Francis Rubio

Notes on Filipino orthography

One fact that most Filipinos overlook is the fact that in the Filipino alphabet, ng is a single letter, not two. It’s how we represent the /ŋ/ (voiced velar nasal) sound.

Also, if you think a letter was needlessly included in the Filipino alphabet, it’s probably because it’s used in a local language you don’t know about. We’re mostly using “foreign” letters like Z, C, V, and F for proper nouns, but there are local languages that actually use these letters natively, and to them, these are not borrowed from western orthographies but are letters that represent sounds they’ve always used. The Filipino orthography was developed so the Filipino language can easily and properly loan words from languages local to the Philippines.

This is also why I don’t agree when people define Filipino as just standardized Tagalog. Maybe that would’ve been true at one point, but the orthography we have is actually inclusive of all languages in the country.

@abolisyonista raises an issue about this though.

What's frustrating is that it used to be rendered as ng̃ to denote a special letter but this was dropped sometime in the first half of the 20th century. It's frustrating to me because ñ is an important part of Spanish culture and it's even part of the logo of Institutio Cervantes, but Philippine orthography casually dropped ng̃ which is sad.

Source: Mastodon post by @abolisyonista

I find this really interesting because this is the first time I’m hearing of this. At first I thought that this tilde over the g was removed for practical reasons. Considering how much of a struggle it is to write ñ in typed documents, maybe it was seen fit to just remove the tilde on ng since people recognized it as a single phoneme anyway. At least this is my speculation, as I cannot find a source on why it was removed in the first place.

@abolisyonista further responds:

The letter thorn (Þþ) used to be in the English alphabet and it sometimes written like an inverted y, hence old timey signs saying stuff like "Ye Old Inn," which ought be pronounced "the" and not "ye." But this letter was dropped during the print revolution since English typesetters would import letters made from Germany which didn't have thorn keys. So that explains why that letter was dropped in England.

But in the Philippines, typesetters regularly had access to keys. For example, look at this scan of a book from 1913.

I have another theory, perhaps the fault is with American typewriters which don't have . But if that's the case, why wasn't ñ dropped in favor of ny? After all, all words with ñ can be plausibly spelled with ny, for example, "niño" could be "ninyo" whose meaning is still clear without an ñ. Perhaps it could be even Spanish typewriters didn't have , so it was dropped because people stopped making keys for it.

The jury is still out on it. In any case, Philippine orthography is so much poorer without in my opinion.

Source: Mastodon post by @abolisyonista

I am inclined to disagree with this replacement of ñ with the ny digraph. In this case, Niño is a proper noun, and it does not feel right to replace it with the digraph, especially when Filipino has a word “ninyo”.

The Filipino orthography specifically retained ñ among others for the purpose of using it to spell loan words and technical terms from international languages as is mentioned by this passage from the book Pagpaplanong Wika at Filipino.

The alpabeto with 28 letters is the first and primary symbol of the national and nationalist mission of KWF. That's why in the 2013 Ortograpiyang Pambansa, first explained was the function of the additional letters to ease the entry of the native languages into the enrichment of “Filipino.” Here manifests the extreme importance of the letters F, ), V, and Z because these are letters that represent sounds occuring in many native languages and are not to be found in Tagalog or even in Sebwano, Ilonggo, or Ilokano. Meanwhile, like C, Q, Ñ, and X, the four can aalso be used in "modernization" or borrowing technical and scientific terms from international languages. Just using the first four, such words as “alifuffug” (whirlwind) in Itawes, “falendag” (a kind of flute) of the Teduray, “jambangan” (a plant) from the Tausug, “masjid” (place of worship) in Méranaw, “vakul” (a headdress) in Ivatan, and “zigattu” (east) of the Ibanag can easily enter the “Filipino” vocabulary.

Pagpaplanong Wika at Filipino, Virgilio S. Almario

I was, however, intrigued by their statement about how the obsolete tilde on g takes away from Filipino orthography. This is what they have to say about it:

Well on the top of my head, "barangay" is a problematic word because ng and g are combined together. It was once spelled "baranggay" which denotes both ng and g. Had ng̃ still been a letter, I think these contractions would probably not happen as it's clearer as to what the two letters denote.

There are other contractions too, like mang̃a becoming mg̃a and now mga. Has mg̃a been retained, it would be clearer that the "g̃a" does not denote a "ga" but "nga" sound.

Also sometimes "n" and "g" are next to each other but do not denote a "ng̃a" sound but rather belong to different syllables, a "an"+"ga" for example. Our current orthography can't differentiate between the two right now.

There are likely a lot of other examples, but those are the ones on the top of my head.

Source: Mastodon post by @abolisyonista

This is a valid criticism of Filipino orthography. I agree that such weakness could be resolved by just retaining the tilde on g. However, I personally believe that dropping the ng digraph and replacing it with ŋ would be the better choice. It’s a single character that would be theoretically easy to type on a Filipino keyboard. This would, however, be a tedious task for people with physical keyboards, as right now, there’s no keyboard that support this character out of the box. The character g̃ is easier to type in this case, or at least as easy as people do ñ. And it would be an even lesser adjustment for everyone since it’s just a matter of restoring a tilde accent. Making it optional just like the existing accents in Filipino would even make this option a no-brainer.

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