Release notes: new Filipino words

By Danica Salazar, OED Editorial

Mabuhay from Oxford as we bring you news of the June quarterly update of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which sees the inclusion of a wide range of words from Philippine English.

English has been spoken in the Philippines since it was first introduced to the archipelago by a newly established American colonial government in the early 20th century. Decades later, the Americans left an independent Philippine republic, but their language remained in the islands and continues to thrive as an important medium of communication in education, literature, science, business, government and diplomacy. Throughout the years, Filipino English speakers have been adapting the vocabulary of this once foreign tongue, using it to express their own identity and way of life. Some of these unique lexical innovations have found their way into the OED for the very first time in this latest update.

Filipino culture and values

Many of the new Philippine additions to the OED are words referring to specific elements of Philippine culture, such as greetings and terms of address (mabuhay, kuya); items of traditional dress (barong or barong tagalog, baro’t saya); as well as native delicacies (halo-halo, pan de sal, sinigang) and food customs (baon, pulutan).

Other words in the update reveal certain aspects of the Filipino psyche. The boundless optimism of Filipinos and their unshakeable belief that things will work out in their favour in the end is reflected in the phrase bahala na. Their generosity and hospitality are evidenced by their fondness for giving pasalubong, while their loyalty and deep sense of gratitude can be seen in the importance they place on maintaining good business relationships with their suki, and on repaying an utang na loob.

Borrowings and hybrids

In the Philippines, English is primarily acquired as a second or even third language alongside local vernaculars. This places English in constant contact with other languages from which it can borrow a wealth of new words. All the previously given examples and several other items in this OED update are loanwords from Tagalog, the regional language on which the Philippine national language, Filipino, is based. One particularly interesting instance of borrowing from Tagalog is the initialism KKB, which stands for ‘kaniya-kaniyang bayad’ (‘each one pays their own’), the Filipino way of saying ‘to go Dutch’.

Another rich source of loanwords for Philippine English is Spanish, the language of the foreign power that ruled over the Philippines for more than three hundred years before the arrival of the Americans. Vestiges of the country’s Hispanic past can be observed in the many words of Spanish origin that have survived in its languages, including Philippine English. Until now, Filipinos still throw despedidas for people who are going away, and charge embezzlers with estafa. Even the Philippine English word barkada, which comes from the Tagalog word for a group of friends, can ultimately be traced to the Spanish word barcada, a boatload.

These Philippine English borrowings are also highly productive, readily combining with other words to create interesting hybrid expressions: Filipino balikbayans come home with balikbayan boxes full of gifts; kikay Filipinas never leave home without their kikay kits; thirsty Filipinos flock to the sari-sari store to buy refreshing buko juice or buko water.

Surprising origins

The research that OED editors have carried out on these Philippine English words has also uncovered some surprising facts about their origin. Three items that have long been considered typical of Philippine English, carnap, carnapper, and comfort room, turn out not to be originally from the Philippines at all, having been first attested in American publications from the mid-20th century. Although they soon fell out of use in the United States, these words continued to be popular in the Philippines, eventually becoming characteristic features of Philippine English vocabulary.

On the other hand, the word mani-pedi, now widely used all over the English-speaking world, has been discovered to be of Philippine origin: it was first used by renowned Filipino writer Kerima Polotan-Tuvera in an essay published in 1972.

Advanced watches and dirty kitchens

Philippine English has its share of creative coinages and curious expressions, some of which have made it to this latest batch of new words.

Filipinos do not only borrow words into English, they also regularly coin new ones. They do so by adding derivational affixes, such as –able in presidentiable; by merging two words, as in batchmate; and by changing its function within a sentence, as in the adjectival use of the noun phrase high blood. Filipinos also tend to give new meanings to common English words. In the Philippines, a gimmick is a fun night out with friends, while to salvage is to summarily execute a suspected criminal.

A Filipino watch that indicates a time ahead of the correct one is not fast, but advanced. Filipinos do not get off from a car or bus, they go down from it. And Filipinos proudly admit to having a dirty kitchen at home, as it is just the kitchen where everyday cooking is done, as opposed to one that is just for show.

Words old and new

The quotations illustrating the new Philippine English words in the OED come from a wide variety of written sources, from novels and academic journals to newspapers, magazines and blogs. The words are relatively new, with first quotations mostly dating from the middle of the 20th century up to the first decade of the 21st. However, some notable examples were first recorded during the earliest days of English in the Philippines: words such as estafa (1903), utang na loob (1906), pan de sal (1910) and sinigang (1912).

The oldest Philippine item in this batch of new OED entries is barangay, which first appeared in an article about the Philippine islands in an 1840 edition of the American publication Sailor’s Magazine. This evidence shows that decades before the language even reached its shores, the Philippines has already begun contributing to the richness and diversity of the English lexicon, and the inclusion of some of these contributions to the Oxford English Dictionary serves as a recognition of the role that its Filipino speakers play in the continuing evolution of the English language.