I don’t understand why Filipinos say everything twice. I mean, there’s halo halo, lapu lapu, Iloilo, balik balik, chika chika, bola bola. I mean why couldn’t it just be halo or chika or bola? Even my wife, when she gets mad, tells me, Bobo Ka. Bobo ka.
I’ve always been interested in language, the ways it changes and evolves. There are quite a few words in the English language, some of them scientific, some of them social phrases, that didn’t exist when I was born.
The Philippines is a country of many languages and cultures; I am not sure that those outside the Philippines know that. I heard the Filipino author F. Sionel Jose (Mass, Sin, My Brother My Executioner) give a talk in Cebu a few years ago. He said that the primary reason the Philippines has difficulties uniting as a country is because Filipinos are a tribal people, separated by culture, language and traditions.
Cebuano, Tagalog, Waray, Ilocano, Ilongo, Bicolano are just some of the 150+ languages and dialects in the Philippines. Spanish was the “official” language for more than 300 years and now, the “official” languages here are Filipino and English.
I put “official” in quotation marks because, even if a government proclaims something is “official” that isn’t how language and social change take place. Change isn’t implemented uniformly and people continue to follow cultural behaviors and languages from the past.
One example of this is, Spanish surnames in the Philippines. Before Spanish colonial times there were no surnames in the Philippines. Penelope V. Flores of San Francisco State University wrote :
“Natives were named after the area where they lived. If one lived by the seashore he was Kato Tabing Dagat. However, if Kato changed his address to the forest glen, he became Kato Ginubatan. He was the same person yet he was registered as two persons in the municipal registry book.”
Flores goes on to say that is was also common in pre-colonial times to be named “the grandson of so and so.” Others had names that described unique physical characteristics.
“Cross-eyed Juan was called Juang Duling. Berto had a misshapen jaw, so his name became Bertong Bukol.”
The Spaniards wanted to tax everyone, so why not assign Spanish surnames so they could keep track of everybody? A book was created of all the Spanish surnames in the provinces of Spain, Catalogo de Apellidos. And so, Filipinos were assigned Spanish surnames by decree.
But, there were some problems. Remember I said that social change is never implemented uniformly? It seems that in 1849 Governor General Narciso Claveria ordered that these Spanish surnames in the Catalogo de Apellidos should be assigned to the heads of all Filipino families. He held a big meeting and literally tore pages out of the catalog and gave them to provincial governors. The catalog was alphabetical. The result was that entire provinces were given surnames with the same letter of the alphabet, and of course, they didn’t get to everyone. The result was that many Filipinos today have Spanish surnames, but there were a lot of holes in the way this took place.
Of course the name Philippines itself emerged in honor of King Philip II of Spain and even though there was all this Spanish stuff going on, learning the Spanish language was not really offered directly to most Filipinos. It happened haphazardly; some Spanish vocabulary was adopted and mixed with Filipino indigenous languages. That’s certainly the case here in Cebu.
In addition to surnames, place names were changed during Spanish colonial times; often the new names were a corruption of a name in a Filipino native language.
Cebu is a Hispanicized corruption of sugbu, Cebuano for “to walk on shallow waters,” referring to the shallows through which one had to wade in order to reach dry land from the port of the city.
Iloilo is a Hispanicized corruption of irong-irong, Hiligaynon for “nose-like,” referring to the shape of the delta formed by what are now called the Iloilo and Salog Rivers.
Baguio is the Hispanicized corruption of the Ibaloi word bagiw which means “moss.”
And so on and so on. Language. It works like that, and this is all a part of who the Philippines and Filipinos are today.
But speaking of another, “Isn’t language fun” topic. My Waray-speaking wife from Samar just returned to college after a few years’ hiatus. In her first class, the rather prim looking, older, woman teacher from the Catholic Women’s College was trying to have a discussion about acronyms.
“Even our school name is an acronym,” she said to the 20 or so students.
“Does anyone else know any acronyms they have heard or use in everyday language?”
Rachel, being the go-getter she is, shot up her hand.
“I know one Ma’am.”
“What is that Dear?”
“WTF? What’s that Dear. I don’t know that one.
“What the Fuck,” Rachel blurted out without missing a beat.
For about four seconds it was so quiet you could hear a mouse sneeze.
Then the classroom erupted. Women were laughing, high fiving each other and saying WTF, WTF over and over. One girl fell out of her chair.
The teacher looked horrified, ashen-faced and really didn’t know what to do.
“All right, all right. Quiet everyone. You’ve all had your nice laugh. Everyone turn to page 8 in the Student Handbook on your desk, the page that says “Student Responsibilities.”
I didn’t think Morena girls could turn red, but Rachel did, as the teacher turned toward her and said…
“And what was your name again, Miss?”