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Communicating with a Filipino

Bababa ba? That phrase is not from the nursery rhyme on black sheep. If you are a Filipino reading this, you would know its meaning. For non-Filipinos, that is a question asking if someone or something is going/coming down. So it could be an elevator, the price of a commodity or wondering if someone on the upper floor would descend or not. This simple question, when heard the first time by non-Filipino speakers almost always elicit wonder and amusement on how we would understand each other with only one syllable said in succession.

Filipino and English are the two major languages spoken in the Philippines. It is not surprising therefore to find many English words interspersed with Filipino words in conversations. This has been branded as Taglish (Tagalog-English) or Engalog (English-Tagalog). However, some English words lose their original meaning. For example, the word “salvage” in its original context would mean “to save” as in “salvaged ship” or “salvaged from the fire.” But in day-to-day Filipino context, “salvage” would commonly mean to liquidate, to disregard or to end the subject’s existence. Moving on….

Lost your way going to your friend’s house? You know you are in the vicinity but somehow got lost in the maze of side streets called eskinita. Ask any one you see on the street for directions. Chances are they would be polite but would not know the place or they think they know but could not give clear instructions. I've experienced in different instances and variations to be instructed thus: “Go straight, on the 4th street, turn right, just proceed straight only, when you see electric post, you turn left, straight, you will see fruit stand, go straight, at the turn of the street, you will see the house with the red roof, enter that pathway, it’s there at the back.” How many electric posts are there? And what if the fruit stand is no longer there or there are several in a row and the house with the red roof have been repainted green or there are as many houses with red roofs as red is a common colour of houses’ roofs? It’s your choice: to ask someone else or continue searching on your own. Better yet, just call your friend, tell her your location and ask instruction to get to her place from where you are.

Filipinos are animated conversationalists. They would wag their fingers, even point at you for emphasis. There’s so many facial expressions, including puckering the lips in a “forward” position to point at someone or something. You better not take off your eyes on the other person’s face or you’d miss a message! Loud voices? No, they are not quarrelling, merely too into the discussion with so much excitement. And don't be surprised if you are tapped repeatedly. And the ultimate?

Psssst. This is not a word, but a sound that could mean so many things. A short psssst from a mother to her child means she’s calling her child’s attention to stop whatever unacceptable behaviour the child is showing. A long psssst inside the movie house means hushing someone to keep quiet. A succession of short pssst, with urgency in it, means the one psssting is calling someone’s attention to slow down and turn back.

I do not mean to disparage my countrymen, just to share some unusual, sometimes funny ways us Filipinos communicate. After all, we are noted to find humour in any situation.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Rachel Meneses-Ponce. All rights reserved.
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