Reconsidering Borrowed Terms

There is a movement now that is raging over the Internet and this is propelled by so-called experts who believe in the supremacy of authentic language. In our region, it is the move that seeks to find the “true” and “original” words for anything in our culture and society. Implied in the ideology of this movement is the assumption that there is a site of origin, a place where one can find the “true” Bikol word.

The problem with this assumption is where do we end? Where do we find the wellspring of the true Bikol words? The desire to go back to a kind of origin is very Western. Where one can find a date for an event or a development of a phenomenon, one is superior. This, however, is a colonial attitude. And interestingly enough, the persons obsessed with origins are the same persons who are consciously critical of the colonialist incursion into one’s culture. The same persons who vouch for the “original” misses out on the point of the existence of cultures and rather vouchsafes an essential starting point.

Thus, we find individuals who hold on to the entries in Marcos de Lisboa’s Vocabulario de la Lengua Bicol as a gateway back to knowing more about the language, or languages. This, with the reality that there are entries in the dictionary that are not used anymore or recognized by a Bikol speaker. This problem or language crisis should not be taken as a negative point but rather as an interesting areas for research and study.

When did we forget about those words extant in the Spanish friar’s collection?

When anthropologists “discovered” the “Tasaday” in the early 70s, language was a way to find out more about these hunter-gatherers. Their isolation was explained in terms of how much of the terms – categories, verbs, etc- in the group were similar or different from the neighboring cultural communities (then labeled as minorities).

A methodology was applied by some of the field researchers in the investigation of the origin of the Tasaday, who were described during the early years of study as belonging to the Stone Age. The methodology is “glottochronology,” which assumes that all languages have a base, or a core. The base or core remains constant through the years but can be replaced. Contact with other groups is one common way for the core words to change.

The glottochronological approach tells us that there are terms that are not changed easily. These are terms that refer to bodily parts, agricultural and subsistence concepts. In other words, colonialism and globalism cannot easily alter our labels for “eyes,” “ears,” and “mouths.” We may use the term in another language but those terms that are in the core list will remain.

Listen to the invasive child-rearing practices in our families. The “yaya” or the mother and the aunt will demonstrate for the usually captive (bored) audience the intelligence of the babies by asking the poor thing to point his or her ear, lips, mouth. Consider the tricks developed by parents when they demand their small children to identify lizards, dogs, and cats. Oh, where is the “cat”? What do cows say? If crocodiles were pets, that would have been part of the linguistic repertoire as well. Or think of how, as young boys and girls, our dear “Titas” taught us not to touch the wall, the floor, the door because it is “darty.”

We do not know if the young Tasaday also went through that kind of language imperialism. As to the question of whether they were indeed of the Stone Age, the social scientists had to scramble for more techniques. Encountering the terms for agriculture present among the Tasadays encouraged the expeditionary team to conclude that their culture went through a kind of de-evolution. They had, as a response to certain forces or conditions, reverted to a more “primitive” way of living. One study pointed out a theory about the Tasaday as a group that broke away from the Manobo some hundreds of years ago.

To study borrowed terms therefore is as important as the search for the old Bikol terms. The former can allow us to understand us as a people; the latter can be exaggerated into pseudo or neo-nationalism, or regionalism.

It is interesting to note how we have appropriated many Spanish terms. The appropriation does not follow a standard or predictable pattern. In many articles, including those appearing on this paper, we favor Spanish infinitives like “considerar,” and “implementar.” Always their infinitive form is retained. But note how we write “nagserbe” instead of “servir” or the “appropriate” servido. I enclose appropriate in quotation marks because in the appropriation, we lose any claim to appropriateness. We have made it our own.

The passion for infinitives disappear in words that are not Spanish. The best example of this is the word “protect,” which is commonly used now as “protektar” or “protektahan.” Where did “protegir” go?

In Tagalog or Pilipino writing, “imbes” is used for “instead.” We in Bikol and we, here in Bicol Mail tend to favor “envez.” The correct way, if we heed the Spanish way, is “en vez.” Strangely, “en lugar” for ‘instead’ never appeared in any usage.

I do hope my good friend, Dr. Mary Jane Guazon-Uy, will not mind my mentioning here. But Mary Jane, a mean writer and observer of cultures, has developed a language that could either amuse or shock a Spanish language expert or any Bikolano who thinks he has the key to the original, more potent Bikol terms. In our conversation about many thinks, she would usually construct a Bikol word and transform it into what sounds as a Spanish term in its infinitive form. Her approach is wild and spares no languages. For example, if we are talking about a person who is envious of another person’s success, she would say “inggitar.” When the discussion becomes ponderous, the good doctor would blurt out “pagalar.”

Try it. This may explain to you, how we, human speakers, have contributed to the fast evolution of our language.

How we borrow and where we borrow does not diminish our culture or cultures. The act of borrowing merely reminds us that language is not static but dynamic. The use of borrowed words speaks more about us as a people than the exponent of purity in languages. These changes have been massive even our faith has not been spared. Much as I still use the word “Santa Maria,” I have to contend with those who like to supplicate before “Mama Mary.” Even as I still recognize “Dios,” there is vast population there who are not scared to say, “hala, maanggot saindo si God.”