By Marivir R. Montebon
It is August, the month of Philippine languages. Do not be lost in translation, or try not too.
If the 7107 islands of what compose the Philippine archipelago is spectacular, wait till you hear our 120 plus native languages or dialects. You will be fascinated.
Our native tongues, from the Malayo-Polynesian roots, are diverse and remain alive to this day, defying the imposition of English language and inspite of the Spaniards’ successful erasure of our ancient alphabet, the alibata.
With each ethnicity comes a unique language – Bisaya, Hiligaynon, Ilonggo, Kinaray-a, Waray, Tagalog, Bantagueno, Ilokano, Igorot, Maranao, Tausug, Bikolano, Kapampangan, Surigaonon, and a lot more. They are furiously spoken in the comfort of homes, in intense expressions of love or anger. Filipinos go back to their mother tongues as they leave work or school, all colonially established, at the day’s end.
Here is a funny journey in the Philippines through words.
Langgam means ant in Tagalog, the language spoken in Manila and nearby provinces. But when you reach Cebu and Central Visayas, langgam means bird.
The langgam that crawls in Manila flies in Cebu, we would always say in jest.
Libog in Cebu means confusion. But do not say libog in Tagalog, it means sexual arousal.
So while Cebuanos are confused, the Tagalogs are aroused, with that word libog. ‘Nalibog ko’ in Cebuano means I am confused. But say that in Tagalog, it means I am aroused. Be careful, don’t get in trouble.
In the Tagalog language, buto means bone but when you reach Visayas and Mindanao, buto means vagina. Be careful using that word too. Make sure to appropriately use it where you are.
Payag in Tagalog means to agree while in the Visayas and Mindanao, it is the nipa hut.
Oftentimes, the same words are spoken differently in syllabic emphasis, and the word changes its meaning.
Okay, but there are lovely words that are common in the regions. Gugma means love to the Sugbuano and Ilonggo and among many Mindanaoanon. Salamat or thank you is spoken by Tagalog and Visayans alike. Langit means heaven or figuratively happiness in these regions.
Come to think of it. Love, gratitude, and heaven – such lovely words that find common ground among peoples in my home country.
Well, patay or death is a common term too for all regions. And tulog or sleep. Ina, ama, and anak or mother, father and child are terms universally shared.
The pronouns of our ethnic languages are gender-free. Ako, ikaw, siya, sila, and kita respectively means I, you (both ikaw and siya), they, and we/us without the gender-construct. Siya in English will specifically mean a he or a she. That sense of ‘patas’ or equality and uniformity, although undermined, is alive in us now, something that the western colonialists do not have in their translations.