[CULTURE] The Disappearing Use of the Letter “R” at the End of Syllables in Batangas - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore [CULTURE] The Disappearing Use of the Letter “R” at the End of Syllables in Batangas - Batangas History, Culture and Folklore

[CULTURE] The Disappearing Use of the Letter “R” at the End of Syllables in Batangas

In the Province of Batangas, the use of the letter “r” at the end of syllables in spoken Tagalog is fast dying out, if it has not died out already. If at all younger people use such syllables in present day conversation, it is usually in the spirit of jest to draw laughter. In a way, this is unfortunate and means that Tagalog as it used to be spoken in Batangas has been usurped by that used in other areas.

Before the turn of the millennium, there were still individuals from far-flung and isolated communities in Batangas — and usually aging — who would use words such as ngirngir (gums) instead of ngidngid; tuhor (knee) instead of tuhod; or bakor (fence) instead of bakod.

Old Batangas Building
Batangas Provincial Building.  Image from the January 1914 edition, Bureau of Public Works Quarterly Bulletin.

This was, in fact, old Tagalog as encountered and subsequently documented by the Spaniards in the 16th century. One of the earliest known publications in the Philippines was the “Doctrina Christiana1” (The Teachings of Christianity), first published in 1593 and used by the early missionaries to propagate the Christian faith in the country.

Excerpts from this archaic publication below show that, indeed, the letter “r” was used to end syllables instead of the letter “d” as is presently preferred:

“Y pasonor (ipasunod) mo ang loob mo, dito sa lupa parã sa langit…” [Translation: “Your will be done on earth as in Heaven.”] (from the Pater Noster or the Lord’s Prayer)

“…bucor (bukod) naman doon ang sa diling casalanan nang balan nang tauo nagcasasala sa Dios arao arao.” [Approximate translation: “...apart from this is for men not to commit sins against God every day.” ] (from Catechism)

“...ãg (ang) yca anim, houag cãg (huwag kang) maquiapir (maki-apid) sa di mo asaua.” [Translation: “The sixth, do not sleep with anyone who is not your husband or wife.”] (from the Ten Commandments)

The authorship of the “Doctrina Christiana” is attributed to one Fray Juan Plasencia, a Franciscan friar who did most of his work in what are now the provinces of Laguna and Quezon2. He was also reputed to have authored a Tagalog dictionary which was, however, not published.

Such a dictionary would, however, eventually be published. It was entitled “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala,” by another Franciscan missionary named Fray Pedro de San Buenaventura3. Because de San Buenaventura was of the same order as Plasencia and the dictionary was published in the town of Liliw in Laguna, it is entirely possible that the former might have referred to the latter’s unpublished work.

It is from this dictionary that we find more words similar to those from the “Doctrina Christiana” which end with the letter “r” as opposed to the “d” presently preferred:

Alagar: (presently alagad, disipulo) a disciple.
Alamir: (alamid, gato montes) a mountain cat; a civet cat.
Babar: (babad, remojar en agua) soak in water.
Bacor: (bakod, cerca) close, as with a fence.
Cagorgor: (kagudgod, sonido que hace como el del raspar el coco) the sound made like when scraping a coconut.
Calarcar: (kaladkad, rastrillo con que recogen la basura) a rake with which garbage is collected.
Gaor: (gaod, remo, remar) rowing.
Gilir: (gilid, entrada de la casa) entrance to the house.
Higahir: (higahid, pasar de paso sin parar nada) pass by quickly without stopping for anything.
Higar: (higad, Un género de gusano) a kind of worm, a moth caterpillar.
Lapar: (lapad, Dar con la espada de plano, como cintarazo) hit with the flat of the sword.
Palar: (palad, ventura, dicha) blissfulness, joy.

These are, of course, mere examples of Tagalog words as they used to be but in which the “r” at the end of syllables have been replaced by the letter “d.” The fact that both the “Doctrina Christiana” and the “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala” were both apparently compiled and written in the Laguna-Tayabas areas and that this type of Tagalog was spoken until recently in Batangas suggests that the use of the letter “d” to replace the “r” must have come from northern variants of Tagalog.

The change would have been caused by something called linguistic prestige, “a factor influencing linguistic variation and change4.” In other words, the change in preference from “r” to “d” would have been influenced by a perceived higher status by those who used the latter, thereby causing its adoption among the group of people who erstwhile used the letter “r” to end syllables. There are doubtlessly, however, other factors such as the standardization of language, the transience of people and the prevalence of mass media. This topic is, of course, for an altogether different discussion.

Notes and references:
1 “Doctrina Christiana,” the first book printed in the Philippines, Manila, 1593. A Facsimile of the copy in the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection, Library, Edwin Wolf, Editor. 2005. Some archaic Tagalog words are quoted from this source.
2 “Juan de Plasencia,” Wikipedia.
3 “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala,” Wikipedia.
4 “The Dynamics of the Linguistic System: Usage, Conventionalization, and Entrenchment,” by Hans-Jörg Schmid, published 2020 by the Oxford University Press.
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