Feeling out of place in Manila? Try speaking its language

Image from Wikimedia Commons

Manila, image from Wikimedia Commons


When I first read the headline of Raul Dancel’s article, Back home in Manila, and feeling out of place, I eagerly began to read it. Finally, I thought, here is an insightful article written by an actual journalist who can give voice to the feelings I have had about my hometown for so many years. Because, you see, if I’m going to be honest, just like Mr. Dancel, whenever I am back home in Manila I also feel out of place.

I am a Metro Manila girl through and through. My parents and grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins, were all born and raised there, and so was I. I lived 21 out of my 30 years in Manila, never leaving the island of Luzon until I was 16, or the Philippines itself until I was 20. Given such a long history with the place, I should know my hometown like the back of my own hand, but the fact is, I don’t. This is because those 21 years I spent living in it were all very sheltered years, where my experience of Metro Manila was largely limited to Caloocan City, where I grew up, and Quezon City, where I went to university. I was a young student living with my parents, with little means or desire to truly get to know the city of my birth.

I graduated from college in April 2005, and in a few months I was on a plane taking me to a new country in a new continent, where I was to begin a new phase in my life. For a year I did my Master’s degree in Salamanca, Spain, then I spent the next six years working for a PhD in Barcelona. This was followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in Oxford, where I find myself now.

I have been living in Europe for almost a decade, and about halfway in, something changed. I was on one of my visits to Manila when I realized that my hometown had become a stranger. My old haunts were gone or completely transformed, and the city seemed much louder, more crowded. I felt, dare I say it, out of place.

To be fair, this is as much my own fault as Manila’s. I may have grown up in the Philippines, but it was in Europe that I matured. In the past decade, I adapted to a European way of life, and I never acquired the skills one needs to live as an independent adult in a sprawling Asian megametropolis. I have never learned how to drive, for instance. This is not a problem at all in walking cities like Salamanca, Barcelona and Oxford, but in car-centric Manila, this is a serious disadvantage. I would find it very difficult to adjust to Manila if I had to move back there, but I would feel exactly the same way if I had to move to Los Angeles or Bogotá.

I agree with Mr. Dancel that there are certain things in Manila that need to be changed. Manilans really should expect their city to be much safer than it is, and they deserve a much, much better transport system than the one they have now. But, as a linguist, what I take issue with is the writer’s negative stance towards the one thing that has always made me feel at home in my hometown: the language.

There is no greater joy than to arrive in Manila and revert to the language patterns of my youth: to leave behind the rhythmic cadences of the British accent to once again hear the one-tap r’s and unaspirated t’s of Philippine speech, to use old, familiar vocabulary and marvel at quirky new local coinages. It pains me to see the Philippine English expressions I am trying to codify in my daily work as a lexicographer being described in the same terms as grave societal problems like traffic congestion and unsafe drinking water.

I wonder though, if Mr. Dancel were in a KFC in New York, and the American cashier insisted on saying to go the same way the Filipino cashier in the Manila KFC insisted on saying take-out, would he have stood his ground as firmly, clinging on to his Singaporean take-away? Would he have gone around in Vancouver saying ang moh and tapao, expecting Canadians to understand him and feeling discomfited when they did not?

If there is one thing that all Filipinos should learn about the English language, one thing that is more important than subject-verb agreement or avoiding dangling modifiers, it is that it is a language that is spoken all over the world, and as such has developed a wide range of varieties, each with its own distinctive pronunciation, syntax, and lexis. Not one of these many varieties is intrinsically superior to another. To be globally competitive, Filipinos should be cognizant of this fact, and use it to their advantage. But the first step to doing this is to recognize that they themselves speak a unique variety of English, one that they should embrace, not reject.

True global Filipinos are not those who have successfully gotten rid of their Filipino accent to adopt a much more useful foreign one, but those who know how to adapt their speech so as to better communicate with those around them. I see this all the time: Filipinos in Spain who speak fluent Spanish at work but go home and start speaking Ilocano as if they had never left Ilocos; Filipino-Americans who talk with a West Coast accent, yet pepper their sentences with all kinds of Pinoy words; Filipino call center agents who can talk to their clients with a clear British accent but, as soon as they hang up the phone, go back to their own native accent with the greatest of ease.

Global Filipinos know that when in Singapore or London, you can perfectly well look for the loo, but in Boston or Chicago, you need to ask for the restroom, and in Hong Kong, the washroom. And when in Manila? They know how to say comfort room, and proudly!

Unlike Mr. Dancel, what I admire most about Singaporeans is not their clean streets or their perfectly stacked HDB blocks or their “Singapore etiquette”, but the way many of them persist on using Singlish even with their own government’s efforts to stamp it out of them in favor of supposedly “correct” British English. They hold on to Singlish as a point of pride, as a way of expressing their cultural identity even as they use a language imposed by a colonial power. If only Filipinos can view Philippine English in the same manner, then we may more easily find our place in the world, and not feel so out of place in our own country.

So if you are a returning Manilan and finding your hometown a stranger, why not try speaking its language? You may find that Manila is not a stranger at all, but a welcome old friend.

Please help the Philippines

I first flew in an airplane in the year 2000, when I was 16 years old. I flew from Manila to a city in the Visayas called Tacloban. It was the first time I’d ever been outside the island of my birth, and this place could not have been more different from my hometown. Although I only have vague memories of this trip (this was before iPhones and Instagram), I do remember peace, quiet, a warm welcome, an unforgettable rainy crossing of San Juanico Bridge, and the sea, always there, glinting in the sunlight.

But now that city is unrecognizable, destroyed by the same sea I had so admired. The statistics after typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan are horrifying: billions of dollars worth of damage, thousands feared dead, millions displaced. The images on the news are even more heartbreaking, as the survivors struggle to live even as they mourn their dead.

I really have no words to describe the scale of the disaster, but perhaps there is no need for any words apart from: please help. Please help Tacloban, please help the Visayas, please help the Philippines. Here are some ways you can.

Philippine Red Cross

British Red Cross

Cruz Roja Española

Croix Rouge Française

Other organizations

Tulungan po natin ang mga biktima ng bagyong Yolanda sa Pilipinas. Please help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. Ayuden a víctimas del tifón Haiyan en Filipinas. Aidez les victimes du typhon Haiyan aux Philippines.



The Philippines (and Philippine English) on the BBC

The BBC recently aired an hour-long documentary with the title “World’s Busiest Maternity Ward”. Unsurprisingly, this maternity ward is located in the Philippines, and what I thought was going to be a Midwives-style, life-in-the-delivery-room reality special was in fact an examination of the huge divide between the rich and the poor in the great city of Manila, and the burgeoning middle class poised to close this gap and thus provide a better future for the tens of thousands of new Filipinos born each year.

For those who are in the UK and have access to BBC iPlayer, you can watch the documentary in its entirety here. For everyone else, I do hope this makes it way to Youtube someday soon, but for now here is a short clip.

What is most interesting for me as a linguist is of course the language. It should be noted that the people interviewed by the host Anita Rani in the slums of Tondo, people who represented Manila’s poorest of the poor and could hardly be expected to be highly educated, had a good enough grasp of English to understand Rani’s questions with no translation, and to even answer some of them in perfectly coherent sentences. The documentary also shows just how central the English language is to the socioeconomic advancement of many Filipinos: from the British-accented call center agents working in posh offices in Makati to Junalyn, a young girl from Tondo hoping to get a much dreamed-of job in the local office of a multinational bank. All these people recognized that in order to do well in their chosen careers, they had to speak good English. in Junalyn’s case, the stakes were even higher: she needed a job in Makati to lift her family out of poverty, and doing this required English-language skills.

And of course, the documentary provides the perfect opportunity to hear the Filipino accent for those who are not familiar with it, and to see some very good examples of Philippine English usage. In the clip above is one example. Ana Apruebo, the most senior nurse in the maternity ward of Fabella Hospital, tells a flabbergasted Anita Rani that she has delivered around 200,000 babies in her career. To justify such a mind-boggling number, she says, “Because I’m already here since 1986!” A classic Philippine English construction, where the English adverb already is used as a substitute for the untranslatable Tagalog particle na.

The show even gives a glimpse of the unflappable Filipino spirit. Rani, standing in the middle of the Fabella maternity ward, surrounded by women delivering babies left and right, could not help but comment on the calm, controlled atmosphere in such a high-tension situation. No screaming, no panicking, just matter-of-fact efficiency, “maternity in an industrial scale”.

And as a human-interest story, the documentary can be quite touching in parts. I must admit that by the end, when an overjoyed Junalyn announced that she got the job at the bank, I could feel the tears well up.

Barangay: From boat to vote

Photo by QuecyKeith (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

Photo by QuecyKeith (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

On Monday, October 28, millions of Filipinos all over the country cast their ballots in the triennial barangay elections. The barangay (abbreviated Brgy. or Bgy.) is the smallest administrative division in the Philippines, roughly equivalent to the concept of village, district or ward. Larger barangays can be further subdivided into smaller areas designated by the Tagalog term purok, and the Spanish word sitio.

The word barangay has been adopted into Philippine English from Tagalog, but its origins can be traced back to pre-colonial times. The modern term is derived from the Austronesian word balangay, which refers to a type of boat used by pre-Hispanic Filipino communities. Archaelogical evidence suggests that groups of balangays were used by early Filipinos to travel across Southeast Asia as early as the 10th century. Remnants of what could possibly be a balangay “mother boat” were recently unearthed in Butuan, in southern Philippines, providing even more tantalizing clues on Butuan’s role as a pan-Asian cultural hub, and on the seafaring traditions of our Malayo-Polynesian ancestors.

The original barangays were small coastal or riverine settlements consisting of 50 to 100 families, but some of them grew to become large, cosmopolitan principalities with trade links to the rest of Southeast Asia. These pre-colonial societies were headed by an aristocratic class called datu.

With the arrival of the Spanish, barangays were combined to form towns, headed by a town chief called by the Spanish-Tagalog hybrid expression cabeza de barangay, still in use today.

The word barangay fell into disuse during the American period, when it was replaced by the Spanish term barrio (abbreviated Bo.). The word’s resurgence in the 1970s is largely thanks to former President Ferdinand Marcos, who ordered that the name barangay be restored, and used the idealized vision of baranganic democracy as a key element in the participatory politics of his New Society.

The word survived Marcos’ overthrow in the 1986 EDSA revolution, and endures today as an integral part of our political system. Barangay elections are hard-fought contests. From a lexical perspective, barangay is extremely productive, giving rise to a wide range of expressions: barangay captain (another name for cabeza de barangay), barangay officials, barangay tanod (unarmed watchmen that act as barangay police), barangay council, barangay hall, barangay clearance, and of course, barangay elections.

Did you do right by your barangay and vote?

Pinoywords is back

It’s been ages since my last post, and for a reason: the past couple of months have been so full of activity, language-related and otherwise, that I barely had time to breathe, much less write. The image below is a summary of what I have been up to since July: I gave a talk on World Englishes at the OED Symposium here in Oxford, I was on a research visit in Manila and Singapore, I spoke at the Asialex Conference in Bali, and through all this I was very much involved in the early stages of a groundbreaking new project at Oxford University Press: the Pinoy English Community Dictionary, which was introduced at the Philippine English Symposium held at De La Salle University on September 14, and attended by no less than 600 members of the Filipino Anglophone community. 

It is truly an exciting time for lexicography and Philippine English, with new opportunities and prospects on the horizon. Now that I am back in Oxford and with time for respiration and reflection, I will be updating you on these developments, and will once again be commenting on various aspects of this wonderful language of ours.

For a start, please enjoy the blog’s new design, and my recently published post on Philippine English vocabulary on the OxfordWords blog.


With linguist David Crystal at the OED Symposium; traditional Balinese dancers open the Asialex Conference; in Singapore; coming home to my alma mater, UP Diliman; talking about the Pinoy English Community Dictionary at the Philippine English Symposium and on TV5’s Reaksyon

Using the OED to trace the origins of the Philippine English lexicon


With Rajend Mesthrie

In mid-June I found myself celebrating Independence Day by reading a paper on Philippine English at the Changing English: Contacts and Variation conference at the University of Helsinki in Finland. In the photo above, I am with South African linguist Rajend Mesthrie, one of the plenary speakers of the conference. We had just gotten off the ferry at Suomenlinna, the breathtaking island venue of the conference dinner.


Helsinki sunset from the Suomenlinna ferry

It was nice to meet Rajend that day, as I was about to quote him extensively in the presentation I was to give the next morning (which he was kind enough to attend). in an article he published in 2003, he observed that much research in World Englishes was based on comparisons between contemporary World English corpora and either a British or American corpus. This observation definitely applies to lexical studies on Philippine English: linguists who wish to find out if a word is indeed a Philippine English word usually consult a digitally stored collection of texts written by Filipino authors, and a similar compilation of texts written in the British or American standard. If the word appears in the former and not in the latter, this is taken as evidence that the word is a Filipino coinage or meaning extension. However, Rajend Mesthrie’s article questions whether contemporary UK/US English is always the relevant variety for making such comparisons.

In the same article, Rajend cited a study by a another linguist named Jim Davy, who used the Oxford English Dictionary to show that several lexical and grammatical features of African English actually have a long history in British English. This inspired me look at the OED not only as an object of research but also as a data source for enriching my study of the Philippine English lexicon. And indeed, by following Jim Davy’s methodology I found several words that are widely considered to be uniquely or originally Filipino but are in the OED with totally different origins than I expected. The following are just ten of the examples that I gave in my talk:

1. air-con. Apart from being just Filipino, this abbreviation of air conditioning is also quite British. It dates back to the 70s and is used in British contexts until today, both as a noun and an adjective.

air-con, n. and adj. orig. Brit.

A. n. = air conditioning n.

1970 Guardian 12 Dec. 11/3 Small hotels..offer..air con and shower attached for £3.15. 1987 Courier-Mail (Brisbane) 12 July (Weekend Suppl.) 12/7 The ‘air-con’ and the rear toilet make the nine-hour trip tolerably comfortable, though not up to Western tourist standards. 1999 T. Parsons Man & Boy (2000) xi. 97, I..saw her sitting..in front of the TV in some little apartment, the air-con turned up to full blast. 2006 Independent on Sunday (Nexis) 20 Aug. 49 More importantly, Teslas come fully equipped with air con and heated seats.

B. adj. = air-conditioned adj.

1983 Financial Times (Nexis) 17 Sept. i. 12 All ‘air-con’ berths in first class were booked. 2004 Farang May 63/4 There’s also an air-con ‘microbus’ service.

New entry from OED Third Edition, added March 2008

2. awardee. This word is originally American, with quotations dating back to 1873, appearing in American publications in succeeding decades until as recently as 2005.

awardee, n. orig. U.S.

The recipient of an award; a person to whom a grant or scholarship is given.

1873 Athens (Ohio) Messenger 3 July 3/1 The first premium for carriage horses was also donated by the awardee, Mr James D. Brown, to the Society. 1901 Columbia Law Rev. 1 213 The Secretary of the Treasury was authorized to distribute..certificates..to awardees showing the proportions to which they were entitled. 1959 Odessa (Texas) American 7 June 12/3 The awardees were selected from 150 applicants on the basis of significance of their projects. 1989 Times 21 Oct. 11/4 The television presentation of the British Fashion Awards showed us one of the awardees..offering to shake hands with her Royal Highness the Princess of Wales with his other hand stuck in his trousers pocket. 2005 Desert Sun (Palm Springs, Calif.) (Nexis) 16 Nov. 1 b, In past festivals, awardees have been among Hollywood’s biggest names.

New entry from OED Third Edition, added June 2006

3. ballpen. This shortened form of ballpoint pen is in the OED as a compound of ball. Ball entered the dictionary in 1885, three years before the first patent for a ballpoint pen was first issued, so this compound was obviously added to the entry later. The earliest quotation is 1946, and there is evidence as recent as 2001.

ball, n.1


ball pen n. = ball-point pen n.

1946 Esquire Nov. 155 Biro who introduced the first ball-pen presents..a sensational new invention. 1958 Times 2 June p. vi/3 Gas is used..in the manufacture of familiar articles such as ball pens, aircraft engines, [etc.]. 2001 French Rev. 5 892 The ball pen and pencil remain the vehicle for note- taking.

4. blowout. The Anvil-Macquarie Dictionary of Philippine English for High School by Bautista and Butler defines this noun as a treat, such as a dinner at a restaurant, given for a number of friends or colleagues in celebration of an event such as gaining promotion or closing a deal. It can be seen that sense number 2 of blowout in the OED is very close to the Philippine meaning, and it dates back to 1823, to a work by Sir Walter Scott.

blow-out, n.

2. A dinner, supper, or other entertainment for which an abundant supply of food and drink is provided or at which it is consumed; a ‘feast’ or ‘feed’. colloq.

1823 Scott St. Ronan’s Well III. vii. 193 ‘She sent me a card for her blow-out,’ said Mowbray; ‘and so I am resolved to go.’ 1840 R. H. Dana Two Years before Mast xxvi. 87 They had a grand blow-out, and..drank in the forecastle, a barrel of gin. 1856 F. E. Paget Owlet of Owlstone Edge 174 Such a jolly blow-out as there was when the Bishop was here. 1930 R. Lehmann Note in Music vii. 264 Have a nice blowout and a good sleep afterwards. 1966 ‘J. Hackston’ Father clears Out 172 Saint’s menu in between such blood- building blowouts was rabbit, with pollard as a savoury.

Entry from 1933 Supplement to the OED, not fully updated

5. brown-out. As I was growing up I was made to believe that what Americans called black-out, we Filipinos call brown-out, since we originally extended the word’s meaning of “a drop in voltage” to “a power outage”. OED evidence proves that that meaning extension also happened in US and Australian English, starting in wartime 1940s, when such power outages were common.

brown-out, n.

Chiefly Austral. and N. Amer.

A partial black-out. Also transf. and fig.

1942 in Amer. Speech (1945) 20 143/1 Brown-out..used in Australia to denote semidarkening a city as distinguished from the complete darkening of a blackout. 1943 Amer. Speech (1944) 19 149/1 The suggested conservation measures for electricity involve a national brownout, the extinguishing of all ornamental and display lighting and signs after 10 p.m. 1950  N.Y. Herald 18 Feb., New York Brownout is Ordered as Coal Dwindles. 1955  Times 4 May 10/4 The new ‘brown-out’ on information in Washington. 1969  Daily Colonist (Victoria, Brit. Columbia) 6 Dec. 23/1 Premier Bennett..was asked why the government found it necessary to route the transmission [line] through the park. He said:..‘It is to prevent brown outs.’

Entry from 1972 Supplement to the OED, not fully updated

6. cockfighter. Filipinos love cockfighting but according to the OED, we were not the first ones to give a name to the person who is into the sport. A certain N. Bailey used the word cockfighter as early as 1721, and the word has been in the dictionary since 1891.

cockfighter, n.

a. One who promotes the sport of cock-fighting; = cocker n.2 2.

1721 N. Bailey Universal Etymol. Eng. Dict. at Clear Walk, With Cock-fighters. 1789 W. Cowper (title) , The Cock-fighter’s garland. 1884 T. H. Gore in Law Times 8 Nov. 28/2 The licensing justices..refused to renew a licence to a cockfighter.

b. cock fighter = chief or champion fighter: see cock n.1 Compounds 2.

Entry from OED First Edition (1891), not fully updated

7. comfort room. This word is a typically Philippine English term for restroom, frequently abbreviated to CR. The OED entry for comfort includes a reference to an early 20th century American genteelism for a public lavatory: comfort station or comfort room. These compounds were of widespread use during the early years of the American occupation of the Philippines and gives an indication of when the term may have been picked up by Filipinos. The last quotation is from 1967, but the entry is not updated. I looked up the expression in the Corpus of Global Web-Based English (GloWBE), and a large majority of occurrences is of Philippine origin. Even the examples marked Indian or American or British because of their URL were actually written by Filipinos. So comfort room seems like a good example of an archaic usage in American English preserved in contemporary Philippine English.

comfort, n.


Comb., as comfort-killing, comfort-seeking adjs. comfort station n. U.S. Genteelism a public lavatory.

[1910 Aurora (Illinois) Daily Beacon 8 Sept. 6/1 A public comfort room..would pay the city of Aurora a profit every year.] 1923 Glass (Pittsburgh Plate Glass Co.) 167 (heading) Public comfort stations.  1931 T. Wilder Long Christmas Dinner 121 Ma, where is the next comfort-station. 1947 W. H. Auden Age of Anxiety (1948) ii. 53 Ingenious George reached his journey’s end Killed by a cop in a comfort station. 1957 D. Karp Leave me Alone xii. 165 Snatching Jimmy’s hand she trudged across the sand with him to the comfort station. 1967 R. Shaw Man in Glass Booth xvii. 152 ‘Wash-room,’ said the old man. ‘Comfort station.’

Entry from OED First Edition (1891), not fully updated

8. jubilarian. This word is quite archaic in general English, although the OED does not label it as such, since the entry has not yet been revised. It dates back to 1782.

jubilarian, n.

One who celebrates his or her jubilee; spec. in R.C. Church, a priest, monk, or nun who has been such for fifty years.

1782 in A. Mary Sharp Hist. Ufton Court (1892) 233 May 13th 1782 died age 79 the Rev. F. Saward Madew, O.S.F. a jubilarian, many years missionary at Ufton Court. 1882 H. Foley Rec. Eng. Prov. S.J. VII. 106 A jubilarian in religion, in the priesthood and in the mission. 1890 Catholic News 3 May 7/3 We have now three ‘jubilarians’ who have completed 50 years and over as professed nuns.

Entry from OED First Edition (1901), not fully updated

9. province. Researchers on Philippine English agree that the use of this word to mean any place outside of Manila is a meaning adaptation specific to Philippine usage, and explain that such a usage is out of context in the US, where a political boundary called province does not exist. The usage is also linked to the city-province dichotomy ingrained in Manila-centric Philippine culture. But it is obvious from the history of the word as narrated by the OED quotations that this very sense of “a place outside a country’s capital” is a meaning that has been in the English language since the 17th century. The OED has evidence of the sense for every century from then on until 1991.

province, n.

6. In pl. Chiefly with the. The parts of a country outside the capital or chief seat of government. Sometimes with negative connotations of a lack of culture or sophistication. Cf. provincial adj. 6.

1638 R. Baker tr. J. L. G. de Balzac New Epist. III. 31 In this worke..you shall finde..this sweete ayre of the wide world, and these dainties of the spirit, which are not common in our Provinces [Fr. nos Provinces]. 1789 Ann. Agric. 11 293 All the animation, vigour, life, and energy of luxury, consumption, and industry, which flow with a full tide through this kingdom, wherever there is a free communication between the capital and the provinces. a1845 S. Smith Elem. Sketches Moral Philos. (1850) xii. 168 Those opinions go down by the mail-coach, to regulate all matters of taste for the provinces. 1874 L. Stephen Hours in Libr. 1st Ser. vi. 341 The provinces differ from Paris in the nature of the social warfare. 1882 C. Pebody Eng. Journalism xii. 88 In the provinces, as in London, Liberal journalists outnumber the Conservatives. 1919 J. Reed Ten Days that shook World i. 13 Young ladies from the provinces came up to the capital to learn French. 1970 J. G. Farrell Troubles i. 118 The Major wouldn’t be interested in all this dull tattle from the provinces since he was in London at the very centre of things. 1991 Investors Chron. 26 July 65/3 Supposedly loyal workers were seduced and suddenly upped and offed to the new megafirms which were mushrooming both in the City and the provinces.

Entry from OED First Edition, updated September 2007

10. studentry. The use of this word to refer to a body of students has been an OED entry since 1919, and its first quotation dates back to 1830. It is now quite rare in English in general, but not as much as in Philippine English. More than a coinage, I would classify this as a preservation of a meaning that has died out in other varieties of English.

studentry, n. rare.

Students collectively; a body of students.

1830 W. Taylor Hist. Surv. German Poetry III. 170 Here was..a considerable population to observe, and a manlier studentry to mingle with: and Schiller began to question many of his former points of view. 1853 C. Kingsley Hypatia II. i. 4 The huge broad blade, at the ominous brown stains of which the studentry recoiled.

Entry from OED First Edition (1919), not fully updated

These examples show the importance of taking historical data into account in the study of the features not only of Philippine English but also of other World Englishes. However, this kind of information into World English research is complicated by the comparatively short publishing history of most postcolonial varieties of English. The limited evidence available can be supplemented by sources usually consulted by historians rather than linguists: letters, diaries, archival materials, etc. For the study of lexis, the Oxford English Dictionary can be a particularly valuable resource.

Philippine English vocabulary in the latest issue of Business World’s High Life magazine

Philippine English vocabulary in the latest issue of Business World's High Life magazine

On page 38 of the June-July issue of Business World’s High Life Magazine is my article on the development of the Philippine English lexicon. Be sure to grab a copy if you’re in the Philippines!

Special thanks to High Life Associate Editor Sam Marcelo.

Tierra adorada, land of the morning, bayang magiliw

Wednesday, June 12 marks the 115th anniversary of the Philippine declaration of independence from Spain. In commemoration of this significant event, here are three versions of our national anthem. Our hymn, just like many other aspects of our culture, is multilingual and reflective of our country’s many-layered history.

The original version is in Spanish, a beautiful piece of poetry written in 1899 by Tondo-born soldier and poet José Palma. Titled Filipinas, It was later set to the music of Marcha Nacional Filipina, a rousing composition by musician Julián Felipe played on that historic day in Kawit, Cavite.

Tierra adorada
Hija del sol de Oriente
Su fuego ardiente en ti latiendo está.
Patria de amores
Del heroismo cuna,
Los invasores
No te hallarán jamás.
En tu azul cielo, en tus auras,
En tus montes y en tu mar
Esplende y late el poema
De tu amada libertad.
Tu pabellón, que en las lides
La victoria iluminó
No verá nunca apagados
Sus estrellas y su sol.
Tierra de dichas, del sol y amores,
En tu regazo dulce es vivir.
Es una gloria para tus hijos,
Cuando te ofenden, por ti morir.

In one of Philippine history’s many little ironies, just a few a months after this triumphal proclamation of independence, the old Spanish-speaking colonizers we thought we had gotten rid of sold us to some new, English-speaking colonizers for a few million dollars. But we’re not going to dwell on that on such a day as this. Just enjoy the following English version of our national anthem:

Land of the morning,
Child of the sun returning,
With fervor burning,
Thee do our souls adore.
Land dear and holy,
Cradle of noble heroes,
Ne’er shall invaders
Trample thy sacred shore.
Ever within thy skies and through thy clouds
And o’er thy hills and sea,
Do we behold the radiance, feel and throb,
Of glorious liberty.
Thy banner, dear to all our hearts,
Its sun and stars alight,
O never shall its shining field
Be dimmed by tyrant’s might!
Beautiful land of love,
O land of light,
In thine embrace ’tis rapture to lie,
But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged,
For us, thy sons to suffer and die.

Although the Flag Law banned the use of Filipino nationalist symbols during the early years of the American occupation, it was repealed in 1919 and our hymn was translated into English. The one above is the most popular version, written by Senator Camilo Osías and an American, Mary A. Lane. Imagine, though, an American writing about the Philippines being a land whose flag’s shining field will never be dimmed by tyrant’s might, just when her country had us under its power; and about how it is glory for Filipinos to suffer and die when their country is wronged, just a few years after thousands of them did just that in the hands of American soldiers during the Philippine-American War. It boggles the mind!

I much prefer the Filipino version, written when we were finally free from foreign control (at least officially). The following is the one that I had to sing with my classmates at 7 a.m. every single school day for over a decade. Handa, awit:

Bayang magiliw
Perlas ng Silanganan,
Alab ng puso,
Sa dibdib mo’y buhay.
Lupang Hinirang,
Duyan ka ng magiting,
Sa manlulupig,
Di ka pasisiil.
Sa dagat at bundok,
Sa simoy at sa langit mong bughaw,
May dilag ang tula
At awit sa paglayang minamahal.
Ang kislap ng watawat mo’y
Tagumpay na nagniningning,
Ang bituin at araw niya
Kailan pa ma’y di magdidilim.
Lupa ng araw, ng luwalhati’t pagsinta,
Buhay ay langit sa piling mo;
Aming ligaya, na pag may mang-aapi
Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo.

My favorite line from all these versions is from the Spanish one: en tu regazo dulce es vivir. It conjures this image in my mind of my country as a loving mother on whose lap I sit, enjoying the warmth of her tropical embrace, looking up at the coconut trees set against the background of her cloudless blue skies, basking in the glow of her dazzling sun.

Sorry for the nostalgia; I’ve just been in England for too long and I desperately need some sunshine. And it is our national day after all.

I am in this month’s issue of Mosaic

I am in this month's issue of Mosaic

In the latest issue of Mosaic, Oxford University Press’ inhouse magazine, I talk about a typical day working on Philippine English at Oxford University and Oxford Dictionaries, for me the best places in the world for language research. If you read this and think, “Sounds like a perfect day to me!”, you might want to consider a career in lexicography. Or if you think, “Philippine English! Sounds fascinating!”, you might want to know more about our own variety of English and in its place in the wider English-speaking world. In either case, please feel free to contact me for any questions or comments.