In this age of technology, we are no strangers to the accessibility of communication regardless of language barrier and proximity, in comparison to the language origin of the Tower of Babel in ancient times. Can’t understand a language? - Google is your ally. A press behind a glass screen and a phrase may now be translated, read, and understood. This age of accessibility and information creates a generation of curious and prideful youth aiming to rediscover Filipino one’s original identity.
On the rise of empowering Filipino indigenous aesthetics, numerous design elements inspired by pre-colonial art are evident among local creations that one would say “gawang Pinoy ‘yan”. To the untrained eyes that are also culturally oblivious, representations of history such as the Filipino script of Baybayin mean nothing more than aesthetically pleasing, but to those eager with knowledge, they would inevitably wonder - ‘Ano ang ibig sabihin nun?’
“Baybayin, ano yun?”
Baybayin, also formerly known as Alibata, is a Filipino writing script, developed during the pre-colonial age containing 17 characters (3 vowels and 14 consonants). Although we are still living with remnants from our colonized past, our society has decided to slowly revive Baybayin as a means of learning about our heritage. Nowadays, Filipinos, particularly the youth, have a stronger sense of familiarity with the usage of this writing system.
Numerous bills and laws were also written related to this Philippine script such as the Philippine Indigenous and Traditional Writing Systems Act which was passed in order to protect and preserve Baybayin and other traditional writing systems of the Philippines. Additionally, the most recent House Bill 1022 - the National Writing System Act, declared Baybayin as a national writing system which was also authored for the same objectives. These passed laws were some of the government’s attempts to preserve our culture, as language served as the essence of the rich past.
This further proves that Baybayin has been one of the nexus for research on the history, anthropology, linguistics, and modernistically technological preservation of the Filipino identity.
“Technology? Paano naman yun?”
The demand for learning Baybayin prompted Mathematicians from UP Diliman to develop a technology with this script in mind. In a span of three months, researchers Mr. Rodney Pino, Dr. Renier Mendoza, and Dr. Rachelle Sambayan were able to develop digital technology for transliterating (the process of converting the word from one script to another while also maintaining its phonetics or similar sounding) Baybayin words, sentences or even full records to a legible Romanized text and vice-versa. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI)-powered technology, they have developed the first optical character recognition (OCR) system that can differentiate between Baybayin and Romanized script.
An algorithm was formed and used in deriving information from thousands of images of characters to binary data which was then run over a support vector machine (SVM). SVM is a highly accurate and robust machine learning algorithm that’s been utilized by researchers in terms of data recognition. Among the data recognition systems, SVM has a 97% recognition accuracy rate for identifying Baybayin scripts from the input of images and documents.
Through the fed data, the machine learning algorithm further improves and learns more information regarding the distinguishing of characters to transliterate Baybayin-to-Latin (Filipino) and Latin (Filipino)-to-Baybayin. But the technology being new has also encountered errors such as inaccurately recognizing the character or the transliteration of words that are nonexistent in the Filipino dictionary.
“Buhayin ang sariling atin”
As Mr. Rodney Pino said, “We should be proud of our own alphabet and at the same time, digitize it for modern times”, the innovation of OCR translation technology is just one of the products of the creative minds of the Filipinos simultaneously improving both future technology and past creations for the present benefits.
The efforts to revive the Baybayin cement a stronger Filipino pride and self-identity that is presently formed and will be passed down to generations to come. The language, being the soul of one’s national identity, is essential as it is the epitome of culture and tradition. As the world inevitably changes, the Filipino progresses - living in the age of technology is not a nudge to overlook one’s identity but an art of preserving language and culture for generations to come.
Next time that you recognize the Baybayin script on your friend’s ID sling or bag, maybe try this Filipino-made Baybayin translator.