Prior to the coming of the Spaniards, the peoples of the Philippine Islands wrote in their languages using a syllabary (writing system in which each symbol represents a syllable). The Ilocanos, Tagalogs, Pangasinenses, Visayans, and Kapampangans shared a similar syllabary, composed of 16 characters (including three vowels, a, e/i and o/u). In the Tagalog script, syllable final (coda) consonants were not reflected in the orthography, so the three syllable word pagdating would be written "pa-da-ti". The Ilocano script, however, was innovated to reflect coda consonants as they often contrast: asok = my dog, asom = your dog.

 Most scholars are reluctant to give an origin for the scripts, but they have been compared to the Indic writings in the Edicts of Asoka (500BC), the Batak scripts in Sumatra, and the Buginese scripts in Celebes-- all remarkably different from the Philippine scripts.

 The syllabary to the right is an example of the Ilocano script, taken from the 1621 Ilocano Doctrina Cristiana by Father Belarmino. Very few examples of the script as employed on Luzon Island are still available today, but we do have samples of old nineteenth century Filipino signatures employing both Roman characters and the native script.

 The Tagalog syllabary is essentially the same as the Ilocano syllabary, a nice example of it also occurs in the Povedano calendar, taken from the 1572 Povedano manuscript. Its pre-Hispanic origin is dubious, but it is nevertheless quite pretty to look at.


The Mangyan and Tagbanua Scripts

Two Philippine scripts which remarkably differed from the scripts employed by the Ilocanos and Tagalogs on Luzon Island, were those of the Mangyans (of Mindoro Island) and the Tagbanuas (of Palawan Island). Because of the relative isolation of these ethnic groups, their scripts have fluorished. The Mangyan script is still used to this day.

Compare the Tagalog, Mangyan and Tagbanua scripts.

View a letter written in the Mangyan script and translated into Spanish and English.

View the Hanunoo Mangyan Script (complete alphabet with samples).

Source: Ti panagsurat dagiti Pipinas idi Ugma, Insurat ni Don Ignacio Villamor iti Belarmino ken sabali pay a daan a kasuratan. Manila: Islas Pilipinas, 1922. [La antigua escritura filipina- Ancient Philippine Writing] Manuscript in University of Santo Tomas.

Back to Carl Rubino's homepage.