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SILVERLAKE : Ancient Tongue Now in the Computer Age

January 27, 1994|Compiled from Times Suburban staff reports

As the sophistication of computers accelerates the race toward the future, Hector Santos uses his to rescue a piece of the Philippines' rich past.

Santos has completed a design of computer-generated fonts, or typefaces, to print the ancient Tagalog script, which was in danger of being lost and forgotten because it could be written only by hand.

Tagalog, an indigenous language spoken in the Philippines, is rendered in print today using the Roman alphabet. But before the 16th-Century Spanish conquest of the archipelago, Tagalog was written with a squiggly script, known as alibata or baybayin , Santos said.

"When the Spanish came they found the people to be literate" in the natives' own languages, said Santos, 52, who runs a Silverlake-based graphics design and desktop publishing company, Sushi Dog Graphics. The script, generally written with a knife and carved in bamboo, "was in the hands of the masses."

But with the heavy Spanish influence, the script fell into disuse and was almost completely replaced by the Roman alphabet by the end of the 18th Century, Santos said.

However, scripts related to the ancient Tagalog one are still used by the Hanunoos and Buhids of Mindoro and the Tagbanwas of Palawan, Santos said, referring to indigenous peoples on two Philippine islands.

Because Santos is developing computer fonts for those scripts as well, his work is of interest not just to scholars but also to those who want to preserve minority ethnic cultures.

"I started doing it for fun, but now it's become a mission," he said. "There's a visual uniqueness to (the script) that isn't Spanish or Chinese. It is genuinely Filipino in shape and form."

Information: (213) 413-4642.

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