Language Trivial

The Language Game: Tagalog and the Regional Languages in the Philippines (Cebuano, Waray and Surigaonon)

When I was queuing for the loo at Starbucks in front of Moulin Rouge, a lady struck up a conversation with me and my replies were mostly one-worded sentences. She was talking to me in Spanish so I did my best to return the favor. If you have French lessons, one semester of Spanish in college combined with your Filipino vocabulary which consists of several Spanish words, you will be able to figure out what she was saying.

It reminded me how often learners in French language class ask each other how many languages one could speak. I would always say four – Bisaya, English, Tagalog and French. I insist that Bisaya is a language and not a dialect because of its difference from our national language which is Tagalog.

To illustrate this, let me do some storytelling. This is also a clear example to explain the language game concept. During the era of Nokia 5110 and 8210, sending and forwarding funny text messages were the thing then. A friend sent me a message before which got stuck in my head until now. Here it goes.

            Ang “langgam” sa Tagalog ga-kamang pa, sa Bisaya ga-lupad na.
Sa Tagalog, ang “gubat” lasang pa, sa Bisaya, ga-giyera na.
Sa Tagalog, ang “walis” nanilhig pa, sa Bisaya, ready na (since the skirt is lifted up already).
Sa Tagalog ang “upa” nangabang pa, sa Bisaya, X-rated na.
***I had to change the words, it’s kinda vulgar.
English translation. (The best I could.)
 “Langgam” in Tagalog  is still crawling while in Bisaya it is already flying.
In Tagalog “gubat” is still a jungle, in Bisaya, it is already an action-packed battle.
In Tagalog, “walis”is still sweeping, in Bisaya, it’s ready (ready for action because the skirt is lifted up already).
In Tagalog, “upa” is still hiring (probably a sex worker), in Bisaya, it is X-rated already.

But then, the Tagalog will have some get back with the term “libog”. While the Bisaya people are still confused, the Tagalogs are quite feeling sexually excited already. So when I was still working in the Philippines and was sent to conferences with Tagalog-speakers, they would always laugh at me each time I said: “Galibog na gyud ko!” What I meant was, “I’m confused” but they may have understood it the other way.

And here comes Waray. When you go to the eastern part of Visayas, you should be careful when asking for some chilli pepper in restaurants because when you say you want some “sili” (chilli in English), there are several possibilities:

1.    You might have a sudden all-eyes-on-you scene;
2.    You might be sexually harassed;
3.    You might be accused of sexually harassment; or
4.    You might be given with the real thing.
***And of course you understand that I am exaggerating here.

Then there’s this anecdote about a Cebuano who was at a pier in Surigao City, a city in the southern part of the Philippines. This is a clean joke. He was going back to Cebu so he asked the first person he encountered, who was a Surigaonon.
            Cebuano: Unsa nga barko ang mu-biyahe karon? (What boat will be sailing now?)
            Surigaonon: Inday Uno. (I don’t know.)
So the Cebuano searched and waited for the boat “Inday Uno” or Inday the First that he would never ever see.
***”Inday” is a term of endearment for girls in Cebuano and “Uno” is the cardinal number “one” in Spanish. In Cebuano, we count in Spanish. Boats sailing there usually have a cardinal number in its name, hence, the confusion (libog) of the Cebuano guy.

When I was at the university, a Surigaonon friend, a good friend of mine, who refused to speak Cebuano has asked me “Mupanaw kaw kuman, She?”. I immediately replied “I hope not” because I felt like I was going to die. I love Surigaonon by the way and Waray too.
In Cebuano, green jokes are quite common. We could hear them from people from all walks of life, man or woman and whenever, even during a public discourse. Well, listen to our President lui-même when he gives his speeches. I am quite used to hearing some friends throwing green jokes at each other and without affecting the respect for each other. However, there is always a context. It was like that before I left Philippines. Things might have changed now there. Here in France and the rest of the world, you cannot give this kind of joke otherwise, you will be so weird or worse be found guilty of sexual harassment. Trivial: It is also common to hear people telling you, “Sexy-ha nimo Ma’am uy.” (You’re so sexy Ma’am.) to which the girls would usually reply, “Thank you.” or “Pag-sure uy (try to be sure about it.)
In French, there are also some words which I am not comfortable pronouncing and tried to avoid saying them. For example, I would always say the entire word for “publicité” and never the shortened version because it sounds like “pube”. Another one is “tous” when used as a pronoun because then, you would have to pronounce the “s” à la fin of the word. Example: Bonjour à tous! In Bisaya, it’s something that you would not want to know so I am not gonna tell you.
If you know some words of this kind, please feel free to leave it in the comment section. Let’s broaden our vocabulary.

Disclaimer: I still use “Bisaya” and “Tagalog” because their the official terms “Cebuano” and “Filipino” are still contestable. 

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  1. Hello! thanks a lot!

  2. Hello Anna!

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