When the Filipino actor Leo Martinez started gaining a bit of fame on Philippine television cast as a Batangueño with an exaggerated accent, I felt mystified that people bought the accent at all. It sounded extremely phoney to me.
It was not until I learned that Martinez’s family was originally from the Municipality of Balayan that I realised that the accent that he was making a name for himself for was actually western Batangas.
The more stereotypical accent of the Batangueño has always been the almost angry growl used in the eastern part of the province. Those not from hereabouts, of course, would likely not be able to tell one from the other.
Because my mother was from Nasugbu and I myself am Lipa City born and raised, I have always been aware that there are differences in the way people speak on either side of the province.
Apart from the almost angry growl, those in eastern Batangas prefer to use the participle “ga” conversationally in place of the formal “baga.” In western Batangas, people speak with a decidedly softer intonation and prefer “bâ,” but pronounced differently from the way it is in other Tagalog provinces because it is said with what in linguistics is called the glottal stop.
This is a sound produced by closing the glottis, a part of the larynx, in creating what in Balarila (Grammar) we were taught is the maragsâ sound.1
There are also differences in the way things are called, although probably not enough to say that there are two distinct dialects. I also hasten to add that the examples that I am about to give are from childhood recollections; and that these are, at the very least, from Nasugbu. I have no way of ascertaining if these are also generally used elsewhere in western Batangas.
At any rate, what is called the “sinaing na tulingan” in eastern Batangas, my mother used to call the “pinangat.” My grandmother used to send over from Nasugbu what she called the “suman sa lihiya,” a rice pudding cooked with lye. In Lipa, the same is called the tamales, not to be confused with the one Ibaan is known for.
What is called “binatog” elsewhere by Tagalogs, my mother used to call “bu-alaw.” Then, of course, what everyone in eastern Batangas calls the “pinindot” was something that my mother used to call “paridusdos.”
I am sure that there are more; and apologies for the food theme of the examples that I gave. Discovering these terminological discrepancies, in fact, would make for a suitable thesis for a student majoring in languages.
At this point, however, I am more interested in discovering why people on opposite sides of the same province speak with distinguishable accents and use certain words not used in the other.
Sociolinguistics tell us that an accent is a “manner of pronunciation peculiar to a particular individual, location or nation.” An accent may be due to a person’s ethnicity, social class or geography.2 With regards the case at hand, I am more interested in the geographical cause of the different accents in eastern and western Batangas.
An article on the web site The Linguist List explains how geography can influence the development of accents:
“When groups become distinct, the way they speak becomes distinct too. This happens socially and geographically, but is easiest to illustrate by geographical differences. If a single group splits into two (imagine that one half goes to Island A and one half to Island B), then once they have separated, their accents will change over time, but not in the same way, so that after just one generation the accent of Island A will be different from the accent of Island B. If they stay completely separated for centuries, their dialects may become so different that we will start wanting to say they are speaking two different languages.3”
My mother used to say that many citizens of Nasugbu were immigrants from Cavite. Perhaps this was so, although I am unable to establish this from scholarly documents. Indeed, people of Cavite generally prefer to use “ba,” albeit without the glottal stop used by those in western Batangas.
However, I am lukewarm to the possible hypothesis of these immigrants spreading further inland and influencing the accent of western Batangas, as indeed accents may also be acquired after contact with other groups of people.
Most historical documents point at Balayan being the centre of commerce even during pre-Hispanic times. Nasugbu, mentioned in the 17th century as “Anazibu” by the Spanish official Antonio de Murga4 in his book, used to be a village of Balayan.
A certain kind of prestige is associated with people adopting a language or, in this case, an accent. Because Balayan was more the centre of commerce and civilisation onto the Spanish era, it is therefore dubious that the immigrants would have influenced the locals.
I am, therefore, more inclined to forwarding the hypothesis that the reason for the difference in accents between eastern and western Batangas was that the two sections of the province were at one time physically distinct or separate from one another.
This may not be apparent in the present day because the Province of Batangas, excepting Taal Lake, is a contiguous land mass. This was not always so, as I pointed out in the previous article. Before the more than 6-month eruption of Taal Volcano in 1754, Taal Lake was connected to Balayan Bay by a channel wide enough to be navigable by ocean-going vessels.
This is evident from a map published in 1734 by the Jesuit priest Fr. Pedro Murillo Velarde.5 Debris from the volcano's eruption subsequently blocked off the channel, reducing it to Pansipit River as it is known in the present day.6
In a 1977 paper entitled “The Dialects of Marinduque Tagalog,” Rosa Pelaez-Soberano pointed out exactly how geography can influence the development of language in localities approximate to each other.
Trying to explain why two dialects of Tagalog developed in the island, she wrote, “For hundreds of years, long before the construction of roads, the dialect areas had been separated by high mountains and vast forests in the central portion of the island province.7”
Is it coincidence, then, that the accent starts to change in Calaca and becomes purely western Batangas starting from Balayan and onwards to the municipalities of Tuy, Calatagan, Lian and, finally, Nasugbu?
If Velarde’s map was at all accurate, then perhaps Calaca prior to the 1754 eruption of Taal Volcano did not even exist and was possibly even part of the channel. The municipality’s web site says that it was founded in 1835, almost a century after the eruption.8
If Calaca rose from volcanic debris that blocked off Taal Lake, then perhaps this explains why the town is populated by a mixture of people who speak either of the two accents. The town is approximate enough to Balayan, where the accent is purely western Batangas; and Lemery, where the eastern accent is used.
Incidentally, Lemery used to be part of Taal, like Balayan a former capital of the province and centre for commerce. It is food for thought that the accent changes westward past Taal which in the 18th century used to be physically separated from Balayan.
Notes and References:1 Glottal Stop, Wikipedia
2 Accent (sociolinguistics), Wikipedia
3 Ask a Linguist FAQ, online at The Linguist List
4 History of the Philippine Islands by Antonio de Murga, online Bohol Philippines God’s Little Paradise
5 A Hydrographical and Chorographical Chart of the Philippine Islands, online at World Digital Library
66 Pansipit River, Wikipedia
7 The Dialects of Marinduque Tagalog by Rosa Pelaez-Soberano, online at SIL International
8 History, online at the Municipality of Taal