So You Think You Know Baybayin!?

02 Dec


Hmmm, we’ll just see about that.  From the very first time I put pen to paper writing all of these squiggly characters I’ve often asked, how the hell am I gonna transliterate this name?  There’s gotta be a way I can get a closer and literal translation.  How do I do this? Should I use a Spanish modification or not?  If you have tried to write in Baybayin, you’ve asked the same questions.  Yes you have quit lying!

Most people have either seen or heard of a Baybayin manual titled “BAYBAYIN: The Ancient Script of the Philippines A Concise Manual” authored by Bayani Mendoza De Leon.  This title happens to be 1 of 2 reference materials I have related to Baybayin.  I’m certain that most if not all Baybayin fans, artists, practitioners own a copy.  Go get one if you don’t!  While this manual does refer to the fundamentals of Baybayin briefly, the author proposes to modernize the Baybayin and introduces new characters to keep pace with our evolving world.  Great idea? Sure, why not?

Previous attempts have been made to modify/modernize Baybayin.  Most notably in the “Doctrina Christiana” published in 1620, by Fr. Francisco Lopez.  Ah, yes, the infamous Spanish modification of a native writing system to help convert “indios”. Great idea? Nice try but…

From Hector Santos’ “A Philippine Leaf”

An excerpt from Pedro Andrés de Castro, in his 1776 manuscript Ortografía y reglas de la Lengua tagalog, explains what happened:

“The experts of the time were consulted, we read in the Tagalog orthography, about this new invention with the request that they adopt and use it in writing for the convenience of everybody. But after highly praising it and expressing their thanks, they decided that it cannot be introduced into their writing system because it was against the intrinsic nature and character given the Tagalog language by God and it would be equivalent to destroying in one stroke the whole syntax, prosody and orthography of their language. They expressed, however, that it was not their intention to slight the Spanish gentleman and that they would do what they were told especially when writing Spanish words in their Tagalog characters.”

Moving forward, there is another book  I would love to get my hands on but has eluded me for a long time.  The book is titled “Aklat sanayan ng abakadang Rizaleo” authored by Marius V Diaz .  This book also challenges the fundamentals of traditional Baybayin by yet another attempt at modernization.  Great idea?  Honestly, in my opinion, this attempt is a good candidate.

I can’t quote anything from this book because I don’t have a copy, yet.  However, I was given a Xerox copy of several pages from this particular book in 1997.  I know there’s a copy of this book in Stockton, Ca.  It was given to me by some real cool folks that stopped by my table.  I’ve managed to scan these pages and converted them to pdf and jpeg.  I now share them with you.

As you can see, the author also proposes additional Baybayin characters, but unlike Bayani’s characters, these look really good and flows very well alongside the traditional characters.  What’s most important to look at are the “kudlits/dipthongs”, the marks that change the sound of a particular character.  The author introduces kudlit’s that reflect soft syllables, and they aren’t obtrusive to the character sets.  This version of a modern Baybayin is worthy of consideration in my opinion.

We are all aware, hopefully, that the Filipino language is comprised of hard syllables with guttural stops, ie: maganda=magan dah, malakas=mala kahs etc.  A writing system reflects the spoken language and this is what is called the “orthography” of a language…look it up on Wiki.  Literal transliterations using traditional Baybayin, to reflect sounds that are not native to the Filipino language is a daunting task.  Easy enough if it’s a Filipino word but first names and last names are a PITA.  Can you guess what most folks want transliterated into Baybayin?

There are ways to get around some of these requests and almost always will result in a loose transliteration.  But hey, it’s the connection that matters right?  Not for some folks, they want it closer.  Hell, I’ve even been asked to write their “hawaiian’ name in Baybayin o_0, and have overheard that Baybayin was janky because their names couldn’t be transliterated properly.  Baybayin and janky in the same sentence is pretty fucked up.

Modifying, modernizing the Baybayin is a debated issue between some writers.  Some don’t see a problem with using the Spanish modification by placing a + sign under a character to cancel out a vowel, but some do.  It is both right and wrong at the same time, depending on who you are…yeah, it’s vague. I am a traditional practitioner that has evolved, I use a “killing stroke/cancelation” variation by placing a kudlit above and below the character.  I didn’t make it up, I saw it someplace and had an “error 404” episode.

Does that mean I condone the use of cancellation kudlits?  Yes, to some extent, but I will not bastardize the writing system just because of an individuals ignorance.  If anything, I hate seeing transliterations that are blatantly wrong because either the writer or the person wearing the script just didn’t take the time to research and ask questions.  There is no “system restore” for this mishap.

I would love to hold an open forum to discuss and debate the current use of the Baybayin. There can be an exchange of ideas or even define a common ground on a set of rules to abide by.  Some of you academics or pseudo intellectuals that happen to read this, I’m sure will want to chime in on this.  Rather than challenge myself or other artists, why not work with me and others like me. Why does the Baybayin have to stay non functional?  It’s functional for me as an artist and for those who want to keep the tradition moving.  I think it’s time for a change in how the Baybayin is both viewed and used.

So what do we do?  It’s important that people continue to educate themselves about Baybayin, it’s history and the fundamental basics of traditional writing.  As you have seen for yourself, this writing system is quite dynamic when dealing with non native sounds.  As for me, I will continue to educate and use traditional Baybayin with a few tweaks here and there.  Now…how the hell should I write DEVERA and RIVERA and make them distinct from one another if you have to substitute the “R” with a Da character…??? o_0


Posted by on December 2, 2009 in Artfully Speaking...kind of


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

11 responses to “So You Think You Know Baybayin!?

  1. BathalaProject

    December 2, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    For some reason I can’t see the comment I replied with, so I just added a snippet of your post on my website alongside with my own comment:

  2. Robert Eaglestone

    February 25, 2010 at 8:40 am

    Thanks for inserting the scanned pages… I think that a *minimally intrusive, *organic, *usable, and *ingenious extension to Baybayin is **the key** to any improvement and its adoption, superior to any committee-designed, academically sterile, bureaucratic mess. And those pages look faithful to the original, retaining its art and distinctiveness, without unduly imposing outside order.

    I have two comments, from your post and those scanned pages.

    First, I think the kudlits ought to be less obtrusive, per Baybayin itself. The kudlits on the examples distract me.

    Second, I think going back to Baybayin’s “roots and relatives” (so to speak) is a valid way to search for solutions. For example, the “killing stroke” in Devanagari, a distant cousin, seems worthy of consideration. Perhaps Kawi and Pallavi have concepts worth mining as well.


    Robert Eaglestone

  3. Robert Eaglestone

    March 1, 2010 at 11:15 am

    After some thought and Googling, I have several ideas for consideration, without any firm convictions about their usefulness. I am playing around with these ideas mainly by just writing some words and seeing how they look.

    1. How about using a few historical Baybayin to represent some ‘bare’ letters? For example, see the samples from Paul Morrow’s webpage:

    Check out the variant letter forms. Many are recognizably similar, but also different enough to distinguish themselves from ‘modern’ Baybayin characters. Can some of those be used as plain, unvowelled letters?

    The variant DA characters might also (or alternately) be a good source for a separate RA, by the way.

    2. As for the E-I O-U kudlits, here’s what I’m currently playing with:

    I: the usual overhead ‘dot’ or ‘arrowhead’ kudlit.
    O: the usual underneath ‘dot’ or ‘arrowhead’ kudlit.

    E: an overhead ‘grave’ per Devanagari E.
    U: a small underneath ‘hook’ per Devanagari U.

    3. Finally, I’ve been thinking that maybe a ‘killing stroke’ can be added as a small but obvious “jot” or “jog” stroke to the end of the basic character forms in order to cancel out the vowel.

    • malayadesigns

      March 1, 2010 at 8:37 pm

      Greetings Robert,

      Thank you very much for your comments and providing some insight on your approach to the Baybayin writing system. I would like to see your writing style if you would be kind enough to share them with me. In regards to the kudlits, any mark will suffice as it really is an individual preference. As for the killing stroke, my colleague Christian Cabuay has also incorporated a similar “jot/jog” at the end of a character stroke on occasion. The less obtrusive the mark for a killing stroke the better the characters flow with one another. Another colleague NorDenx is currently working on and researching a Kapampangan script that has evolved to address the killing stroke.

      • Robert Eaglestone

        March 3, 2010 at 8:18 am


        An example of my writing style can be found here:

        Wow! The Kapampangan script is sophisticated and efficient, and is changing my mind (a bit) about the way I write Baybayin. For example, I’m dissatisfied with the way I write /NA/ — it should have a shallower arc. So the /N/ can be a /NA/ with a kill-jot.

        I’m also going to try using the Kapampangan /SA/ and modifying a /WA/ to use as O-U. Your thoughts?



  4. Jepoi

    July 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

    It is my hope that the future Philippine Governments will revive the teaching, use and relevance of this script. This can be one big leap for unity.

    I blogged about it too.

  5. jayson m. villaruz

    June 7, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    Proud being a Filipino”

  6. Mau Leongson

    August 22, 2012 at 6:06 am

    I still do have the book of Abakadang Rizaleo and I’m sharing it to my students here in Malabon city as part of my Philippine literature activity. I already met the author, and I am wondering where is he.
    Hope to see baybayin in mainstream designs.

    • rubiel villaflores

      January 4, 2016 at 6:47 pm

      good day! do you have contact of Mr. Marius V. Diaz? if you have please kindly contact me thank you!

  7. rubiel villaflores

    January 4, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    good day! do you have contact of Mr. Marius V. Diaz? abakadang rizaleo if you have please kindly contact me thank you


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