Davao Filipino

Recently, the Filipino used in Davao has attracted online attention with the emergence of the twitter account AdDU Conyo. I suspect the account, largely based in the Ateneo de Davao, was set up to mirror the codeswitching upper middle class culture of universities in Manila, inadvertently highlighting the unique linguistic situation of Davao. There has since been another online platform for the foregrounding of Filipino in Davao, AdDU Confessions on Facebook.

Now this hit home for me because I’ve been writing in the Davao Filipino variety for well over three years now. While there have been other young Davao writers who’ve explored in in drama for verisimilitude, I’m probably the first to write poetry, fiction and translations in it. And the Davao Filipino variety is largely centered in my alma mater, the Ateneo de Davao University.

But I cannot take credit, however, for paying first academic attention to it. The title goes to that great AdDU graduate, Leoncio Deriada, who, in 2002 hailed Davao Filipino as the seed of the National Language (I once wrote an article on this in Sunstar Davao). There have since been various online discussions on the matter, most notably RM Bulseco’s 2012 blogpost “ Why Davao Tagalog is Funny and Equally Amazing” (in it he cites an Ian Garcia who discusses Davao Filipino in 1998, making Garcia the first to pay attention to the language, but it is Deriada’s paper in Kritika Kultura that first lends academic credence to the variety). in 2012, Dr. Jessie Rubrico wrote a seminal study on the grammar of Davao Filipino, citing, among others, Lizada’s article on Davao Tagalog. Rubrico’s study, however, only focuses on the Davao Filipino used as a second language lingua franca by non-Tagalog speakers (I am currently writing a critical response to it).

Davao Tagalog? Davao Filipino? AdDU Conyo?

There have been many names used for this unique and peculiar variety of the National Language. But some of these definitions are problematic. I am of the opinion that it ought not be named:

1. AdDU Conyo: For one thing, “conyo” is used to refer to  the codeswitching of English and Tagalog used by college students in Metro Manila. “Conyo,” is invariably synonymous with Taglish. This is problematic for the Davao case because the “conyo” in Davao also has influences of Cebuano (and sometimes Hiligaynon). Additionally, while it is concentrated on the Ateneo de Davao community, I daresay it is not exclusive to it. Finally, “conyo” has base and unflattering connotations, not only because it is portrayed as the language of the uneducated, but also because its etymology (which would ultimately lead me to say something undignified) leads to a colloquial Spanish word for “stupid.” As such, “AdDU Conyo” may be accurate in describing the culture that twitter account highlights, but it cannot be used to describe the variety?

2. TagBis: now this is how the academic attention to the variety has seen it, particularly in Rubrico’s study. The variety, they say, is merely the Filipino (the Tagalog as lingua franca) used by Cebuano speakers, which is thus codeswitched with Cebuano. The problem with this definition is that the variety is in fact used as a first language of many Dabawenyos: the Tagalog people in the Davao-North Cotabato area, which includes myself, speak a type of Tagalog that is distinct from that spoken in Manila. Additionally, far from codeswitching, the variety demonstrates language transfer and borrowing more, but I will discuss that in detail later.

3. Davao Tagalog: now this is a name I myself often use, but which, though I find accurate in its attachment to the first language Tagalog speakers, I still feel  inadequate because it still has the strong Manila Imperialistic connotation that caused the Tagalog-Filipino debate in the first place.

As such, I advocate the use of “Davao Filipino” to refer to the variety.


But what is it?

Having already dismissed its character as mere codeswitching and establishing it as the first language of many, I then say that Davao Filipino is a kind of creole. A creole is a combination of languages initially used as a lingua franca but which has acquired the status of first language over time. In my case, my Ilocano father had to speak Tagalog to my Tagalog mother, and the variety he used, which had strong Cebuano and faint Iluko influences, became my own first language. Perhaps the closest similar case to Davao Filipino is Singlish, the rich creole that emerged from the multilinguistic population of Singapore.

I earlier said Davao Filipino demonstrates not codeswitching but language transfer and borrowing. Consider the following extract from Rene Lizada’s article:

Pumunta ako sa kalapit na park para mag dagan dagan

A Dabawenyo speaking Davao Filipino would raise his or her eyebrow at this sentence. For one thing, “Nagpunta” would have been a more natural form, as one characteristic of Davao Filipino is the use of Cebuano affixing in lieu of Tagalog reduplication and infixing. “Kalapit” is also too Tagalog for a Davao Filipino sentence, and “malapit,” although terminologically imprecise, would have been more natural. Finally, and perhaps most glaringly, “mag dagan dagan” is blatantly TagBis but not Davao Filipino, as the Davao Filipino speaker, knowing the word “takbo” would not bother borrowing the word “dagan” if not needed. But the Tagalog partial reduplication “magtatatakbo” would be too complicated, and instead a complete Cebuano reduplication (“magtakbo-takbo”) would be more natural. The sentence, in correct Davao Filipino, would thus be:

Nagpunta ako sa malapit na park para magtakbo-takbo.”

As can be seen, the language transfer is often committed to make utterance easier. This is most obvious when a foreign borrowed word is subjected to morphophonemic change. The verb “feature” for instance, would be “fineature” in standard Tagalog, distorting the original word and making orthographic rules on phonological equivalence inconsistent. On the other hand, Davao Filipino would simply say “gifeature,” keeping the borrowed word intact.

Then I said that borrowing is also common. Now let me make a distinction between borrowing and codeswitching. Codeswitching occurs on the phrase level and is often committed because of on the spot recall failure. Borrowing on the other hand occurs when the language’s lexicon is insufficient. This was the case with my familiarity with the words “habwa” and “ading.” I grew up thinking these words were Tagalog, only finding out when conversing with Manilenos that they were not: Tagalog has no word for the Cebuano word “habwa” (to take out from a container) and for the Iluko word “ading” (a younger sibling, although most Dabawenyos would use the Cebuano word “manghod”).

Davao Filipino as the National Language

That last point is important because integration of other regional languages into Tagalog is the main principle behind the construction of the National Language. In the effort to expand the Filipino lexicon, linguists attached to the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino often have to do thorough research to find words. By contrast, a native speaker of Davao Filipino has ready access to the lexicon of Cebuano, and at times of Hiligaynon and of Iluko. To add to this, the access is natural, so while the use of the Cebuano word “gahom” (“hegemony”)  may seem artificial and contrived for Manilenos, a DF speaker’s political cynical utterance of “grabe gud yang gahom nila sa aming baranggay ba” (“you know, their hegemony over our baranggay is really grabe” to roughly translate) is perfectly natural.

In other words, Davao Filipino can be crucial to the development of the National Language.

And while the use of Filipino as lingua franca in other regions (such as Western Vizayas, where Leoncio Deriada is promoting integration) will also be crucial in contributing to the National Language’s lexicon, Davao Filipino is unique in that it may introduce morphological and even syntactical changes. As mentioned for instance, morphological changes in Davao Filipino for foreign words is much simpler, the simple addition of Cebuano affixes, and preserves the borrowed word in its original form.

Of course many perceive Davao Filipino simply to be incorrect grammar. But this is only a manifestation of Tagalog purism, and instead of seeing it as ungrammatical, I choose to see the deviations of DF from standard Tagalog as subversion to the second level. On the first level the purity of Tagalog has been subverted by the non-Tagalog speakers who used it as lingua franca (a not altogether unjustified “bastardization” we must be quick to add because they often arise on the occasion of Tagalog’s inadequacy). This second level is the naturalization of the subversive lingua franca to a first language. With the legitimacy of native status, DF cannot possibly be considered bastardized language.

Writing in Davao Filipino

I am sensitive to the nuances of Davao Filipino not only because it is my first language, but also because I often write in it. I have had to pay careful attention to the variety in order to capture verisimilitude.

Understanding the subtle differences between DF and TagBis is important because both have distinct and to some extent contrasting social connotations. TagBis is generally perceived as uneducated and unintellectual, and in my opinion with good reason. As codeswitched Tagalog and Cebuano, it reflects a weak grasp of lexicon that is often the result of poor exposure to Tagalog cultural material. DF on the other hand is often spoken by middle to upper middle class young people. I cannot cite studies here, but it seems Tagalogs in the Davao and North Cotabato region are in the middle or upper middle income bracket. And in any case, Tagalog has historically been the prestigious language compared to other local languages, and even non-Tagalog families may raise their children speaking Tagalog. As such, DF (in its popular manifestation of “AdDU Conyo”) is perceived as the colloquial tongue of the bourgeoisie. This is important in character development.

But there are unexpected pleasures in writing Davao Filipino. The inadequacies of the Tagalog lexicon can only be exposed so much in colloquial usage. In writing, be it technical or literary (and particularly in translation), the demand for terminological precision is greater, not to mention aural nuance and elegant variation. In a translation of Rilke’s “Einsamkeit” for instance, I found the word “gapang” (“crawl”) insufficient to describe the sprawling image of alleys winding, I used the Cebuano “katay” (used to describe the movement of creeper plants) instead, an option unavailable to ordinary Tagalog speakers. I can also play around with false cognates in both Tagalog and Cebuano. In a poem, I played with the word “balak,” which in Tagalog means “plan” but in Cebuano means “poetry.”

Davao Filipino is empowering and subversive in the discourse of the National language, distinct in its social nuance, and a gateway to possibilities a broader worldview. To say it in Davao Filipino “kahappy gud talaga ng life ko!”


One Comment on “Davao Filipino”

  1. […] The song’s title is a mixture of Tagalog (sinulid = thread) and Cebuano words (gikan sa langit = from the sky). As to the reason why Narciso chose to name the song in such fashion is something I do not know. However, I feel that the writer intended to code-switch as, having lived in Davao myself, we are known to code-switch in conversations. Karlo David wrote an enlightening post on the same topic in this post. […]

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