Ilokano writer fights for linguistic justice

/ 12:01 AM May 14, 2014


After telling his story about how he wrote his English-Ilokano dictionary, you wouldn’t ignore Aurelio Solver Agcaoili’s pants anymore.

During his talk at the Mt. Cloud Bookshop in Baguio City last week, Agcaoili, known as “Agca” to his former students at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, and “Lakay Ilyong” to his fans back in Ilocos Norte province, said whenever he recalled an Ilokano term while he was driving, he would call his office phone at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (UHM) and record the term.


But then Hawaii banned the use of mobile phones while driving and so Agcaoili had no recourse but to write on his pants. His denim pants didn’t show the wear and tear of destressed pants, or maybe he was using washable ink.

“A writer should write on anything if only to arrest the onset of forgetting. For forgetting is the archenemy of writing and a writer,” he said.

Agcaoili must have worn down a lot of pants because, so far, he has written five volumes of Ilokano dictionaries. In fact, he doesn’t count by pages; he weighs them.

“Three [kilograms] on eight point fonts,” he said.

They are the “Contemporary Ilokano-

English Dictionary,” “Contemporary English-Ilokano Dictionary,” “Kontemporaneo a Diktionaryo nga Ingles-Ilokano/Ilokano-Ingles Edision a Pang-Estudiante,” “Abridged English-Ilokano Dictionary” and “Contemporary Ilokano-English Dictionary.”

The English-Ilokano edition launched in January 2011, for example, has 18,000 entries in 959 pages. He also recently came up with another book on Ilokano orthography, which would raise the weight to 3.5 kg.

These are all available at the UHM where Agcaoili is associate professor and coordinator of the Ilokano Language and Literature Program. It is the only such program in the world offering a bachelor of arts degree with a specialization in Ilokano, a minor, and a certificate. Nowhere in the whole “Ilocoslovakia” can lay claim to such.

The program offers 25 courses on Ilokano, including Ilokano 101 (Beginning Ilokano), Ilokano 107 (Ilokano for Health Sciences), Ilokano 315 (Ilokano Aural Comprehension), Ilokano 424 (Introduction to Ilokano for Interpreters), Ilokano 486 (Ilokano for Social Media) and IP 699 (Var) or Directed Readings on Ilokano.


UHM has started teaching Ilokano in two major high schools in Hawaii.

Aurelio has also started the Nakem International Conference, the scholarly conference on the Ilokano language. The 8th Nakem International Conference was held in November last year in Honolulu with the theme, “The Center in the Margin: Accounting All Our Philippine and Other Marginalized Languages for Critical Education.”

But Agcaoili is no mild-mannered scholar content on writing on his pants. From his UHM office, he had been waking up the Pacific Ring of Fire and setting linguistic earthquakes in the Philippines, particularly the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF).

He has started the online petition against the Saviour’s Christian Academy (SCA) in Laoag City after it expelled three students for speaking Ilokano on campus.

Early this year, he also joined the Joint National and International Committee for the Protection of the Ilokano Language in protesting the move of the Department of Education in Ilocos Norte to adopt the

Ortograpiyang Pambansa designed by the KWF. The committee said it was not consulted in the crafting of the new Ilokano orthography led by Dr. Joel Lopez.

“Each of our 180 languages is behaving differently,” Agcaoili said. “Linguistic justice means being honest about their pluralism and multiplicity.”

“The Lopez orthography also separates the pronoun or its derivative so you now write ‘mangan ak’ for ’I will eat,’ instead of ‘manganak,’ which is the natural way of speaking,” he said.

Not content on drawing the present in his quest for “linguistic justice,” Agcaoili also said there was “conspiracy, connivance and collusion” in the declaration of Tagalog as the basis of the national language Filipino.

In his  essay, “The Lies of the 1934-1935 Constitutional Convention,” Agcaoili said the country was hoodwinked into believing that the drafters called for Tagalog to be the basis of the national language.

He said he would convene a conference featuring the 40-plus languages in Northern Luzon to stop the standardization of the other languages according to Tagalog.

“We should not standardize it (Ilokano). We should allow the repertoire to appear,” he said.

But Agcaoili insisted that he has nothing against Tagalog writers or their language. His first book, “Dangadang,” though Ilokano for “fervor,” is a series of essays on the underground movement written in Tagalog. He has also written a lot of Tagalog poems, mostly to his students at UP Diliman.

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