When asked which Filipino word has made it into the English language, most Pinoys will answer with the word boondocks. It’s a perfectly valid response, as the term comes directly from the Tagalog word bundok (mountain), and is an American slang term for rough country, now frequently shortened to boonies. It began to be used in the 1940s, around the time that American soldiers were fighting the Japanese in our boondocks. So this word is evidently one that Americans picked up in the Philippines and took back home to the United States.
Another interesting question, though, is which Filipino words have made it into the English language, not because they were used by Americans in the U.S., but by Filipinos in the Philippines. This one is a bit more difficult to answer, but to do so, the most obvious step seems to be to consult a dictionary. I’m hardly the first person to have this idea: back in 1970, Fe Yap published a study entitled Pilipino loan words in English, which featured a list of Philippine words that appeared in Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language (1961) and Webster’s Third New International Dictionary of the English Language (1968). As can be seen from the following selection from the first three letters of the alphabet, Yap’s list seem to be limited to three semantic groups: native flora and fauna, household and cultural items, and names of Philippine ethnic groups.
Aeta, anahau, Apayao, apitong, Bagobo, balete, banga, Bisayan, calesa, camagon, carabao, cogon
Kingsley Bolton and Susan Butler, reviewing Yap’s list over three decades later, called this type of vocabulary “Webster words”—words of mostly botanical, zoological and anthropological interest dating back to the American colonial period. These authors compared Yap’s list with the then-current online edition of Merriam-Webster (2003), and found that the Philippines was still mainly represented in this dictionary by the same somewhat archaic words identified by Yap more than thirty years before. Bolton and Butler also consulted the Oxford English Dictionary and found the same prevalence of Webster words, and an even more limited coverage of Philippine words than Merriam-Webster.
I was very interested to find out if all this still holds true. As soon as I started working at OUP, I scoured the OED for all evidence of the Philippines. The results of my search fall into three categories: there are of course the dozens of Webster words, which are borrowings from Philippine languages and Spanish, but there are also hundreds of words that may not be entirely characteristic of Philippine English, but are illustrated by quotations taken from Philippine sources, ranging from the very old to the very new.
It can be said just by looking at the following examples that Filipino borrowings that have entered the OED are still mostly in the Webster-word category. They all refer to plants and animals, terms for ethnic origin, and cultural items, and only a few of them can be considered to form part of the everyday vocabulary of the average Philippine English speaker.
From Tagalog and other Philippine languages:
calangay, colugo, malmag, taclobo, taguan, tamarau, tambagut
baku, balibuntal, buntal, buri, cadang-cadang, cogon, dita, galanga, kamachili, Lacatan, lauan, narra, paribuntal, ylang-ylang
Life and culture
anting-anting, barangay, kumpit, panguingue, vinta
Ethnic groups and languages
Bajau, Ibanag, Ifugao, Illano, Ilocano, Manobo, Maranao, Pangasinan, Pilipino, Tagalog, Tasaday, Tau Sug
Life and culture
abanderado, adelantado, barrio, beno/vino, bolo, caracore, gayelle, insurrecto, jai alai, ladronism, Pacifico, padre, patache, patria, persiana, pesame, peso, petate, población, presidente
Terms for ethnic origin
Filipino, Indio, mestiza, mestizo, Moro, Negrillo, Negrito
Animals and plants
algarroba, camote, jusi, maguey, pina, roncador, sacate, sampaguita
However, apart from the words that are directly attributed to the Philippines or Philippine languages in definition or etymology, I also discovered hundreds of words that are exemplified by quotations taken from publications about or from the Philippines.
Filipino sources in the OED date back to as early as the 1700s, centuries before English even reached our shores. These quotations are taken from English translations of descriptive accounts originally written in Spanish, such as the 1708 translation of de Argensola’s Conquista de las islas Molucas (1609), shown here with a quotation for the entry capitulation:
1708 tr. L. de Argensola Discov. & Conquest Molucco & Philippine Islands x. 250 This Original Capitulation was brought into Spain, with the other authentick Instruments.
A hundred years later, English-speaking authors began writing accounts of their travels to the Philippines, and the OED was able to source quotations from such books as A Visit to the Philippine Islands (1859) by Sir John Bowring and The Philippine Islands by Dean C. Worcester (1915):
1859 J. Bowring Visit to Philippine Islands xvi. 274 Oxen, swine, buffaloes, deer, goats..flying squirrels, dogs, rats, mungoes and other quadrupeds, are found in various stages of domesiticity and wildness.
A century further on, many words pertaining to indigenous plants and animals were attested in Filipino scientific publications, such as the Philippine Journal of Science and the Philippine Agricultural Review, as well as Filipino books on botany and anthropology.
1909 Philippine Agric. Rev. 2 590 A new variety of coffee known as ‘robusta’..was discovered some years ago growing wild on the estates in Africa.
More recent quotations come from Filipino-American news publications such as Filipinas Magazine, Filipino Reporter and Filipino Express, as well as the widely read local broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer and the business magazine Business World:
2006 Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nexis) 23 Sept., That blind item I wrote some months ago about a PBA assistant coach being involved in cybersex should have served as a wake-up call.
2000 Business World (Philippines) (Nexis) 14 Apr. 42 Its Manila office is sponsoring ‘Nursingly Yours, The Netherlands,’ a program which will provide training for qualified Filipino nurses.
2000 Philippine Daily Inquirer (Nexis) 15 Mar. 9 Policemen who’ve grown uhhh, overnourished, by helping themselves to free meals at the expense of hapless carinderia owners.
1999 Business World (Philippines) 22 Jan. 33/1 Texting has become so popular that it introduced a convenient new communication channel.
This is the present situation, but how about the future? The good news is that editorial interest at the OED is now moving towards more contemporary examples that are more in keeping with modern Filipino life. Apart from borrowing from the local languages, there are plenty of other means by which the lexicon of a colonial language can be enriched when it is adopted in a foreign land. There is semantic change, or the assignation of new meanings to existing words. The word salvage went through this process when its meaning changed from the original “to rescue” to its current Filipino meaning of “to summarily execute”. There are also a number of ways to coin new words, like derivation, compounding, clipping, abbreviation and conversion. Recent editorial research at the OED traced the first usage of mani-pedi, the clipping and blending of the words manicure and pedicure, to an essay by Filipino writer Kerima Polotan-Tuvera published in the 1970s. The OED is also extending its research to fields beyond flora and fauna, with food being a particularly good source of a wealth of new words. In my search, I found one Filipino dish that entered the dictionary very recently, in December 2011.
1. In Filipino cookery: a spicy stew, typically consisting of pork, poultry, or seafood cooked in a vinegar-based sauce, seasoned with garlic, soy sauce, bay leaves, and peppercorns.
Seems to me like a very auspicious start.