Collection fishing, Uncategorized, Writing systems

An alphabetic Cinderella

The Eskayan word for ‘alphabet’ is abadiha, generally spelled ‘abadeja’ following Hispanic orthographic rules. I analyse this  as a compound of four syllables ‘a’, ‘ba’, ‘di’ and ‘ha’. This is fairly typical way of forming words for ‘alphabet’. Consider the word alibata from the Arabic recitation order of ‘alif’, ‘ba’, ‘ta’, abakada from ‘a’, ‘ba’, ‘ka’, ‘da’, and even alphabet from ‘alpha’, ‘beta’.

But earlier this year Kristian Kabuay drew my attention to the story Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella as a possible folkloric source for the Eskayan word. I found a copy at my local community library. Here is the frontispiece:


de la Paz, Myrna J. 2001. Abadeha: The Philippine cinderella. Auburn, California: Shen’s Books.

The writing system is baybayin and the text is Tagalog. It transliterates as Abadiha: Sinadilila [Cinderella] Ng Pilipina: Maluna di la pas [Myrna de la Paz]: Yusang Tang [Youshan Tang], meaning ‘Abadeha, a Philippine Cinderella. Myrna de la Paz, Youshan Tang.’

Once you turn the page, the story itself is in English in a Roman script. The illustrations by Tang are fantastic, but the ‘adapted’ text is a more-or-less direct plagiarisation of the story ‘Abadeja’ recorded and published by Dean Spruill Fansler in 1921:

Screen Shot 2014-08-22 at 1.10.14 pm

Fansler, Dean Spruill. 1921. Filipino popular tales collected and edited with comparative notes by Dean S. Fansler. Lancaster PA. and New York: American Folk-lore Society.

Of this story Fansler wrote, “This is a Visayan story from Leyte. Unfortunately I have no record of the name of the narrator.” There is nothing particularly remarkable about a Cinderella story turning up in the Philippines. The Cinderella theme is widespread in folklore from Greece, to China, Indonesia and elsewhere. I imagine that prevalence of these tales can be partly explained by diffusion and partly because tales of persecuted children who ultimately triumph are so satisfying that we need to keep reinventing them. Consider Harry Potter.

What interests me about the version collected by Fansler is that the  protagonists all have names that appear to be compounds of consecutive syllables, on the same pattern as other terms for ‘alphabet’: Abadeja, her father Abak (compare abakada) and her mother Abadesa. Note also the setting in the town of Baybay in Leyte, reminiscent of baybayin. There are no references to writing or reading in the rest of the text. If the story of Abadeja was being circulated in the Visayas at about the same time that Mariano Datahan was recuperating the Eskayan writing system (ca. 1920), might the folkloric Abadeja have been a source of inspiration for naming the Eskayan alphabet? Are there other versions of the story in which the setting and the character names are elaborated further?


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