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Keywords:

  • auxiliary languages;
  • construction of indigeneity;
  • linguistic ideology

When news of an uncontacted ‘lost tribe’ began emanating from the island of Bohol in the southern Philippines, visitors were fascinated by the group's unique language and complex writing system, used today by some five hundred people in limited domains. Though few persons have attempted to analyse the language—known today as Eskayan—exotic theories of its origins are widely circulated by outsiders. However, according to speakers, Eskayan was created by the ancestor Pinay who used the human body as inspiration. For Pinay, a language and its written mode were inextricable. In the twentieth century, Pinay's language was rediscovered by the rebel soldier Mariano Datahan who retransmitted it to his followers. This creation story is consistent with my linguistic analysis, which points to a sophisticated encryption of the regional Visayan language. Further, the particulars of how Eskayan was designed shed much light on the sociocultural conditions motivating its (re)creation. Implicit notions of linguistic materiality, boundedness, and inter-changeability are reflected in the relexification process carried out by Pinay/Datahan. In defiance of all imperial claimants to the island, Pinay and Datahan effectively reified a language community whose territorial rights were corporeally inscribed.