Saturday, August 06, 2005

Book Review: Central Tagbanwa

This entry is the fourth in a series of articles in the first annual Seven-Day Salita Blogathon. For more information, please see this entry.

The second book I ordered from SIL is Central Tagbanwa: A Philippine Language on the Brink of Extinction by Robert Scebold.

Central Tagbanwa is a language spoken in northern Palawan. It is a member of the Meso-Philippine group of languages. Other branches in this family include the Central Philippine languages, which is a very large group of widespread and well-known languages such as Tagalog, Cebuano, and Bikol. Ethnologue reports that 2,000 people spoke it in 1985. According to Scebold on page 7, he "estimated the total Tagbanwa population to be between 800 and 1000." While the number reduced by 50%. But there are a couple of caveats. The Philippine census counts 16,300 Tagbanwa speakers, however there are different varieties of Tagbanwa. Also, there may be other Tagbanwas outside the area he researched. Despite this, the results are alarming.

I care about language extinction. And I care for their preservation and the rights of their respective speakers to use them in any possible way. In 163 pages this book succeeds in its two missions - to give us a detailed status of the language as well as to describe the languages for those of us language geeks who are interested in such things.

In the first two chapters, he gives important background on Central Tagbanwa's history and present situation. Interestingly enough, he says that two SIL linguists "discovered" the language in the course of their research in 1979. He places the blame on why Central Tagbanwa is a language destined to death. He points to other Filipinos who migrated to Palawan. He also points to the American presence and education system from 1898-1946. He also points to the Japanese occupation during WWII. In chapter two he outlines his methods for getting a rough estimate of Central Tagbanwa speakers. Three Central Tagbanwa are presented as case histories. Also, most of Scebold's research was in Barangay Binga, San Vicente, Palawan.

Scebold did a good job on the third chapter, phonology. Central Tagbanwa posseses four vowels; one of which is a high central vowel. This is surprising, considering that the fourth vowel in other Philippine languages such as Ilokano and Kinaray-a is a high back unrounded vowel. The fourth Central Tagbanwa vowel is similar in pronunciation to the Russian letter ы as in язык (yazihk, meaning "language"). This sound is also found in Romanian, represented by the letters â and î as in the word română (meaning, "Romanian").

Also, there appears to be an extra consonant. He interprets this consonant with the Greek "beta" - β. It is technically called a "voiced bilabial fricative" and a weakened version of it exists as a variant of the Spanish /b/. He admits that there is "trace evidence" for this particular phoneme and points to words such as /bulβol/ which has both sounds. Furthermore, he says that native speakers prefer writing this sound as the letter v. Judging from the examples in which this letter is found, I have reason to believe that it is simply an allophone and that there are certain environments where this is pronounced in. But, I have never heard spoken Central Tagbanwa, so I cannot say for sure. I should note, that [β] exists in Tausug as an allophone and I can hear the sound loud and clear in spoken Tausug.

With 50 pages, chapter 4 is the largest chapter in the book. He deovtes this chapter to a "brief" grammatical sketch of the language. He outlines each grammatical concept with an explanation and some sample sentences. The sample sentences include a phrase in Central Tagbanwa, followed by a breakdown of the morphemes, then a word-for-word translation, and finally a free English translation. Here is an example:

" Noun Marking Particles"

"Nominative noun markers are used to mark the participants in focus in verbal clauses, and to mark topics in nonverbal clauses.."

"(49)Ti Andres ay ipagamot niya ka doctor.
ti Andres ay i-=pa-=gamot niya ka doctor
N Andrew COP NB.NAF=CAUS=medicine 3SG O doctor

'He will have Andrew treated by a doctor.'"

"(50)Doon ka Malaya ti Beto.
doon ka Malaya ti Beto
D30 O Malaya N Beto

'Beto is over there in Malaya.'"

"(51)Ka Puerto napadong ya barko.
ka Puerto na-=padong ya barko
O Puerto POT.CMP.AF=dock N ship

'The ship docked in Puerto."

Chapter 5 is a sort of mini-dictionary. It's not intended to be a comprehensive dictionary. It is two-way, English-Central Tagbanwa and vice-versa.


Central Tagbanwa-English

biring v. to be astonished. Nabiring kanya ing ono ya pogdikal. He was astonished, wondering what shone with such luster.

English-Central Tagbanwa

pig bavoy

And finally, the end of the book features an appendix which contains three stories. They were contributed in February of 2000 by Roberto Lerona. The stories are "The Tagbanwa Man Who Found Gold", "The Boy That Was Gotten by a Crocodile", and "Conservation about the Ashfall from Mt. Pinatubo."

Here is a photo of the book. It was published in 2003 and SIL is selling it for just $5.70

To Robert Scebold and other people who make books about Philippine languages - keep'em comin'!

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