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OTHER WORKS BY THE AUTHOR
Dance Weirdly, My Love
Aswang
The War Years


 
OUR BUHI LANGUAGE
by Benjamin A. Claveria
 
DON'T be scared away by the title of this piece. This is not something highbrow. This is not about linguistics. This was written for laymen, by a layman, from a layman's point of view. So, please read on.

On February 20, 1996 my brother, Basting (the district supervisor, not the Alatco/Philtranco officer, not the doctor, and definitely not the judge for that's me), phoned me that a team from the UP Department of Lingustics had come to his house to interview his wife, Judith, about her book, Boinen, Tao ag Sasabyen. But, of course, she was no longer available for an interview. St. Peter had called her to join his select group six years before. So Basting had suggested to the team that they interview me instead. They should have interviewed Basting himself, but he passed the buck to me.

I went over to his house and met Prof. Ricardo Nolasco and his two assistants. They told me that they were engaged in a long-term project of preparing a dictionary of Philippine languages, some 400 of them. In their research on Buhinon, they had come across Judith's book at the Philippine National Library.

The team asked me a lot of question about Buhinon. Then they recorded my reading of Buhinon words and phrases, clauses and sentences. They also asked me to sing a song in Buhinon. Unwilling to admit that we sing songs in Naga or standard Bikol but not in Buhinon, I sang for them "Balsamina", improvising the Buhinon lyrics then and there. They also asked me if I was willing to give them future help. Some months later Prof. Nolasco came back to Buhi and gave me the drafts of the letters "A" and "B" portions of the Buhinon dictionary they were preparing as well as a long list of Buhinon sentences for editing.

I know of three previous attempts to compile a Buhinon dictionary or vocabulary: the one by Prof. Yusihiro Yamada, the one by Dr. Dominga Jacome-Portugal, and the one by Judith Noble-Claveria. The work of Yamada, a Japanese, appears to have been based mainly on information furnished by Valerio Yaguel, a native of Buhi like Mening Portugal and Judith.

When Judith was writing her book, I had helped her as a sort of consultant and editor. So, it is not surprising that in her "Acknowledgements," my name appears first' and on the cover of the copy she had written, "To my favorite brother-in-law, who is a lawyer but not a liar." (Thank you again, Judith. May you rest in peace! I hope I had really earned that nice compliment and will continue to deserve it. I must protest, however, against the implication of dishonesty of lawyers in general, although I must admit that some of us often try to justify our actuation in the legal battles we fight with that old saw, whose validity I have always doubted, that all is fair in love and war).

Undoubtedly, publishing a truly comprehensive Buhinon dictionary would be expensive, time-consuming and difficult. Prof. Nolasco told me that they had a modest sum for the purpose. He mentioned an amount which I realized at once was inadequate. And, although I usually work fast and thought that I could finish editing the materials he had sent me in a day or two, it actually took me more that a week of eye-straining work

The first problem in preparing a Buhinon dictionary is how to write the language. Buhinon contains what has been called "exotic" sounds which cannot be written phonetically with the characters of the ordinary alphabet. As a Buhinon, I do not quite understand why they are called exotic. They may be exotic to others but, surely, not to us Buhinons.

I'am not a language expert. I have never taken a formal course in linguistics. However, in my opinion (in law we say only experts are entitled to give opinion testimony), I think Buhinon can and should be written without inventing new characters to be added to the ordinary alphabet for the purpose of representing the so-called exotic sounds. It has been proposed, for example that an inverted "e" represent the schwa or neutral vowel sound be used. But if this sound is represented in Eglish words by ordinary vowels, why can we not do the same in writing Buhinon?

As a pupil in the first school organized by the Americans in Buhi, my mother, then already a fluent reader of Bikol and Spanish, was asked by her teacher, a U.S. Army soldier to read the words leaf and leaves. She read them aloud le-af, le-a-ves.

Camilo Osias, first Filipino division superintendents of schools and author of 'The Philippine Readers' series, the textbooks in reading we used in the intermediate grades, would open his speeches by subtly reminding his audiences to vote for him as senator because his books had helped them to learn to read. He would tell them that the best way to begin a story is with words "once upon a time." There he would relate how his father-in-law once tried to read a story in one of his books by saying aloud, "on-se u-pon a ti-me." Both my mother and Osias' father-in-law had not yet learned that English words are not always pronounced the way they are written.

On page 10-G of the September 25, 1996 issue of Newsweek, Martin Trafoier pointed out, in defense of the present way of writing German against those who advocate changes such that words would be read the way they are written, that in English the word fish could also be written as gothi: gh in laugh, o to sound like the o in women, ti to sound like the ti in inflation.

Some languages are highly phonetic, you pronounce the words the way they are written as in Spanish, Italian and Latin. Some are not -- like English, German and French. Why can Buhinon not belong to the second group?

The advantages of using the ordinary alphabet in writing Buhinon are obvious. One would not need a special kind of typewriter or word processor. One need not leave spaces for "exotic" sounds to be later filled in by hand, when he is using an ordinary machine. Therefore, it is possible to write Buhinon using only the characters in the ordinary alphabet, and I contend that it is feasible, we should do so.

For those who insist that a Buhinon dictionary be written such that the user would be able to pronounce the words correctly, there is a simple solution. As in many dictionaries, the main entry for each word should be written the ordinary way, followed by the correct pronounciation in parentheses, using additional characters to indicate "exotic" sounds if desired.

However, according to the old saw, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, So, to prove my contention that Buhinon can be written with the ordinary alphabet, I have written down the following one dozen songs in Buhinon using this old Underwood that I have used for so many years. I am confident that anybody who knows Buhinon will meet no difficulty in reading these Buhinon songs. But for the sake of those who may not know Buhinon well enough, each song is set down first in Naga or standard Bikol, second in English, and the third in Buhinon, and I have numbered the stanzas.


 

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