Baybayin – the Forgotten Pre-Hispanic Writing of the Filipino
For my “111st Philippine Independence from Spain and Colonialism” post, I decided to unearth the forgotten Filipino writing script our forefathers used and called Baybayin.
Before we begin, I just want to note that you need to download a Baybayin font if you want to see our writing script. I personally use the oldest script style Tagalog Doctrina 1593© and the modern Tagalog Stylized©. It is a pain to create an image of each character so I’m sorry if you do not want to install a small font file.
With that out of the way, let’s start our adventure.
The Modern Filipino Alphabet
Today, we are using The Modern Filipino Alphabet or in Filipino Ang Bagong Alfabetong Filipino. We have 28 letters in total, these are: Aa, Bb, Cc, Dd, Ee, Ff, Gg, Hh, Ii, Jj, Kk, Ll, Mm, Nn, Ññ, N͠g/n͠g, Oo, Pp, Qq, Rr, Ss, Tt, Uu, Vv, Ww, Xx, Yy, Zz.
Aside: On N͠g/n͠g vs. prepositional ng̃ vs. words ending in ‘ng’
The 16th letter ‘N͠g’ is read as endzi [en-dzi] and pronounced as /ŋ/ as in ping, wing, ringer, and bringer. Also if you noticed, I wrote the letter endzi with a long tilde above the Latin letters ‘n’ and ‘g’. Example, N͠gunit and pan͠gun͠gusap. This was the original and correct way of writing the single-letter – N͠g/n͠g.
The tilde was used to signify or show that the two Latin letters ‘n’ and ‘g’ are actually just one, single letter – ‘n͠g’. Another purpose was for easy reading and pronunciation. However, there is a rule to be followed and this is where it gets very confusing. If the word with the Latin letters ‘n’ and ‘g’ are pronounce as /ŋ/ then it is the single-letter ‘n͠g’, put a long tilde over ‘ng’ if you like. On the other hand, if the Latin letters ‘n’ and ‘g’ in a word is pronounced as [ŋɡ] like in linger, finger, baranggay, then it is not the single-letter ‘n͠g’ but two separate Latin letters ‘n’ and ‘g’.
Here are examples that will help in understanding the difference:
- ‘ng’ as /ŋɡ/
- linger /lɪŋɡɝ/
- finger /fɪŋɡɝ/
- baran͠gay /baraŋɡay/
- ‘ng’ as /ŋ/
- bringer /brɪŋər/
- singer /ˈsɪŋə/
- ringer /ˈrɪŋə/
- ping /pɪŋ/
- wing /wɪŋ/
- nan͠g /naŋ/
- pan͠gpan͠g /paŋpaŋ/
In the late 19th or early 20th century, standardization of the Tagalog language (which led into the birth of the separate Pilipino/Filipino language), changed the meaning of the single-letter ‘ng’ from /ŋɡ/ to /ŋ/. When ‘ng’ used to mean /ŋɡ/ the spelling baran͠gay was both a Tagalog and a Spanish word. When ‘ng’ changed to mean /ŋ/, all Tagalog words with the former /ŋɡ/ pronunciation were changed to /ngg/ in spelling. The Spanish word baran͠gay is now spelt as baranggay – and without the long tilde.
When the language Pilipino was created (and later renamed to Filipino), the use of the long tilde to signify the single-letter ‘n͠g’ in words disappeared. The old spellings prior to the standardization were also accepted as a Pilipino/Filipino word. Hence, the Spanish word barangay is now also a Pilipino/Filipino word (but not Tagalog) – without the long tilde; ironically, the Tagalog word baranggay slowly disappeared from use as well (and if you use it, you’ll more likely encounter people telling you how you got the spelling wrong).
|Pre-Standardization||Tagalog Standardization||Modern Pilipino/Filipino|
Another reason for including a long tilde above the single-letter ‘n͠g’ is to identify if it is single-letter ‘n͠g’ or the prepositional word ng̃, the latter pronounced as /naŋ/. This prepositional word is actually the shortened form of nan͠g which is itself the shortened form of the words na an͠g. A similar shortened form is mg̃a which is actually man͠ga.
The correct way of writing the shortened forms of nan͠g and man͠ga is by including a tilde above the letter ‘g’, as in ng̃ and mg̃a respectively. For what purpose? To tell the reader that it is a shortened form of a longer word, especially when it comes to ‘ng’. So, by seeing ng̃ the reader will know that it is the prepositional word nan͠g/na an͠g and not the single-letter ‘n͠g’.
There are also words like Pampanga and barangay without any tilde because under the Pilipino/Filipino language rule these words are pronounced as Pam-pang-ga or Pang-pang-ga; and ba-rang-gay respectively. Although under the Tagalog language rule, a long tilde is required as was shown earlier.
One more thing to note before we move on, someone once told me that the pronunciation and syllabification of Pampanga is Pam-pan-ga. This is wrong because the word and name came from the root word pampang/pangpang (pam-pang/pang-pang).
Baybayin – the Forgotten Filipino Writing Script
You can see above what I call the Baybayin Card. It is what I use as reference when I am writing something in Baybayin until I learn it by heart. Obviously, I used the modern alphabet arrangement that we are familiar with today, in other words it is not the original arrangement of Baybayin (if there was one).
That’s it! There’s our Baybayin alphabet.
I know what you have in mind, how about the vowel sounds e, i, o, and u? How do we write these? First, we have to remember that in Baybayin, the vowel sound ‘e’ and ‘i’ are the same, ‘o’ and ‘u’ as well. To tell the reader that it is ‘ko’ in the word ako, our ancestor adds a kudlit below the character ‘ka’ ( ) to make ‘ko’ ( ). To write ate, add the kudlit above the character ‘ta’ ( ) to make it ‘te’ ( ).
It’s easy to remember, vowel sound e/i place the kudlit above; while the vowel sound o/u the kudlit is placed below. Got it?
The curious case of Virama
Our ancestors were using this writing system for hundreds (maybe even thousands) of years before the Spaniards landed in our shores and claimed that we were uncivilized and without a writing system (a common belief taught and passed down to support the claim that Philippine history began in the Spanish colonization). One of the proof that the early writers (and other historians today) were wrong was the fact that the Spaniards have to introduce the virama in Baybayin just to communicate more effectively to the locals of the islands. In other words, we have a stable and solid language and writing system. Clearly, we were not uncivilized, barbaric, people when they found us.
Virama is a cross sign, one could argue that it was because of the Spaniards’ Catholicism religion, that is added below the Baybayin characters except ‘a’, ‘e/i’, ‘o/u’, ‘ha’, and ‘n͠ga’, to tell the reader that the letter ends as a consonant or without a vowel sound. This was introduced because in Western languages, a word may end in a consonant but in Baybayin it must always end with a vowel.
Baybayin is a writing system based on the languages spoken by its users. The spoken languages of the ancient Filipinos were all syllabic which can only be of V or CV syntax. For example, ama is VCV (Vowel-Consonant-Vowel). But words like mabuhay and kapatid are CVC (Consonant-Vowel-Consonant). In the Philippine languages, these words are pronounced and written as mabuha ( ) and kapati ( ).
With the introduction of the Spanish virama, the vowel in ‘ya’ and ‘da’ can be cancelled out and the reader aware of it. Instead of mabuha) it is now pronounced and written as (mabuhay) (kapati) is now (kapatid).(
The virama is a sensitive addition to Baybayin in today, modern times. There are Filipinos who does not accept the usage of virama for various reasons. There are also those who are in favour of, or are neutral with its usage. Personally, languages both in spoken and writing form, develops over time. If we want to revive the use of Baybayin in our time and the future generations, we have to accept the changes introduced in the past and introduce new additions to catch up with time.
For example, the majority of Filipinos today can not tell the difference between Filipino and Tagalog languages. Filipinos does not even know what is the difference between a language and a dialect. Even worse, many Filipinos doesn’t want to accept the historical fact that the preposition ng̃ is the shortened form of nan͠g which itself is a shortened form of na an͠g. The worst of it all, instead of developing and enriching our own languages, we are destroying it slowly but surely. That is why I personally believe that we have to accept the changes introduced in the past and add appropriate, valid ones to catch up with time. We have to continue developing this writing script of ours. We have to enrich it so future generations will use it again – even if for pastime only at first (revival has to start somewhere).
Anyway, we are getting off-topic and political… so going back.
I want to write my name in Baybayin!
Before you start writing in Baybayin, especially if you are going to put a tattoo on your body or create a logo for your company, there are rules and guidelines that must be followed, lest you end up with the wrong word.
Rules in Writing Baybayin
- Baybayin, as its languages it was based on, are syllabic. Thus, spell your word as it sounds.
- Drop all silent-letters, you don’t need those.
- Originally, if the letter ‘r’ is between vowels, it is written as ‘d’ in Baybayin, otherwise use the character for ‘l’.
- Today however, it will be confusing. As I have said, develop and enrich the writing system, I suggest that you use the character for ‘ra’ that is present in the Bikolano Baybayin.
- The consonant letter ‘h’ does not exist in Baybayin. The letter ‘h’, without a vowel after it, is always a silent letter. If you don’t believe it, try to pronounce a word with an ‘h’ that has no vowel after it.
- Do not use automated/machine Baybayin translators/transliterators. You’ll likely end up with the wrong word. Learn Baybayin, it is easy.
- Last but definitely the most important: if you are not sure with your translation or transliteration attempt, then GO ASK someone knowledgeable in Baybayin and language rules.
How to Translate and Write Baybayin?
- Translate your word into any Philippine Language (we have a lot!)
- If there is no direct translation, translate the meaning of the word instead. This is an Asian practice and applies to us as well.
- If there is still no appropriate translation, time to transliterate. Again, spell it as it sounds (I can not stress that enough).
- Follow the rules above of course.
- Mabuhay (en: a Filipino greeting; or to live)
- Salamat (en: thank you)
- Ninuno (en: ancestorr)
- Iniibig Kita (en: I love you [deeper way of saying I love you in Filipino])
- Mahal na Mahal Kita (en: I love you very much)
- Sherlene [Siye-lin] (a first name)
- JC [Diyi-si] (a first name and nickname)
- John (Juan) [Hu-wan] (a first name)
- Sese [Se-se] (a Chinese family name)
- Cuneta [Ku-ne-ta] (a Spanish family name)
- Jeremiah (Heremias) [He-re-mi-yas] (a first name)
- James [San-ti-ya-go] (a first name)
- Mayaman [Ma-ya-man] (en: rich)
- Maharlika [Ma-ha-li-ka] (en: noble)
- Malakas [Ma-la-kas] (en: strong)
- Lakas [La-kas] (en: strength)
- Filipino Ako (en: I am a Filipino)
- Maganda (en: beautiful)
- Jesus [He-sus] (God’s Name)
- Fatima [Pa-ti-ma] (a Catholic name)
- Kasulatan [Ka-su-la-tan] (en: Writing)
- Kontrata [Kon-ta-ra-ta] (en: Contact)
- Liham [Li-ham] or Sulat [Su-lat] (en: Letter)
- Pampanga [Pam-pang-ga] or [Pang-pang-ga] (a place name)
- Ilocos [I-lo-ko] (a place name)
- Barangay/Baranggay [ba-la-n͠gay] or [ba-rang-gay] (an are sub-unit)
- Gwapo [Gu-wa-po] (en: handsome)
- Roberto [Ro-be-to] or [Ro-ber-to] (a name in en: Robert)
- Paul [Pol] (a name)
Baybayin (or Alibata as is wrongly taught in schools), is a writing form used by the ancestors of the Filipino people. It is not restricted to the Tagalog language only, the script was used in other Philippine languages like Kapampangan. So feel free to use your own Philippine language when translating your word or name before writing it in Baybayin.
Additionally, if you are going to use Baybayin as part of your organization’s logo or as a tattoo, be sure to ask an expert in Baybayin first. I am not an expert in Baybayin script, I only rely on my own research, answers to my questions from the experts, and of course my interest in our culture, language, and history. As such, do not come back to me and blame me that people were laughing at you because your tattoo was wrong or that you spent a lot of money for your logo only to find out later it was wrong.
Finally, if you want me to translate in Baybayin, just leave a comment below. However, I will only give you a font-based Baybayin script which I strongly discourage you from using as your tattoo or logo – get an artist for that.
And no, I will not translate literary works unless I like your work, for example a poem or a love letter or maybe if there’s a compensation 😉 Also know that I might post your work publicly as an example (with written, email agreement between us), and that it must be your own literary work.
Something to think about…
When Dr. Jose Rizal wrote/said the famous “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay higit pa sa malansang isda“, he was partly (or mostly) referring to Baybayin. According to some historians, during the time of Dr. Jose Rizal, the Tagalog language and other Philippine languages were widely used on the islands, from casual conversation to even subjects in schools.
If it was, then he was referring to the written form of our language(s) – the Baybayin script. Which during his time, the knowledge and usage of our own writing form was declining rapidly – to extinction – in favour of the Latin script (i.e. A, B, C, D, E) which the Spaniards introduced and taught widely in our schools.
What do you think?
Other Online Resources for Baybayin Study (for your convenience)
- Baybayin – the Lost Script
- Baybayin, The Ancient Script of the Philippines
- Nordenx – A Filipino game developer and font designer
- – if you want a tattoo…
- Baybayin.com – online translator (be sure to read the warning)
- Alibata: Ancient Baybayin Scripts Network
- Tagalog, an Extinct Philippine Script
Is a self-confessed bibliophile and technophile other than being an early adopter, an avid gamer, a geek, nerd, role-player, anime otaku, and trekker.
His first online project was in 1998 when he launched the unofficial website for Ansalon MUD (a text-based, telnet online game) and his own community forums Laibcoms.Community. By 2003 he created his work blog GM-Yukino which grew into gameshogun™, Snoworld™, and techmagus™ over the years.
Yuki’s latest project is Verses.Space™, a Free Culture / Creative Commons, collaborative, and shared-world, worldbuilding and writing project.
Baybayin – the Forgotten Pre-Hispanic Writing of the Filipino by Yuki (雪) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at Legal Notice.