Friday, July 21, 2006

Towards the Standardization of the Filipino Writing System: Spelling Rules and Guidelines on the Use of the Eight New Letters of the Filipino Alphabet

[NOTE: Page 53 of the 2001 Revisyon ng Alfabeto at Patnubay sa Ispeling ng Wikang Filipino says:

“The central issue in language planning is the conflict between the role of language as symbol or mark of national identity and its role as instrument of mutual intelligibility amongst nations and people in the global community. For example, as marker of identity, early leaders of the national language movement such as Lope K. Santos jealously guarded the language against the entry of foreign borrowings into the Filipino lexical system… Which simply demonstrated that all matters related to language such as spelling reforms carry strong emotional or affective undertones.”

These “undertones” were noticed in particular by James Tollefson, language policy and applied linguistics expert, in his book, Planning Language, Planning Inequality (1991). In a review, Ester J. de Jong, a bilingual education expert, wrote:

“Tollefson chooses the Philippines, previously an American colony, to show the relationship between language, class, and power. In the Philippines, English has a high status as the official language of the country. It is the language for education, and often a required language for higher-level jobs. Pilipino, one of the major national languages, has been proposed by the communist adversaries of the government as the official language. Neo-classical explanations describe this conflict in terms of the instrumental value of English versus the symbolic/integrative value of Pilipino. However, this avoids looking at the social class issues that are involved. Tollefson points out that the current policy, which promotes English and does not officially recognize the national languages in education, gives the English-speaking elite an advantage, while at the same time maintaining linguistic barriers to education for the poor, who speak other languages than English. Thus, the struggle between the languages is therefore one aspect of a struggle between competing economic interests, with English and Pilipino serving the aims of fundamentally different groups.”

Well now, I don’t remember ever that Lope K. Santos, former Director of the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa [which is now the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino], was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party. Some of those who support the movement to develop Pilipino as our national language could have been. But that's within their right.

Personally, I think the matter of nationalism as the central issue of language policy has been overplayed. I have learned how to speak the language and its permutations some 40 years ago and for some reason, I just didn’t feel any more nationalistic even during those few years of my life spent somewhere in Laguna, a Tagalog or Pilipino heartland, where I did speak Filipino everyday.

In The Metamorphosis of Filipino as National Language, Jessie Grace Rubrico expresses the following concerns:

“…there are expressed illusory hindrances to the concept of a unifying language, to wit: (1) it is impossible to develop a national language from one of the country's 100-plus languages; (2) the emergence of a national language will wither the other languages; (3) it is equally impossible to develop a national language based on two or more languages; (4) regionalistic pride prevails over nationalistic aspiration --like the Cebuano who insists on using his own language over Pilipino.”

I’m almost sure that the Ilocanos are no different, nor are the Bicolanos, the Hiligaynons, etc. For example, the Ilocanos have Bannawag and recently, Tawid News Magasin online, a very active Ilocano web portal at, GUMIL [an international association of writers in Ilocano], an active community of bloggers in Ilocano, an Ilocano section of Wikipedia, etc. You go out there in Ilocandia and you are certainly made aware that Ilocano is the lingua franca.

To these other regional ethnic groups (Ilocanos, Hiligaynons, Cebuanos, Bicolanos, etc.), the selection of Tagalog as basis for the development of Filipino as our national language must have seemed like a “power grab” parallel to Neville Alexander’s assertion in Language, Class and Power In Post-Apartheid South Africa, although the realization might not have occurred initially. Alexander maintains that “language policies are governmental strategies designed, mostly consciously, to promote the interests of specific classes and other social groups.” Alexander further notes that “it is not true that languages simply develop ‘naturally’, as it were. They are formed and manipulated within definite limits to suit the interest of different groups of people. This is very clear in the case of so-called standard languages, as opposed to non-standard varieties (dialects, sociolects). The former are invariably the preferred varieties of the ruling class or ruling strata in any given society. They prevail as the norm because of the economic, political-military power of the rulers, not because they are ‘natural’ in any meaning of the term.”

Just food for your thoughts… -- JP]


Towards the Standardization of the Filipino Writing System: Spelling Rules and Guidelines on the Use of the Eight New Letters of the Filipino Alphabet

(This is a shortened version of the original report presented to the Consultative Conferences and Workshops with scholars and writers in Filipino as participants.)

This project is part of the national language planning program of the Commission on the Filipino Language which is specifically concerned with the standardization of the writing system of Filipino, the national language. The final output is expected to be a set of recommendations and spelling rules for facilitating word borrowings and translations in the written language, thus contributing to the standardization and intellectualization of our national language through its vocabulary enrichment.

It is recognized that continuing spelling reform to improve the writing system is essential in achieving the over-all goal of the standardization and intellectualization of Filipino. This is because reducing oral language to its written form exerts a powerful influence in establishing uniformity. In the initial stages of language development and standardization, uniformity or codification is necessary. At this stage norms are developed in all the various linguistic components, thus stabilizing pronunciation, vocabulary and grammatical structures.

Background and Statement of Objectives

It is acknowledged that lack of a standardized spelling system has caused confusion for most users of Filipino in the process of writing and reading the language. This is obvious when the reader is confronted with innumerable spelling variants in the pages of newspapers, books and other published materials as well as in the manuscripts written by authors, teachers and students in their day-to-day classroom use and study of the language.

This problem has serious implications in slowing down the process of reducing the language to its written form. It has restricted the development of written works as well as literature of Filipino which reflects the culture and traditions of the people as well as expressions of our noblest thoughts and aspirations. Besides this limitation on original creative works in Filipino, translations of world classics have been limited. This has naturally delayed uniformity which facilitates mutual intelligibility.

A standardized writing system also reduces dialectal variants into acceptable norms. A wider community of speakers adopts these norms, thus the dissemination and promotion of a lingua franca. This lingua franca becomes the nucleus of a standardized national language.

To meet this need of the continuing development or standardization of the Filipino writing system, this project is concerned with the revision of Department Order No. 81, S 1987 which provides for the addition of eight new letters to the original 20-letter ABAKADA of Filipino.

The promulgation of this Department Order was regarded as a significant step in promoting more dynamic development of the language. The goal is lexical enrichment of Filipino by liberalizing word borrowings and translations largely from English and Spanish using eight additional letters of the alphabet, namely letters C, F, J, Ñ, Q, V, X, Z.

But the Department Order was not fully implemented. The spelling guidelines issued by the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa were regarded as too restrictive and unrealistic because the use of the eight new letters was limited only to borrowed words which are of three types: proper nouns, technical terminology and words with unique cultural references. It was further provided that if the borrowed words belonged to the everyday, conversational variety or the so-called “karaniwang salita,” the original 20-letter ABAKADA should be used.

These implementing guidelines were rejected because it was charged that they failed to recognize the nature of language use in the Philippine bilingual context in which English is widely used as part of the daily life of the Filipino. With English as a second language, the average Filipino resorts to code-switching and borrowing freely from English to Filipino and vice-versa both in written and spoken language regardless of the formality level of the communication situation and the corresponding variety of the language used. Borrowing words from languages is done for various reasons such as need for precision, prestige, for formality or rapport or other sociolinguistics reasons. Citing Fortunato, she claims:

Kulang ang kasapatan ng tuntunin para mapapasok ang karaniwang terminong ginagamit sa pagfilipino natin, pasalita o pasulat.

Among the various educational institutions and professional groups who issued their own spelling handbooks, specifically on the spelling reform promulgated in Department Order No. 81, s. 1987 are:

  • De La Salle University;

  • University of the Philippines-Sentro ng Wikang Filipino and Department of Linguistics, issuing two sets of spelling rules;

  • SANGFIL (Professional Organization or Samahan Ng Departamento ng Filipino);

  • including individual authors who designed their own spelling systems.

The continuing use of these disparate spelling rules through the years has naturally aggravated the problem. Innumerable spelling variants have been created to negate the over-all national effort to codify, standardize and intellectualize the national language.

It is to this above problem that this project is addressed. It is believed that at this stage, deliberate intervention to evolve a unified spelling system which will reconcile differences and arrive at a unified system based on informed decisions is vital in order to put in place the process of standardizing the writing system of Filipino. The goal is to achieve an efficient system of spelling rules which is based on informed decisions drawn from linguistic theory as well as socio-political and pedagogical rationale. Likewise this system should be evolved through a process of consultation and collaboration which will be acceptable to the scholars and users of the language.

Theoretical Background and Conceptual Framework

Language planning is a new developing area of sociolinguistics which emerged after the second World War when newly independent nations recognized the need to get rid of the language of their colonizers as the lingua franca and to develop their own national language. This indigenous language was expected to foster sense of nationhood and achieve national unity as well as to provide an instrument for external differentiation of the new nation from the rest of the world. As there was urgent need to achieve national development goals it was also recognized that a fully developed language was one of the most effective human resource instruments to achieve these goals.

The implementation of this project is part of the current language planning program of the Commission on the Filipino Language, the official language planning body of the Philippines. This program involves direct intervention rather than waiting for natural language change in order to facilitate language development through research, publications or promotion and dissemination of plans related to the standardization and modernization of Filipino.

Processes of Language Standardization and Intellectualization

What are the marks of a standardized and intellectualized language? What processes are involved?

The two basic processes in the development and standardization of a language are the reduction of the oral language to its written form and lexical enrichment or expansion to attain intertranslatability of the language, with other fully developed languages of the world.

When a language is written, oral traditions and culture of a social group are recorded and transmitted across time and space. On the other hand, a language becomes extinct and the culture of its speakers is lost forever when the language remains in its oral form. Besides recording and preserving language and culture, writing creates uniformity and arrests the pace of language change. On the influence of writing on the standardization of language, Ferguson maintains:

When oral language is reduced to its written form, uniformity of linguistic structure—phonological, lexical and syntactic components are established. The language is codified and norms are established. In fact, at a certain stage in language development, language deviants are minimized and the use of a common norm allows the use of a code within a wider community of speakers.

Thus, at a certain stage in the development of a language, uniformity is desired and is achieved through writing. But it is also through writing that another variety of the language is created. So, at later stages, written language may develop new forms of discourse and varieties. Unlike the oral language which is spontaneous and transitory, the written language tends to be more complex and detailed. A higher, more formal variety, appropriate to the situational context is often created.

It is in written discourse, that the formal, academic or technical variety of language is created. Ferguson further explains the power of writing in developing higher and more complex varieties:

The fact is that writing never reflects speech in an exact way; written language frequently develops characteristics not found in corresponding spoken language… Speech communities, as they begin the regular use of writing do not feel that ordinary, everyday speech is appropriate for written use.

A standardized writing system does not only develop the language itself. Like other innovations, the development of writing has also a strong impact on the culture and social organization. It produces more formal and permanent records. Less transitory and more deliberate than oral speech, higher and more complex thinking is elicited and encoded.

Another benefit derived from language standardization is the development of its intertranslatability with other highly developed languages of the world. Written literature, scientific reports and treatises in other fully developed languages such as German, French, Russian are made available through Filipino translation. Lexical expansion through borrowings made permanent in written language enables the language to cover topics and express concepts which reflect the continuing advance of knowledge. It also means giving opportunity of the users of the language to participate and gain benefits derived from such advances.

So, with the expansion and enrichment of its lexicon through an efficient writing system, the language is extended to:

…cover topics and to appear in a range of forms of discourse for which it was not previously used, including non-literary prose and oral communication such as lectures, symposium and panel discussions.

Along with the development of the capacity of the language to express higher level concepts and processes, writing also enriches the language through the development of various forms of written discourse such as literary works, non-literary essays and standardized papers, including business contracts, research papers, legal briefs and other standardized discourse used in the practice of various professions.

Above all, a standardized writing system is a vital tool for developing mass literacy with the publication of books and other printed materials. An official writing system facilitates learning to read and write. An informed and enlightened citizenry is, after all, the foundation of a progressive modern society.

Designing an Efficient Writing System

In the history of civilization, several types of writing systems have been developed. For example, the Chinese writing system is ideographic, which means that its characters represent ideas or meanings. On the other hand our Latin writing system consists of Roman alphabets representing sounds.

An efficient spelling system consists of a set of symbols called the alphabet which represents the significant sounds of the language. Ideally, the number of symbols in the alphabet should be the same as the significant sound units, called the phonemes of a language. These phonemes indicate the broader distinctions of sound which correspond to differences in meaning in any language. For example, the phoneme /g/ contrasts with the phoneme /T/ to differentiate gulay, meaning vegetable from tulay, meaning bridge, in Filipino. In the same manner, the glottal stop / / which is phonemic in Filipino, differentiates /bata/ which means child from /bata/ meaning gown. In English a change in the phonemes in [van] differentiates the meaning from [pan] or [tan].

When the significant sound units correspond in number to the symbols of the writing system, designing an alphabet becomes an easy task and learning to read and write is easily achieved.

However there are other factors to consider in designing a spelling system beyond the linguistic factor. A language community cannot stay isolated from other linguistic communities. Social contacts and cultural exchanges introduce linguistic innovations, which will call for spelling reforms to accommodate changes in the written form. Socio-cultural, political and pedagogical factors likewise influence decisions in modifying an existing spelling system.

Cochran of the Summer Institute of Linguistics whose thesis entitled, “Alphabet Design for Papua New Guinea Languages,” is acknowledged as one of the most comprehensive study on the subject, maintains that a good alphabet designer will take into account not only the phonology of the language but also educational, psychological, social, political and economic considerations as he chooses alternatives for symbolizing the sounds of the language. For example, the strong need for ethnic identity maybe a ground for rejecting alphabetic symbols drawn from English and other Western languages. Or the introduction of non-phonetic letters or so-called irregular spelling may be regarded as additional learning burden in what would otherwise be a smooth and enjoyable task of reading and writing. On the other hand, these alternative choices maybe welcome for the very same socio-economic contacts with nations in the Western world.

Another leader in language planning in Southeast Asia, Asnah Haji Omar, the Malaysian linguist who has provided the leadership in designing the joint Malaysian-Indonesian alphabet, confirms the need of going beyond the linguistic rationale to accommodate non-linguistic innovations or socio-political reasons. But she likewise cautions against violating the principles of simplicity, economy and practicality in evolving new alphabetic designs. For example, in maintaining one-on-one correspondence between sounds and symbols, creation of new symbols which pose additional burden in learning should be avoided in favor of combining existing and known symbols to represent new sounds.

All these point to the need for more informed decisions in implementing spelling reforms by either adding new alphabetic symbols to achieve flexibility in accommodating changes or linguistic innovations or, following the principle of economy or simplicity, that of maintaining one-on-one correspondence of sound and symbol. Omar cites two basic principles thus:

An efficient writing system should be able to represent the phonological system of the language by utilizing the symbols that exist in the writing system chosen for the language. Furthermore, an efficient writing system should be able to accommodate the innovations taking place in the phonological system of the language concerned.

Filipino vs. English Spelling System

Seemingly contradictory, both simplicity and flexibility of the spelling system promote ease in learning to read. On the basis of the principle of simplicity or economy, an ideal system should consist of enough letters to match the number of phonemic sounds of the language. One-on-one correspondence of sound and symbol facilitates reading through decoding. Likewise, flexibility in borrowing widely used English words using familiar letters and spelling patterns also enhances reading by capitalizing on international recognizability of these borrowed English words and letters.

On the basis of these two considerations in achieving an efficient spelling system, the strength of Filipino, with its original phonemic spelling is its simplicity as reflected in the rule: “kung ano ang tunog yun ang sulat.” But on this very strength of one-on-one correspondence of sound and symbol lies its weakness in its lack of flexibility to assimilate linguistic borrowings or innovations.

Which implies that borrowing English letters into the Filipino alphabet will strengthen its flexibility but will likely weaken its simplicity.

It is in this context, of the contrast between Filipino and English that in formulating spelling rules for the eight new letters borrowed largely from English, a judicious balance has to be achieved so that the Filipino alphabet will not sacrifice its simplicity and corresponding effectiveness as tool for reading, as it achieves flexibility. In this case, spelling rules should have built-in mechanisms to control and minimize unwarranted flexibility.

Language Planning as Language-Related Problem-Solving

The discipline of applied linguistics including this issue of designing an alphabet consists largely of language-related problem solving. Spelling principles and rules are products of decision-making which inter-relate insights from theoretical linguistics with socio-psycho and political considerations.

The central issue in language planning is the conflict between the role of language as symbol or mark of national identity and its role as instrument of mutual intelligibility amongst nations and people in the global community. For example, as marker of identity, early leaders of the national language movement such as Lope K. Santos jealously guarded the language against the entry of foreign borrowings into the Filipino lexical system. He coined indigenous words, thus, the use of ABAKADA instead of Alfabeto, balarila instead of gramatica, panitikan instead of literatura. Which simply demonstrates that all matters related to language such as spelling reforms carry strong emotional or affective undertones.

To neutralize prejudices or resistance to language planning programs, consensus should be achieved. Anne Cochran advises the alphabet designer:

Discuss (recommendations)… with leaders so that the decisions are made by a group and not by one person… stress the need for national involvement in designing alphabets.

Learning from the experiences of other nations who have achieved a measure of success in language planning, the process should be a collaborative endeavor of scholar, linguists and practitioners in the study and use of the language.


A step-by-step collaborative procedure consisting of consultative conferences, contrastive-comparative analysis of data, technical committee workshops was adopted to achieve the objective of arriving at a unified spelling system through consensus. The process will reconcile differences of the various spelling rules designed by universities who refused to implement the official Memo. No. 87, S. 1987.

The membership of project team represents a balanced mix of theorists, and practitioners in the study and use of the language including language educators, creative writers, publishers who are native and non-native speakers of the Filipino language.

The participating institutions and their representatives are the following:

1. De La Salle University

Dr. Teresita Fortunato

Chair, Department of Philippine Languages

2. Philippine Normal University

Dr. Clemencia Espiritu

Chair, Department of Filipino

3. Sentro ng Wikang Filipino, U.P.

Dr. Mario Miclat (Attended First Consultative Conference.)

4. Department of Linguistics, U.P.

Prof. Ricardo Nolasco (Attended First Consultative Conference.)

Chair, Department of Linguistics

5. Department of Filipino

Dr. Galileo Zafra

Dr. Jesus Ramos

Dr. Pamela Constantino

6. College of Education, U.P.

Dr. Rosario Alonso

Dr. Marietta Otero

Dr. Enedina Villegas

Prof. Melanie Donkor

7. Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino

Dr. Fely Castillo

Dr. Narciso Matienzo

Ms. Pinky Jane Tenmatay

The collaborative process beginning from the conceptualization and design of the scheme of analysis, data gathering, revision and formulation of rules consisted of the following phases:

Phase One – Orientation and Data Gathering Conference

A. Conceptualization of the scheme of assessment/analysis of spelling systems:

An intensive reading of related literature as basis for drawing the scheme of analysis in assessing writing/alphabetic systems was done through library survey of language planning project reports of Asian countries including Malaysia, Indonesia and other African countries.

B. A two-day orientation and consultative conference -

Representatives of four universities presented their own spelling systems including the theoretical rational of each system. A plan of action was formulated.

Phase Two – Data Analysis and Assessment

A. Using the papers on the “Spelling Rules and Underlying Theoretical Rationale” of four universities, intensive analysis was done to determine the relative efficiency of each of the spelling rules based on linguistics, and socio-political considerations. The relative efficiency of each spelling system based on the criteria of economy or one-on-one correspondence of sound-symbol and criteria of flexibility or adequacy in accommodating linguistic innovations was determined. A contrastive-comparative matrix was evolved to summarize similarities and differences. The first draft of the “Project Output: Recommendation of General Rules” for Evolving the Revisions of Spelling rules on the Use of the Eight New Letters” was evolved.

B. The Second Consultative Conference

The Project-Output was discussed; reaction and feedback from the designers of the original spelling systems adopted by four universities were recorded.

Phase Three – Workshops: Formulating Revised Spelling Rules

Two technical committees were organized to write the I Handbook: Question and Answer on the rationale and general principles underlying the revised spelling rules on the use of the eight new letters of the alphabet, II Specific Rules and Guidelines.

A series of workshops was held for 4 consecutive Sundays in July 2001 to write the final document. Another consultative conference was scheduled in which the finished output—the Handbook and Spelling Rules, were presented to writers, and editors of publishing companies. Their feedback was incorporated in the final manuscript.

Phase Four – Presentation and Dissemination of the Final Research Output

The Project Output—Recommendations, General Principles and Spelling Rules

General Principles

Preliminary to the statements of specific spelling rules which apply to each of the eight new letters, general guiding principles at the macro-level will be stated. Justifications of these guiding principles will also be presented as needed.


The use of the new additional eight letters C, F, J, Ñ, Q, V, X, Z in writing Filipino is hereby liberalized to include, not only words classified under the three types originally specified by the Department Order, namely:

  1. proper names, names of persons, places, institutions, etc.,

  1. technical terms which cannot easily be assimilated into the Filipino spelling system or re-spelled without loss of meaning, and

  1. words from ethnic minority Philippine languages which carry unique cultural flavor,

but also all borrowed words regardless of variety including everyday language of the informal or conversational variety which contains words using any of the eight letters. The borrowed words may be part of written discourse belonging to the informal, formal academic, or technical variety, and frozen, literary or ritualistic variety.


The restriction or limiting the use of the eight letters to the three types is unrealistic and therefore not feasible. It fails to recognize the Philippine sociolinguistics context in which the Filipino bilingual speaker who is competent in both Filipino and English freely switches codes. In so doing, he borrows English words freely, whether in using the conversational variety or the formal academic or technical variety. Spontaneous or deliberate code switching or mixing in both writing and speaking occurs to suit the context of the communication situation, in response to the question—who is communicating to whom, what, when, and where, thus dictating the language variety, whether formal, informal or technical.

The next question which has been raised, implying the need for a restricted use of the new borrowed letters of the alphabet is—what happens to the thousands of borrowed words which have earlier been re-spelled or assimilated into the original Filipino spelling system?

In response to the above question, this general guideline is formulated as follows:


Borrowed words containing any of the eight additional letters which have been re-spelled in the original Filipino writing system and assimilated into the language should remain as spelled in the original Filipino alphabet and considered as legitimate spelling variants.

It is predicted that with strict adherence to the new rules through the years, use the eight additional borrowed letters, will then be the preferred spelling and earlier variants will be relegated as “obsolescent,” rare, dialect, vulgar as the case maybe.

As indicated, a spelling system is used for transforming oral language to its written form or for decoding written language to its oral representation. In other words a spelling system is an instrument for facilitating the process of reading and writing. To determine the efficiency of the Filipino spelling system the following criteria should be used:

1. Linguistic

a. Is the alphabetic system adequate to represent all significant sounds?

b. Do the spelling rules observe principles of economy, simplicity and practicality?

2. Besides linguistic considerations does the spelling system consider socio-cultural, political, pedagogical or pragmatic factors?

Redundant vs. Phonemic Representation of English

Using the above criteria, it has been noted that the eight new letters under consideration are of two types, namely, letters C, Ñ, Q, X are redundant in the sense that these do not represent sound units in the English sound system. Each letter does not exclusively represent an English sound, but overlaps with one letter or sequence of letters. For example, letter C does not represent an English sound but shares with letter [s] to represent the phoneme /s/ and shares with letter [k] to represent the phoneme /k/ depending on the sounds which follow. Note the following examples:

[c] = /k/





[c] = /s/





Likewise the Spanish alphabet ñ does not exclusively represent a single sound, but the sequence of sounds

/ny/ as in

[ñ] = /ny/





The other letters which have no sound correspondence in English phonology are letters [Q] and [X]. The first, letter [Q], represents the sound /k/ or sequence of sounds/ kw/ as in

[Q] = /k/




[Q] = /kw/




In the same manner letter [X] does not exclusively represent a sound in English but shares with [k] and [s] in representing the sequence of sounds /ks/ as in

[X] = /ks/




The four English letters which do not exclusively represent English sounds but merely overlap with a letter or sequence of letters violate the linguistic principle of economy and simplicity in the one-on-one correspondence of sound and letter. These account for the so-called irregular spelling of the English language which has been shown to complicate the process of decoding in learning to read.

On the other hand, it is recognized that the use of these letters has their own merit. Research on the psycholinguistic nature of the reading process has also shown that the process of learning to read does not merely consist of letter-by-letter decoding of symbols to sound. In fact, this maybe the more inefficient and laborious process of word recognition. Recognition of the whole visual configuration of the word based on familiarity with the symbol interacting with processing of meaning may prove to be more efficient and effective strategy of reading. So, when these redundant letters become part of regular spelling patterns in English which is presently a widely used international language, their so-called international recognizability maybe exploited by the reader. In higher level reading using strategies such as skimming and scanning, recognition is not a linear process. With a rich background for deriving meaning, phonological decoding maybe bypassed.

Note how the readers’ rich background plus overall visual configuration of the following words serve as efficient cues to meaning:

coup d’etat

esprit de corps

pizza pie



niño bonito

habeas corpus

Therefore, for purposes of controlling the entry of redundant letters of English spelling without denying their use in enhancing international recognizability of English words in Filipino text, the general rule below should be followed:


The letters C, Ñ, Q, X (each of which does not exclusively represent an English sound but overlaps with other letters in representing a sound or sequence of sound), should be used if the borrowed word containing the letter is spelled wholly in its original form as in x-ray, quo vadis, esprit de corps, niña bonita.

A word is borrowed wholly in its original form under the following conditions:

  1. The word is a proper noun—name of person, place (geographical location, building) or thing (institution, organization)
  2. Technical or scientific word
  1. Word which carries cultural flavor (pizza)
  1. Words with irregular spelling—use of two or more letters which are “silent” or do not represent their pronunciation
  1. Words borrowed from English and other languages which are widely used throughout the world and have international recognizability such as taxi, fax, etc.


When the word containing the letters C, Ñ, Q, X does not fall under the five conditions above but are re-spelled in Filipino, the letter is changed to the alphabet representing the sound; thus letter C is changed to letter [S] when sounded /S/ and changed to letter [K] when sounded /K/.

Specific Spelling Rules for Each Letter

On the basis of General Rules, specific spelling rules are stated:

Using Letters C, Ñ, Q, X

A. Using Letter C

1. Letter C is maintained regardless of its sound representation if the word is borrowed wholly in its original form as in cataluña, carbohydrates, coup d’etat

2. If the borrowed word containing letter C is re-spelled in Filipino, letter C is changed to letter [s] if sounded /s/ and changed to letter [k] if sounded /k/ as in the examples:

[c] = /s/

ceremony - seremonya

civic - sivik

[c] = /k/

colonize - kolonays

community - komyuniti

B. Using Letter Q

1. Letter Q is maintained in borrowed words containing letter [Q] regardless of its sound if the word is borrowed wholly in its original form as in:

a. quo vadis - quo vadis

b. porque - porque

c. quartz - quartz

2. If the borrowed word containing letter q is re-spelled in Filipino, letter q(u) is changed to letters /kw/ if sounded as such and is changed to /k/ if sounded k as in:

a. quorum - korom

b. quota - kota

c. quintet - kwintet

d. quartz - kwartz

C. Using Letter Ñ

1. The letter Ñ is maintained in borrowed words from Spanish as the source language in:

a. Proper nouns as La Tondeña

b. Words with unique cultural flavor as piña

2. If the borrowed word containing letter Ñ is re-spelled in Filipino, letter ñ is changed to ny as in:



D. Using Letter X

1. Letter X is maintained regardless of its sound representation if the word is borrowed wholly in its original form as in x-ray, oxide, Xavier.

2. If the borrowed word containing letter x is re-spelled in Filipino letter x is changed to the letter /ks/ representing its sound as in:

a. taxi - taksi

b. boxing - boksing

Using Letters F, J, V, Z

Unlike the four new letters earlier presented which have no sound representations in English phonology, the following sounds F, J, V, Z have phonemic status in English. Although KWF maintains that these are not phonemes in Filipino, there are some who maintain the phonemic status of f, v, and z as shown in the contrasting meanings of fan/pan, bisa/visa, says/sais.

Thus, the addition of the use of the above letters in writing Filipino will also mean the gradual addition or accommodation of their sound representation into Filipino phonology.

This is expected as the rule in borrowing words is adopted which directs that the borrowed words should be first pronounced in English before writing it in Filipino orthography.

E. Using Letter F

1. The letter F is maintained in borrowed words containing the letter f if the word is borrowed wholly in its original form as in fax, Finland.

2. The letter F is maintained to represent the sound f in words which are re-spelled in Filipino as in:

fiesta - fyesta

affix - afiks

brief - brif

3. Letter [f] is used to represent sound /f/ in words which are re-spelled in Filipino.

photo - foto

cough - kaf

F. Using Letter J

1. Letter J is maintained in words containing letter J if the word is borrowed wholly in its original form as in:




2. Letter /J/ Is used to represent /j/ in words which are re-spelled in Filipino:

gem - jem

jacket - jaket

soldier - soljer

G. Using Letter V

1. Letter V is maintained in words containing sound V if the word is borrowed wholly in its original form as in:

valium - valium

vitamin - vitamin

Veronica - Veronica

2. Letter V is used to represent sound /v/ if the word is re-spelled in Filipino:

Vacation - vekayshun

Value - valyu

H. Using Letter Z

1. Letter Z is maintained in borrowed words to represent sound /z/ if the word is borrowed wholly in its original form as in:

zebra - zebra

Zamboanga - Zamboanga

zinc - zinc

2. Letter Z is maintained to represent sound /z/ in words which are re-spelled in Filipino as in:

zone - zon

cruz - kruz

zoo - zo

3. Letter Z is used to represent sound /z/ in words re-spelled in Filipino:

xylophone - zaylofon

czar - zar

scissors - sizors

General Rule V will summarize the preceding specific rules on the use of the four letters, F, J, V, Z.


Letters F, J, V and Z are used to represent the sounds of F, J, V, Z in borrowed words which are re-spelled in Filipino.

The above rule will maintain consistency of the use of these phonemic symbols and avoid irregular spelling to represent the corresponding sounds. It will also give Filipino a firm hold on its strength for teaching reading with the regularity of its phonemic alphabet.

The above general principles were translated into the Praymer handbook in the workshop sessions while the specific spelling rules were internally validated, and re-stated into more operation terms in the Y2001 Revisyon. These two handbooks are intended for general distribution.

Conclusions and Suggestions for Further Research

At this point, when the technical aspects of the project have largely been accomplished, social and psychological dimensions have to be addressed. These include acceptance of the language policy, specifically the use of the new alphabet in writing Filipino, its dissemination, implementation, and enforcement.

It will be recalled that the original orientation of the leaders of the national language program was the use of language as symbol of national identity. In designing the alphabetic system, the puristic principle prevailed. With this orientation, the motivation of borrowing the eight additional letters drawn from the English or Spanish alphabet to enable Filipino to expand and enrich its lexicon through borrowings or loanwords from English was regarded a heresy violating the spirit of nationalism of the original leaders of the national language movement.

But this puristic orientation has no place in language planning. It is claimed that the rather slow pace in the development of the national language and its inadequacy to handle modern concepts and processes in the various fields of knowledge or disciplines is its lack of flexibility to assimilate linguistic innovations. In fact, the current policy in Philippine bilingual education which limits the use of Filipino as medium of instruction in the social sciences, while maintaining the use of English in sciences and mathematics is actually an official admission that Filipino, at this stage, lacks the linguistic mechanism to handle the rapid worldwide advances of knowledge.

This alphabetic reform is a significant step in opening up the Filipino language to linguistic change and enrichment. The goal is intertranslatability of Filipino with other fully developed and modernized languages of the word. It is not only the language which will be developed but along with it, is Philippine society and social structure. Through the language, the Filipino will be able to share with other people scientific and technological advances and their advantages.

Review of the 28-letter alphabetic system should be undertaken periodically in order to identify its weaknesses such as ambiguities of sound-symbol correspondence, redundancy or gaps. Policies should be based on enlightened decisions based on scientific study and research.

It is suggested that valid or sound research designs should be formulated to address the following problems:

1. Should changes in the pronunciation of words used in context influence corresponding change in spelling? Shouldn’t the original spelling of the word in isolation be maintained in order to help readers recognize the word? Note the examples below:

pantao = (not pangtao)

pansabong = (not pangsabong)

mamaril = (not mag + baril)

pamatay = (not pang + patay)

2. What are the appropriate uses of gitling, kudlit or tuldik as supported by prestigious publications, scholars and writers?

3. What punctuation marks should be introduced in Filipino to serve as phonological clues to support the full meaning of the sentence beyond the meaning of words?

There are still innumerable issues which should be addressed by conducting well-designed projects and researches. After all, the answer to the vital question—“Can language be planned?”—is definite. “Yes it can.”


Cochran, Anne. “Alphabet Design for Papua New Guinea Language.” Master’s Thesis, Papua New Guinea, October 1977.

Constantino, Ernesto A. Ang Ortografi Ng Wikang Filipino, Departamento ng Lingwistiks. Kolehiyo ng Sosyal Sayans at Pilosopiya, U.P., 1996.

Dil, Anwar, (ed). Language Structure and Language Use: Essays by Charles A. Ferguson. Stanford University Press, 1971.

Fishman, Joshua A., Bilingual Education: An International Sociological Perspective. Newbury House, 1976.

Mga Tanong at Sagot (Tungkol sa) Alfabeto at Patnubay sa Ispeling ng Wikang Filipino. Manila: Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino, 2000.

Omar, Asmah Haji. Language Planning for Unity and Efficiency. Penerbit University Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, 1979.

Rubin, Joan & Bjorn H. Jernudd (ed). Sociolinguistic Theory and Practice for Developing Nations. An East-West Center Book, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1971.

Whitely, W.H., (ed) Language Use and Social Change. Published by the International African Institute, Oxford Press, 1971.


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