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July 21, 2006

Taglish Illonganol... or: What do they speak in the Philippines?

Being pleasantly language-confused between german, english and spanish, I've been fascinated for a while with what happens when you throw together a bunch of people who are all fluent in more than one language... I find myself speaking germlish with german-speaking friends, spanglish in Panama, and struggling when trying to speak "normal" german ohne dabei akzidental englische oder spanische palabras zu verwenden.

And now -- here is a country of 88 million people, who all know some english, watch US TV, and grew up with a language that is a mix of spanish and a language that in turn is a mix of a number of languages in the same family as (I think) Malay. Tagalog/Filipino (the difference the seems to be unclear and is frequently overlooked) is wonderful mix of languages to begin with... but it doesn't stop there.

If someone asks you what time it is, it's perfectly normal to answer "cuatro y media" except that it's spelled "kuwatro ymedia" or something like that. Numbers, times, weekdays, and anything in the kitchen is spanish. "Siguro", according to lonely planet, means whatever spanish speakers apparently mean when they say "Seguro" (certainly) -- something like "perhaps" or "probably". How wonderfully pragmatic to translate it as what it *really* means in practice... Strangely, though, "media hora" does not mean "later, maybe,  or next week or maybe not. leave me alone.", "ahora" does not mean "later today", and "ahorita" does not mean "in half an hour".

Apparently, the consensus is that which language you use is solely a matter of "convenience". Anything goes... and switching languages is not a sign of lack of proficiency in one language, but more a sign of sufficient proficiency in more than one language to pick whichever one is most suitable to express what you want to say. I do this all the time. But it feels odd and awkward, unless I do this with people I have know for a long time -- so it was refreshing and inspiring to be in a place where this is completely normal, on anything from advertisements to political speeches. Unfortunately, of course, half the time I had no idea what people were saying.

For now, i am limited to small observations. For example, take this advertisement. It looks like something you might see in Florida or LA... US-style advertising, with some spanish mixed in. Except that it's usually one or the other. And then, on closer inspection, one might wonder who came up with the combination of corn (mais) with ice (con hielo), why banana is spelled in english (not spanish), and most of all, what is "Buko Pandan"?

cool ad

And who would mix all these things with what may be cow or soy milk, or maybe swiss-branded ice cream? Buko, it turns out, is young Coconut (pipa in Panama), and Pandan is green jello made using the extract from a leaf. Clearly, we are in Asia here. Grass Jelly, anyone? (though I guess it's a similar idea as "Waldmeister" flavor, which I still don't really know what it is). Now -- Bacolod is a town, "inasal" means something like "spit-roasted" -- that was relatively easy.  My friend was also able to tell me what "Sarap gid" means: very delicious. However, it was less clear what language this is. After some thought, I was informed that it is half Ilonggo (a language spoken in the province of Ilo-Ilo), and half Tagalog ("Sarap").

On its placemats, the restaurant is trying to teach a few words of Ilonggo. For example, "delicious" means "Manamit", so "Manamit gid" means "really delicious". But until these teaching efforts bear fruit, it is of course much more convenient to use "sarap". One word at a time... for now, if you want to sound like you are from Ilo-Ilo, just say "gid" whever you have a chance to, just like you might say "ey" at the end of a sentence when you want to sound canadian, but fail miserably.

And by the way, the one dessert I tried (Mango with sticky rice in a coconut sauce) was indeed both sarap gid and especially manamit gid.

Almost as good as the purple Taro shakes. And the native tsokolate (ancient spelling here, probably due to some priest in Mexico) tasted exactly like the (slightly burned) chocolate Izmael's family makes in Panama.

Posted by rick at July 21, 2006 03:36 PM