Our confusing, rich national language




QUICK, which is the correct Filipino name of Quezon City – Lungsod Quezon or Lungsod ng Quezon?

Many may say it doesn’t really matter because one will readily understand that the words refer to Quezon City. After all, that’s what communication is all about – to be understood. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done as far as our national language is concerned.

On this last day of Linggo ng Wika, it’s a most opportune time to remind everybody that while Filipino is a rich language, it could also cause confusion. (With apologies to my Bulakenyo friend Bert de Guzman.)

The problem is that while Filipino is supposed to be understood all over the country, it has many words that have different meanings when spoken in some regions. A guy may greet another “Kumusta ang lagay?” (How are you doing?) and get a friendly reception. However, he’ll be met with an embarrassed or quizzical look when these are said to a Bisaya. You see, “lagay” is Bisaya word for the male organ.

“Libog” is a bad word in Filipino but not to a Bisaya. A sweet young thing may say “Naglibog ako” with no tinge of embarrassment for she merely means that she’s confused.

I’ve written about this anecdote before but I want to repeat it because it still gives me a lot of kick.

An Ilocano won P1 million in a national contest and was immediately interviewed by a media man. Here’s how the interview went:

Reporter: Congratulations! Ano ang gagawin mo sa isang milyon na napanalunan mo?
Ilocano: Bibili ako ng daga.
Reporter: Ha? Bibili ka ng daga? Aanhin mo ang daga?
Ilocano: Tatalunin ko.
Reporter: Ano? Patatalunin mo ang daga?

(At this point, somebody told the reporter that “daga” is Ilocano for “land,” and “tatalunin” means “to farm” and that the winner is a farmer.)

Reporter: Magsasaka ka pala!
Ilocano: Oo pero nagsa-sandals din ako.

More confusion
Another source of confusion, especially in conversing with foreigners, is the general failure of Pinoys to properly pronounce “f, v, z and th” since these are not found in the Filipino alphabet. “Francisco” is “Prancisco,” “Valium” is “Balium,” “freezer” is “priser,” and “thought” is “tot.” One can say “pud por tot” and be understood by a Pinoy but not by a foreigner.

More confusion takes place if ultra-nationalists insist on translating English technical terms into Filipino. A reader, Rocky Avila, born in Paoay, Ilocos Norte, accentuated the ensuing confusion in an email to me.

Incidentally, Rocky said he was baptized “Roque” but changed his name when he moved to the US.

Rocky said “asset” is “ari” in Filipino so what is “fixed asset?” “Aring nakatirik?”

Here are other translations of accounting terms in his email:

Dead asset – patay na ari
Written-off asset – aring pinutol
Double entry – dalawa ang nakapasok
Erroneous entry – mali ang pagkapasok
Multiple entry – labas-pasok ng labas-pasok
Correcting entry – itinama ang pagpasok
Reversing entry – baligtad ang pasok

Rich language
The richness of Filipino may be seen in the many terms used for “money.” Aside from “pera” or “salapi,” these words denote the many uses and sources of money: abuloy, limos, padulas, sahod, buwis, paluwal, kupit, hulog, tong, utang, kobra, ambag, etc.

And how about “pork barrel?” That’s easy.

“Pang-senador at kinatawan.”



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  1. mabait na pinoy on

    Ako’y matanda na pero “naglibog ako” palagi, meaning I have been confused all these years, at baluktot pa rin akong magtagalog hanggang ngayon. There was a little bit of language mixture in a household where I grew up, with my three siblings. We were raised in a foreign country with both Filipino parents. Our parents were both Ilocanos, but our father speaks Hawaiian Ilocano, that creates a little bit of complications because Ilocano dialect mixed with kapakay, also known as “dakayn”, is an improper English. Dakayn is a word that can describe thousand things and I used to hear my father saying, “hand me dakayn barok”, and should be saying “hand me that thing, barok, pointing to the object. “No can” he often say when he disagrees with anything and it is up to us to decipher sometimes, on what he is trying to say.
    I have learned enough Tagalog to enjoy everytime I go on vacation in the Philippines, and I am looking forward to my 4th vacation this Christmas Holiday. It is absolutely true that “It is more fun in the Philippines”.

  2. A really funny article Mr Danao. I’ve always followed you in the Manila Times since I can remember. I knew then that sooner or later, you’ll be coming out with a funnier but realistic writing. I never get tired reading this particular article. It’s the Philippines showing her lighter side. Keep it up Mr Danao.

  3. Rosauro Feliciano on

    It’s just enough that ordinarily on every street we speak simple Tagalog. But let us continue using English as our official language because English is the language we Filipinos are using as being employed the world over. Every written transaction we have in the Philippines and in the whole world we use English. So in my observation, in all countries I went since 1979 up to now every Filipino must know how to fill up forms in every country in English and not Tagalog. It is enough that we know how to communicate in Tagalog for identity that we are Filipinos but we must retain English language as our official language.