OPINION: Nationalism that is never at a loss for words 1

OPINION: Nationalism that is never at a loss for words

Buddy Gomez

Posted at Dec 30 2016 05:07 AM

Some baggage we had in 2016! Let us jettison and lessen the load. Among many exercises available, we can enjoy a good laugh at ourselves. We all deserve and can surely use some amusing indulgement. This one is about Filipino nationalism being nailed stumped, without recourse. Nationalism at a loss for words! 

It is an accepted truism that the basis for, as well as the outcome of, developing our national language is an indelible, irretrievable embellishment and enhancement derived from a veritable breviary of immortal “hand me down” or better yet “loan” words and phrases, never to be returned! Legacy from a nationalist’s “bete noire” and continuing nightmare--unfading antecedents of colonial mentality!

It is very evident that in our Philippines, the potency patriotism possesses has failed to dent, much less overcome the sturdiness and staying power of Spanish colonialism’s most overt and audible legacy. The language of Cervantes, albeit without syntax, grammar and conjugation!

I commiserate with rabid nationalists of every shade and size. Funny, for all that fevered fervor, they cannot even curse and delve into expletives in our own native tongue, in pure and unadulterated ‘balarila!’ (grammar). “P*** ina mo!” (your mother is a whore!) is President Duterte’s habitual vituperation. Well, neither can unreconstructed communists like Joma Sison nor Renato Reyes express it otherwise! 

“Puta” is Spanish for “whore” or didn’t we ever know it! Try cursing with a very polite metaphor “kalapating mababang lipad……ang ina mo!” (your mother is a low-flying dove!) Growing up in Sampaloc, the common back alley patois vulgarism for prostitute was “burikak!” Sounds somewhat onomatopoeic, right? During the World War II liberation period, it was replaced by “pam-pam.” I think these days, when the likes of a Mocha Uson is mentioned, “pok-pok” becomes readily convenient. Be all that as they may, “P**** ina mo!” still reigns supreme, with strengthened currency because we have an incorrigibly foul-mouthed President. Is the use of a damnable colonial dirty word a violation of nationalism? Wait, do not bother answering.

What we do take very for granted the most, on a daily and even hourly basis, are the days of our week, the hours of our day, the months of our year! 

No population on this side of the planet, in all of Asia, calls the days of the week, hours of the day and the months of the year in incomparable Spanish. Lunes, Martes, Miercoles for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, etcetera, etcetera. And ‘A la una, a las dos, a las tres’ for one, two, three o’clock and so on (‘what time is it?--Anong oras na! Hora is hour in Spanish). And this despite isa, dalawa, tatlo, apat, lima (one, two, three, four, five) when we simply count--in the local lingo, with or without finger assistance! Our months of the year are Enero, Febrero, Marso, Abril (January, February, March, April) and so on, as they say in all of the Hispanic World comprising of Spain, MesoAmerica, Central America and South America. 

What do you know, Filipinos are the only Asian Hispanists! 

Other common words have been taken for granted.

Already, many other earlier commentaries have familiarized us with ‘kumusta ka’ which is our classic mongrelization of “como estas” --how are you? As well, we have examples of the most common that we know of: mesa, silya, bintana, kisame, cuarto, cama/catre, kusina, kurtina, plato, baso, kutsara, kutsilyo, tinidor, banyo, tualya, sapatos, sabon (table, chair, window, ceiling, room, bed, kitchen, curtain, plate, glass, spoon, knife, fork, bathroom, towel, shoes, soap), and a couple of thousands more that beyond our daily collective consciousness have found themselves culturally embedded in Filipino language structures. Amazing!

Indeed, it is amazing (and truly humorously edifying) that there is hardly a page in Webster’s Spanish-English Dictionary that does not contain a Spanish word that has found itself into the Filipino’s daily existence. I will be sharing some of my more quaint discoveries as we continue our journey into linguistics. 

For now, here is one sampler. During All Souls/Saints days, [commonly referred to in our adopted Spanish phrase as “Todos Los Santos” but also called “Undas” or “Araw ng mga Patay,”--Day of the Dead] the beeline of this mandatory religious observance is towards the “Sementeryo” (cementerio in Spanish) meaning Cemetery. Within the Sementeryo, you have the “nicho” (niche). You know, that designated space for the coffin to be laid in or pushed into. Coffin among the Tagalogs is called ‘ataul.’ Did you know that the word “ataul” is Spanish? Now, you do! (We will continue this pleasant drift next week.)

Nationalist Linguistic Interventions

Coining words as an attempt at nationalist/purist linguistic intervention has a shoddy history in the Philippines. Does any Filipino “nationalist” still remember “salipawpaw” for airplane and “salumpuwit” for chair and/or bench? These are past and failed nationalist attempts at inventing “our very own” terminology. I am lost in space as to how ‘salipawpaw’ came to be. (It may be related to ‘floating on air.’) But the etymology of ‘salumpuwit,’ on the other hand, is a linguistic doozy! Salo (accent on the second syllable) is ‘to catch.’ Puwit is butt, as in your blooming behind! So, to catch your butt literally requires a chair or bench. Thus, butt-catcher is in fact a chair and therefore--‘salumpuwit!’ Really!

Such attempts got out of hand when irreverent countrymen extended the ‘salo’ to include a woman’s boobs and to a man’s manhood, his testicles. Ever heard of ‘salungsuso’ and ‘salongbayag?’ Those were Tagalog purist coinage for brassiere and supporters! ‘Suso’ is for boobs while ‘bayag’ is for balls! (The foregoing is a well-worn canard!)

In any case, the government agency organized in the late 1930s to preserve and/or ‘invent’ the country’s proud linguistic patrimony was known as “Surian ng Wikang Pambansa” (Institute of the National Language.) Surian is supposed to stand for Institute. (An English-Tagalog Dictionary, however, uses ‘institusyon!’instead.) Nobody ever uses the word Surian or for that matter its root verb ‘suri-in’ (to analyze, or loosely, to examine). In abject surrender (how else!) the ‘Surian” has been renamed Komisyon sa Wikang Pampansa. Commission on the Filipino Language. Comision in Spanish.

Surrendering the use of ‘Surian’ for ‘Komisyon’ is indeed acceptance of reality. It is also symbolic. Nationalism does not have to suffer “a loss for words.” 

Accepting and embracing borrowed, hand-me-down and/or loan words and phrases, partaking of its effective utilization, does embellish, enhance, and enrich our national language. And that, too, is nationalism, with a guarantee that we will never be at “a loss for words!” 


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