Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Book Review: A Masbatenyo-English Dictionary by Elmer Wolfenden

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

Back in February I ordered three books from the Summer Institute of Linguistics. I waited until May to find out what was going on, only to find out that they had mailed the books in March and should've arrived in April. I e-mailed again in July, and they sent them to me again. They arrived in a matter of days from the Philippines. So now, I finally have my books.

One of these three books is Elmer P. Wolfenden's A Masbatenyo Dictionary-English Dictionary, published in 2001.

Dr. Wolfenden has been studying Philippine languages for over 50 years. One page mentions that he was a Bible translator for the Isnag language in northern Luzon back in 1954. I first encountered his name in his 1971 Hiligaynon Reference Grammar.

In any case, the Masbatenyo dictionary itself will not disappoint. It is over 736 pages. And is a culmination of work by Dr. Wolfenden from 1972 to 1992.

The first few pages of the book mentions Masbatenyo's known history and genetic classification to other Philippine languages. He considers the language very close to the Bisakol of Sorsogon in Bikol and he considers their grammars to be close to Hiligaynon. Masbatenyo itself has a lot of influence from Bikol, Waray-Waray, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and Tagalog which is why, he states, that "many semantic concepts in Masbatenyo can be expressed by from two to five alternate and different words for a single concept." Dr. Wolfenden also identifies three major dialects of Masbatenyo.

He does a good job of explaining Masbatenyo phonology, however my complaint is that he uses a modified - and in my humble opinion, rather odd - system of the Tagalog accent marks throughout the book. It is not a major obstacle, but it takes a while to get used to. For example, he writes tàóy when simply taóy will do. Furthermore, he uses a similarly modified version of IPA notation where he puts the accent mark before the vowel rather than before the syllable; i.e., [k'ita`] rather than ['kita`]. Again, not a major obstacle but it is odd.

Although it probably is not necessary, I am extremely grateful that Dr. Wolfenden included a very meaty grammatical sketch of Masbatenyo. He was very thorough; he devoted pages 11 through 82 to give his readers a thorough treatment of Masbatenyo grammar.

He puts the various articles, demonstrative & personal pronouns, and verbs in easy-to-read tables. I myself am a fan of looking at these tables, which are found in articles concerning Philippine languages. He makes it easy to compare the differences between Masbatenyo and other languages.

For good measure, he includes several example sentences outlining the words found in these table. For example, under the table for genitive pronouns he has these examples:

31. Kun igwa sin itlog ginabaligya man gihapon ninda.
If there-are eggs they are-selling them also.

32. An tiya ko an akon maninay.
My aunt-is my godmother.

33. Damo kami na urupod kaya kasurusadya namon.
We-excl had many companions so we-excl were-very-happy.

Another pecularity by Wolfenden, as evidenced by the above three examples are the dashes that connect these words. Again, this is used throughout the dictionary. In a nutshell, these are to show that these phrases are one word in Masbatenyo. Somehow, I think it's unnecessarily distracting, but I guess they are used in aiding the reader.

Dr. Wolfenden certainly covered a lot of ground; his grammatical sketch more than satisfied my curiosity and it also gave me some more insight about the nature of Visayan languages.

As for the actual dictionary itself, it is divided into two sections. Pages 85 - 531 is composed of the Masbatenyo-to-English section. What I like is that he sorts the entries by rootwords. He further includes subentries if the word has a different meaning based on a particular infix - many touristy-targeted dictionaries for Philippine languages do not do this.

Here are two sample entries:

miya [míyà] n. cat. Pakauna an miya. Have the cat eat. Syn: iding 'cat'. magpamiya-míya v [c2]. MAG- act. act cat-like. Nagapamiya-miya si Nino sa sini. Nino acted-like-a-cat in-the movie.

tangkas [tángkas] v [c8]. MAG- ag; -ON pat; -AN goal/ben; I- acc.
tangkasón v. be removed, be extracted, be detached. Nano kay gintangkas mo an mata san manika?. Why did you remove the eye of-the doll. Lit: Why was the ey of-the doll removed by-you? Dili mo pagtangkason an imo habay kay basi magsakit an imo tiyan. Do no tremove your girdle because your stomach might become-painful.
pagtángkas n. detaching, releasing, freeing. Nadugay an pagtangkas san iya matris. The detaching of her uterus took-a-long-time.
paratángkas n. remover. One whose job is to remove something.
pangtángkas n. remover, eradicator. Refers to a tool or solution. Adi an pangtangkas san mantsa. Here is the stain remover.

Pages 533-734 include the English-Masbatenyo portion of the dictionary. The entries themselves are numerous, but carry less information, which seems to be the norm among the English section of a Philippine-language dictionary.

Here is an example.

when adv. san1; conj. kun (1); interr prn. san-o; rel prn. kun sán-o, Cf; san-o.

All in all, this dictionary was well worth the money. At $22.50, it was a great bargain. It is my hope that Masbatenyo literature will grow. The sad thing is that on page 3, Dr. Wolfenden states "... this dictionary is only the second published work on the Masbatenyo language." This book I have is just the second? I am hoping that it will not be the last.


volts said...


Masbatenyo is like Catarman WARay dialect! This is interesting... and now I understand why the people from CAtarman speaks such kind of WAray. its the Visayan Sea that connect the two...
NIce blog, Chris!

Am looking forward for more.

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Can I have a copy of this book? I have been collecting Masbatenyo words since 2002, but I could not get them all. One difficulty is that I am not a linguist. I am just a fan of our rich language.