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The Clashing of Bone and Sinew

One of the biggest problems of writing Pinoy lit in English is the fact that, if you’re trying to paint the actual life of your average Filipino in English, no word in the language can efficiently meet the rough, almost edgy, flow of the Tagalog dialogue. Notice how I didn’t language—proper Tagalog is flowing, lambent, and slow.

I was thinking about this the other night, and I couldn’t wrap my thoughts to believe the following lines, had they been written in English:

Tumayo ang matanda mula sa palanggana kung saan siya naglalaba, at hinabol ang kanyang anak sa kalye, kung saan ito’y kasalukuyang naglalaro ng piko.

Hoy putragis na bata ka talaga,” ang kanyang unang isinigaw, kasabay ng batok sa ulo niyong bata, “ang tigas ng ulo mo, lintik ka! Pumasok ka sa loob! Sige na, wag mo na hintaying matuyo pa ang dugo ko sa ‘yo, kundi matatamaan ka na naman sa’kin. Ang tapang tapang mo, pero pag napalo ka naman, iiyak-iyak ka ng parang tanga. Sige! Pumasok ka na sa loob.”

I can’t write Tagalog for shit, but this is something you can easily see in the streets of Manila. I hear one of my neighbors say something like this on a regular basis. From inside my house. You’d think she had a megaphone or something.

Notice how each syllable of her words sounds like a cracking knuckle that’s ready to hit somebody in the face. There’s a sense of urgency that you just can’t see in the English language:

Hey, you damn kid,” shouted the old woman as she hit the boy squarely on the head, “stop being such a hard-headed git and get inside the house. Haul your ass, now, before I get any angrier; you’ll just be asking for a good spanking. You think you’re so hot, but once you get hit by your mother, you’ll go on crying like a little shit. Come on! Get inside.”

It’s just not the same. In a way, I can see how native English-speakers find it easy to stand up to their parents; they don’t sound threatening. At all. At least, when compared to the classic example of the Pinoy housewife.

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