21 June 2010

Old Tagalog Spoken in Agrarian Batangas



Time was when my Mom, if she was feeling particularly lazy and did not want to make the 10-minute trip uptown to the Lipa City Public Market, could always count on the nanays who peddled their vegetables along the streets of Fernando Air Base.  The nanays were these remarkably friendly old women who walked from house to house calling out loud to their sukîs what they had brought for the day.

These nanays, if I remember correctly, were from Bulaklakan, a tiny barangay past Pinagtung-ulan on the way to Taal Lake.  The village, I later learned from the nanays themselves, was originally named Palaklakan.  That did not sound very wholesome, so the villagers had the name changed.

The reason I know this is because my Mom, a sukî, became really friendly with several of the nanays.  I remember having gone to Bulaklakan with the rest of the family because Mom was invited by some of the nanays to attend the fiesta.



The place was, back in the sixties when we visited, typical of the off-track agricultural pocket communities one found in the countryside.  Getting there was via rough roads that even the military jeep we were in had a difficult time navigating.

The houses were few and well-spaced from each other.  Each house had Tagalog chickens roaming around the dusty grounds; and there was bound to be a crudely-built pig pen behind each house.

Then there were the open fields, planted with squash, tomatoes, onions, garlic and what-have-you.  From these fields, the nanays picked vegetables to neatly arrange on their bilaos early most mornings to sell to their sukî housewives in the Base.

The place was picture-perfect agricultural Philippines.  The bukid, in other words...  Or should I say, the bukir...

My Mom, originally from Nasugbu, derived insane pleasure gossiping with the nanays because of the way they spoke.  Not only did they use words not in my Mom’s Tagalog vocabulary; they also tended to substitute the letter “d” – if it was at the end of the syllable – with the letter “r.”

I was a little kid, and though I knew the nanays spoke in a manner not at all what I got used to, I understood them and that was all that mattered to me.  To my Mom though, whose version of Tagalog was closer to the variant used in Cavite – which is right next to Nasugbu – the nanays always sounded amusing when they talked.

Thus, when one of the nanays said something like “masakit ang aking ngirngir,” that was one anecdote we would hear over and over at the dinner table.  There’s another one I remember to this day.  One morning, this nanay narrated, “napakurkor ang aking tuhor...”

That story should have drawn sympathy; instead my Mom was hopelessly amused!

Tagalog is a funny old language.  Although it is a common tongue for citizens across several provinces in what is called the Southern Tagalog Region, it is spoken using different accents and intonations depending on what province one is.  Moreover, words pertaining to certain things vary from province to province.  Sometimes, even from town to town.

Back to the interchangeability in the use of “r” and “d,” was I not pleasantly surprised when I was in college to examine a Tagalog book printed in the 1920’s which contained words exactly as the nanays spoke them!  Hence, nasamid was nasamir; mapalad was mapalar; and napatid was napatir.

After reading the book, I came to the conclusion that the nanays were, after all, linguistically correct from a historical vantage point.  That the “r” at the end of a syllable would be replaced by more Tagalog speakers with the “d” was just language evolving. Linguistics experts point out that people ultimately prefer one over the other because they also associate prestige with their choice.

Language, after all, is a means to communicate.  People’s word preferences at any given point in time, I suppose, are what makes a language what it is.  It is never static.  Instead, it is constantly evolving.

I don’t seem to hear people say “gilagir” anymore.  Sad to say, but that is how things go with the passage of time.  Perhaps all the nanays have passed away... And with them they took all the remaining traces of Tagalog as it used to be spoken in a bygone era.

[As a footnote to this story, imagine my surprise when we had an employee from Cardona in Rizal Province who said isrâ instead of isdâ!  And I used to think the interchangeability only applied at the end of the syllable!]

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