Davao Tagalog, Davao Conyo, Davao Filipino: Davao’s peculiar hodgepodge of Tagalog, Cebuano and other Philippine languages is gaining currency and attracting attention.
But nobody seems to have explored it deeply enough. Over the past two years I’ve been doing just that, attempting to describe, define, and use creatively this strange linguistic chimera that we use to buy, flirt, and curse here Davao.
Here’s what I’ve found out.
Observe the following overheard line:
‘Kainit uy, pahiramin mo gud ako niyang paypay be.’
What is first apparent to the Dabawenyo is that the line is Tagalog. Its syntax (word order) and much of its vocabulary is definitely Tagalog. A Manilenyo would be able to understand it, but a Cebuano who couldn’t speak Tagalog probably wouldn’t.
But the Manilenyo would find it just as weird as the Cebuano would, because its morphology (the suffixes and prefixes) is definitely Cebuano Bisaya, and it has some Bisaya words.
Conversely, the Tagalog in Davao would probably find the way a Manilenyo would say the same idea strange, something out of the television:
‘Ang init talaga, pahiramin mo nga ‘ko niyang abaniko.’
What is also peculiar about the first utterance is how it seems to follow specific rules. ‘This is right Davao conyo,’ one would nod in approval. But observe another version of it:
‘Ang igang ah, pahulamin mo nga ako niyang paypay.’
Like you I would cringe at hearing that. ‘It’s wrong conyo.’ Wrong, wrong, wrong! It’s pataka. And yet if we were to define Davao Tagalog/Conyo/Filipino simply as ‘Tagalog laced with Cebuano,’ then this and the first utterance would both be equally correct.
We must accept then that, strange as it is, Davao Tagalog/Conyo/Filipino is predictable and follows rules with its borrowing from Cebuano. This fact was foregrounded when recently a satirical feature article from a publication in USEP found its way in AdDU, and the conyo Atenista was bemused to find himself/herself being a Grammar Nazi over its use of Davao Tagalog. Imagine, being a Grammar Nazi over Davao Tagalog.
I came up with a three page table on the rules that Davao Tagalog follows, but listing all of them down would be too tedious. In general though, the language is Tagalog but would use Cebuano prefixing (for example, ‘ka-’ plus root word to make adjective, as in ‘kapangit mo!’), and interjections (like ‘gud,’ ‘uy,’ ‘bitaw,’). It would also borrow Cebuano words when Tagalog is insufficient (like ‘habwa,’ ‘manghod’).
Because it follows rules it’s spoken as a language, and similarly acquired as a language. It’s distinct from that pataka Davao Tagalog excerpt. That one can be more accurately called TagBis, Tagalog as spoken by Cebuanos having difficulty speaking Tagalog. That’s no different from the English of Koreans trying to speak English: unpredictable, the result of lack of proficiency, and definitely not a language.
But one important thing I realized is that, in spite of its strong association with Davao, Davao Tagalog/Conyo/Filipino is not restricted to Davao. I’m from Kidapawan, and when my mother is done cooking she would shout ‘Dali na, magkain na tayo’ (mind you with a glottal stop on the last vowel of ‘dali,’ another distinct characteristic of our linguistic hybrid).
We can speculate that the Cebuano Bisaya influences in Davao Tagalog are because the Tagalogs have had to interact with Cebuanos here in Mindanao, so we can also assume that in more linguistically diverse areas our Conyo gets exposed to even more Filipino languages than just Cebuano Bisaya. Remember that North Cotabato has a higher proportion of Ilonggos than Cebuanos, and there are also sizeable Ilocano, Lumad, and Islamized populations in our area. I grew up calling my younger brother ‘ading’ (Iluko for younger sibling, synonymous with ‘manghod’), and I only learned it was not Tagalog when I was in high school.
But using Tagalog/Conyo/Filipino is getting cumbersome, let’s settle the name. First off, ‘conyo’: the term’s usage to refer to our cute monster has its origins in Metro Manila, where the codeswitched mix of Tagalog and English have gained currency specially among students.
‘Davao Conyo’ then can be used most accurately if our language is codeswitched with English. Observe:
‘Ka-hot uy, pa-borrow ako niyang fan mo be.’
Now that’s conyo! We will all either cringe at the sheer OA-ness of it or squeal at how adorable it is. But we won’t have the same reaction if we hear the response:
‘Mamaya na kay ginaayos ko pa.’
So we will reserve ‘Davao Conyo’ for the Davao Tagalog of English speaking (or social climbing) kolehiyalas, and spare Davao Tagalog itself of the contempt/fetishism that Davao Conyo deserves.
Note however that Davao Tagalog can also be used by our friends in the different subcultures. We have Davao Beki from our LGBT community (‘Gikyakya man talaga niya yan souk, maniwala shukaw ‘ter! Gisampal ko pa bitaw yan siya, ores!’), and we have Davao Weeaboo, Davao Conyo of the local anime fandom laced with Japanese (‘Mag-eat na tayo coz I’m so hara-heta na masyado’).
We can accurately call it ‘Davao Tagalog.’ But remember that ‘Filipino’ is distinct in theory from Tagalog by being incorporated with influences from other Philippine languages. So ideally, we ought to call it ‘Davao Filipino.’
And this Buwan ng Wika we should all love it, speak it, write in it! It’s more Filipino than the Filipino we are forced to learn in the classroom, and because many of us speak it every day it’s much easier. More importantly, it’s truer to our lives, and its colloquial usage makes it very raw. A friend and I fooled around with Davao Filipino by trying to translate the titles of famous novels into. When we came to Kazuo Ishiguro’s ‘Never Let Me Go’ we both felt a shiver of kilig go down our spine.
‘Huwag mo na lang gud ako bitawan be.’
Now tell me if that didn’t hit the spot.
This article was written by Karlo Antonio David. David is a multi-awarded writer who holds prestigious awards, including a Nick Joaquin Award and a Palanca Award for Literature. He is an alumnus of the Pinag-isang Lakas ng Samahan ng mga Progresibong Atenista (PIGLASAPAT).