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Dictionary of their language a fitting gift for Ibalois

BAGUIO CITY—Members of the city’s Ibaloi community will receive their best gift ever on Ibaloi Day today (Feb. 23): An unabridged, scholarly dictionary of their language which many fear is on the verge of extinction.

The Ibaloy dictionary and grammar is a 950-page book published by the Cordillera Studies Center (CSC) of the University of the Philippines Baguio and Doctors for Indigenous Health and Culturally Competent Training, Education, Networking and Governance Inc. (Diteng).

For decades, Ibaloi elders, like linguist Eufronio Pungayan, have worked hard to popularize the Ibaloy language because younger generations are unable to understand or speak it.

In the book, Dr. Ryan Guinaran, Diteng executive director, writes that “no language is immune to extinction. The … vigor of a language depends less on the number of its speakers than how they … love it.”

The dictionary was the product of 40 years of research by American linguist Lee Ballard.

Ballard worked closely with the late Chimcas Ameda of Kabayan, Gonzalo Tigo of Atok, and Vicente Mesa of Bokod, all in Benguet.

According to the CSC, Ballard used to live in Kabayan with his family from 1961 to 1966 when he started the project. The work was revived in the 1970s when he helped Tigo translate an Ibaloy Bible. They collected “5,000 typed Ibaloy definitions on cards.”

The last phase of the project started in 2006 when Ballard was urged by Guinaran to complete a standard dictionary.

During this period, Ibaloy was taught mainly in language clinics sponsored by Pungayan, who also published manuals about the language.

In the book, Ballard describes Ibaloy as “one of the most complicated languages in the Austronesian family [of languages]. The inventory of Ibaloy words could never be exhausted, so deep and rich are they,” he says.

The Ibaloy language uses 23 letters, including “sh.” Ballard says that Ibaloy as a spoken language is “very powerful” because it uses synonyms and metaphors. So an Ibaloy speaker highlights a point while displaying his or her competence “in a pleasing and effective way,” he says. Vincent Cabreza, Inquirer Northern Luzon

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Tags: Culture , Dictionary , Ibaloi , Indigenous Community , language

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