Monday, July 4, 2011

GMA’s Amaya: Fact or Fiction? Part II: Linguistic Perspective By: James U. Sy Jr.

Renowned historian, professor, and author William Henry Scott, Ph.D., clarified in his classic work “Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the study of Philippine History” that the only valid pre-colonial source materials for our archipelago’s storied past are archaeological finds, two medieval Chinese accounts, and a comparison of Philippine languages (Scott 139).

Of course, this is not to imply that pre-Hispanic Filipinos did not have a method of writing. Morga wrote in his Susesos en las Islas Filipinas that “almost all the natives, both men and women, write…” This has been echoed in the works of Fr. Collins, Paterno, and Retana. The sad fact is that early Filipinos wrote on barks of trees or on banana leaves, materials that do not stand the test of time (Zaide 29).

The effort of the makers of Amaya to include specific words that are indigenous to the culture depicted in its storyline is one of the reasons I hold it highly as a significant step in making Filipinos aware of their varied native cultures.

Language is a good reflection of the civilization that is using it. It is through language where emotions, abstract ideas, skills, knowledge, and tradition are transmitted by native speakers. It is a manifestation of the sophistication of a culture. The Binukots of Panay, for one, makes extensive use of chanting to transmit culture, at times reaching 33 hours, the longest recorded in our land.

When I was still in secondary school, I often hear of Hiligaynon and Cebuano being called dialects. But when I started my path to research, I found out that they were not dialects and are actually languages. A language is a system of vocal conventional signs characteristic of the interaction of one or two communities of human beings (“Language, Science of”). A language is mutually unintelligible with other people’s speech. A dialect is a regional variation of a language (Scot 33-34). Ilocano and Cebuano are both languages because their native speakers can not understand each other. However, there are languages which share cognates, i.e. words that are present in at least two languages with the same meaning, making their speakers understand each other to some extent. An example of a cognate is bangkaw which in both Cebuano and Hiligaynon means “spear” and balay which in both Hiligaynon and Pamapangeño means “house.” Boholano, on the other hand, is a dialect of the Cebuano language, characterized by its changing of the Y to J in Cebuano words.

All the native languages in the Philippines except for one belong to the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Austronesian linguistic family, which is spoken from Hawaiian to Madagascar and from Easter Island to Taiwan. The Malayo-Polynesian family has over 1,200 living languages (“Philippines” 752).

The primary language used in Amaya is Tagalog, which is the basis of the national Filipino language. The series’ use of deeper Tagalog words is commendable and creates greater awareness for the classic version of the language. The effort to exclude Spanish-derived words in the series is also a big step in realism as the series is set in 15th Century pre-Hispanic Philippines. However, it is noticeable that several Spanish loan words had inadvertently found their way into the script, such as lugar (in the 7th episode), para, sobra, sigurado, etc. The production team needs to look into this closer if they wish to remain true to GMA’s ad that the Spanish loan words had been left out of the series.

For Tagalog viewers who do not speak any of the Visayan languages, it would be prudent to note that not all the words in the series are Tagalog. Many of these “new” sounding words are actually Hiligaynon and/or Kinaray-a, the two major languages out of the more than 40 languages/dialects spoken in Panay, the island from which the cultural foundation of Amaya was based from (Regalado & Ernesto 56). Hiligaynon ranks is the fourth in the 8 major languages of the Philippines according to the number of speakers (Zaide, G. & Zaide, S. 23). Hiligaynon is concentrated in Iloilo and Negros Occidental Provinces as well as in the Panaynon Provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Guimaras and many parts of Mindanao such as Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat. As a second language, it is spoken by Karay-a in Antique, Aklanon and Malaynon in Aklan, Cebuano in Siquijor, and Capiznon in Capiz.

Noteworthy of these Hiligaynon and/or Kinaray-a words are babaylan (shaman), bakunawa (mythical snake like creature), balay (house), bana (husband), banwa (town), baroto (small boat), bangkaw (spear), baladaw/baladao (dagger), binukot (hideen princess), bulawan (gold), coral/codal (fence), datu (chief), dungan (life force), gubat (fight/warfare), hampang (play), himalad (palm reading), husay (comb), iloy (mother), hanagaway (warrior), kalag (soul), and oripun (slave) among others.

Baladaw (baladao), Hiligaynon and old Cebuano for “dagger,” is variously rendered as balaraw in Tagalog and baraw in modern Cebuano.

Dungan has been translated in the series as “soul” and/or “willpower,” if I remember it right. Dungan is a very abstract Hiligaynon term which one will have difficulty in finding an exact English translation. The Ilonggo dungan is comparable to the Chinese chi, Japanese and Korean ki, Indian prajna, and Greek pnauma, all referring to the vital life force that energizes the body and gives it life. It is not a soul per se because one can extend it out of one’s body like in healing or injuring another person. The usual usage of the word dungan by Ilonggos is often found in the expression unahan sang dungan, in reference to two people having either a physical or verbal conflict where one could not move or say anything temporarily. In this case, one’s dungan had overpowered another’s. Unahan sang dungan is akin to what is called as aura (of the human body) in Kirlian photography. If one’s dungan is strong, it pushes another’s dungan back before it can be projected outward, thus that person is rendered motionless temporarily.

Gubat is a Hiligaynon word which means “fight.” When used as a verb, gubat becomes mangubat (the name of the evil rajah in the series) or gubaton (a real life surname of Arnis grandmasters in Bago City, Negros Occidental). Another term for “fight” in the Hiligaynon language is away, the root word of hangaway “warrior” and mangaway “to start a fight.” Angaway, one of the characters in Amaya, is a variation of hangaway.

Oripun is obviously Kinaray-a. Its Hiligaynon and old Cebuano equivalent is olipun. Note the difference in R and L. Kinaray-a is the parent language of Hiligaynon. The name Kinaray-a was derived from iraya (ilaya in Tagalog) “people living in the mountainous area.” The Kinaray-a language is spoken by the Karay-a people in interior parts of Antique Province in Panay as well as most towns in Iloilo Province and some villages in Mindanao which traces their origins to Antique. It is said that the Chinese mestizos who lived in the lowlands of Panay could not pronounce the R of Kinaray-a and ended up replacing it with L. A good example is paray to palay and turun-an to tulun-an. The term oripun is found in Dr. Scott’s work.

It is also important to note that some of the Visayan words that have been used in Amaya were among those recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, Ferdinand Magellan’s chronicler, during their landing and stay in Cebu in 1521, and some are also cognates that are found in the Hiligaynon language. Among these old Cebuano words (modern Cebuano equivalents in parenthesis) were Abba (God), bulawan (gold), baladao (dagger - baraw), and campilan (cutlasses - kampilan) (Pigafetta). Amaya also made use of modern Cebuano words (older versions as recorded by Pigafetta in parenthesis) such as bangkao (spear - bancan), baroto (small boat - boloto ), rajah (king - raia), and ulipon (slave - bonsul) (Rubrico).

In at least two instances, when Datu Bugna was training the young Amaya, Cebuano counting was introduced i.e. isa, dua, tulo. Since the setting of the story is Panay, I was expecting the counting to be in Karay-a, i.e. sara, darwa, tatlo, or at least in Hiligaynon, i.e. isa, dua, tatlo.

Bagani is the word for “hero” in a language in Mindanao the name of which escapes my mind at the moment while lumad is a Cebuano word for “indigenous people.” Lumad is the same as tumandok of Hiligaynon.

During the first few episodes Bahasa Indonesia “The Indonesian Language” was used in a scene where Dian Lamitan was talking to Malay traders. In another scene where she was selling Dal Ang to Chinese merchants, the Sino traders spoke the Hokkien dialect from Southern China. During the pre-Hispanic period, Malay was a widespread medium of communication in trade. Even the earliest Spanish expeditions to the Philippines used Malay interpreters to communicate with the locals.

The different Philippine native languages had assimilated many loan words from various languages spoken by merchants who traded with pre-Hispanic Filipinos, among them Sanskrit, Chinese, Malay, and Arabic. This is best exemplified in Amaya when Bagani said to Amaya “Ikaw ang aking buwan, ang aking tala.” Buwan (buan) “moon” is the Tagalog rendition of the Malay bulan; it is also bulan in Hiligaynon (Pelmoka 52) and Cebuano. The Tagalog tala “star” was derived from the Sanskrit tara. Diwata “fairy,” raha “king” and kudyapi “guitar,” are some of the words used in Amaya that trace their origins from Sanskrit dewata, raha and kacchapi.

Another thing I’ve noted is that the pronunciation of some words is incorrect, like those in iloy and bugay. Obviously this comes to no surprise since the actors and actresses are not born speakers of these languages. But aside from this shortcoming, the effort to integrate these words into the storyline are noteworthy.

More can be said about the language component of the epic teleserye Amaya because linguistics is a very broad and interesting topic but due to space restrictions, I will wind up here and will consider adding some more inputs whne the time warrants.

(Next: Part III: Hoplological Perspective)


“Language, Science of.” The Encyclopedia Americana, International ed. Vol. 16: From Jefferson, Charles E. to Latin. New York: Americana Corporation, 1973.

Nepangue, Dr. Ned R. Phone conversation. 12 Jun. 2011.

Pelmoka, Dr. Juana J. Pre-Spanish Philippines. Caloocan City: Philippine graphic Arts, Inc., 1996.

“Philippines.” The Encyclopedia Americana International ed. Vol. 21: Orley to Photographic Telescope. New York: Americana Corporation, 1973.

Pigafetta, Antonio. "First Voyage Around the World (1519-1522)" Document 15. Documentary Sources of Philippine History. Gregorio F. Zaide. Manila: National Bookstore, 1990. 81-210.

Regalado, Felix B. & Ernesto, Quintin B. History of Panay. Iloilo City: Central Philippine University (CPU), 1973.

Rubrico, Jessie Grace U. “Some of the Cebuano Words Recorded by Pigafetta in 1521.” Language Links.

Scott, Dr. William Henry. Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1984.

Zaide, Dr. Gregorio F. Philippine History for High Schools. rev. ed. Manila: The Modern Book Company. 1969.

Zaide, Dr. Gregorio F. & Zaide, Dr. Sonia M. Philippine History and Government. Quezon City: All Nations Publishing Co., Inc., 2004.

1 comment:

lito said...

Hi, I'm writing about a fictional time displaced character from Lapu Lapu's time and although the medium is in English I would like to use pre-hispanic visayan for the initial dialogue of the character. Can you point me to some resources or somebody who might help me to approximate (write/translate English to pre hispanic Visayan) dialogues for the character? my email is