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In Other Words by Paul Morrow Speaking “proper” Filipino

When I started to study the Filipino language almost 30 years ago, it was still called Pilipino. Back then, and for a long time after, I sided with the Pilipino language purists or puristas who believed that many or all foreign words should be barred from the language. I even tried to write my own Pilipino dictionary without any English or Spanish borrowings.

My thinking was, “If I’m going to go through all this trouble to learn another language, I want to speak it properly. I don’t want to speak Taglish!” – the Tagalog/English slang that is now more common than ever. It was hard for me to accept the fact that in any language some things just can't be said without borrowing words from another language. Imagine trying to say in Filipino, “The blizzard disrupted the digital network for several hours,” without borrowing one English or Spanish word.

Of course, English is one of the world's greatest debtors when it comes to borrowing words from other languages. Still, the view among many Anglophones and other foreigners when they first set out to learn Filipino, is “if we can speak English without constantly switching to another language, surely the Taglish speakers can learn to speak Filipino just as effectively.”

This seems to be a reasonable argument at first glance but it isn’t really a fair comparison.

At this moment in history, English happens to be one of the dominant, if not, most influential languages on the planet. It is the current lingua franca (to borrow a term) of business, technology, science and pop culture. Because of this fact, many people whose first language is English can only speak English. They don’t need to speak another language because wherever they go, they will usually be able to communicate in their own language. Most languages in the world, especially Filipino, do not enjoy this advantage.

Several factors hamper the continuing development of the Filipino language, the main one being the dominating influence of English, which due to its American colonial history, is an official language in the Philippines. Filipinos are obliged to communicate with their own government and judicial system in this foreign language and the educational system is operated in English, so even acquiring basic knowledge is distorted through a foreign lens.

Before the Americans, the Spaniards held the same dominating influence during their occupation of more than 300 years. Most words related to religion, politics, and technology until the industrial revolution (makina, machine; pabrika, factory; kotse, car) were borrowed from Spanish. The Spaniards also brought the Western measurements for time (oras, hours; minuto, minute; segundo, second), the names of the months, days and animals such as the horse (kabayo).

But exterior forces are not the only factors that make speaking proper Filipino difficult. At present there are 171 indigenous languages and dialects in the Philippines. About 100 years ago the development of the Filipino language began with the aim to unite all Filipinos with a single common language of their own. But the often-bitter disputes over its development left the question of what is proper Filipino up in the air.

Early proponents of a national language claimed that it would be a new language consisting of words from all over the Philippines within the framework of Tagalog grammar – Tagalog being the language spoken in Manila and surrounding areas. In reality, most people see very little difference between Tagalog and Filipino. Some people even hold the opinion that there is no such thing as the Filipino language; it’s just a political name for Tagalog.

Thus, over the past century the Filipino language has been pulled in one direction then another by opposing factions. On one side there are the puristas who prefer indigenous Filipino words, mostly Tagalog words but also some words from other Philippine languages. On the other side is what I call the anything-goes crowd who, for various reasons, are opposed to anything that smacks of Tagalog “imperialism.” Some would prefer to have English as the only official language of the Philippines. There is even a tiny minority of self-styled elitists who pine for the “good old days” when the Spanish language reigned.

So, while academics and politicians bicker, ordinary Filipinos are left to their own devices when speaking Filipino. Taglish rules most of the media. Many young starlets gush their latest profundities in sentences that are almost thoroughly English except for a few Filipino fragments and a “‘di ba?” (ya know?) tacked on the end. And while some journalists attempt to speak “proper” Filipino, they improvise their scripts without referring to a dictionary. A word like kaganapan, which means “completeness,” becomes “incident” or “event” (probably because naganap means “happened”). Kung saan means “wherever” but many Filipinos who were educated in English now use it in the English sense of “where something is happening.”

Journalists, politicians and even some academics make linguists cringe when they mangle the words they borrow from Spanish or English. This usually happens when they can’t think of the proper Filipino word to use. They take an English word, translate it into what they think is Spanish and then pretend it’s Filipino. Sometimes, though, they get the Spanish part wrong. Thus new words are born that are neither Spanish nor English – words such as aspeto, konsernado, kontemporaryo, dayalogo, pesante and prayoridad. The National Artist for Literature, Virgilio Almario, calls these words siyokoy, after the mythical half-man, half-fish monster. (See the chart below.)

For many people, proper Filipino is what they learned in school – period, end of story. Of course, whatever that means depends on which linguistic faction held sway – purista or “anything goes” – in their particular school, at that particular time. For me, I still strive to write “proper” Filipino but I am much less dogmatic about usage than I once was. My casual speech, however, succumbed to Taglish a long time ago.

A few examples of “siyokoy” words, which are sometimes created accidentally when non-Spanish speakers attempt to borrow Spanish words and use them in Filipino.
The correct Spanish, English and some possible Filipino equivalents are also shown.
“Siyokoy”
Spanish
English
Filipino
adbenturero
aspeto
bentahe
boksingero
dayagramo
dayalektika
dayalekto
dayalogo
detalya
eksperyensado
endorso
groserya
gulpo
intrigero
kabisado
komprehensibo
konsernado
kontemporaryo
kritisismo
misyonaryo
musikero
obhektibo
panatisismo
parliyamento
pesante
prayoridad
prisonero
responsibilidad
seryoso
sirkumstansya
subhektibo
subheto
aventurero
aspecto
ventaja
boxeador
diagrama
dialectica
dialecto
dialogo
detalle
(experimentado)
endosar
(abacería, tienda)
golfo
intrigante
(memorizado)
comprensivo
(preocupado, inquieto)
contemporaneo
crítica
misionero
músico -a
objetivo
fanatismo
parlamento
(paisano)
prioridad
prisionero
responsabilidad
serio
circunstancia
subjetivo
sujeto
adventurer
aspect
(advantage)
boxer
diagram
dialectics
dialect
dialogue
detail
experienced
endorse
grocery
gulf
intriguer
memorized
comprehensive
concerned
contemporary
criticism
missionary
musician
objective
fanaticism
parliament
peasant
priority
prisoner
responsibility
serious
circumstance
subjective
subject
abenturéro; taong mapagsápalarán
aspekto; 1. mukhâ o panig ng isáng bagay 2. tanáw 3. lagáy
bentaha; lamáng
baksér, boksér
dayagram; krokis (Espanyol), bangháy
diyalektika
diyalekto; wikaín, wikà, salitâ
diyalogo; sálitaan, úsapan, pag-uusap
detalye
may káranasán, subók na
1. magtagubilin 2. lumagdâ 3. maglipat
tindahan (tienda+han)
1. malakíng loók 2. agwát
intrigante
1. isinaulo. 2. sanáy, hiratì
masakláw
nababahalà, nababalisà (kung konsernido ang ibig sabihin, ito ay "may kinalamán")
1. kapanahón 2. panahóng itó
kritika; pamumuná, panunurì
misyonéro
músiko, -a, mánunugtóg
obhetibo
panatísmo
parlamento, párliyamént (Ang bigkas sa Ingles ay karaniwang "parlament"); bátasan
magsasaká, magbubukíd
priyoridad, prayority; pagkauna, karapatáng máuná
bilanggô, bihag
1. ságutin, pananagutan 2. tungkulin, katungkulan
1. malubhâ 2. hindî nagbíbirô, tapát. 3. nag-iisip nang malalim 4. mahalagá
1. pangyayari 2. kalagayan, katayuan 3. pagkakátaón 4. halimbawà
subhetibo
suheto

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