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A new vocabulario for the Bikolnon

By Kristian Sendon Cordero


In the 2007 foreword for the English translation of the Kapampangan-Spanish Dictionary by the Augustinian, Fray Diego Bergaño, the cultural advocate and scholar, Robert P. Tantingco urged for other counterpart studies centers of different regions, universities, local government units and private sectors, to undertake the translation of the various artes and vocabularios existing in different regional languages in the Philippines. Tantingco considers these untranslated archival documents as unwrapped gifts gathering dust in the corner. The image of unwrapped gifts left in the dustbin of oblivion haunts and taunts us.


Seventeen years after Tantingco presented this challenge, the Ateneo de Naga University Press is deeply honored to release the English translation of Fray Marcos de Lisboa’s “Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol”. Written in the 1600s, the book was first published in 1754 and was later reprinted in 1865 during the incumbency of the Dominican bishop, Francisco Gainza. A true intellectual giant of his time, he initiated translation and publication projects that navigated around the nexus of faith, language, and culture, thereby sustaining a kind of Bikol language that is deeply identifiable as catholic. These religious texts include the “Pasyon” (translated by Tranquilino Hernandez), a publication of four volumes of homilies which includes the manual of confession by Fray Pedro de Avila, and the publication of the history of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Bikol’s most popular devotion. Today, Gainza is remembered and honored with a Camarines Sur town named after him, and for a recently revived economic and cultural trade fair during the festivities of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, which the bishop had pioneered. Truly, the sustained efforts to translate and publish in the local language, initiated by the institutional church in the late 19th century, has brought about a new identity of the Bikolnon that distinguishes it from other regional identities like the dominant Tagalogs and the Bisayas.


In this new publication of the vocabulario, we may also appreciate the fact that after the long shadow cast by these ecclesiastical officials and ministers, the translation to English of this Bikol-Spanish vocabulary manuscript is carried out by two Bikol women, the mother and daughter, Leticia Arejola Hilado de Caldera and Evelyn Caldera Soriano (a distinguished Spanish and French professor at the Ateneo de Manila University). We sincerely thank them for bringing this very important work to life.


It is also worth noting the moral and editorial support rendered by Mimi Caldera Soriano and Marilen Hilado Abesamis. We also acknowledge the immense contribution of Jeremiah Cordial, Jusan Misolas, John Sherwin Acampado, Tito Genova Valiente and Fr. Wilmer Tria in this consequential lexicographical work. We have also been fortunate to work with two artists from the scenic town of Buhi—the book designer, Ryan Cuatrona and painter, Roger San Miguel, whose mural, hanging in the old church of the same town, is the basis of the cover art of this book.


We chose this mural which depicts the famous origin story of the three religious images carved from a single native tree, to give this archival material an after-life, so to speak. Like the sculpted images, we think of our word entries here as new labyrinths of insights that invite us to a special kind of devotion that resonates well with the three images now seen in the cover of this vocabulario book. We have the images of Nuestra Señora de la Soledad de Tambo, of Nuestra Señora de la Salvación de Joroan, (Marian titles that guide and inspire travelers and pilgrims, giving healing, comfort, salvation, and grace), and of San Antonio de Padua (patron saint of lost things, famous for his gift of the tongue) whose inherent eloquence we hope we can channel to our readers.


Like in the parable, these words in the vocabulario are like newfound pearls. We must therefore rediscover and revalue the words we shall encounter here. To the uninitiated, consider these as ancient sounds and words that come to you with a new secret. And as you read through the pages, we hope that you gain the light and grace that will shine within you. May you become new vessels of devotion so that you may see that the wellspring of any culture can only come from its deep connection to sounds, to words, to meanings, giving us a new habitus of freedom, memory, and imagination.


The family and friends of Professor Evelyn Caldera Soriano and officials from Instituto de Cervantes-Manila and the Ateneo de Naga University Press attend the book launching of the English Translation of Vocabulario de la lengua Bicol held during the opening day of the Philippine Book Festival last April 25, 2024 at the World Trade Center, Pasay City. A magnum opus, the vocabulario is now available for sale at Savage Mind Bookshop, Ateneo de Naga University, Ateneo de Manila University Bookshop, Solidaridad, and UST Bookshop.


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