itself bore no political threat to the threads that bound (or that were supposed to be binding) the Philippines, and Tagalogs in particular, to Spain.

More of an issue, however, was the question of the origins of the orthography itself. The detractors of the new orthography argued that it emanated from foreign, i.e. non-Spanish (German) sources, and that it was unpatriotic to abide by its (foreign) rules. The orthography was foreign both because it employed characters “foreign” to the Spanish alphabet, and because it was proposed by people who were trained in foreign academies in the “foreign” science of Orientalism. To the orthography’s detractors, the substance of the science of Orientalism was not itself particularly objectionable; what was objectionable about the science was merely that it was practiced almost exclusively by non-Spaniards. To Rizal and Pardo de Tavera, to accuse science of being “national” was absurd: it was true that some nations were ahead of others in the way that they used science, and in this respect Spain did not fare well in comparison with some of its European neighbors. This both Rizal and Pardo de Tavera made much of. But this did not mean that science “belonged” to Germany, France, or England. Science was available to all, a realm of free exchange where political boundaries held no sway, and it was just as much available for use by the Tagalogs as it was for the Spanish, German, or French. Both Pardo de Tavera and Rizal wanted to take advantage of the benefits that science had to offer for their homeland, the Philippines, for the sake of its future.

For both the advocates and the detractors of the new orthography, the Tagalog language had an important place in the development of the Philippines as a whole. As the language of Manila, Tagalog was one of the languages of the most “advanced” Philippine peoples. Whether because of chauvinism or out of sincere and disinterested admiration, Tagalogs were seen as a model of what people of the Philippines could be—the most educated of them were as educated as anyone in the world. Education, true modern education, in the Tagalog language was essential to the uplifting of the rest of the Tagalog people; and this would provide a model for the other peoples of the Philippines. In this sense, Tagalog was seen to be important for the progress of the Philippines; but Tagalog was not, and would never be, a true national language.

All of those who participated in the orthography debate argued that they were deeply loyal to Spain, but they disagreed on what kind of Spain that was: whether it was traditional or modern. At the same time, they were loyal to Tagalog and to the Philippines. These loyalties were not incommensurable, they argued; to be loyal to the Philippines was to be loyal to Spain; to be loyal to the Tagalog language was to be loyal to the Philippines and to Spain.

Curiously, however, one characteristic of the new orthography was never pursued in the debate: the new orthography “erased” Castilian from the Tagalog language. This erasure might be seen as the most politically significant feature of the orthography, the feature that would have made it a traitor to Spain and the Spanish language. Why did neither the advocates nor the detractors of the new orthography mention this feature? To answer this question, we first need to understand how the new orthography erased the Castilian from Tagalog.

Spanish in Tagalog


As with most languages, the origins of many of Tagalog’s root words can be traced to other languages. In the Tagalog that is spoken today, roots can be traced to Sanskrit, Malay, Arabic, Chinese (Fukien), English and Spanish—but the great majority of the foreign roots in Tagalog are Spanish. The Spanish words that have become part of the Tagalog language are sometimes terms that have no Tagalog equivalent (such as relo or relos for “watch,” from the Spanish reloj), but technical terms were not the only Spanish words that became Tagalog roots. Some of the most common Spanish roots in informal spoken Tagalog are hard to pick out as being “Spanish,” thanks to the eventual success of the new orthography: the Spanish ¿Cómo está? (how are you) has become kumusta; the Spanish puede (is able to) has become pwede, used both to mean “is able” and also to mean “maybe,” or “it’s possible,” in reply to a suggestion or question; the Spanish sigue (follows) has become sige, a word that pops up in almost any conversation, to mean “okay” or “go ahead.” While the Spanish roots would not have been considered by purists to be part of the Tagalog language until relatively recently, they would have entered the spoken language by the time of our story.

The bilingual periodicals used a more formal written Tagalog that would have excluded these informal words of the spoken language, so we cannot see their transformation, from the Spanish spelling to the new orthography, in the pages of La España Oriental. It is instructive, nonetheless, to look at how Spanish words were treated in the Tagalog text of that periodical. Many of the Spanish words for which there were no Tagalog equivalents were printed in italics, which had the effect of marking them as “foreign.” To take examples from the first page of the first issue, we find prensa (press), Evangelio (gospel), gobierno (government), administracion (administration), and ciencia (science). But there were other Spanish words and words of Spanish origin in the Tagalog column that were not italicized—they simply meld into the Tagalog words around them, in many cases with letters added according to rules of Tagalog grammar. These words, then, were different from the italicized Spanish words—the Tagalog writer/translator of the article wrote them fluidly into Tagalog text in a way that showed that they were already in use in the Tagalog language. To draw examples from the same page of La España Oriental, we find the following words, either Spanish or of Spanish origin, seamlessly inserted into the Tagalog text without any italic type: kastilang (meaning “Spanish­,” from the Spanish Castilla), arteng (meaning “arts,” from arte), and industria, (“industry”). The first of these examples is the most instructive: the new orthography changes Castilla to kastila. While the new orthography might have made it easier to identify the Tagalog root of a Tagalog word (to paraphrase Pardo de Tavera’s characterization of its utility), it did not make it easier to identify the Spanish root of a Tagalog word. The “k”s and “w”s masked the Spanish origins of Tagalog words.

In this sense, the new orthography was a “traitor” orthography, a traitor to Spain and to the Spanish language. The new orthography did not refuse everything that was Spanish—it accepted Spanish words, but it accepted them as Tagalog words, hiding their Spanish origin. It made it easier for Tagalog, the language that borrowed words from Castilian, to have its own vocabulary, its own terms, different from Spanish terms (in spelling, at least). It enacted a separation between the Spanish language and Tagalog, a separation that was the result of severing the very real links that had been visible in the shapes of words. Poblete and Tecson protested that the new orthography was disloyal to Spain; but they never complained about this separation. They complained that under the rules of the new orthography, the language became more like the foreign languages of German, French or English, but perhaps the bigger threat was that Tagalog became itself a language foreign to Spain—not more like German, French, or English, but just less like Spanish.

Why did Poblete and Tecson, so loyal to Spain and the Spanish-ness of the Tagalog language, not lodge this complaint? Perhaps it was their patriotism to Tagalog that kept them from doing so. To complain that Spanish words would no longer be recognizable as Spanish would, after all, require one to acknowledge that Spanish words were a necessary part of the Tagalog language—necessary because “pure” Tagalog did not express the range of terms that one would need as an educated Tagalog in the advanced and cosmopolitan city of Manila. To complain about the de-hispanization of Spanish roots would only call attention to their importance in the contemporary Tagalog language. It would only call attention to the fact that Tagalog was no longer “pure” Tagalog, and could not remain “pure” in a world of technological change and economic development. The Tagalog so loved by Poblete and Tecson was the Tagalog of Baltazar’s “Florante at Laura”—“classical” Tagalog, fit for metrical romance poetry, but not for describing the new penal code for the Philippines or the latest agricultural techniques.

The new orthography, then, offered Tagalog a way to appropriate new terms from Spanish, in a sense giving the language an ability to update itself.72 The new orthography, then, made Tagalog able to compete with Spanish as a language of progress and science. Those terms could have been and in fact were inserted into Tagalog in the old orthography, of course—remember that many Spanish words had already become incorporated into the language by the time that the first issue of La España Oriental appeared. But in changing the spelling of those words, the new orthography made them not Spanish, whereas in the old orthography they appeared more visibly as “borrowed” words.

Perhaps, then, the protestations of loyalty to Spain were exaggerated, on both sides of the debate. Those who advocated the new orthography claimed that they did so because the changes were logical (according to scientific inquiry) and practical (for education and so for advancement). These goals, they claimed, were themselves patriotic, towards both the Philippines and the mother country of Spain. But their cries of patriotism to Spain might have distracted a listener from a quieter call for patriotism towards something that was not Spain, but was local to the Philippines: a language distinct from Spanish, which was both unique to the Philippines and capable of functioning in an advanced world.

The new orthography’s critics, on the other hand, declared a different kind of loyalty to Spain: loyalty to Spanish ways of recording the sound of speech, and loyalty to letters used in the Spanish language over those used by other European languages. But behind those protestations one might have found a loyalty to the Tagalog language that required one not to acknowledge the contributions that Spanish made to it. In fact, then, loyalty to Tagalog might not have been so commensurate with a loyalty to Spain and to things Spanish.

In a sense, then, the two sides were closer to each other than they might have appeared, but not because both sides were deeply patriotic vis-à-vis Spain. The fact that each side could position themselves as the representatives of patriotism toward Spain might be one way that we can understand the different visions of Spain that were competing for power, both in the Peninsula and in the Islands. Poblete and Tecson could employ the xenophobic rhetoric that reflected the hostility of some elements in Spain towards philosophies and religions that other countries represented. At the same time, Rizal, Del Pilar, and Serrano Laktaw could advocate a reform with separatist overtones, but could characterize their reform as being in support of the programs advocated by a liberal Spanish civil administration. These competing “patriotic” displays were possible in an environment where Spanish loyalties were themselves divided. In this case, an argument was enacted on two levels. On one level, the argument displayed the differences in patriotic sentiment among Spaniards themselves—and on this level, there was nothing un-Spanish about the argument. It could be carried on in the public pages of the press, under the censor’s nose. One another level, an argument was taking place about the nature of the Tagalog language, an argument among Tagalog-speakers, not for the benefit of Spain, but for the benefit of Tagalogs. That argument was filibustero, or subversive—but it took place at a level of suggestion that the censors could not touch. In this sense, Spain produced her own Tagalog subversives.

The patriotism espoused by those who would reform the Tagalog orthography was a patriotism first towards an international, universal human progress in which they believed Tagalogs, and others from the Philippines, could and should participate. They could participate as Tagalogs, as Filipinos, and as members of a Spanish nation, but to do so they could, should, and would need to use knowledge with origins outside of both the Philippines and Spain. At the same time, whether they intended it or not, the effect of their proposals, or the implementation of that extra-Spanish knowledge, was to make less visible the linguistic ties that bound the Philippines to Spain. The severing of these ties was completed under American administration, when the English language became far more widely used than Spanish ever was.

Spelling controversies have not subsided in the post-colonial Philippines, but they have taken a different form, in part because the states and would-be states in competition have shifted. In the late nineteenth-century, the Spanish state competed with a nascent Philippine state, or perhaps just the idea of one. In the contemporary Philippines, the Catholic- and Tagalog-dominated, Manila-centric Republic competes with nascent political identities in its contested regions; the highlands and in Muslim areas. Interestingly, perhaps, for us, is the integration of non-Tagalog languages into the “Filipino” national language. Filipino was, ostensibly, a compromise between different indigenous languages of the Philippines, but Visayan—the language with the most native speakers—lost out to Tagalog—the language native to the area around Manila—as the basis for that language. However it is not Visayan, but highland languages which have posed challenges to the “national” orthography of Filipino. Filipino, or, what was until recently technically speaking “Pilipino,” was based on languages (like Tagalog) which had no indigenous f sound; thus “Filipino” becomes “Pilipino.” But in some highland languages, less closely related to lowland languages, the f sound is indigenous. Thus in contemporary debates, the question of “Filipino” versus “Pilipino” is not one primarily between the Spanish- or, later, English-associated f sound against the challenge of the indigenous p; rather, it became a challenge of the relatively disenfranchised f sound against the tyranny of the lowland p. In an interesting twist, the letter once identified with the oppressor has become identified with the oppressed, and so that which was a symbol of the exclusive now has become inclusive.73

Works Cited:
Anderson, Benedict R. O'G. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. Rev. ed. London: Verso.

———. 1998. The Spectre of Comparisons: Nationalism, Southeast Asia, and the World. London: Verso.

Bello, Andrés. 1890. Principios de la ortología y métrica de la lengua castellana. In Obras completas. Madrid: M. Tello.

Bello, Andrés, and Ivan Jaksic. 1997. Selected Writings of Andrés Bello. Translated by F. M. López-Morillas. Edited by J. Franco, Library of Latin America. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Billig, Michael. 1995. Banal Nationalism. London: Sage Publications.

del Pilar y Gatmaytan, Marcelo H. 1889. Prólogo. In Diccionario Hispano-tagálog. Manila: Estab. tipográfico "La Opinion" a cárgo de G. Bautista.

Guentcheva, Rossitza. 1999. Symbolic Geography of Language: Orthographic Debates in Bulgaria (1880s-Today). Language and Communication 19 (4):355-371.

Hegel, G. W. F. 1975. Lectures on the Philosophy of World History: Introduction. Translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Herder, Johann Gottfried. 2002. This Too a Philosophy of History for the Formation of Humanity. In Johann Gottfried von Herder: Philosophical Writings, edited by M. N. Forster. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Original edition, 1774.

Hindî Alemán (pseudonym). 1889. Un Parentesis á la ortografía del idioma tagalo. Revista Católica de Filipinas, July 28, 50.

Humboldt, Wilhelm. 1988. On Language: The Diversity of Human Language-Structure and Its Infuence on the Mental Development of Mankind. Translated by P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Lumbera, Bienvenido L. 1986. Tagalog Poetry 1570-1898: Tradition and Influences in its Development. Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Nuestros Propósitos. 1889. La España Oriental, July 4, 1-3.

Olender, Maurice. 1992. The languages of Paradise: race, religion,and philology in the nineteenth century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Ottenheimer, Harriet Joseph. 2001. Spelling Shinzwani: Dictionary Construction and Orthographic Choice in the Comoro Islands. Written Language and Literacy 4 (1):15-29.

Pardo de Tavera, Trinidad Hermangildo. 1884. Contribution para el Estudio de los Antiguos Alfabetos Filipinos. Losana: Imprenta de Juanin Hermanos.

———. 1887. El Sanscrito en la Lengua Tagalog. Paris: Imprimerie de la Faculté de Médicine, A. Davy.

———. 1994. Biblioteca Filipina ó sea Catálogo Razonado de Todos los Impresos, tanto Insulares como Extranjeros, relativos á la Historia, la Etnografía, la Lingüistica, la Botánica, la Fauna, la Flora, la Geología, la Hidrografía, la Geografía, la Legislación, etc., de las Islas Filipinas, de Joló y Marianas. In Bibliography of the Philippine Islands. Manila: National Historical Institute. Original edition, Published under the direction of the Library of Congress and the Bureau of Insular Affairs, War Department. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1903.

Poblete, Pascual. 1889. Un Tercero en Discordia. Revista Católica de Filipinas, July 28, 52.

Rafael, Vicente. 1988. Contracting Colonialism: Translation and Christian Conversion in Tagalog Society under Early Spanish Rule. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———. 1999. Translation and Revenge: Castilian and the Origins of Nationalism in the Philippines. Budhi:85-106.

Rizal, José. 1890. Al Excmo. Señor Don Vicente Barrantes. La Solidaridad, February 15, 30-33.

———. 1890. Sobre la Nueva Ortografía de la Lengua Tagalog (Carta á mis paisanos). La Solidaridad, April 15, 88-92.

———. 1930. Epistolario Rizalino. Edited by T. M. Kalaw. Vol. 1, Documentos de la Biblioteca Nacional de Filipinas. Manila: Bureau of Printing.

———. 1931. Epistolario Rizalino. Edited by T. M. Kalaw. Vol. 2, Documentos de la Biblioteca Nacional de Filipinas. Manila: Bureau of Printing.

———. 1958. Noli me Tángere: Novela Tagala. Quezon City: R. Martínez & Sons.

———. 1961. Escritos Varios por José Rizal, segunda parte. Edited by C. N. d. C. d. J. Rizal. Vol. VIII, Escritos de José Rizal. Manila: Comisión Nacional del Centenario de José Rizal.

Rizal, José, and Ferdinand Blumentritt. 1961. The Rizal-Blumentritt Correspondence. Translated by E. Alonza. Vol. 2 Part 1, Publications of the Jose Rizal National Centennial Commission. Manila: José Rizal National Centennial Commission.

Schieffelin, Bambi B., and Rachelle Charlier Doucet. 1994. The "Real" Hatian Creole: ideology, metalinguistics, and orthographic choice. American Ethnologist 21 (1):176-200.

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Schwab, Raymond. 1984. The Oriental Renaissance: Europe's Rediscovery of India and the East, 1680-1880. Translated by G. P.-B. a. V. Reinking. New York: Columbia University Press.

Serrano Laktaw, Pedro. 1889. Diccionario Hispano-tagalog. Vol. 1. Manila: Estab. tipográfico "La Opinión" á cargo de G. Bautista.

Sueltos y Noticias. 1889. Revista Católica de Filipinas, August 18, 110.

Tam, Yue-him. 1990. Meiji Japan and the educational and language reforms in late Ch'ing China. In The ambivalence of nationalism: modern Japan between East and West, edited by J. W. White, M. Umegaki and T. R. H. Havents. Lanham, New York: UP of America.

Tecson y Santiago, P. 1889. Erratas garrafales de La España Oriental. Revista Católica de Filipinas, September 15, 170.

———. 1889. Ortografía del Idioma Tagalog. Revista Católica de Filipinas, July 14, 17.

Velleman, Barry L. 2002. Linguistic anti-academicism and Hispanic community. In The Battle over Spanish between 1800 and 2000: Language Ideologies and Hispanic Intellectuals, edited by J. del Valle and L. Gabriel-Stheeman. London and New York: Routledge.

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1 I owe so many people thanks for their help with this research and writing that I can not possibly thank them all here; the biggest debt is clearly to Benedict Anderson, both for sparking my interest in this era of Philippine history more generally, and for being a challenging, helpful reader of an earlier version of the text. All the errors this version must still contain are of course my own.

2 (Humboldt 1988)

3 See for example (Herder 2002; Schlegel 2001; Hegel 1975). For explanation and interpretation, see (Olender 1992; Schwab 1984).

4 (Humboldt 1988)

5 (Humboldt 1988)

6 This formulation is inspired by the much richer accounts of the representation of nationalism in chapter 10 of (Anderson 1991), and (Billig 1995)

7 (Woolard 1998)

8 (Velleman 2002; Bello and Jaksic 1997; Bello 1890)

9 (Schieffelin and Charlier Doucet 1994)

10 e.g. in (Guentcheva 1999)

11 For example, in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century China, reformers advocated a new orthographic system based on Japanese kana as part of a movement to implement popular education. See (Tam 1990) Compare with the efforts to develop a new Romanized orthography for Shinzwani documented in (Ottenheimer 2001)

12 (Anderson 1998; Rafael 1999)

13 (Lumbera 1986)

14 See (Rafael 1988) for the definitive account of the translation of Spanish Catholicism into Philippine languages; Rafael shows us that in many ways fact Tagalog was not made Spanish, but instead the Catholic religion was made Tagalog. A very concise account of the Spanish codification of native languages of the Philippines, in the context of an article about nationalism among the propagandists, see Rafael’s newer piece, (Rafael 1999)

15 The two most important exceptions are Baltazar’s Florante at Laura and the Diariong Tagalog.

16 The banner reads, “La España Oriental. Revista de Ciencias, Administración, Artes, Letras é Intereses preferentes de Filipinas.”

17 De los Reyes certainly would have known Tagalog, though he never published any significant works that he had written in that language himself—if a Tagalog version appeared, it was with credit given to a translator.

18 “Nuestros propósitos [son]. . . trasmitir al pueblo indígena todo aquello que esté al alcance de su inteligencia y en las conveniencias de su estado civil y político. Procurarémos ponerles al tanto de todas las disposiciones gubernativas y administrativas que necesiten conocer. . . . Darémos en cortos artículos fáciles lecciones para popularizar el conocimiento de las ciencias y artes útiles á la vida práctica, fijándonos sobre todo en la agricultura, industria y comercio, asi como en consejos de medicina é higiene y perfeccionamientos en su vida doméstica.” (Nuestros Propósitos 1889)

19 “ha comprendido con elevadísimo criterio la utilidad y necesidad de su publicación, para que alcancen las luces de la prensa al cultivo intelectual del pueblo indígena, como alcanzaron para su fé religiosa las luces evangélicas.” (Nuestros Propósitos 1889)

20 “Usaremos de la ortografía modernamente introducida por los sábios orientalistas . . . por creer que se componen y se representan mejor así las palabras del dialecto tagálog [Aming gágamitin ang bagong ortografía nang pahám na mañgá Orientalista . . . sa pagasang itô ang lalong mabuting paraan nang pagsulat nang wíkang tagalog.] [sic]” (Nuestros Propósitos 1889) I give the Spanish version first and the Tagalog version in brackets afterwards. Anyone familiar with Tagalog might consider how similar this “new” orthography is to the contemporary language. When the two versions differ, my English translations derive primarily from the Spanish version.

21 In Spanish, when a verb ending changes to indicate tense or person, at times the preceding consonant changes, with “c” becoming “qu” or “z,” to preserve the hard or soft sound, respectively. For example, “busca” (s/he looks for), with a hard “c” sound, becomes “busque” in the subjunctive, and “cocemos” (we cook), with a soft “c” sound in the middle of the word, becomes “cozamos.”

22 Other changes included introducing the “w,” about which we will hear more later.

23 “No obstante; si nuestros lectores creen más inteligible ó conveniente la otra ortografía, estamos dispuestos á complacerles. [Gayon man,
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