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Jimmy Laking

Learning the Nabaloi language
An idea whose time has definitely come is the series of lectures on the Nabaloi language conducted by a team of Ibaloi volunteers – Oscar Camantiles, Samuel Laruan, Morr Pungayan, Sandy Calado, and Jackson Chiday – who had taken the extra step of introducing it to beginners and to those of Ibaloi parentage but who can’t speak this unique regional language.

Unique in the sense that unless you have tried speaking it regularly, any chance of familiarity or some semblance of fluency is doomed to fail.

The other half of me being Ibaloi, I’d like to say that the only way you can get to learn and to speak the language is to practice it regularly with fellow Ibalois. It has a twang that is quite difficult to overcome and the only way to get over this barrier is to continually speak it or to observe how it is spoken and to repeat it yourself as you would do the basic katas in the gym.

One other Philippine language that has given me fits is the T’boli of Lake Sebu and T’boli towns of South Cotabato. In my one year in the Sta. Cruz mission as an editorial consultant, I had never taken a passable grip of the language’s handle although a pair of Dutch missionaries celebrated the mass regularly in that language.

It is so unlike majority of the Lumad languages that are related on the main to Manobo and its variants. I learned later that its origins can be traced to the Sulawesi Islands of Indonesia. Consider for instance the equivalents of “good morning”: Hayo lafos (T’boli), Fyo flafos (B’laan), or Mafion matushima (Manobo).

The Ibaloi is one of at least 10 regional languages spoken by the major ethno-linguistic groups in this region, apart from Iloko, Tagalog, and English. My opinion is that it is related to both the Kalanguya and Pangasinense much as the latter appears to be related to those spoken by Indonesians in the island of Flores.

Calado said his group is compiling a set of lessons which he hoped would be published in book form. For beginners wanting to deepen their vocabulary, there is the English-Benguet Dialects in book form written by Narcisa Atos-Ramos of Poblacion, La Trinidad.

Ms. Ramos (she is a daughter of the late Benguet board member and educator Marvin Atos) grew up in La Trinidad but her parents came from Kabayan and Bokod. As such she was brought up speaking English, Filipino, and Ilocano.

“So every time I visit my relatives in their hometowns, I had difficulty communicating with old folks,” she revealed. The difficulty in expressing what she wanted to say inspired her to come up with the book, copies of which can be acquired at the Benguet Museum.

The remarkable thing about this small book is that the English usage of terms is translated into Ibaloi, Kankanaey, and Kalanguya (the three major Benguet languages). Consider the equivalents of good morning: Mapteng dya agsapa jo! (Ibaloi), Mayat ay agsapa yu! (Kankanaey), and Pahed ni aghapa! (Kalanguya).

Arguably the most comprehensive dictionary on Ibaloi is the 1,000-something page book entitled “Ibaloy” compiled by the missionary Lee Ballard and his colleagues. An epic work, it includes a photographic essay on Ibaloy cultural history by Patricia Afable. It is a must reading in every Ibaloi home.

Roger Sinot, the de facto president of the “republic of Asin,” has indirectly warned against taking the language literally, thusly:

“Umay kayo ta agbitin tayo, last trip daytoy” (Kalajo ta mamposos kiti jo. Last trip ma eyay)

“Endayat mai bus” (The bus stood up)

“Nai shokbab mai bus” (The bus screeched to a sudden halt)

To sum up, the key to learning the language is to speak it on a daily basis. The younger you are, the better.

So I find it presumptuous for one local politician (who was born outside of Benguet) to claim that he knows the language. The story went that in a gathering in Alno, someone asked him if he could understand Ibaloi.

“Amtak,” he replied. “I know.”

He was asked again: “Well, can you speak in Ibaloi?”

“Amtak,” he replied. It turned out amtak was probably one of only a few Ibaloi terms he knows.

“Kalajo, jo wa’tek e nuang, waray sid-an ni to-o.” This is supposed to be translated wrongly: “Come let us kill the carabao and eat the people.” Let the meeting begin.

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