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.


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