Saturday, November 15, 2008

"Tagalog Love Words"

Tagalog Love Words (An Essay)
Our loving ways by Edilberto Alegre

"Mahal kita, mahal kita, hindi ito bola."

The phrase is the first verse line of a song which was written by a teenager, so said a DJ of the time, in the early 1970s. That's some three decades ago. And yet we still hear it played on the radio, especially around this time of the year.

The line literally means "I love you, I love you, I am not joking." Bola means ball, as in basketball. To "make bola," a patent and peculiar English Tagalog statement, derives from Tagalog: e.g. Binobola mo lang ako, which implies saying untruths but in such a charming manner that what the speaker says appear to be true. It's related to "binibilog ang ulo," literally making a head round -- bola (ball) and bilog (circle) have the same shape round. It remotely recalls "drawing circles" around someone.

To make the title of this section sound closer to English, then: "Seriously, I love you." That deflates the statement though, since the translation is bereft of all that affection in a Pinoy's wooing of a woman. Affection and the lightness of language -- for she, if Pinoy, too, knows he can just be saying it but not truly meaning it, so he enjoins her at the end of the line plaintively: do believe me, hindi ito bola, seriously, peks man, cross my heart and hope to die.

Deep down the Pinoy knows words are just that -- words. Sounds articulated by the vocal cords. Nice to say, good to hear. They need not always carry the weight of truth. And we're adept at manipulating them. It's a cultural attitude to language. We're not supposed to believe everything we hear.

Verbal meaning is kahulugan. The root word is hulog which means "fall" (nahulog sa hagdan -- (s)he fell down the stairs) primarily and "partial" (hulugan -- installment) secondarily. So there are always implications and nuances and the truth is more in them than in the words themselves. So, the bearer must be assured by the speaker -- Hindi ito bola.

Oral speech especially is, then, a game. Politicians are masters of the game. Quezon and Marcos were acknowledged orators who exhibited their genius for bola in public fora here and abroad.
Love in the oral level is a game. There is the pursuer and the pursued. And there are the arrows of words to slay the wooed into belief. Even in the written certainly, the attitude to language is the same. No wonder then that the perennial best-seller continues to be a thin book of samples of loveletters. In Tagalog, that is.

Where is the truth of the loving, then? In the acts of loving, in the action of love -- especially those which are not meretricious; those which do not advertise the feeling of love and loving behind the act and actions. Wala sa salita; nasa gawa. Not in the words but in the actions.
How does one show na hindi ito bola? There is a cultural context to it, of course. As red roses in the west. There's the gift giving, too. But traditionally it's pasalubong -- bringing someone a gift since (s)he was not there when the giver was. A gift to show that one remembered. Valentine's Day is a foreign idea which has not yet seeped into our traditional cultures.



Panliligaw or ligawan are the Tagalog terms for courtship, which in some parts of the Tagalog-speaking regions is synonymous with pandidiga or digahan (from Spanish diga, 'to say, express'). Manliligaw is the one who courts a girl; nililigawan is the one who is being courted.

In Philippine culture, courtship is far more subdued and indirect unlike in some Western societies. A man who is interested in courting a woman has to be discreet and friendly at first, in order not to be seen as too presko or mayabang (aggressive or too presumptuous). Friendly dates are often the starting point, often with a group of other friends. Later, couples may go out on their own, but this is still to be done discreetly. If the couple has decided to come out in the open about their romance, they will tell their family and friends as well.

In the Philippines, if a man wants to be taken seriously by a woman, he has to visit the latter's family and introduce himself formally to the parents of the girl. It is rather inappropriate to court a woman and formalize the relationship without informing the parents of the girl. It is always expected that the guy must show his face to the girl's family. And if a guy wants to be acceptable to the girl's family, he has to give pasalubong (gifts) every time he drops by her family's house. It is said that in the Philippines, courting a Filipina means courting her family as well.

In courting a Filipina, the metaphor often used is that of playing baseball. The man is said to reach 'first base' if the girl accepts his proposal to go out on a date for the first time. Thereafter, going out on several dates is like reaching the second and third bases. A 'home-run' is one where the girl formally accepts the man's love, and they become magkasintahan (from sinta, love), a term for boyfriend-girlfriend.

During the old times and in the rural areas of the Philippines, Filipino men would make harana (serenade) the women at night and sing songs of love and affection. This is basically a Spanish influence. The man is usually accompanied by his close friends who provide moral support for the guy, apart from singing with him.

Filipino women are expected to be pakipot (playing hard to get) because it is seen as an appropriate behavior in a courtship dance. By being pakipot, the girl tells the man that he has to work hard to win her love. It is also one way by which the Filipina will be able to measure the sincerity of her admirer. Some courtships could last years before the woman accepts the man's love.

A traditional dalagang Pilipina (Filipinpa maiden) is someone who is mahinhin (modest, shy, with good upbringing, well-mannered) and does not show her admirer that she is also in love with him immediately. She is also not supposed to go out on a date with several men. The opposite of mahinhin is malandi (flirt), which is taboo in Filipino culture as far as courtship is concerned.
After a long courtship, if the couple later decide to get married, there is the Filipino tradition of pamamanhikan (from panik, to go up the stairs of the house), where the man and his parents visit the woman's family and ask for her parents blessings to marry their daughter. It is also an occasion for the parents of the woman to get to know the parents of the man. During pamamanhikan, the man and his parents bring some pasalubong (gifts). It is also at this time that the wedding date is formally set, and the couple become engaged to get married.

'Love, Courtship in the Philippines"

The traditional dalagang Pilipina (Filipina maiden) is shy and secretive about her real feelings for a suitor and denies it even though she is really in love with the man.Tuksuhan lang (just teasing) is the usual term associated with pairing off potential couples in Filipino culture. This is common among teenagers and young adults. It is a way of matching people who may have mutual admiration or affection for each other. It may end up in a romance or avoidance of each other if the situation becomes embarrassing for both individuals.

Tuksuhan (teasing--and a girl's reaction to it) is a means for 'feeling out' a woman's attitude about an admirer or suitor. If the denial is vehement and the girl starts avoiding the boy, then he gets the message that his desire to pursue her is hopeless. The advantage of this is that he does not get embarrassed because he has not started courting the girl in earnest. As in most Asian cultures, Filipinos avoid losing face. Basted (from English busted) is the Tagalog slang for someone who fails to reach 'first base' in courting a girl because she does not have any feelings for him to begin with. However, if the girl 'encourages' her suitor (either by being nice to him or not getting angry with the 'teasers'), then the man can court in earnest and the tuksuhan eventually ends.
The courtship then has entered a 'serious' stage, and the romance begins.
A man who is unable to express his affection to a woman (who may have the same feelings for him) is called a torpe (stupid), dungo (extremely shy), or simply duwag (coward). To call a man torpe means he does not know how to court a girl, is playing innocent, or does not know she also has an affection for him. If a man is torpe, he needs a tulay (bridge)--anyone who is a mutual friend of him and the girl he loves--who then conveys to the girl his affection for her. It is also a way of 'testing the waters' so to speak. If the boy realizes that the girl does not have feelings for him, he will then not push through with the courtship, thus saving face.

Some guys are afraid of their love being turned down by the girl. In Tagalog, a guy whose love has been turned down by the girl is called sawi (romantically sad), basted (busted), or simply labless (loveless). Click here for Tagalog romantic phrases used in Filipino courtship.