The handy thing about Visayan (aka Bisayan, Cebuano) is that it can be written in Roman characters. That’s the same letters of the alphabet we use for English, for those wondering where the Romans come into this. Few people, and I’m talking Filipinos now, know they had an alphabet and script of their own, widely used even as late as the end of the 19th century.
The script is known as ‘Badlit’ in Visayan, ‘Baybayin’ in Tagalog and is derived from ancient Brahmic scripts that originated in India over 2,000 years ago. ‘Baybay’ in Tagalog literally means ‘to spell’ and was documented extensively by the Spanish, particularly the Friars who kept meticulous records. As far back as 1604 and 1609, Spanish priests Pedro Chirino and Antonio de Morga noted that literacy was wide spread among the native population of Cebu and elsewhere. It was a skill most of the natives possessed and was used for personal correspondence, poetry and recording legal contracts.
One of the oldest, verified artefacts containing writing is the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, written in a derivative of Badlit called Kawi. Kawi was a script that originated in Java and was used across the maritime South East Asian region. This artefact contains words in Old Tagalog as well as Old Javanese and is dated Saka era 822, or 21 April 900 AD. There are other artefacts with Badlit script on them that pre-date the Spanish conquest in 1564, however these have not been verified accurately at this time.
A quick study of this ancient alphabet revealed that it had 18 characters representing the sounds used to form the words in Visayan.
If you have ever wondered why your asawa says ‘Pilipino’ and not ‘Filipino’ it’s because there is no ‘f’ in Visayan. The same goes for ‘b’ in place of ‘v’ and there is no ‘j’, either. The vowels are interesting and might explain why your asawa just told you she put a shit on the bed. There is ‘a’, always pronounced as ‘ah’, and then ‘e’ and ‘i’ are considered the same sound. There is no hard ‘i’ (eye) sound or ‘ee’ sound, just ‘eh’ or ‘ih’. The same collation occurs with ‘o’ and ‘u’, which explains why my asawa often says ‘Bogoo’ when the town’s name is ‘Bogo’. And then there is ‘ng’, or ‘nga’. It is a sound all its own and best left for you to struggle over alone.
Make no mistake, when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, there was a thriving, articulate, educated populace that was subjugated by the Spanish on behalf of their King Philip and the Catholic Church to the point where the keystones of culture, such as their alphabet, were wiped out and replaced, all to keep the troublesome natives under control. These symbols are still found today, mostly in folk art and as decorative images but they are well documented and, like the language they served, a vital part of a rich culture and a fascinating history.