(revised from ”The meaning of syllables”)
In college, one of the guys who held a little teaching session on baybayin espoused this theory that the graphemes actually have ideographic meanings, in the same way that Chinese characters (and hence, moreso with the Japanese kanji which borrow from them) have intrinsic meanings that don’t necessarily exactly correlate with their phonetic meanings.
I was kind of skeptical of the idea, and became more so as I learned about the evolution of the Phoenician abjad into the Brahmic scripts of which Sanskrit and Devenagari are descendants, and from which it is theorized that the Austronesian abugadas are also derived.
But back to the idea. Supposedly, certain syllables have an inherent meaning outside of their purely phonetic meaning. So, for example “ba,” which to some look like a pair of breasts, denotes femininity, while “la,” which looks like a phallus, denotes masculinity. The supporting anecdote that is often cited for this is the fact that babae means woman and lalake means man. Other examples abound, although the only other one I can think of is the explanation of “ka.” I have been told that “ka” is supposed to connote a relationship, used to illustrate a connection. Hence, words like kapatid, kasama, kaibigan, katipunan, and on and on. Others which I remember are “ta” suggesting energy or the act of creation and “ha” reminiscent of current or flux. Unfortnately, I can’t remember any convincing examples of this.
It seems plausible that baybayin is derived from the Phoenician alphabet, just like the Roman alphabet is. Baybayin comes from the Eastern branch, while the Roman alphabet comes from the Western branch. I find this holds some merit because the Brahmic scripts seem most likely derived from Phoenician scripts, and both baybayin and kana are quite probably derivatives of Brahmic scripts. (In the case of Japan, this makes sense, as the script probably went along with the religion of Buddhism.) Hence “ba” is probably related to “beth,” which in Phoenician means house. (After all, whle “ba” may look like breasts, but it also looks like a sideways “b” or “beta”) And “la” is from “lamed,” which is a Phoenician ox-goad, i.e., a sharp object used to poke an ox to make it go forward, often also useful as a weapon. Notice that “la” looks a lot like a kris. (Do you think the people of Mindanao originally used the kris to goad their caribao?)
I can see some other similarities between shapes too—though my derivations may be spurious and are dubious at best. For example, “sa” seems to be easily derived from Phoenician “sin,” “ta” looks just like a stylized “t,” “da”—which at least in Tagalog can also be pronounced as “ra”—from either/or Phoenician “daleth” meaning door (which became Greek “delta”) or Phoenician “resh” meaning head. Both “daleth” and “resh” feature a triangular shape. (Hence the other meanings of “delta”) And while “da” is an open shape, it still essentially has three elements to it. Also, while “na” does not look very related to Roman “n,” it bears some semblance to Phoenician “nun,” meaning fish. But that’s pretty much all I could come up with.
In any case, if you subscribe to the theory of meaning embedded in the symbol, some people have come up with some interesting formulas. For example, writing bakla out as “ba-ka-la” illustrates the feminine joined with the masculine. Even bathala (which can be written out as “ba-ta-ha-la”) shows this duality (while throwing in “ta” for creation and “ha” for flux as good measure.) Another place where you can find “ba” and “la” is Cebuano balaanon, meaning, I think, holy, sacred.
I doubt this will ever be proven one way or the other, but I still find it interesting to ponder.