In the recent past, people often wondered why Bicol Naga is very similar to Bicol Legazpi. It is because passing through the national highway (Maharlika Highway) a lot of different dialects divide Naga and Legazpi. Going east, Rinconada will be the first different dialect encountered (starting in Pili and up to the western part of Polangui) and then Western Miraya (after Matacon, Libon). After that comes Bicol Oasnon (starting Oas, of course) and then Eastern Miraya (starting in Guinobatan until Daraga) before finally reaching Legazpi City.
After a period of wonderment comes the puzzlement. Some even said that the church and its rites and books has something to do with this “standardization”. I give no credence to that. Otherwise we would have learned Latin, the official language of the church.
But I think the path to being misled begins with the assumption that the Naga-Legazpi highway that we know of now has been in existence since time immemorial, when it is not. An old civil engineer explained to me 30 years ago that this highway was only built in the 1920’s. He said that before the arrival of heavy earth-moving equipments it is simply impossible to fill all the ricefields that lay between towns. He also added that the old roads passed through the hills like the old road from Camalig to Guinobatan is the Tagaytay (Camalig) road.
If one analyzes Bicol Tabaco it is readily apparent that it is also very similar to the “standard” Bicol. And going farther northwest it is also apparent that the Bicol of the Partido area and Caramoan Peninsula is also very similar to the “standard” Bicol. And, of course, Bicol Daet is also very similar to the “standard” Bicol. Actually, except for some sub-dialectical variations, it is obvious that all of this belong to just one dialect.
This whole stretch that belongs to just one Bicol dialect (but with sub-dialectical variations) actually starts from the old town of Bacon, Sorsogon and proceeds northwest up to Mambulao [J. Panganiban], Camarines Norte except the Larap area. It is the reason why it is sometimes called the Northern Coastal Bicol. But more recently it is more often called as the Central Bicol dialect. Up to 2/3 of Bicolanos speak this dialect but in international texts it is not called as “Standard” Bicol.
The southwestern town of San Andres [the old Calolbon] which is very near Caramoan Peninsula also speak this dialect and so do a vast inland area west of Naga City and up to portions of the “railroad towns” of Camarines Sur. The old outlet to the sea of Nueva Caceres [Naga] to the south, Pasacao, also speaks this dialect. And so do the whole San Miguel Bay area.
In the olden days, even before the Spaniards came, the way of getting around or trading was by sailing (in fact the word layag or paglayag is the same in many parts of the Philippines). These northern Bicol seas are normally placid during the southwest monsoon (habagat) because it is shielded by the Bicol land mass. In fact the old pilgrimage custom to the visita of Joroan is connected with this. Sailboats as far as Northern Samar used to visit that shrine in the earlier days.
Sub-dialectical variations can be explained by recognizing geographical divisions in the fishing areas. Albay Gulf is a separate fishing area and that is why Bicol Legazpi predominates this area and to the barangay of Sawanga of the old Bacon which has a sea connection to Rapu-rapu.
The narrows of Cagraray island separate the fishing grounds of Tabaco Bay from Albay Gulf. Here Bicol Tabaconon predominates.
The promontory and rough terrain ahead of Joroan divides tha fishing grounds of Lagonoy Gulf from Tabaco Bay area. Here the mountain chain Mt. Iriga-Mt. Masaraga-Mt. Malinao extends up to the sea. Areas like this hold few inhabitants, hence, little fishing. Actually in the olden times Agta tribes dominated this area. Like in Prieto Diaz, Sorsogon, the physical and fishing boundary between sub-dialects are connected to the presence of an indigenous tribe.
In Lagonoy Gulf, the Partido sub-dialect predominates.
The old trade route go round the Caramoan Peninsula. It does not go overland from Goa to Tinambac due to the rough terrain and the control of the mountains by the Cimarrones. If trade and communication is carried overland it passes the southern foot of Mt. Isarog (the Carolina route) and this is usually the case when the northeast monsoon (amihan) is blowing. When amihan is in full swing the northern waters of Bicol are rough.
Inhibitants of the tip of Caramoan Peninsula are related to the inhabitants of the southwest portion of Catanduanes. They make regular sea crossings even in the olden days.
The San Miguel Bay area which is horseshoe-shaped and which extends from Pambujan to Siruma and sealed at the entrance by the Caningo island is another separate fishing ground. Here, the Naga sub-dialect predominates.
The Camarines Norte seas up to the Calagua islands is another separate fishing ground. Bicol Daet dominates the eastern Camarines Norte town.
The area west of Naga City that speaks Bicol Naga is dominated by the lower portion of the Bicol River Basin (the portion nearer the sea). The meandering rivers here that irrigates the vast rice plains is also the old transportion route and this is connected up to the mouth of San Miguel Bay near Cabusao. The landing area near the Naga public market is a remnant of this artery.
This is the historical reason why Bicol Naga and Bicol Legazpi is very similar. As do the other dialects in the northern coast of Bicol.