Introducing the Eskaya Writing System: A Complex Messianic Script from the Southern Philippines

Piers Kelly

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


    This paper introduces and documents the Eskaya writing system of the Philippines, developed ca. 1920-1937, and attempts to reconstruct the circumstances of its creation. Although the script is used for representing Visayan (Cebuano) - a widely used language of the southern Philippines - its privileged role is in the written reproduction of a constructed utopian language, referred to as Eskayan or Bisayan Declarado. Held to have been invented by the ancestral Pope Pinay, the Eskayan language and its script are used by approximately 550 people for restricted purposes in the southeast of the island of Bohol. Of the approximately 1,065 characters in the system, a primary set of 24 are alphabetic with optional syllabic values; the remaining letters have syllabic values only and can be decomposed into an inahan (mother), standing for (C)V, and a sinyas (gesture) indicating consonant diacritics on either side of the nucleus. Coda diacritics are largely inconsistent, meaning that each syllabic character needs to be acquired independently. The script has minor logographic elements with ideography employed in the decimal numeral system. Over half of all Eskaya characters are redundant and at least 37 represent phonotactic impossibilities in either Visayan or Eskayan. The sheer size, complexity and irregularity of the hybrid Eskaya script is unparalleled among the world's writing systems. I argue that the very opacity of Eskaya writing is, in part, what makes it attractive to new learners and has contributed to its successful transmission for 90 years.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)131-163
    JournalAustralian Journal of Linguistics
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


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