Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fun with Tagalog

Warning: The following material contains NO “adult content.” It is suitable for children. However, due to the technical nature of the discussion, and the fact that it requires some concentration to fully comprehend, we suggest that if you have a short attention span or no sense of humor, you may want to skip reading this newsletter. Then again, you might learn something. But we doubt it. – The authors

The local dialect is Tagalog. Along with English, it is now the national language. Original Tagalog words, i.e., words that existed before the 300 years of Spanish control, are indecipherable without help. Many Spanish words were added, for example, yelo [YEH-low] (Sp. hielo) for ice, and serbesa [sehr-BEHSS-ah] (Sp. cerveza) for beer. Time is basically told in Spanish, even though Tagalog has its own numbering system, since Filipinos were probably introduced to clocks by the Spanish. In the past 100 years many English terms such as orange juice and seat belt have crept in amongst the Tagalog.

Tagalog is an Austro-Polynesian language, so other regional dialects contain similar words, but there is absolutely no resemblance to English. So, in part, learning Tagalog comes down to knowing when to use a Tagalog word and when to use the Spanish or English word. But you would never guess that tubig [TOO-beeg] is water – unless you recall our story about the “too big” beds – itlog [EET-lohg] is egg, and pakwan [pahk-WAHN] is watermelon. Damo [dah-MOH] is Tagalog for grass, while tanglad [tahng-LAHD] is specifically lemon grass.

Steve has had some fun with this. When people ask him if he has learned Tagalog, he says words like itlogplant, tubigmelon, and lemondamo. One of his favorites is walang alumahan [wah-LAHNG ah-lew-MAH-hahn]. What he is pretending to misspeak is walang anuman [wah-LAHNG ah-new-MAHN] which is a roundabout way of saying “you’re welcome,” literally something closer to “no problem.” Alumahan is a type of popular ocean fish (mackerel, according to our Tagalog dictionary), so he is actually saying “no fish.” Santo alumahan (holy mackerel!)

Any time you’re learning a new language you will run into compound words that just don’t translate. One night Ron had obviously prepared more food than we could eat, so Steve asked Ron the term for leftovers. Ron could not think of the word tira [tee-RAH] so Steve came up with his own words, kaliwa sa itaas, [kah-lee-WAH SAH eet-ah-AHS] literally left (kaliwa), as in left/right, and over or above (sa itaas). This would have thrown Ron for a loop awhile ago, but now he’s starting to think more like Steve, which is a bit frightening. The humor is actually helping us remember more words and phrases. Using this logic, kanan sa itaas [KAH-nahn SAH eet-ah-AHS] would be “right over.” We’ll have to try that one out.

When we were in Makati some months ago we looked for flip-flops for Steve, who has size 14 feet, not an easy task in a country where the average man is less than Marcia’s 5 ft 5 inches. One store called Landmark seemed to offer the best chance, since it stocks literally tens of thousands of flip-flops, which are worn by 99.9999% of Filipinos when not at work, and probably the majority who are working as well. We managed to find a pair of 13’s, barely big enough for Steve’s feet. A young man went in the back room and managed to find 2 more pairs of 13’s and brought them out. While he and Steve were waiting for Marcia to find her own pair, he said to Steve, “Your feet are too big.” Steve replied, “No, that’s water,” (tubig) and the young man got a laugh out of it. Marcia runs into a different issue with the local flip-flops; most Filipinos have wide feet, and she has narrow feet. Flip-flops of the correct length are easy to find, but she has yet to find a pair that are not too ‘floppy’ for her.

Gabi [GAH-bee] is the word for taro, a large-leafed plant whose starchy root can be substituted rather nicely for potatoes in dishes like soup or stew. Gabi [gah-BEE] is the word for night or evening. Magandang gabi [mah-gahn-DAHNG gah-BEE] is equivalent to “good evening” (literally “beautiful evening”). Of course Steve likes to throw a “good taro” in there once in a while just to keep people on their toes. Ron has gotten wise to this, and will say gabi gabi [GAH-bee gah-BEE] for his version of the joke, since gabi gabi, [gah-BEE gah-BEE] literally “night night,” is the way to say “night after night,” or nightly. By the way, we often have a gabi gabi, when we eat taro for dinner in a delicious pork leg soup. Didn’t catch the difference between gabi gabi and gabi gabi? Read the paragraph again!

Similarly, araw araw [AH-rahw AH-rahw] means “day after day,” or daily. Araw is the word for both “sun” and “day,” which makes some sense if you think about it, especially in a place where the sun shines so much of the day. (For much of the year in central Michigan, especially October through March, the word for day and the word for cloudy should maybe be the same.) Steve thinks araw araw should be Tagalog for “Sunday.”

Umaga [ooh-MAH-gah] means morning. One of the hotel staff, whom we have known since we started coming here years ago, is named “Norming.” Now every time that he sees Norming, Steve says, “Magandang ugama” (not umaga), and Norming takes it good naturedly.

One of our favorite Tagalog idioms is tulog manok [too-LOHG mah-NOHK], literally “chicken sleep.” This is used to describe someone who is trying very hard not to fall asleep, such as watching TV when you are tired. You keep nodding off for just a second or two, and then your head jerks back up and you appear to be wide awake, but before you know it you’re nodding off very briefly again, with your head jerking like a chicken’s does when it is walking, hence tulog manok. For sound sleep, the phrase we’ve heard is tulog mantika, to sleep like cooking oil that has thickened from storage in cool temperatures. We actually saw our oil do that here in December and January!

On Wednesday we quietly and privately celebrated our 37th anniversary with a tropical get-away…in our own backyard. A little wine, a gift from Bill and Midge Kirwan, in plastic cups. Not too bad for a couple of 40-year-olds! As they say here: Ha ha ha.

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