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

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.

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.

Kakabakaba ka ba en español

They’re showing Mike de Leon’s classic 1980 film Kakabakaba Ka Ba? at Casa Asia in Barcelona this Saturday, as one of a two-part, sixteen-film cycle on Philippine  cinema. As the Casa Asia website states, this is probably the longest such program of Filipino films ever held in Spain. If you’re lucky enough to be in lovely Barcelona between now and May 18, and from September 14 to November 30, do go to Casa Asia for masterpieces by such greats as Mike de Leon and Lino Brocka, in the original version with subtitles in Spanish.

Go to the Casa Asia website for more details.

The translator in me marvels at the translations of the Tagalog titles into Spanish. Maynila, Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, shown two weeks ago, is Maynila en la gran ciudad, while Kakabakaba Ka Ba? is ¿Cómo late tu corazón?