[OPINION] Can you read Baybayin?

Gemma B. Mendoza
[OPINION] Can you read Baybayin?
People will be compelled to learn to read content written in certain writing systems if there is enough literature written using those systems to begin with

Back in college, my thesis professor required us to write a term paper in Baybayin.

It was not that hard to learn. I initially wrote down my thoughts using the Latin/Roman script, the one we have been taught to use since childhood, and then translated those into Baybayin script.

I would not say I would be able to read what I wrote later with the same ease with which I read typical articles and books in English and even Filipino now (since even Filipino language content is typically written in the L script). I write this to illustrate what process this country has to go through in order to actualize a law that prescribes the use of Baybayin as the national writing system.

First: Who will be able to read and write in Baybayin?

Current literacy rates in the Philippines, based most likely on the Latin/Roman writing system, is over 90% of the population.

I guarantee you though that the percetage of those who can read, much less write in Baybayin, is much, much lower – probably less than 1%.

I am not sure that the Philippine Statistics Authority even measures knowledge of this ancient script.

I certainly would not count myself in that 1%.

My own very meager experience in its use does not make me totally literate in this system of writing. My literacy level in Baybayin is probably no more than a child just learning to put together letters to form words, or to make out words out of a string of characters.

Imagine the kind of struggle that somebody who has not even gone beyond writing or reading sentences in the more prevalent systems of writing, will have to go through.

Second: What will you read in Baybayin?

People are compelled to learn to read content written in certain writing systems if there is enough literature written using those systems to begin with. Is there enough literature in Baybayin to motivate people to read in it?

If there is none, why would a child who is having enough difficulty learning math or writing legibly even begin to start developing this skill? What is the point of adding that to an already overloaded curriculum?

The idea to start with signages seemed laudable. But would this not simply add to the clutter that is already out there?

Consider: Our road signages are already too wordy to begin with that they are not readable and effective anymore, road safety advocate Vince Lazatin points out.

Don’t let me get started on who will pay for new ink, new paint, and new designs needed just so that these signages will conform with the provisions of the law.

Who will write, edit, and make sure that these are accurately written? And after all that effort, who will read them? 

Finally, you have laws and regulations. When you say Baybayin will be the national writing system, does that mean our laws will be written in Baybayin? We do not even legislate in Filipino. We legislate in English. Some of our legal terms are in Latin. How do you translate all of that to Baybayin?

Are any of the legislators who voted for this proposed measure even literate in this writing system?

My point is that there are better ways to encourage literacy in a language or a writing system than legislation.

For instance, why not encourage creative writers to write unique content in Baybayin?

Why not provide incentives for literature in this writing system to flourish? 

Filipino poetry written in this ancient Filipino text would make lovely decorative pieces. I personally would love to display verses from Florante at Laura in Baybayin script. 

Since we are in the digital age, it might also be good to incentivize the development of digital tools, keyboards, or devices that can allow people to write in Baybayin in the same way people are able to type in Chinese and Arabic fonts. In fact, even without legislation, you see quite a lot of tools online already that allow people to type content in Baybayin script.

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts – if it is not already doing so  – may want to hold contests in best Baybayin calligraphy.

I know young Filipino kids who learn Japanese on their own because they like anime written in Japanese. If we want Baybayin to flourish, would this not be the better approach? – Rappler.com

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Gemma B. Mendoza

Gemma Mendoza leads Rappler’s multi-pronged efforts to address disinformation in digital media, harnessing big data research, fact-checking, and community workshops. As one of Rappler's pioneers who launched its Facebook page Move.PH in 2011, Gemma initiated strategic projects that connect journalism and data with citizen action, particularly in relation to elections, disasters, and other social concerns.