Madness, Insanity & Tagalog

I used to wonder why Asian cultures, the Philippines included, maintained such harsh drug laws. Whether it’s the possession of marijuana or high grade heroin, the laws are a bit draconian to say the least. After studying the primary language of the Philippines for countless days and nights, I now fully understand why the laws are so strict. At some point in time during the evolution of the culture, the endless consumption of marijuana, opiates and hallucinogenic mushrooms morphed the language into what we now know as Tagalog. The harsh drug laws were enacted to protect society from losing education through the breakdown of their day to day communications. In short, the laws were necessary to keep the language from becoming any crazier.

Ok, that probably isn’t historically accurate in any fashion but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it because Tagalog is one of the craziest languages I’ve ever studied. Verb conjugation is an absolute nightmare for the beginner of any language. Tagalog takes this nightmare and extends it to what can only be referred to as a living hell. If you think you’re going to master Tagalog with those cheap lessons you keep on your Ipod, think again. This is especially true for the average American whose only linguistic background consists of speaking New England accents, Redneck, and Ebonics. So, if you plan on mastering the art of Tagalog, go ahead and keep a straight jacket nearby because you may need it.

Now, having said that, Tagalog is also a beautiful language (and by beautiful I mean complex like a Rubiks Cube and quite glorious when all the colors match up). Its chief characteristic, in my opinion, is the rhythmic flow of guttural sounds created by the heavy repetition of strong consonants. That flow is a strong part of what makes the language unique and distinct from other Asian languages; almost like a verbal drum machine. Unfortunately you can’t learn that beauty from an audio CD or Rosetta Stone. It’s something you have to obsess over until you find it. It is the gem of this language that must be pulled from the dirt and sweat of practice.

It has taken me many, many months to fully understand the fundamentals of Tagalog grammar. This understanding came with the help of Rosetta Stone, Pimsleur, A bookstore textbook, a dictionary, Filipino movies, Filipino music, untold hours on the internet and the countless conversations I’ve had with Filipino friends. Unfortunately all of these sources were inadequate by themselves. Most of my Filipino friends could not explain to me ‘why’ things were spoken in such a manner, “It just is.”, they would tell me. None the less, they have been most cheerful in helping me to overcome the obstacles of the language and I have now reached a point where things makes sense. Thank you God!

The continuing of my education on the subject is now in the area of vocabulary, part two of learning any language. For those who haven’t guessed, part one is understanding the grammar. With the grammar out of the way, I can now focus on learning the vocabulary (much easier I might add) and when I arrive in the Philippines I’ll put a greater emphasis on the pronunciation. With any luck, the next couple of months will bring me a conversational ease.

If you’re going to be on the islands for any length of time, there are many reasons to learn Tagalog. First and foremost among these is respect. While most Filipinos speak fluent English, it would do you well to remember that you’re a visitor in a foreign land and though English may dominate the globe, you are no better than the person who does or does not speak it. So do yourself a favor and pay a little homage to the place you’re visiting: get out the dictionary, get out the phrase book and try to enjoy making a fool out of yourself while trying to properly pronounce “Kapapansiteria mo pa lang, magpapansiteria ka na naman.”

One Response to Madness, Insanity & Tagalog

  1. catcherintherai

    March 18, 2010 at 11:24 am

    hahahaha, i am filipino, but that took me a while to understand that tagalog phrase, hahaha. sorry, not fluent in tagalog. but i have taken tagalog for granted, not realizing it is difficult. it is difficult, especially saying those extra long words and phrases…

    have u encountered “bababa ba? oo, bababa”? ^__^

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