Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Baybayin - attempt #1

I've been reading about Baybayin and Philippine writing systems in general. This post prompted me to think about "good" orthographical extension of the script. So, I decided to try my hand at writing it. I took Paul Morrow's useful reference pages, borrowed some beautiful Baybayin styles and adopted some conventions of my own. I'm already finding things I don't like about the way I did it, but it's a start.

Here's a sample of my writing style:

Then I was redirected to the sophisticated Kapampangan script, which is obviously related to Baybayin... and is still used today. The question pops up: is Baybayin relevant at all? Why turn back the clock to something which essentially died, when a thriving related script is here?

If anyone has the answer to that question, please share. I'm not abandoning Baybayin, I'm just trying to figure out what its reach should be, and how it should do the reaching.


  1. Pretty cool. Welcome to the Baybayin community. Baybayin is extremely relevant. It's more than just an ancient text, it can be seen as a symbol to visually communicate Filipino heritage, culture, and history. It's a reminder that before colonization, we were a great society, and it's enduring existance parallels the perseverance of the Filipino spirit through all the years of different subjugators, that it is still here, representing FILIPINO. I could go on into this... but I go over it a bit in this interview:

    stay up,


    ps. You got a clean writing style. It all depends on what look you're trying to achieve. Christian Cabuay has a well developed brush-style, while Ray of Malaya designs has a clean, rounded style. It's just like tagging; the more you do it, the more you become comfortable writing the characters, the more you develop your own unique understanding of the geometry, the more you develop your own penmanship

  2. Cyph, thanks for your gracious post -- and for kindly overlooking mistakes I've likely made in my writing sample. Once I loosen up a little my style might evolve, but I was immediately struck by Ray's shapely characters, and I'm likely to retain that.

    I certainly hope Baybayin becomes an ingrained presence within all Filipino communities. It's not that I worry about Baybayin as such, but more that I dislike the idea of competing scripts within the community -- and that scripts such as Kapampangan are not only related, but also still living. I'm trying to figure out if this represents a fragmentation of culture. Does it represent a sign of its strength?

    Also, perhaps I am not using the terms in the right way. Perhaps "Baybayin" refers to the core Filipino writing system, which exists in several MODES (e.g. Kapampangan, Buhid, Hanunóo, Tagbanwa, and Baybayin "proper" or "ancient").

  3. Your handwriting looks quite nice, don't worry! You should compare it with handwriting from the 1600s: there was a lot of variation there. Yours sticks mostly to the early printed typefaces, I see. Some of the old handwriting has shapes that don't show up in most printed samples, but relates more to Mangyan letter shapes (and sometimes to Tagbanuwa). If you would like, I can give you a link to a document online with nearly all the samples of actual handwriting that are available.

    I also notice you're incorporating variant letters from different regions and reusing them for English sounds too. I know a lot of people have been trying different ways to add a letter for the English/Spanish /r/ phoneme, for example. Paul Verzosa actually borrowed the ‹r› letter from the closely related Bugis and Batak scripts nearly a century ago, for example, though no-one has really used that since he suggested it. (This was in his book Pambansang Wikang Pilipinas.) Others have tried ways to modify the old script to add letters for other non-Tagalog/Filipino sounds, but there's no standard way and you none of these modifications is really more "authentic" than any other...

  4. Kiwehtin, yes, please post the link to the Baybayin handwriting samples. I may have seen something like it, but perhaps the one to which you refer is more comprehensive...

  5. Here you go:

    It's a document I put together from all the signatures available in published sources that I know of, plus handwriting from the two land deeds in Villamor's monograph on the Old Philippine Writing.

    At some point it will be a good idea, but I didn't distinguish the sources, location and date of each variant here. In any case, they all come from approximately the first half of the 1600s. The other sources of primary data (not redrawings by missionaries and explorers not fluent in the script) are the 1593 Doctrina (the WHOLE thing: that's important because some letters vary a lot depending on where you find them!) and the modern Tagbanuwa and Mangyan bamboo scripts. Tagbanuwa seems to be a very conservative script, possibly a separate branch of the Philippine script family, whereas Mangyan seems to be derived from handwriting of the 1600s.

  6. Thank you! Very enlightening, Christopher. Those variations are significant in several places... wow, /La/ is all over the place.

    I see two distinct styles of /Da/ and /Ta/. The D.C. version of /Da/ looks to be in the minority... Locating and dating those samples might help there.

    Hey, look at Francisco Golap's /Ka/ (page 5). Remind you of the Calatagan pot?

    /Ma/ looks fairly conservative.

    Huh, looks like D.C. went the conservative route with /Ba/ as well. Most of them are abstracted to circles.

    Wow, look at Don Kapolong's letters. Beautiful and stylized! Ahhh, he conjoined two D's, didn't he?

    /Ha/ is all over the place.

    And there's some doubled characters -- looks like the /To/ is doubled in entirety? Spectacular!

  7. Isn't it interesting how Tagbanuwa differentiates A and I. As if the "U" is a vowel sound carrier. I can almost see vestiges of that in Baybayin's E/I in the wavy line underneath that strong top line.

    Even when the Baybayin samples are 'reversed' with the line underneath, the wavy line still, if you squint, resemble the 'carrier'.

    Document A shows both /A/ and /E,I/ almost as an English 'V' with a serif. A vertical 'jot' denotes A, and a horizontal line denotes E,I. Almost.

  8. I think what likely happened is this: the bottom part of the original ‹i› letter began to be simplified from the original double (or sometimes triple) cup so it began to look more like the body of the ‹a›. This is a natural kind of evolution you find in many scripts, where a single kind of overall shape gets generalised so it is reused in many letters that originally were rather different in shape. This happened in Devanagari, for example, where many letters that in pre-Nagari script had different kinds of horizontal and vertical curves, straight lines, or brush serifs, were all generalised into vertical stems and the horizontal headstroke. (In Kaithi and Gujarati, they generally kept their more fluid shapes.) In Baybayin and Tagbanuwa, the leitmotiv is the cup and tail (Nordenx's "agos"). In older Makassar-Bugis, short rising strokes, falling strokes, and dots, and later on an overall "lozenge" shaped matrix for letters that they call "surupu ulapaq eppaq" (four-cornered letters). In the oldest versions of South Sumatran script, the basic stroke set was the tick (√) shape and its 180º counterpart.

    Just like the original Gujarati letters including ‹a› and ‹u› were rotated in the Gujarati-Sumatran proto-script some 30-45º leftward and slightly distorted so the stem of the ‹a› took on the form of a curly tail (like ‹p› and ‹y› among others), the ‹i› was rotated leftward and the long tail separated from the two arcs that ended up in horizontal position. These bumps then developed into the more general shape that ‹a› has, but without the horizontal tick or superimposed '7'/'apostrophe' shape on top or in the cup (or the various Tagbanuwa variations of the adjunct on the left hand side of the letter) – all of these being simplifications of the old Gujarati and classical Devanagari 'backward E' shape on the left side of the ‹a› letter, which we see sitting on top of the left branch of the letter in the Doctrina variants.

    Tagbanuwa seems to have merged the overall shapes of the main body of ‹a› and ‹i› fairly early. This 'agos' shape is used as the body of the vast majority of letters in Tagbanuwa script., even ‹s› and ‹l›.

    Once the Baybayin ‹a› and ‹i› became closer in shape, it was easy to merge them by analogy into a single letter, confusing the line on the top of the ‹i› with the ‹i› vowel 'kudlit' (the original 'kahulo'an' i.e. "headmark" or "topper-off"). This is one plausible explanation for the fact that the South Sumatran and Sulawesi scripts use a form cognate to the Philippine ‹a› as a general vowel-bearer for syllables that don't begin with a consonant. (Some South Sumatran scripts and Batak use a form derived from ‹h›, though.)

    Here are a couple of in-progress files illustrating the likely paths the development of the ‹a› and ‹i› letters took in the various scripts. They are missing illustrations for Hanuno'o and Buhid, but they are basically developments of some of the early 16th century handwriting variants.

  9. Hey! I know exactly what you're talking about. I can see the Sanskrit A in my head -- it looks very much like the Baybayin I, if you separate its parts into "3|" then rotate it. Wow. And, I think you're right about the simplification process by Tagbanuwa.