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Pinoy Kasi
Filipino, Filipinas

By Michael Tan
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:19:00 08/10/2010

Filed Under: Language

IT?S AUGUST, which has been designated as the month of the national language because this is the birth month of Manuel L. Quezon, who ordered the establishment of an Institute of National Language in 1936. This institute recommended Tagalog as the basis for a national language, incorporating words from other Philippine languages.

There was, and still is, resistance to Tagalog as a base, mainly from Cebuanos, who insist there are more Filipinos whose mother language is Cebuano. But I think it is a good sign that some Cebuanos, the younger ones especially, are beginning to use that Tagalog-based Filipino to argue against Tagalog?a bit like crazy columnists like myself writing in English about how English was forced upon us.

Meanwhile, Filipino continues to evolve. The University of the Philippines recently launched the revised edition of UP Diksyonaryong Filipino, which I see as a moving documentary of that evolution. ?Sumusunod sa takbo ng panahon? (moving with the times), the cover proudly proclaims.

For today?s column, I want to focus on the issue of orthography or spelling. There have been some pretty fiery debates around this issue. There was a camp that wanted to use only the sounds of Tagalog, or Philippine languages, which meant no letter ?f? for example, which meant our national language would be Pilipino. Apparently as you will see in the UP dictionary, and I know there will be furious opposition here, the letter ?f? is alive and well in Filipino.

Which means that we would have to say, ?Ako ay Filipino. Mahal ko ang Filipinas at ang wikang Filipino.? (I am Filipino. I love the Philippines and the Filipino language.) It doesn?t sit well with many Filipinos, who insist ?f? is just too alien. That just might include my 4-year-old son, who has real difficulties with that letter and who loves to mock me over dinner as I put my foot down by asking him, ?Put your feet down? and he repeats, knowing how exasperated I get with his ?f?: ?Put which put down, lep put right put??

Our spelling woes are endless. In 1987, I wrote a book ?Usug, Pasma, Kulam? and when I revised it for the UP Press, the copy editors insisted that the proper spelling was ?Usog? so there you go, it?s now ?Revisiting Usog, Pasma, Kulam.?


I was born in Kalookan when it was Caloocan and still prefer using the latter spelling but when I fill out government forms, for example a passport application, Caloocan becomes Kalookan when it?s entered into the Department of Foreign Affairs? computer.

We have a long way to go yet in standardizing our spelling and getting people to use it. It doesn?t help that texting came into the picture, with all kinds of new mutations on spelling, including ?jejemon.? I?ll need an entire column to explain jejemon, but let me just quickly explain that it?s a new kind of slang, with complicated non-rules on spelling. (Jejemon comes from a Japanese animé character that makes the sound ?jeje jeje?.)

And even as young people experiment with jejemon, older Filipinos as well as lower-income Filipinos, still spell words in an amazing throwback to earlier Tagalog. For example, I had a housekeeper who would leave me notes like ?Cailan ba ang balic ninyo??


Sentro ng Wikang Filipino-Diliman has come to the rescue with several handbooks to help out. One handbook, ?Glosaring Pang-administrasyon,? gives the Filipino equivalents, with recommended spelling, for our colleges, departments and degrees.

UP has been an arena for the spelling battles, reflected in the way our college names have changed. The College of Social Sciences and Philosophy was once called Dalubhasaan ng Agham Panlipunan at Pilosopiya. Then it became Kolehiyo ng Sosyal Sayans at Pilosopiya. Today it is Kolehiyo ng Agham Panlipunan at Pilosopiya.

We still shift back and forth with these words, sometimes almost playfully. For example, if the college has to decide on rotating certain duties, the department of political science will suggest that we go alphabetical, using the English names of the department, because their turn comes much later. That usually brings protests from the anthropologists, who always have to go first because of the letter ?a? in English, or in Filipino: antropolohiya (the official name now) or agham pantao (a preferred older, more purist name). Now, when Political Science is translated into Filipino, Agham Pampolitika, according to the Sentro ng Wikang Filipino manual, they come before us, alphabetically.

One of our past deans, Dr. Consuelo Paz, was a linguist who favored a more colloquial approach, a kind of what-you-hear-is-what-you-get. (She would have preferred Kolehiyo ng Sosyal Sayans at Pilosopiya. So, in anthropology, we would have an announcement like: ?Batanes ang sayt ng fildskul ngayon.? (Batanes is our field school site.) Yes, it does remind people of Pisin Tok, the national language of Papua New Guinea which evolved out of pidgin English.

Sentro ng Wikang Filipino has another manual, ?Gabay sa Ispeling,? which, well, spells out the spelling rules, together with some grammar. So if a root word is repeated, a hyphen is preferred as in sari-sari (rather than sarisari) and dala-dala (rather than daladala).

The guide is especially useful for dealing with loan words. Thus, we learn to spell out ?magba-brown out? and not ?magbra-brown out? and ?magbo-blow out? and not ?magblo-blow out.? Your turn now: How do you spell out the future Taglish verbs for taking a tricycle? For going to the grocery? Answers at the end of this article.

The rules can get quite complicated, and confusing. For example, the handbook recommends retaining the official or current spelling. Thus, Samuan, Pampanga rather than Sexmoan, Pampanga. (You can see why the residents changed their town?s name.) Bulacan is supposed to be the correct spelling, rather than Bulakan. And, get hold of this, it should be Caloocan, with a parenthetical remark that Kalookan was used only briefly. Tell that to the Department of Foreign Affairs? passport processing.

Wisely, Sentro ng Wikang Filipino advises the retention of original foreign words with established meanings, for example, X-ray and x-rated. (Can you imagine looking for the Eks Ray room?) They also prescribe retention of the original spelling for words with a specific cultural meaning, for example, cappuccino (coffee), masjid (a Muslim prayer room), pizza, jazz, even joie de vivre. Feng shui should be, well, feng shui although I have seen Quiapo fortune-tellers now advertising ?Punsoy? among their services.

Languages are alive and dynamic. Filipino?s evolution is made all the more complicated because it?s become somewhat like a cesspool, a place of convergence of many linguistic streams and brooks because we?re so globalized.

Oh, the correct answers for my earlier questions: Magtatraysikel, maggogroseri. Now, use them in a complete sentence.

Email: mtan@inquirer.com.ph

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