Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Senior Citizens & the Endangered Isinay Language (Part 4)

The Birds Are Singing Again

IN CASE YOU want to know what I get in return for my stepping into such virgin territory for foresters as language activism, here’s what I can say for now:
Each word find makes me and my interviewees/informants happy. This, because the resurfaced words almost always trigger stories, often long forgotten, in the memory of the senior Isinays, in particular those nearing their expiry dates, so to speak.
The words keep us connected not only as a people but also to the Isinays now long gone.
I’m particularly excited with the Isinay names and local uses, as well as the habitats, associated traditions, tales and folk beliefs, and status of flora and fauna. Nawala na yung iba, but it is still thrilling to listen to the elders wax romantic and sentimental over those good old days when there were still plenty of eyaw (kalaw), labban (hawk) and tariktik, and when laman (venison, deer meat) and karnen si bavuy si eyas (wild pork) were still common table fare in Isinay homes.
Rain or shine, conversations with the Isinay elders make them young, especially if you do it in a way that takes them out of their current predicaments such as arthritic legs, tubercular lungs, uncommunicative OFW children, or whatever worries or weakens them in the twilight of their years, and even their cobwebbed memories – and bring them back to their comfort zones when, say, they could still hike from town to the ricefield to mameyun (bring lunch to husband in the farm), manlipit (catch stone goby with bare fingers), mama-u (gather edible fern), mamasikul (collect bisukol), etc..
Thus, in a way, my word-collecting sessions and forays with them give me the feeling that no matter how light, no matter how brief, I was able to lift their spirits and give them something to break the monotony of their sunset years.
The Forest Factor

IF MY COLLEAGUES in the forestry profession would think my expanded interest as a forester would seduce me to divorce my forestry concerns and then move to the linguistics territory, I beg to disagree, your honor. You see, my word-hunting has opened not only welcoming doors to the hearts and homes of my townmates and fellow Isinays, but also new ideas for forest-related projects that I would plan to pursue once the dictionary has seen the light of day.
For example, a hearing-impaired Isinay farmer once showed me his guvas (woodlot) where a huge pagsahingin tree that we call antong in Isinay (anteng in Ilocano) has several wildlings. All along I thought the tree has gone extinct in Dupax — all felled and hauled down by carabao power to moneyed people who prefer the tree’s resinous wood  for fuel. My idea is to put up a small nursery for the propagation and raising of this species in my patch of land in the upstream part of town.
A concerned young Isinay, a priest and son of the late Forester Rogelio Felix of DENR Nueva Vizcaya, has suggested that to encourage school children to love  their Isinay language and culture, a summer camp in the former area of the Dupax Subsidiary Nursery may be effective. He believes that my being a forester would be very helpful, especially if we teach the kids basic biology, including identification of trees, birds, insects, leaf shapes and colors, etc. in Isinay.
I’m also thinking of hiring one of these days two farmer cum hunter Isinays to help me do an inventory of birds in the forest fragments and other wooded patches of Dupax. One is an expert not only on the Isinay and Ilocano names of birds, the other is an expert in where to find them, which season they would be found, and what trees/plants they feed on.

As for my partnership with other language activists, I would encourage the idea of extending their documentation and revitalization activities to other IP communities such as the Ilongots, formerly a forest-dwelling tribe feared in the 1950s-1960s for their headhunting practice in the wilderness areas in upstream Dupax.
So you see, I’m not leaving forestry. I’m only initializing a virgin territory that other “thinking outside the box” foresters may wish to explore sooner or later.
And while we're at it, I’d like to add that this growing problem of vanishing languages also opens new opportunities not only for linguistics-inclined forest researchers but also those who are at home with nursery, watershed, restoration, and biodiversity conservation work.
How and why? In my reading up on the language loss phenomenon, I found out that advocates of language revitalization can use as template what we do in forest protection, forest restoration, watershed rehabilitation, biodiversity conservation, and weeding out invasive alien species as technique for cleansing the endangered language’s vocabulary of alien words.

Other Trails to Take

ON A MORE personal level, my new passion has made me feel a better person than I used to be recently. Because of it, I’m not only now a forester but also a blogger, word hunter, and soon a dictionary maker.

In a little while, I shall also try my mettle in  using the internet as partner in furthering the Isinay cause, in coming out with a webpage, in writing books for teaching children to speak Isinay, in convincing others to help keep the Isinay alive.
It’s definitely a task full of challenges. But I love the word-hunting part and the way it makes my heart flutter. It refreshes my memories, makes me connect the dots and find the missing links in certain whys and wherefores pertaining to the culture, the economy, and the natural resources of Isinay country.
Early on, it has made me re-appreciate the wonders of morning walks, evening strolls, and long-distance hikes. It gave new reason for me to revisit my boyhood barrio, to talk with people I only had nodding acquaintances before, to renew my kinship with distant relatives and family friends, and to rejuvenate the recollections of Isinays much older than me.
Lastly (even as this one needs more contemplation) it makes me wish that all I got to do is live in Dupax again and have all the time to do the things that Isinays did when I was young -- and to share stories with the old folks all day and all night...
Yes, very much like what is depicted by the artwork below made for Isinay Bird by my fellow senior citizen and retired nature artist of the UPLB College of Forestry, Dante N. Pecson of Agno, Pangasinan. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Senior Citizens & the Endangered Isinay Language (Part 3)

A Word-Hunting Forester

WE MAY THUS consider my initiation into the world of dictionary-making as nipeyar (providential, guhit ng palad). As a forester the closest to the world of dictionary-making that I got into was polishing the glossaries of forestry technical reports and checking the operational-definition-of-terms sections of MS and PhD theses passed on to me for editing.  

Neyir porat esep uwar an mileleman si pangapyat diksyonaryo. (It was never in my mind to meddle in making a dictionary.) And considering that a dictionary is vital in the revitalization of Isinay, I must admit I didn’t have an inkling either that my professional and personal interests in forest conservation would be expanded to include language conservation. 
I don’t know who spilled the beans but, in a manner of speaking, I barely warmed my seat as a word hunter when somehow news got around that there is this native son of Dupax who is a UP Forestry graduate now living in Baguio, and who is making the rounds of elderly Isinays asking the genuine Isinay words for this and that, so that they could be included in the making of an Isinay dictionary.

Consequently, in December 2010, this forester was invited as guest speaker -- using pure Isinay -- in the first anniversary of Bona^ si Isinay (Lahing Isinay), an SEC-registered organization aimed at working on revitalizing the weakening Isinay language in Dupax.

The group got interested in the dictionary that I was working on, and soon a number of its members made it a habit to go to my mother and volunteer words they remembered from somewhere.
Whereas before I was only on nodding acquaintances with many of the senior Isinays of my hometown, this time whenever I go home and I would meet them after Sunday mass we would all go animated in front of the church noisily exchanging jokes and moribund words -- like rain-drenched frogs -- using a merry mix of unadulterated and contemporary Isinay.

Four of my Isinay language and culture consultants among the senior citizens of Dupax del Sur, Nueva Vizcaya.   Upper photo: Uwa Encing Ranjo-Castañeda and Uwa Deusdedit Campo-Marquez.
 Lower photo: Uwa Josefina Daggao and Auntie Leoncia Castillo-Seupon.
I wonder if it was pure coincidence or if my mother has taken the cue. But each time I go home to Dupax nowadays, there is always an occasion for my mother to convene her fellow senior ladies. It could be a prayer to commemorate the death anniversary of a relative, an afternoon merienda to celebrate somebody’s birthday, or a wedding anniversary.  

It is during these gatherings that I get to add some more words to my collection, and to check with them what this word or that one that I saw mentioned by a friend in Facebook means, and to please use it in a sentence.  Recently, I got invited to join the lunch MWF meetings of the Senior Citizens Association of Dupax del Sur (SCADS) whenever I am in town.
It would certainly be these same senior ladies (bavaket) who I would consult later when I do the cross-checking, validation, definition, and “use in a sentence” stages of the Isinay dictionary I'm working on.

Thrills and Surprises

IT'S NOT an easy task, this one on compiling words, checking and cross-checking them with authoritative speakers, cataloguing them, and later putting them out as a neatly packaged dictionary. But it has given me and continues to shower me with countless thrills and surprises.

Let’s set aside for a while that the dictionary project that I have embraced as my component share in the Isinay revitalization movement of Dupax, Bambang, and Aritao (the three Isinay towns of Nueva Vizcaya) has made me a better person. What excites me is that it is now emerging to be a serendipity angel.
It has not only given me reason to have deeper appreciation this time for my native tongue and Isinay roots but also to be in love again with my birthplace and boyhood playgrounds.
It has endeared me with the darauway (elderly) Isinays and in the process opened to me the idea of documenting certain heretofore little known bits of history and culture, as well as forest use, among my Isinay ancestors. Three instances:
  1.  Among the lalahay (old men) I have met is Romy Tamba who still remembers the names of the trees and birds that, prior to the coming of commercial loggers, used to abound in the forests of Dupax. As a former driver of a logging truck for the logging concession that tapped the dipterocarp-rich forests of Dupax, he also knows the names of mountains and rivers as well as the history of the sawmills and logging companies that opened up the sylvan areas of our town to exploitation.
  2.  There is also a bi-al (senior lady) who recalls that her father used to gather beeswax and dye material from the nearby forests of Dupax to be used in processing the raw materials for her mother’s pan-ave (cloth weaving) livelihood. This same lady (Leoncia Castillo-Seupon), who I later learned to be my distant aunt, also mentioned how the uwes (blanket) and indong (G-string) that her mother Felipa Mayangat wove were treasured by well-to-do Igorots, particularly those in Bokod, Benguet. 
  3. Then there is this former hunter and nursery worker (Isio^ Luma^nga) who had a fascinating story about how the reputedly biggest forest fire to happen in Dupax started. Lasting for "duwan ehaw, duwan lavi" (two days, two nights), it was intentionally set, he said, by a fellow forest nursery worker to get even with the abubbulih (giant red ants) that bit his gulir (buttocks) when he went to move his bowels among the tinder-dry giyun (cogon grass).

My word collection alone has also opened my senses to certain realities in Isinay country, particularly why Isinay is on the brink of extinction.
One reality is illustrated by the fact that a number of genuinely Isinay words are already alien to the current generation of Isinays. Let me cite three examples:

  • The Isinay for flood is datong, but this has now been replaced by the Ilocano layus. 
  • The Isinay for rainbow is tavungeyon, but even adult Isinays today now use reynbo. 
  • The Isinay for effeminate males is binavayi, but the pervasive influence of TV has replaced it to bakla.

Speaking of TV, this modern gadget has indeed become not only a bad influence among the younger generations of Isinays (and, I guess, in other indigenous languages and cultures as well); it has also lured kids to use Manila Tagalog and to shy away from using the native language.

Moreover, because of TV, children in Isinay land no longer play outdoors, and so they don’t know the Isinay for the following:
  • Fullmoon  (tallivong) --  Isinay kids are not interested to sing songs associated to it anymore, preferring instead to watch telenovelas.
  • Dragonfly (atittino^) -- Isinay kids are no longer thrilled at catching one by the tail nor can they even distinguish this insect from the cicada (duluriyaw). 
  • Beans (gayya^) -- Isinay kids don’t join their elders in tending the vegetable garden anymore; instead of the legume veggie beans, they know Mr. Bean.

In re-training my tongue and verbal faculties to go the Isinay way again, I also recalled certain things that are no longer used or their Isinay names already unknown to local folks. Their obsolescence was simply because the raw materials for making such objects as well as the sources (mostly forests) of those raw materials are already gone.

A classic example is be-ang (sagapa in Ilocano). This is a circular kitchen item made of split rattan and used to keep an earthen cooking pot from tilting or rolling off the table. It is also used as a headgear for women to stabilize the big banga carried on their head when they go to fetch water from the well. You don’t see this gadget anymore because there are no more sources of awwoy (rattan) to make them with. 



Senior Citizens & the Endangered Isinay Language (Part 2)

A Life-Changing Dream
HELPING produce an Isinay dictionary, I soon realized, is certainly a good trail for me to blaze en route to making up for my decades of absence from Dupax. Besides, I told the Doubting Thomas in me, what better way to atone for the sins of omission I may have made as an Isinay than giving back to my birthplace all the ropes I learned in the fields of research, writing, editing, photography, layouting, and book production?
Illustration made in 2013 by DANTE N. PECSON
It didn’t take long then before this Isinay-dictionary dream became a priority in my daily ruminations. Among the images that played in my mind's eye were a number of editions and formats for the dictionary. One would be Isinay-English. Another would be English-Isinay. And a possible spinoff would be a primer on Isinay for children, non-Isinays, and foreigners or non-Isinays married to residents of Aritao, Bambang, and Dupax.
Part of the dream is to get help from linguists and other language experts to put up a standard orthography for the Isinay language. This would probably help put to rest this issue on the Spanish-influenced way of writing (examples: the use of J instead of the modern H; the use of O instead of W as last letter for such words as "ehaw"; the use of Y instead of I in such words as "ina" and "ira^mi") that admittedly intimidates Isinay youths to read and write Isinay but which elder Isinays have been accustomed to and would naturally find hard to upgrade. 
To compare and contrast Isinay with other related and/or neighboring Philippine languages (and cultures), I also envision as a final project the publication of a multilingual dictionary that would contain the Ilocano, Kankanaey, Ibaloy, Ifugao, Kalanguya, Pangasinan, and Tagalog equivalents of Isinay words. 
At first I thought I would be a lone ranger in this dictionary dream. But it would perhaps interest readers of this blog to know that, apart from the enthusiasm shown in Facebook by Isinays working/living overseas, certain ripples of interest have come from the academe, notably UP Baguio and UP Diliman, largely due to the efforts of the Oxford-educated anthropologist Analyn Salvador-Amores.
In the meantime, the project has not only made me a hunter/miner/stalker/eavesdropper/investigator for Isinay words; in many ways it has also reformatted my lifestyle. 
For instance, each time I watch TV and a word that catches my attention is mentioned, I would crack my brain for its Isinay equivalent. While reading and I would come across a picturesque phrase or a quotable quote, I would try to translate it into Isinay.
I even attempted to make Isinay versions of the song “Bahay Kubo”, Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees,” and the Pambansang Awit ng Pilipinas.
Even if away from Dupax, I found ways to collect more words. I Googled the terms Isinay, Isinai, Insinay, and Inmeas in the hope that the Internet would give me documents of yesteryears that used Isinay in its un-Ilocanized, un-Tagalized, un-Hispanized form. Luckily, I found two Spanish-era items, one of which is the Catecismo de la Doctrina Cristiana en la Lengua Isinay which curiously carried the Isinay subtitle “Dasal Ynimeas.”
Even when I am in the CR or when feeding my cats and dogs, I would jog my memories of Isinay conversations I had with my Isinay playmates, or the animated exchanges in pure Isinay I heard between my father and uncle. I would pasture my mind’s eye back to my grade school days when Isinay was still the lingua franca among pupils and teachers.
In this recollection of words, I found the cellphone to be a reliable assistant. Today I take it with me when my wife and I would go to market, and I keep it under my pillow during bed time so that I won’t have to get up and write when suddenly remembered words come like unexpected rain on a summer day.
Of course, in the middle of the night, when I make pindut-pindot to catch the easy-to-forget words, the wife would hear the clicking sound of my cp’s keys and say:“Sino ba yang seksing textmate mo at kitikiteks ka nang kitikiteks diyan?”
The cellphone was and is a convenient tool each time I would get stuck or not sure with the meaning, synonym, antonym, pronunciation, or English /Ilocano/Tagalog equivalent of certain Isinay words, vice versa. I would text or call my more Isinay-proficient mother, sisters or cousins, and -- presto -- in a matter of minutes some more verified entries would be added to my list.
As if on cue, one of my sisters earlier stumbled on the idea of playing a paramihan game among themselves or with me, via texting. My Ilocana mother (who was forced to learn Isinay because her in-laws did not speak any other language except Isinay) served as our arbiter.
Examples of the categories we competed on -- and which increased our collective vocabulary -- were place names in Isinay, family names that are truly Isinay, vegetables, parts of the body, toys played by Isinay kids, and minor injuries in Isinay.
From a few dozens, the words on my list soon became hundreds, and the hundreds became thousands. I would put all my word discoveries in my computer not only to make alphabetizing and writing definitions and sample sentences easier, but also to be able to have a quick count of how many words I have already collected. 
My latest computer-aided count has come up to more than 22,000 and still many more words are coming.


Sunday, February 2, 2014

Senior Citizens & the Endangered Isinay Language (Part 1)

This illustration of senior citizens was done by DANTE N. PECSON of Agno, Pangasinan.

Confessions of an Accidental Word Collector

IF YOU COULD do just one more good thing before your inevitable date of expiry as a human being comes, what would it be?
Don’t look now, friend, but I have two  ̶  planting indigenous trees and saving an indigenous language from extinction.
Seemingly unrelated concerns, these. But they are what I have been trying to pour my heart and soul on  ̶  oh well, these past several months for the former and since 2008 for the latter.
They are the reasons why I could not often click “like” to the “selfies” and other postings of friends on Facebook. And probably they would one of these days be good reasons to take a few days off from baby-sitting my first grandchild.
This advocacy on indigenous trees (such as pagsahingin, kabuyaw, dalayap, duhat, arosip, balimbing, and bignay) is familiar territory to many of my fellow foresters. But this thing about saving a language in distress is certainly virgin territory to a great majority of those in my line of work.  
Well, to be blunt about it, I didn’t exactly go out looking for one uncharted territory to explore.
What happened was this:
In October 2007, while on a bus from Cubao to Baguio -- and fresh from almost two weeks of sleepless nights putting the finishing touches to the completion report of a World Bank-assisted project that sought, among other things, to pump-prime some 120 LGUs in the Bicol, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas, and Caraga regions to be managers of their forest and marine resources -- I almost followed fellow middle-aged foresters who got assigned, as it were, to “the great forests up there.”
As it developed, however, I’m still here.
While recuperating in the Baguio Medical Center, the images of my hometown and my farm-bound townmates were part, so to speak, of my well-wishers.
They seemed to be saying: “Hey, look, you almost worked yourself to death for the benefit of people you don’t even know... You had projects to improve local governance and natural resources in Bicol, the Visayas, and Mindanao. Pero ang bayan mo, di mo man lang mabisita, di mo man lang mawisikan ng kahit ano.”
To cut the story, my pricked conscience made me resolve to visit my hometown as soon as I got strong enough.
And sure enough, my townmates (mostly elderly Isinays) who were able to recognize this Prodigal Son were only too happy to see me again. Parang movie ni Fernando Poe Jr. -- "Ang Pagbabalik ng Lawin."
Not only that. When I had regained dependable use of my heart and limbs, para akong nakawalang baka. I immediately visited my childhood barrio, climbed the hills I used to play on as a boy, and took repeated dips in the river where my barrio playmates (a number of them already gone) and I learned how to catch fish, play with carabaos, identify local flora and fauna, and to swim.
Before I knew it, I was setting foot on carabao trails, wooded nooks, muddy fields, and mountain streams in the outskirts of town many of which had been integral parts of my childhood but which I only took for granted half a century ago. One little exploration led to another…  and another... and another... Pretty soon, friends and relatives who I got reacquainted with came to think I already pulled out my stakes somewhere and moved back to Dupax.
By way of preparation, right after getting out of the hospital and thinking of what to do when I went to my hometown, I rehearsed my Isinay, the better, I thought, to get closer to my townmates when I got home.
Along with doing muni-muni on what possible projects I could possibly suggest to the Municipal Mayor and his Sangguniang Bayan to look into, I imagined myself living full-time in Isinay country once again, using the same sing-song tone of making statements in Isinay, complete with the correct pronunciation of circumflexed words and expletives in Isinay.
From nouns, I moved on to adjectives, verbs, common expressions, curse words, and interjections. Also synonyms, antonyms, colloquialisms, contractions, syncopations, borrowings, and corruptions.
And then eureka!  ̶  it hit me that my native language has no dictionary to be proud of yet. How about spending part of my sunset years coming up with a dictionary in Isinay?
Right there and then, I vowed to myself to make one.
So that’s how I stumbled into this territory that as far as I know no other Filipino forester has yet explored, much less claimed a stake.