Saturday, December 18, 2010

Philippine English

Words and ideas are more powerful than guns in the defense of human dignity. Treaties are stronger than armamented boundaries. The only impregnable line is that of human Understanding
-Carlos P Romulo, President of UN, Diplomat, Aide-de-Camp to Gen MacArthur

I am always fascinated by languages. Not only by the language itself, but how it evolves. Its amazing that the English language is found around the world considering, that England is an Island off  of the coast of Europe that was settled by:  Celts, Romans, Norsemen, Anglos, Saxons and French. Part of the beauty of the English language is that it draws from all these different languages. We can say house, hut, edifice and manse to describe a structure. All these words come from various tribes that invaded the British isles.

As the English language spread throughout the world, it has evolved and morphed even more. There are differences in British usage and North American usage. The same is true for English in the Philippines.

In 1898 Spain ceded the Philippines to the US. The US found itself as a colonial master. At that time the Philippines were a collection of Spanish possessions where the educated class spoke Spanish, but the overwhelming majority of the people spoke their native language. The native languages of the Philippines are a southeast Asian variety akin to Indonesian and Malaysian.  Most of the native languages of the Philippines incorporated many Spanish loan words ( Tagalog has about 5 thousand). There is a dialect of Spanish still spoken in the Philippines called Chavacano. Only a small percentage of people speak this dialect ( about 6% of the population of Cavite, and some in Mindanao).  There are so many dialects ( or for that matter, actual languages) in the Philippines that someone in Manila would speak Tagalog, and 50km north another group of people would speak Kapampangan, a completely different language.

When the Americans took over, they did what they do best: infrastructure! The Americans built schools, government buildings and institutions. While doing this they established the English language as the mode of instruction.
The English that was introduced to the Philippines was an American post-Victorian military variety of English. As English evolved in the US, it has also evolved in the Philippines. In the Philippines,  most classes in High Schools and Universities are conducted in English, with a bit of Tagalog. To hear English spoken in the Philippines is quite different for native American ears, but it is truly English, albeit a Philippine version. One should never correct a Filipino speaking English; it would be like a Briton correcting an American. Some words from the Philippines have entered American usage. One such word is boondocks. Most Americans may think that this a native American word for remote place, but in fact comes from the Tagalog word bundok, which means mountain.

The Filipinos speak English much more clearly than Americans. They pronounce all of the syllables, and speak slower. Because the Americans introduced a post-Victorian military English around the year 1900, speakers use a polite form.  Its quite common to respond to female teachers, and other people with respect with "yes, Ma'am". While staying in a hotel last month, a friend phoned for me, and the message taker wrote: "Ma'am Theresa phoned for you." Teachers, supervisors and others  are often referred to as Ma'am.

Here is a quick list of Philippine English Words:
Aircon: For A/C or airconditioner
Already: Used very frequently in the Philippines. In Tagalog,  Na = Already.  Commonly used: Hali ka na ( come here, already). Let's go out to eat, already...
Ba: a verbal question mark from Tagalog..."going to the store ba?
Barbecue: What we call a kebab in the USA. A Filipino barbecue is meat on a stick.
Bananacue: A banana ( or Saba/Plantain) on a stick. Usually sold on the street.

Batchmate/Batch: Classmate, Class probably from US military classes.
Bedspacer: Roommate
Brownout: temporary blackout.
Cabinet: Closet.
Carnap: To steal an automobile.
Course: in University, your major.
Chit: Restaurant bill.
Comfort Room/CR: bathroom.
Commuter: Someone who takes a bus, Jeepney, or LRT/MRT (railways). Not a person who drives
Dirty Ice Cream: Sold from street vendors, from the street hence, dirt. Usually sold on a hamburger bun.

Dirty Kitchen: where the food is prepared, not really dirty, but usually on the back side of the house where the housekeepers would live.
Eat-all-you-can: All you can eat.

Every now and then: Often. I go to the gym, every now and then (i.e., I often go to the gym)
Gets: Understands..."I gets the joke"
Go/get down: To "get off " as in get off the jeepney.
Green Jokes: What we would call "dirty jokes"
Jeepney: A Philippine hybrid. Leftover US military Jeeps used for transportation. Probably fused with a jitney (small bus), hence Jeepney.

Ma'am: Polite form for Miss or Mrs. This form has virtually disappeared from the USA.
Merienda: From the Spanish, meaning small meal mid afternoon/snack.

Officemate: Co-worker.
Po: This has real no meaning in English, but a sign of respect. "Good Morning Po" Used after words, from Tagalog. Magandang Umaga Po, good morning (with respect).

Polo: A button down dress shirt.
Promo/Promotion: Special, as in Hamburger/Fries Promo, 50 pesos.
Remembrance: A souvenir, probably Spanish is origin,  Recuerdo which means remembrance and souvenir.
Rotunda/Rotonda: Roundabout, Rotary, Traffic circle.
Rubber Shoes: Sneakers, Tennis Shoes, running shoes.
Slang: What Filipinos refer to as an accent.
Slippers: Flip Flops, akin to sandles.
Take Home: for "take out" in the USA or "take away" in the UK.
Traffic: In the Philippines traffic is a "traffic jam", noun. In north America its a verb, traffic.
Tricycle: a public for hire motorcycle with a sidecar.

Related Blog postings

Blogger/Innkeeper Gorio wanders the streets of Metro Manila

 Related article from BBC


  1. There are more Chabacanos in Mindanao than in Luzon. Chabacano de Cavite is a dying language while Chabacano de Zamboangueño is thriving throughout Mindanao. A Filipino is capable of speaking 3-4 languages at least one is either English or Spanish for a few.

  2. I enjoyed reading your blog, I don't usually come across someone who's interested in Philippine English (or the nuances of language variation for that matter)! Write more about this if you will!