DAGUPAN CITY ? With its speakers decreasing by the day, many consider the Pangasinan language a dying language. But a local historian is struggling to keep the language alive by compiling native words and publishing these in a dictionary.
Emiliano ?Mel? Jovellanos, 70, has published the fourth edition of the Pangasinan-English, English-Pangasinan language dictionary. The compilation has 20,000 entries, four times the number of words when he published the first edition in 2002.
Jovellanos said he feels bad when he hears people say the Pangasinan language is dying.
?It?s alive, and this dictionary is a proof that it is,? he said. He also cited a study of the provincial government that showed that 51 percent of Pangasinenses speak the language, as opposed to 47 percent who speak Ilocano and the rest, dialects like Bolinao.
Jovellanos? labor of love to preserve Pangasinan words started more than 20 years ago while working as chief of staff of former Information Minister Gregorio Cendaña in 1985.
He informed Cendaña, a Pangasinense, of his dream to publish the dictionary and Cendaña readily supported the plan.
Jovellanos started researching and collecting native words, poring through available materials written in Pangasinan like the Bible, prayer books, novenas, novels of Juan Villamil and Maria Magsanoc, and copies of Tunong, a pre-World War II paper that emphasized literary works in Pangasinan.
He combed the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and spent hours in the Filipiniana section of the National Library, the archives of the University of Santo Tomas and the Dominican Library in Manaoag town.
?I was always ready with a pen and a notebook, jotting every new word I met,? Jovellanos said.
After filling up about a dozen notebooks with Pangasinan words, the painstaking work of arranging them alphabetically followed.
?I did everything by long hand,? he said.
The publication of the dictionary, however, was stalled as his responsibilities as the municipal administrator of Pozorrubio town, and later as councilor, had to be prioritized.
Finally, the dictionary?s first edition came out in 2002. The book became a ?hit? of sorts, especially with local officials who made it a part of their towns? ?official gifts? to visitors. Local officials also bring copies whenever they go abroad as pasalubong (gifts) to Pangasinenses there.
He said the dictionary?s fifth edition would be printed in the United States this November when the Benigno Aldana National High School holds a reunion for its alumni living in the US and Canada.
?They clamor for a copy but the dictionary is heavy and the freight is expensive, so we decided to just print it there,? he said.
The dictionary has 15 pages of easy lessons in spoken Pangasinan, like greetings, signs and public notices, days and time, numbers and questions, and general expressions.
There are also poems in Pangasinan, including a version of National Hero Jose Rizal?s ?Mi Ultimo Adios.?
Jovellanos said his father, Jose Jovellanos, the municipal president (mayor) of Dagupan from 1919 to 1925, translated the poem to Pangasinan on his deathbed in 1946.
Beautiful and rich
He said poets and novelists in Pangasinan write expressively because the language is ?beautiful and rich in vocabulary.?
In the dictionary?s introduction, he cited two examples of how rich the language is: ?The English word for ambition is expressed in Pangasinan in so many words: piaet, ogagep, tamitam, gunaet, posapos, pilalek, pigipig, pirawat and tindek. If in English one is crazy, in Pangasinan one is 13 times more crazy: atapis, atiwel, ambagel, ambagtit, kulang-kulang, atorik, angkampis, atiris, lokloko, akustil, bobolanen, sulok-sulok, and alintaweng.?
The dictionary?s publication has opened more doors to Jovellanos. He was named president of the Jose Tamayo Foundation, after its founder, Antonio Tamayo, owner of the University of Perpetual Help, learned of his work to preserve the language. The foundation aims to preserve the Pangasinan culture and arts, among other things.