Friday, June 24, 2005
Contrary to the common misconception, when the Spaniards arrived in the islands they found more than just a loose collection of backward and belligerent tribes. They found a civilization that was very different from their own. The ability to read and write is the mark of any civilization and, according to many early Spanish accounts, the Tagalogs had already been writing with the baybayin for at least a century.
The word baybayin is a very old Tagalog term that refers to all the letters used in writing a language, that is to say, an “alphabet.” It is from the root baybáy meaning, “spell.” Early Spanish accounts usually called the baybayin “Tagalog letters” or “Tagalog writing.” And, as mentioned earlier, the Visayans called it “Moro writing” because it was imported from Manila, which was one of the ports where many products from Muslim traders entered what are now known as the Philippine islands. The Bikolanos called the script basahan and the letters, guhit.
Another common name for the baybayin is alibata, which is a word that was invented just in the 20th century by a member of the old National Language Institute, Paul Versoza. As he explained in Pangbansang Titik nang Pilipinas in 1939.