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March 22, 2004


Translation fosters the development of a national language. It is a means through which we can possess in our language foreign knowledge, theory, and experience. In a multilingual society such as ours, translation is also a way to incorporate the contribution of different native cultures into the national consciousness reflected in a national language.

This is the reason why a clause on translation is imperative when laws involving language and culture are made. In Republic Act 7104, which created the Commission on the Filipino Language in 1991, it was stated in Section 14 that one of the Commission’s tasks is “to create and maintain a translation division that will encourage through incentives, execute and actively promote translations into Filipino and other languages of the Philippines…” In Republic Act 7356 that established the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in 1992, one of the tasks given the body was to ascertain “the most extensive dissemination of artistic and cultural works to the largest number of citizens in the whole country and other nations as well.” In the second section of that Republic Act, NCCA was tasked to vitalize and monitor a comprehensive translation program in order for works written by Filipinos and other choice foreign classical texts to reach Filipino and foreign readers.”

It is implied in these laws that the national language is the initial beneficiary of these translation programs and projects, the language that is our tool in shaping our nationhood. It is the Filipino language that gathers the rich cultures cultivated by the different ethnolinguistic groups in the Philippines, as well as the useful knowledge to be gained from the development of various countries in the world.

Linguists often deplore the absence of a full-scale, organized concern and clear direction in the field of translation. Firstly, translation is commonly done individually by teachers, writers, graduate students, whose choice of material for translation is based only on personal choice and interests. Secondly, although a project meant to form a comprehensive bibliography of translated texts such as Lilia F. Antonio’s Apat na Siglo ng Pagsasalin (Four Centuries of Translation, SWF, 1998) has been launched, bibliography can be developed further. More importantly, there is still the task of the collecting translations themselves, for these to be disseminated and used by readers. Thirdly, seminar-workshops on translations are still rampant in the goals of honing the translation skills of the participants. Still and all, most of these workshops are not supported by a definite program that would utilize their training thus they turn into exercises that waste their time and intelligence.

This report aims to differ from the usual discourse of further identifying the problems caused by the absence of a systematic translation program. Instead, this will present some successful translation projects that have grand visions, accomplished in organized ways, in the hopes of furthering relevant objectives and methods for the enrichment of the national language. These projects include the Panitikan Series of the consortium of three major university presses in the country, the Proyektong Aklatang Bayan of the UP Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, and the Solidarity Translation Series initiated by the Toyota Foundation. Although these projects did not happen in 2001, their effectiveness is felt until the present. The novels of the Solidarity Translation Series are now included in the syllabi of undergraduate and graduate literature classes. The poems and short stories of the Panitikan Series are now anthologized in literature textbooks. The various science, math, social science textbooks, and references for other fields produced by Aklatang Bayan are continually used by students in the University of the Philippines. If these projects are successful, these could serve as models for future translation ventures for the development of the national language.

The Panitikan Series

One of the most significant translation projects in recent years, the Panitikan Series was established by the consortium of the presses of the three major universities in the country—the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and De la Salle University. The goal of the project is to “publish or reprint important literary works that must be read by students of literature and Philippine Culture.”

The selection process of works to be published is systematic—through a questionnaire, literature teachers of the three universities were consulted, the resulting list of works kept and added to by three literature experts.  It is important to note this process of selecting works to be translated. The involvement of literature teachers and experts ensures that the works to be translated are worthy and that the translations will be used and benefited from. On the whole, 36 works were divided into three, with each university press publishing 12 titles within the next six years. Among the books which have been published in the course of this project are Dulaang Cebuano(1997), Dulaang Hiligaynon (1996), Maikling Kuwentong Kapampangan at Pangasinan (1996), Sarswelang Pangasinan (1996), Siday: Mga Tulang Bayan ng Panay at Negros (1997), Tula at Kuwento ng Katutubong Bukidnon (1996). As is evident in these examples, the Panitikan Series underlined creative work composed in the more major languages of the Philippines, and showed the richness of literary forms produced in these languages.

One of the ruling guides of the Panitikan Series is the translation of regional works into Filipino. The editorial rationale states that Filipino is the “sister language of the native languages, and will most effectively communicate the feel, color, and rhythm of the original language.” Furthermore, “the national language will finally be used as the standard language of literary research in the country.”

The editor did not give a definite criterion as to the type and form of Filipino that would be used. Bienvenido Lumbera explained in his Preface to the published books: “The Filipino used in this series has no permanent form as yet. Now that the National Language has been, so to speak, opened up to all our country’s languages, one can expect it to undergo a further period of change in form and process of nationalization. The goal of the Panitikan Series is to contribute to the discernment of the emergent form of the Filipino language. Toward this goal, the language of the translation shall accommodate the vocabulary and syntax of the languages of the original works, in the belief that this is the more effective way to make Filipino truly national.”

Certainly, the Panitikan Series makes a significant contribution to the formation of a national literature. Coffers of creative work in various forms and languages exist, but these works must be translated into a common language that will allow Filipinos to inter-relate ideas and discoveries, dreams and failures, experiences and histories of a race.

But it is clear in Lumbera’s statement that the translation of regional literature into a national language is also a means of shaping and nationalization of that language. The Filipino language is not a set language that will lend itself easily to the translation of literary works. It is in the very process of translation that this language will develop.

This perspective is consistent with the concept of Filipino in the Constitution. It is stated in Article XIV, Section 6: “The national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.” This concept of Filipino eliminates anything that should inhibit translators of regional literature from retaining elements of their language, and emboldens their publication toward the enrichment of the national language.

Teresita G. Maceda described her experience of translating selected Cebuano stories written by Marcel M. Navarra (Marcel M. Navarra: Mga Piling Kuwentong Sebuwano, UP Press, 1986). She compared her translation with Don Pagusara’s translation of Cebuano poetry (Panulaang Cebuano, Ateneo de Manila Press, 1993) and discovered that Pagusara’s translation contained more Cebuano words than hers. It can be felt that Maceda was disappointed, after rereading the 12 sugilanon that she translated, that she retained only 11 Cebuano words, the uses of which were limited to tools, plants and methods of cooking corn. These words are hungot, tughong, agsa, lamaw, binuyok, agpangan, sangig, sanggab, tinustos, bantingan and bungot-bungot. Maceda’s translation was published in 1986; the debate over the Constitution’s language provision was probably not yet settled at that time. Maceda explains that back then, she still viewed Filipino as Tagalog. Translators of regional literature were not yet fully aware of the new concept of Filipino, which should guide translators into enlivening the national language’s richness and develop the national language through the contributions of native languages in the Philippines. Maceda made a list of Cebuano words that she would have retained in the translations had the new concept of Filipino been operational by then (included in the list are sugilanon, damgo, pangandoy, ginikanan, kalisud, gugma, matahum, maanyag), not only as a means to add to the Filipino vocabulary, but also to retain specific meanings that these words contain.

This initial contribution of regional languages through translation is only in the level of lexicon. If we return to Lumbera’s statement, the language of the translation is also open to the syntax of the original language. In the case of Cebuano, Maceda suggests that the absence of reduplication (e.g., “pagpaunlad” instead of “pagpapaunlad”) be added to Filipino. The preservation of this particular structure of Cebuano, to her, is a means to show the sensibility of Cebuano culture, as well as this language’s contribution to the simplification and modernization of the national language. Although the greater part of the native languages’ contributions to the national language come in the form of vocabulary-development, it would also be beneficial to consider the contributions at the level of syntax in order to pin-point the advantages and disadvantages of such a suggestion.

Proyektong Aklatang Bayan

In 1989, the University of the Philippines adopted a Language Policy that declared Filipino as the medium of instruction in the undergraduate level. In implementing this, one language policy proved to be insufficient in convincing teachers who have become accustomed to use English in class. Educational materials were needed to encourage and support the teachers who would shift to Filipino as the medium of instruction. A whole library of books on the various disciplines was needed by teachers and students.

Sentro ng Wikang Filipino began Aklatang Bayan in 1994 with a fund given by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST). In time, other agencies and government heads helped in financing the project.

The Aklatang Bayan was divided into various series classified based into the disciplines to which they belonged. These are the following: Aklat Bahandi, a series of classical texts translated from foreign and regional languages; Aklat Binhi, a textbook series on agriculture; Aklat Danum, a textbook series on marine science; Aklat Ili, a textbook series on social science; Aklat Paraluman, a textbook series on science and mathetmatics; Aklat Pasad, a textbook series on engineering and mechanics; Aklat Sanyata, a textbook series on art, literature, language and the humanities; and Aklat Uswag, a textbook series on economics.

Some sample titles are Agham Computer (1996), Batayang Alhebra (1997), Batayang Pisika (1996), Botanikang Pangkabuhayan (1996), Disenyo sa Logic (1998), Entomolohiya Medikal (1998), Gawaing Reference at Impormasyon (1998), Histolohiya ng Hayop (1996), Ilahas sa Tropiko (1998), Matematika para sa Pangkalahatang Edukasyon (1997), Morpolohiya at Pisyolohiya ng Ngipin (1998), Pagkakatalog at Klasipikasyon (1998), Pagsulat ng Iskrip sa Radyo (1998), Patolohiya ng Halaman (1998) and Tumbasang Differential (1998). Some of the more recent titles published in 2000-2001 are Alice sa Daigdig ng Hiwaga (translation of Alice in Wonderland), Insekto sa Pilipinas, Introduksiyon sa Agham Computer, Matanda at Dagat (translation of Old Man and the Sea), Mikrobiolohiya ng Pagkain and Viva Filipinas.

Except for Aklat Bahandi which is a translation of foreign and regional classical texts, books about other disciplines that have been translated into Filipino are only a few. Most of the books, especially those on math and science, were written in Filipino. Even before the Language Policy, some teachers already dared to use Filipino in class. Often, teachers shift to Filipino when explaining difficult concepts or during class discussions. That some teachers took to the task of writing books on their field in Filipino is therefore not surprising.

Although many wrote textbooks directly in Filipino, the process always involved translation. In nearly all the branches of knowledge, academics liberally used words and concepts lifted from foreign sources. Consequently, even though writing directly in Filipino, the translation of foreign words and concepts attended the work simultaneously.

That is why at the start of the Aklatang Bayan project, it was a temporary rule that translators could completely rely on English in the writing of science and mathematics textbooks and other scientific fields—the borrowing of technological and scientific terms from their original forms. This was also the rule stated in the 1987 Alpabeto at Patnubay sa Ispeling ng Wikang Filipino. The original form need not be changed when symbols for science and scientific terms are borrowed.

But while the experience of writing in or translating to Filipino deepens, the other possibilities of matching up words with technical or scientific concepts are also explored in the process: 1) borrowing from Spanish, 2) borrowing from English with modifications in the spelling, 3) borrowing from English with the original spelling retained, 4) creating and 5) finding the equivalent words from the various native languages of the Philippines. These show that through translation, it is not only the national language’s vocabulary that develops; translation also enriches the very way through which a language develops.

The first four strategies above are commonly used. The exciting work lies in the finding of equivalent words not only from Tagalog but also from the deep well of different regional languages in the Philippines. A professor in biology, for example, wrote about the translation of the concept “wild.” He refused both “wild” and “wayld,” the concept’s changed form. As for the Tagalog words “mailap” or “ligaw,” he found such terms inadequate. “Mailap” is appropriate only for animals and “ligaw” can only refer to plants, such that two words are needed to replace “wild.” That is, until he came upon the Visayan word “ilahas,” the word that captures the meaning of wild.

There are suggestions and experiments to use the Cebuano word “hulagway” as an equivalent for “imagery” in criticism; the Ilocano word “rabaw” to match “surface” in geometry; the Cebuano word “lawas” to stand for “body” in its technical sense in English. For a long time now in UP, the Cebuano word “gahum” has been used as the translation of “hegemony” in the fields of political science and literary studies.

These examples show that borrowing technical and scientific terms from English and other foreign languages may well be a temporary chapter in the process of intellectualization of our national language. Some of the terms may be nativized, a process of finding equivalent words from the fertile womb of Philippine languages. But it is not necessary, and it is no rule, to nativize all the technical and scientific terms as this will slow down the widespread use of Filipino as a language of intellectuals. The crucial part of this chapter now is the activation of the use of Filipino, especially in the academe. Once this happens, it is still possible to explore other forms of nativization, especially in fields where such nativization holds significance.

With Aklatang Bayan came a surge of various books written in the national language. All doubts and hesitations about the intellectual-ization of Filipino were proven wrong, its capacity to lend itself as a means to tackle elevated knowledge and become the primary tool in learning. The textbooks were not merely produced; they were used in high schools and colleges, and some results of the field tests were positive. The use of Filipino in UP as a medium of instruction is not yet prevalent though. But if Aklatang Bayan will aggressively continue its operations, more people would dare to shift to the use of Filipino in teaching.

Solidarity Translation Series

The Solidarity Translation Series is a full-scale project of translation into Filipino, or English, of books of literature, humanities and social science authored by writers and intellectuals from Southeast Asia. The translations born out of this series were published by the Toyota Foundation.

Begun in 1987, the Solidarity Translation Series positioned itself against the grain of the history of translation in the Philippines. For a long time, the direction of translation has been focused on the West. During the time of Spanish colonial rule, translation was an instrument of conquest, and almost all religious texts translated into Tagalog and other native languages were translated from the Spanish. Under American colonial rule, educated Filipinos were drawn to translating classical literature from America, France, Germany, Russia and others, which served as models in writing and experimenting with the literary forms.

The Solidarity Translation Series demonstrates what could be gained from our neighboring countries through translation. This is a call to momentarily turn the gaze away from the West to discover other correspondences, especially with countries we are in close proximity to, not only in terms of geography but of history and culture as well.

It would be incorrect to say that only in the last decade did a focused translation project involving Asian texts take place. During the Second World War, Japanese books and essays were translated to serve as propaganda to highlight Japanese benevolence, and enjoin Filipinos in the battle against Westerners. In the 1970s, translation of Asian texts was used to awaken the social conscious-ness of Filipinos. Notwithstanding, the Solidarity Translation Series may be considered the first extensive effort to translate Asian texts into Filipino, its claim to extensiveness based on the number of translated texts, and the variety of Asian languages and fields of knowledge represented. Until 1994, 63 titles were released under this series. The number of published titles approximates the seriousness of project’s goal, sufficient to be effective and create new directions for translation in the country.

One of this series’ noteworthy translations is Thelma B. Kintanar’s translation of Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novel Ang Daigdig ng Tao (1990) from Bahasa Indonesia into Filipino, and Ussiri Thammachote’s short story collection Khuntong—Babalik Ka Paglipas ng Dilim (1988) from Thai into Filipino. It is important to feature Kintanar’s experience here because she translated foreign texts into Filipino without having to pass through English or Spanish, these languages being the customary byways of most translations in the Philippines.

She lived in Thailand for about five years to study its language and culture. She was also a frequent visitor of Malaysia and Indonesia, and in 1983, was visiting fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore, a stint that allowed her to pursue further study of Asian languages and cultures. In a way, Kintanar has elevated the standards for the future translators—language must be learned and studied through immersion in the culture that produced it.

Kintanar summarizes her experience thus: “In choosing which texts to translate and in translating literature from Southeaest Asia, many considerations attended the work—aesthetic features, the fidelity of the work to the experience and era of the reader, the ability to grant the reader an opportunity to broaden his or her knowledge of our neighboring countries’ cultures and compare these with his or her own culture.”

A crucial issue regarding the translator’s considerations is the issue of language. Kintanar’s rule of thumb while translating was to use Thai or Bahasa words instead of their Filipino equivalents. While translating a story by Ussiri, for instance, she used the title “Patay na ang ya prek” as the title. Ya prek is a kind of grass. The story revolves around two male servants who fought gravely over land as each protected his master’s interests. Although they are friends, the idea that they are their masters’ possessions and should therefore die for them was ingrained in the minds of both. When one of the two died, he was grasping ya prek that was growing on the ground on which he had stood, the ya prek was crushed in his hands before his hands became stiff with death. Kintanar decided to use ya prek in her understanding of Thai culture, where ya prek has become a symbol for lowly people.

Another word that Kintanar kept in its original form is klong, which signifies “kanal” or “estero.” Kintanar explained that klong is a subculture in itself in Thailand, and that it is important as a place of residence, a thoroughfare and a source of livelihood. She considered using the word “estero” because of its similarity to klong (in that the estero also has a history in Philippine culture), but decided not to use it because given the unstable nature of what words refer to, the word might bring to the Filipino reader’s mind pollution, dirt, and trash. Although those senses also belong to klong, there are greater meanings embedded in the word as it is used in Ussiri’s klong-centered story.

The use of foreign words in the translation is important to Kintanar’s consideration process while translating. It will be noted that in the act of translation, what stands between the original text and the translation is the knowledge not only of the language but also of the culture that produced that language.

What would have resulted had Kintanar used an English translation of Ussiri’s story as source text? In the worst translation, “weed” would have stood in for ya prek, as “creek” would for klong. In such a case, the words ya prek and klong would occur in the Filipino translations. In the best translation, these words may be retained in their original form, and it would be likely that they would appear in the Filipino translation. But what Kintanar makes us aware of through her notes is the eventuality of Filipino translators becoming more sensitive, and therefore more cautious in their work, more rational in finding substitute or equivalent words, as she is coming from the same culture and history.

In Kintanar’s translation of Toer’s novel from its original Bahasa Indonesia, she showed how closely related Filipino and Bahasa Indonesia are, owing to their having similar origins. Many Bahasa Indonesia words are found in Filipino such as anak, angin, bulan, baru, kurang, saksi, sakita. Some words are similar, like bangsa, djiwa, salah, buaya. But she also notes that some words are similar in form but have a different meaning, such as malas, alam, asal, lagi, kupas, sabit, sama. Kintanar added that because of the likeness of these languages, the Filipino translator easily becomes familiar with the work. “It is as though he or she has the power to enter the mind and hear of not only the characters in the novel but of the writer as well.”

Kintanar’s two translations make us aware of our membership to a larger community of countries and cultures. Through translation, we can enrich our vocabulary of relating with and understanding the experience, culture, and history of our neighbor countries. Aside from this, Kintanar’s translations also provide insight into the importance of using original texts, as opposed to another translation, in translating foreign works into Filipino.

The three translation projects are abundant streams of words and concepts that could push the development of the national language. Words that mirror the rich culture and experience of various enthnolinguistic groups in the country and other nations. Words that mirror the development in various fields of knowledge, especially science and technology. This concretizes the Constitution’s mandate to invigorate and enrich the Filipino language.

These projects also produce insights on how the very process of translation can be improved. In Kintanar’s translation, the importance of using the original texts is proven. In the Solidarity Translation Series, we see how turning to other languages, as opposed to remaining fixed on English and Spanish, can expand cultural vision. In Aklatang Bayan’s project, we witness various creative ways of finding equivalent words, especially where scientific and technical vocabulary is concerned.

But just as important as the proof of how translation enriches the vocabulary of the national language and makes us aware of the beneficial lessons in translation, these projects also showed that the Filipino language is intellectual, not only because of its ability to extend its lexicon but also for its competency to be used in different fields. This consciousness is significant especially when considered within the context of our national language’s complex history. While Filipino and other Philippine languages remain widely used and accepted, it is the English language that assumes a more dominant position in the academe. Among a considerable lot, there persists the belief regarding the deficiency and non-competence of our national language. This claim, of course, is now being disputed by translation, and now more than ever, there is an urgency to be more vigorous in our efforts to make manifest the extraordinary potential of using the Filipino language in the education, erudition, and expression of our selves.


We anticipate an age when translation will flourish.

Two developments in linguistic studies and planning happened in the year 2001 that are expected to further invigorate the field of translation in our country. Last August 2001, the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (KWF) launched 2001 Revisyon ng Alfabeto at Patnubay sa Ispeling ng Wikang Filipino, a book project that was spearheaded by KWF Comissioner Rosario E. Maminta. The 2001 Revisyon focuses on the revision of the guidelines concerning the use of the eight letters that were added to the Filipino alphabet—C, F, J, Ñ, Q, V, X, Z—in the 1987 Alpabeto at Patnubay sa Ispeling ng Wikang Filipino.

It is a fact well-known that the 1987 Patnubay posted very rigid guidelines reagarding these eight letters, limiting its scope to the issue of the proper spelling of words that belong to the formal or technical variety, i.e., proper nouns, indigenous languages, words that fall under scientific and technical jargon, scientific symbols, and those words pronounced differently from how they are spelled.

Guidelines on these eight letters, however, became flexible in the 2001 Revisyon. Critical to the understand-ing of these new rules is the division of these eight letters into two groups.

F, J, V, and Z all have definite phonemic status (each of these letters are assigned one definite sound); while C, Ñ, Q, and X are considered redundant (each of these letters are assigned more than one definite sound). Letters that belong to the former are commonly used when “Filipinizing” foreign words such as fixer (fikser), subject (sabjek), vertical (vertical), and zipper (zipper).

On the other hand, words that contain letters from the latter group (redundant therefore assigned more than one phonemic sound) are simply spelled according to how they are pronounced (“kung ano ang bigkas, siyang baybay”): participant à partisipant, magnetic à magnetic, sequester à sekwester, quorum à korum, piña à pinya, taxonomy à taksonomi, exam à eksam. Words borrowed in the original form following the conditions stated in the 1987 Patnubay will use the letters C, Ñ, Q and X when spelled.

Without a doubt, the 2001 Revisyon is expected to hasten the modernization of our national language. When, with our national language, one strikes an equilibrium between an openness to the influences of foreign languages and a fidelity to the one-to-one/letter-to-phoneme/sound correspondence, we can expect an expansion of the Philippine vocabulary, thus facilitating ease and growth of translation of and into Filipino.

There are those who pointed out that with the liberalization of these guidelines, we are practically endorsing a practice of reckless and indiscriminate borrowing from the English language. On one hand, these “loans” may be considered nothing more than temporary cables we hold on to as we work ourselves towards the development of our national language. As in the case of the UP Sentro ng Wikang Filipino’s Aklatang Bayan project, scientific and technical jargon that were borrowed led to the indigenization of borrowed concepts. At this time, what is important is that we find ways of persuading those from the academe to use the Filipino language in the study of as many fields as possible. Once the Filipino language assumes the privileged status of being the language of the intellectual, inevitably we will come upon more ways of enriching our national language. And once we train ourselves to read Filipino with a sharp eye and a keen awareness for these additional letters, other Philippine languages wherein these eight letters are present will benefit as well, expediting the entry of their vocabulary into the mainstream.

In November 2001, the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino was launched. Considered as the first-ever comprehensive monolingual dictionary in Filipino, it was edited by Virgilio S. Almario and had a formidable project team composed of fourteen researchers, eight language consultants and production consultants, three sub-editors all of whom are language scholars and writers who patiently observe and take note of the developments and changes in our language. The dictionary was a product of five years worth of research so that it is a veritable trove of words from different disciplines, including the latest fields of study such as aeronautics, agriculture, anatomy, anthropology, architecture, astrology, astronomy, biology, biochemistry, carpentry, chemistry, commerce, computer science, dance, education, ecology, economics, ethnology, film, geography, geology, engineering, human kinetics, linguistics, literature, mathematics, medicine, military science, mythology, metallurgy, meteorology, music, political science, philosophy, physics, psychology, sociology, and theater arts. It contains over 100,000 entries with contributions from foreign as well as other Philippine languages.

How would the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino invigorate translation? Like the primary use of dictionaries, the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino will serve as a reference book for translators for the basic information on words that have become part of the corpus of the Filipino language. In fact, the translator will be given more confidence in using the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino since other than the given meaning and certainty of its form in speech that other dictionaries also provide, the UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino includes other useful information like the classification of words according to disciplines, the origin of the entry, its main meaning, arrangement of its multiple meanings, and related entries in the dictionary.

UP Diksiyonaryong Filipino is expected to encourage translators to discover words and concepts that will truly contribute to the enrichment of our national language. It is a testament to the Filipino language’s capacity to adopt foreign languages and other Philippine languages as well as concepts from various disciplines.

These are exciting times for translation. Not only is this the time to fulfill the practical goals but, more importantly, to face up to the challenge of developing and enriching our national language. (Translated by Marc Escalona Gaba).