Time to study Ilokano lessons

Published 9:07 pm Monday, August 17, 2015

By Chris Quilpa

As summer is winding down and school is just around the corner, let’s keep on learning and empowering ourselves.

Young or old, it’s never too late to learn. Amidst rapid changes in technology and perspectives, there’s always that desire to catch up, learn new ideas and gain knowledge and skills.

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If you’re like me — always curious of anything under the sun — I have something to tell you.

I was born and raised in the Ilocos Region of the Philippines, on the island of Luzon, so I consider myself an Ilokano, a native of the northern Philippines. Ilokano is my first language.

My second language is Tagalog or Filipino; my third is English; fourth is Spanish. All these languages I learned in school, except Ilokano. Oddly, I never was taught the formal or proper way of using Ilokano, the lingua franca of the northern Philippines.

Filipino and English, both widely used in schools, academia, business, media and politics, are the two official languages in the country.

Like others, who came to the United States from other countries and eventually became naturalized U.S. citizens, I was never taught my mother tongue formally, and I never knew what’s the correct or proper way to use it. I just figured it out, back then, learning from reading Ilokano magazines, like Bannawag.

Unlike Tagalog or Filipino, English and Spanish, which were taught in schools, Ilokano was never a part of the school curriculum.

Though widely spoken by millions in the Philippines, Hawaii, California and other parts of the world, the Ilokano language was left behind. It was only a couple of years ago that Ilokano and other major languages in the Philippines found their place in elementary schools because of Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education bill in the Philippines.

For decades, the University of Hawaii at Manoa has been teaching Ilokano to undergraduate students. In fact, it’s the first and only university in the world to offer Bachelor of Arts in Ilokano.

This change comes thanks to Aurelio Solver Agcaoili, a prolific writer and lexicographer and currently associate professor and coordinator of U.H. at Manoa’s Ilokano Language and Literature Program. Likewise, due to the efforts of Dr. Agcaoili and his colleagues at Nakem Conferences, Ilokano is now taught in first through third grade in the northern Philippines.

One summer day, when my young adult daughter, now studying to be a school counselor, asked me something about Ilokano grammar, I felt so ashamed and ignorant. I couldn’t answer her question. I thought I was fluent at Ilokano. Man, I was wrong!

I now want to learn — or relearn — my native language. Why? Because I want to be able to say I’m fluent in Ilokano. Language defines who we are as a people. We can’t deny our identity and language is part of our identity.

Octavio Paz (Lozano), a Mexican poet-diplomat and 1990 Nobel Prize winner in literature, once said that language is what makes us human, and “for every language that becomes extinct, an image of man disappears.”

I think I’ll do my part in keeping Ilokano alive by going back to my new Ilokano grammar book now.

Chris A. Quilpa, a retired U.S. Navy veteran, lives in Suffolk. Email him at chris.a.quilpa@gmail.com.