12 June 2014


Reading Diary: Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog by Edgar Calabia Samar

Naisip ni Daniel na mas nakakatawa na kahit inikot na niya ang buong baryo [ng Atisan], wala pa siyang makitang Atis. Doon siya natutuwa sa baryo niya. Sa ilampung barrio, ito na lang halos ang mas kilala sa sinaunang pangalan. Halos lahat, pinalitan na ng pangalan ng santo. Iyung Putol, Sta. Cruz na ngayon. Iyung Ilog, San Diego. Iyung Kalihan, San Francisco na. Iyung Balagbag, San Isidro. Iyung Balanga, San Antonio na. Iyung Malamig, San Jose. Iyung Balaho, Santiago. Iyung Banlagin, Sta. Filomena. Iyung Tikew, San Marcos. Iyung Malinaw, San Lucas na. Iyung Wawa, Del Remedio. Iyung Palakpakin, San Buenaventura. Nabinyagan halos ang lahat ng barrio. Atisan na lang ang Atisan pa rin. Nakikipagmatigasan.

Last week, entirely on a whim, I decided to read a Filipino novel. That is, a novel in Filipino. My first since high school, when I read them only because I had to and did very badly.

The whim didn't come out of nowhere any more than I did: we both came out of that day's German class, which had been more of a struggle than usual. From there, as planned, I went to the bookstore (Ich bin zum Buchladen gegangen!) to buy the English translation of this novel for the June Giveaway pool . . . and the reds on the cover of the original Filipino version caught my eye. All I thought to do then was to read the first paragraph in both Filipino and English, to compare them, but after I started reading the former, I didn't want to stop. There was something so appealing about the Filipino language at that moment. As difficult as it was for me to read, it was much easier than German! And suddenly, instead of being the one shameful failure in my history of language studies, it represented a pretty decent level of achievement! The day my German becomes as good as my Filipino is the day I fulfill my dream of reading Middle Grade books in more than one language! =D

Besides, I told myself as I paid the cashier, the looks on the faces of my family and friends would be priceless. They'd take bets on whether or not I'd last, as they always do--but to paraphrase Edgar Calabia Samar, makikipagmatigasan lang ako. (Wouldn't it be hilarious if I didn't get that word right? LOL!)

Philippinen Verben
Just when you thought German definite articles were as bad as it could get . . .

For obvious reasons, Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog is hardly leisure reading. But I'm still enjoying myself! Samar does things with the Filipino language that I hadn't known were possible and could only replicate under the guidance of an experienced verbal gymnast . . . but that isn't stopping me from working on conjugations again.

Take that word at the end of the excerpt I've included: Nakikipagmatigasan. I absolutely love it! What he did was take the adjective matigas (which means "hard") and turn it into the world's most complex verb by stacking several prefixes and a suffix on it. He had to begin with the prefix pag, which we use to turn an adjective or a verb into a noun. On top of that, he added the prefix nakiki, which turns a noun into a present continuous verb that means you are joining something. Finally, he used the suffix an, which implies a group activity. In other words, "nakikipagmatigasan" means that the subject is engaging in the activity of being hard among others. Or as the English translation puts it, the subject is stubborn.

After everything the word matigas went through to express that complex idea in Filipino, it just goes back to being another adjective in English. It's napakalungkot, very sad, and even sehr traurig . . .

By the way, if you tried to figure out how Filipino verbs work by looking at the above table, you didn't succeed because the table isn't complete. =/ I have yet to find one that is. But what I'd really, really like to find is a university-level lecture on Filipino grammar . . . in English. =P

Image Sources: a) Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog by Edgar Calabia Samar, b) Conjugation table for Tagalog verbs


Carmel @ Rabid Reads said...

Your post reminded me that I haven't read a book in French in like f-o-r-e-v-e-r! I should probably get on that.

Enbrethiliel said...


Good luck with it! =)

DMS said...

I haven't read a book in another language since I had to do it for a class in high school. I have always thought it would be interesting to read a book in English and then in another language to compare. My Spanish isn't as strong as it used to be, but maybe I could start with shorter texts. :)

Wishing you the best of luck! Enjoy!

cyurkanin said...

Once again, I really like the cover artwork on one of your books, can you enlighten me on the artist for this one? (Please and thanks) ;)

Enbrethiliel said...


Jess -- I'm sure you'll be pleasantly surprised at how much you've retained. =)

Christopher -- It breaks my heart to say that the artist's name is Jason Moss . . .

cyurkanin said...

Why does it break your heart? What did I miss? lol

Star Crunch said...

"As difficult as it was for me to read ... instead of being the one shameful failure in my history of language studies ... etc." Hmm, I would never have suspected this; I'd just assumed Tagalog was pervasive in day-to-day life there. (Investigations followed...)

How often do foreigners ever pick it up, especially given the apparent lack of thorough reference material? :)

I actually was perusing some non-English novels myself just this afternoon (Spanish ones, at the airport). In hindsight, it would have been interesting, say, to revisit the Pet Sematary posts with a translation in hand.

I did get burned a few years ago, though, when I bought some Plato and Aristotle collections written in Spain's flavor of Spanish and was completely swamped by idioms that didn't seem to have made it here (Mexico). If not that, in any event my attempts to pester native-speaker-but-non-reader friends met with repeated failure. I seem to vaguely recall some mind-numbing time at the search engine, as well. The enthusiasm was rather dampened.

Enbrethiliel said...


Filipino (which a proud Tagalog man recently told me is different from the "pure" Tagalog language) is pervasive, but if you live in certain districts of the capital, you could go about your daily life very comfortably knowing even less of it than I do! The foreigners who pick it up either live in different areas or are really good with languages. Or they're Russian. =P I have it on good authority that Filipino is a breeze to learn if you're already fluent in Russian.

This state of affairs has a lot to do with social class. When I was a child, it was a status symbol for families to have children who spoke very good English, even at the expense of their knowledge of Filipino. About twenty years later, while working as an after-school tutor to upper middle class children, I noticed that many of them thought of English as the language of their families, their friends, their schools, and their media . . . and of Filipino as the language of their nannies and the rest of the hired help. =S

About a decade ago, a friend of mine told me about an interesting guest speaker at her university who said that the real division in Philippine society was not between "the rich" and "the poor," but between the English speakers and the Filipino speakers. And that's almost the same thing, really. (He delivered his lecture in English, by the way. =P)

I always imagine that the difference between Spain's Spanish and Mexico's Spanish is like the difference between British English and American English. For all my facility with American English, British English can really throw me! But based on your experience, the differences between the two kinds of Spanish seem even greater!

By the way, Spanish was the English of the Philippines (LOL!) when my grandmother was a girl, though I don't know what special flavour Philippine Spanish would have had. It was her first language, followed by the local dialect of her province. (English was her third; Filipino, her fourth!) When she was a teenager, she spent a year in Madrid speaking only Spanish. And she's inordinately proud of how "Old World" she is. During her last trip to the US, she met a Spanish man who had married a Mexican woman and lived in a mostly Mexican community; and it was seriously the best part of my grandmother's trip when she spoke to him in "real" Spanish and saw his eyes light up! LOL!

If you have any thoughts on the Pet Sematary translation, feel free to share them, too! =)