Origins of Baybayin / Incorrectly known as Alibata
Although the major languages of the Philippines are now written using the Roman alphabet, the languages were first represented using a script related to and directly or indirectly derived from the scripts of India. The script has had a rather short history, having come into use around AD 1000-1200. and for the most part becoming extinct in the late 18th century. However, two forms of the indigenous scripts still survive to present day: the script used by the Tagbanwa from the island of Palawan, and the script used by the Mangyan (Hanunuo script) from the island of Mindoro. In truth, however, the origin of the script has not yet been ascertained, and various theories abound.
There's also Buhid, (closely related to Hanunuo and baybayin) and Kulitan, used to write Kapampangan.
The term Alibata
The script is often referred to as alibata, a term coined by Paul Rodriguez Verzosa in 1914 in New York Public Library, Manuscript Research Division, basing it on the three Maguindanao (Moro) arrangements of letters of the alphabet after the Arabic: ALIF, Ba, TA (Alibata) “F” having been eliminated for euphony sake.
Theory: Originated in Celebes
One of the most common explanations, given by David Diringer, states that the Philippine scripts were derived from Kavi script or Old Javanese, perhaps indirectly through the Buginese. The Buginese origin of the Philippine scripts best accounts for the fact that the Philippine scripts cannot represent the final consonants of syllables, since Buginese has the same limitation. In Buginese, however, this limitation is not as noticeable, since fewer words in the language have these final consonants.
Theory: Directly from India
Fletcher Gardner suggests that the writing system was directly transmitted to the Philippines by Indian priests who were familiar with Brahmi scripts. Isaac Taylor states that the writing system was derived from scripts used on the Eastern coast of India, such as Vengi, Chalukya, or Assam, originally transmitted in the 8th century AD. In this case, the Philippine scripts would actually be the sources for the Bugis and Makassar scripts of Celebes instead of the other way around.
Tagalog is an Austronesian language with about 57 million speakers in the Philippines, particularly in Manila, most of Luzon and Mindoro. It is also spoken in Canada, Guam, Midway Islands, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, UK and USA.
Tagalog used to be written with the Baybayin script, which probably developed from the Kawi script of Java, Bali and Sumatra, which in turn descended from the Pallava script, one of the southern Indian scripts derived from Brahmi. Today the Baybayin script is used mainly for decorative purposes and the Latin alphabet is used to write to Tagalog.
Baybayin is a syllabic alphabet in which each consonant has an inherent vowel /a/. Other vowels are indicated either by separate letters, or by dots - a dot over a consonant changes the vowels to an /i/ or and /e/, while a dot under a consonant changes the vowel to /o/ or /u/.
The inherent vowel is muted by adding a + sign beneath a consonant. This innovation was introduced by the Spanish.
Contrary to the common misconception, when the Spaniards arrived in the islands they found more than just a loose collection of backward and belligerent tribes. They found a civilization that was very different from their own. The ability to read and write is the mark of any civilization and, according to many early Spanish accounts, the Tagalogs had already been writing with the baybayin for at least a century. This script was just beginning to spread throughout the islands at that time. Furthermore, the discovery in 1987 of an inscription on a sheet of copper in Laguna is evidence that there was an even more advanced script in limited use in the Philippines as far back as the year 900 C.E.
Bones Baybayin Design
Laguna Copper Plate, a legal document inscribed on a copper plate in 900 CE, is the earliest known calendar-dated document found in the Philippines. The date of the inscription would make it contemporary to the Balitung kingdom of Central Java, although it did not necessarily originate from that area.
The plate was found in 1989 by a laborer near the mouth of the Lumbang River in Wawa, Lumban, Laguna in the Philippines. The inscription, written in a mix of the Old Malay language using the Old Kawi script, was first deciphered by Dutch anthropologist and Hanunó'o script expert Antoon Postma in 1992.
The LCI documents the existence of several early Philippine polities as early as AD 900, most notably the Pasig River delta polity of Tondo. Scholars believe that it also indicates trade, cultural, and possibly political ties between these polities and at least one contemporaneous Asian civilization—the Medang Kingdom of the island of Java.
Literacy of the Pre-Hispanic Filipinos
Although one of Ferdinand Magellan's shipmates, Antonio Pigafetta, wrote that the people of the Visayas were not literate in 1521, the baybayin had already arrived there by 1567 when Miguel López de Legazpi reported that, “They [the Visayans] have their letters and characters like those of the Malays, from whom they learned them.” B1 Then, a century later Francisco Alcina wrote about:
The characters of these natives, or, better said, those that have been in use for a few years in these parts, an art which was communicated to them from the Tagalogs, and the latter learned it from the Borneans who came from the great island of Borneo to Manila, with whom they have considerable traffic...
From these Borneans the Tagalogs learned their characters, and from them the Visayans, so they call them Moro characters or letters because the Moros taught them... [the Visayans] learned [the Moros'] letters, which many use today, and the women much more than the men, which they write and read more readily than the latter.
The baybayin continued to thrive in may parts of the Philippines in the first century of Spanish occupation. Even before the end of the 1500's the Spaniards were already printing books in the Tagalog script, which indicates at least an adequate level of literacy. Some accounts went so as far as to say that the literacy rate was practically 100%. A Jesuit priest, Father Pedro Chirino wrote in 1604 that:
So accustomed are all these islanders to writing and reading that there is scarcely a man, and much less a woman, who cannot read and write in the letters proper to the island of Manila.
On April 23, 2018
The House Committee on Basic Education and Culture has approved House Bill 1022, or the proposed “National Writing System Act," which seeks to declare Baybayin as the Philippines’ national writing system, generate a greater awareness on its plight and develop wider appreciation for its importance and beauty.
The bill, filed by Rep. Leopoldo Bataoil (Pangasinan), was supported by the Department of Education, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Buhayin, a Baybayin advocacy group.
“The importance of writing in general and of the alphabet in particular for the preservation and progress of civilization is incalculable,” Bataoil said in a press release from the House Press and Public Affairs Bureau.
If passed into law, the measure will require all manufacturers of locally-produced food products to inscribe Baybayin scripts and provide a Baybayin translation on their labels.