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Every time I take my students to the National Museum, and they see the different artifacts and signs with the squiggly pre-colonial Filipino text, they would refer to the writing as “Alibata“. I would then have to correct them, as the proper term for it is “Baybayin“. I can’t blame them, though, as most (if not all) of them were taught that it was known as Alibata, which is an assumption that it was derived from Arabic. The system of writing, however, is closer to Sanskrit thank it is to Arabic. Thus, Baybayin, or “the way it is spelled”, should be the proper term used.
But aside from misnomers, today’s generation (myself included) doesn’t fully understand how to write in Baybayin. Its resurgence may be attributed to so-called nationalism, but mostly for decorative purposes. Many of today’s youth use (or misuse) the written language in the design of tattoos (much like what is done with the Sanskrit/Hindu character “om”).
The chart above gives us a slightly better understanding of the written language, but it’s not as simple as just copying the characters as they appear. In the easy practice of transliteration, you just get the closest sound of the syllable and match it to the character in the chart. That way, JUAN DELA CRUZ would be spelled as: HU-WA-N-DE-LA-K-RU-S.
In one of my visits to the Museum, though, I was lucky enough to have been taught by one of the curators. She mentioned that the practice of cancelling out the vowel sounds (bottom row of the chart) was only added later on, to facilitate smoother transliteration. She highlighted, too, that each syllable had only one consonant and vowel sound. There are no diphthongs, and each extra consonant was ignored. So, going back to the example earlier, JUAN DELA CRUZ would be spelled as WA-DE-LA-KU . For the syllable JUAN (pronounced HWAN), the H and N sounds are ignored. The same goes with the R and Z/S sounds for CRUZ.
Proof of this method can be seen everywhere. If you notice, the sign outside the National Museum Exhibit says Baybayin, but if you translate the Baybayin text above the Roman text, it says BA-BA-YI, ignoring the first Y sound and the N sound. You can also check the 2010 edition of Philippine Currency (check your bills), below the water mark/ above the numerical value, there is a baybayin text that translates to PI-LI-PI-NA. Unless there’s an actual woman to whom the bill is referring, my guess is that it stands for PILIPINAS (the name of our country).