Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Coming to "Terms" with Philippine English

For various reasons such as advanced age, many foreigners (myelf included) in the Philippines may have a hard time learning the native languages. (Yes, there are more than one). So it's fortunate that English is the second language here. Hence, American expats can readily communicate with most of the Filipinos with whom they come in contact, especially in Metro-Manila.

However, there are many English terms and phrases here that have taken on a variation in meaning from their American usage. For one thing, Filipinos are fond of truncating and cutting words to the point of just using their initials. "Refrigerator" for example becomes "ref", and "air conditioner" is shortened to "aircon"; "chocolate" to "choco"; restaurant, "resto".

In the turbulent political scene we have "cha-cha", the abbreviation for "Charter Change" (a proposal to overhaul the Philippine Constitution); "con-con" (Constitutional Convention) and "con-ass" (constituent assembly). These last two are alternate means of making the change.

Examples of words that are abbreviated to the use of just there initials are CR (comfort room, i.e. restroom [go figure]) ; LBM (loose bowel movement ); BF, GF (boyfriend, girlfriend); OFW (overseas filipino worker); GRO, (guest relations officer--a euphemism for bar girl). No wonder that Filipions are champion cel phone text messengers. Even a text from a stranger may be answered with a curt "hu r u" (who are you?) .

Matters become confusing when an English word is expressed here in an entirely different way from American usage. For example, as I previously mentioned, there are several different tongues spoken in the Philippines, but rather than refer to them as languages, Filipinos call them "dialects".

Here are some terms from the business world: If you're shopping for a sport shirt, to Filipinos, it's a "polo shirt". If you want to buy a slip, ask for a "chemise". If a party on the other end of a phone call is about to temporarily halt the discussion, (s)he will say "awhile" or "for a while" rather than "please hold". A telephone extension number is a "local", and the main phone number is a "trunk line". One can "avail of" (make use of) a service or product. The noun form of course is availment. If you're changing residence addresses, this is a "transfer" rather than a move.

In adult entertainment, a porn star or a stripper is "bold". What Americans refer to as blue humor in the Philippines is a "green" joke.

"Batch" refers to a group that graduated from the same school together, so a fellow member of a particular class year is a "batchmate" rather than classmate. Americans think of a university "course" as a one semester subject, but here it means a major, and for examinations, especially finals or professional certificates, instead of studying, students "review". The candidate with the highest score is a "topnotcher".

As for legal expressions, a property mortgage is an "amortization", Squatters as well as tenants who are delinquent in rent are subject to "ejectment" instead of eviction. Speaking of squatters, the politically correct term here for such trespassers is "informal settlers". Instead of petitioning, a litigant "prays" to a court and hopes that his/ her case will "prosper" (be awarded in his/her favor).

In the mean streets here, a pedestrian crossing the road has to be careful not get "bumped" (instead of struck) by a vehicle. If a vehicle involved in accident flips, it is said to "turn turtle". The roadsign warning "no swerving" means no sudden lane changes. A corrupt law enforcement official such as a traffic cop is a "crocadile".

In the local newspaper reports, a crime suspect who has been captured has "fallen". A town or city councilor is a "dad", (but a woman in this political office is not a "mom"). A political candidate is a "bet".

Then there are words that are obsolete or archaic and are almost unknown in modern American society, except by etymologists or linguists--and by Filipinos, who still use these terms such as "rascal" or "scoundrel" (a wicked person) and "scalawag" (crooked politician), or the expression "by and by" (eventually); And there are obscure terms such as "mulct" (defraud or extort). The local expression "slang na slang" (literally "very slang") is an adjective phrase that describes Americans who speak with a Southern drawl or Midwestern twang. Many Filipinos believe that these accents are the regular mode of conversation for Americans in general.

The above expressions are just a few samplings of Filipinos' colorful use of English, and after a while even expats begin using them automatically. Now if you'll excuse me, I've drunk so much coffee while writing this post, I have to avail of the CR.


Alan Perlman said...

Excellent catalog and classification. All of these processes, abbreviations, substitutions, etc., are to be found in varieties of English around the world, though they take different forms in different locales.

Where English has been spoken for a long time, you have what is technically called a "creole" language -- people learning a new variety of English, with underlying influences from one or more native lanaguages, plus lots of vocabulary modifications, as a first language.

Spoeakers of English in Manila or Mumbai sound very different from people in Chicago. I would expect to hear, in Philippine English, pronunciations, intonation patterns, and even grammatical constructions that show a pronounced influence of some other language.

shalom -- again, good ear, excellent post

Secular Guy said...

Alan, Thanks for the compliment. Coming from a professional linguist such as yourself, your input means a lot to me.

In all fairness I should emphasize that many Filipinos are very eloquent and articulate in their use of English. For example, there are some excellent writers and columnists in the local newspapers whose English self-expression skills on a scale of 1 to 10 are an 11.

Bruce said...

I wrote an article about how bad English is taught here, a rebuttal and a similar list but not as deep as yours.
If interested, here are the links.

Enjoy reading your posts and will, over time go through them all.

Tom said...

You definately need to aquire an ear for the dialect.

Don't forget about the Presidentables with the election coming up that will be very important.

Of course if you travel be sure to carefully pack your luggages.


Secular Guy said...

And the Supreme Court refused to rule on Con-Ass because it wasn't justiciable yet.

Unknown said...

Here are a few other things I picked up on almost immediately when I moved here.
The term "If ever" is used here as a complete sentence, where as Americans are taught that it is a conditional and needs to be followed by something such as, "I ever when the lotto, I will go on a world wide cruise."
Another example of this is "As if", again Americans would follow this up with something like, "I will ever be lucky enough to win the lotto.".
I guess you could say this is another example of the Filipino culture of shortening things.

Secular Guy said...

Unknown. Thanks for your response. It's nice to know that my post is still getting some traction 8 years it was published.

Yes, I also noticed that "if ever" is used differently here from its context in American English.