Here’s something not everyone knows—outside of the main regional tongues you commonly hear, the Philippines is actually home to over 180 native languages and dialects.
The country has a whole host of different languages because each native people manifest their culture and history through words. And so, there are words we always use, but in every language there are words we don’t always hear—and oftentimes, those that are uncommon end up being the most beautiful and poetic to the ear.
There are no better keepers of our languages than Filipino teachers, who regularly champion the magic of our country’s diverse languages. To celebrate August, the national Buwan ng Wika (month of language), below are their favorite Filipino words that you don’t always hear, along with their respective meanings and English translations.
(Cebuano/Bisaya) To develop or improve.
Tyron Casumpang, a Humanities and Social Science strand coordinator at the Far Eastern University High School, gave “Uswag” as his first favorite word from the Cebuano/Bisaya language, one of the main tongues spoken in the Visayas. Its English meaning “develop” has no direct translation in Filipino—“pagpapaunlad” (progress) or “pagpapalago” (growing an enterprise) would be the nearest.
(Tagalog) Petrichor, a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.
For Tagalog, the main regional base of the national Filipino language, Casumpang provided “alimuom” as his second favorite Filipino word. This poetic term has a direct translation in English, the scientific word “petrichor” or in simpler terms, “vapor.”
(Bulakenyo) A narrow path or walkway leading to another place.
Dr. Marvin Reyes, part of the Department of Language and Literature faculty at San Beda University, described “bulaos” as a Bulakenyo word for a trail or small alley. Bulakenyo is actually a dialect of Tagalog and Filipino spoken in the Central Luzon province. According to Google Translate, it can also mean “roar” in main Filipino.
(Tagalog) Process of fermentation.
Nancy Mari Milate of the O.B. Montessori Center shared the Tagalog term “pagbuburo.” The process incorporates sugar or salt with water into the food and the absence of oxygen starts the chemical reaction. Filipinos will recognize the root word “buro,” which also refers to a local dish made by fermenting fish in red yeast rice.
(Tagalog) To wash the dishes.
Rodolfo Andres, another teacher from the O.B. Montessori Center, explained “urong” as washing the dishes, glassware, and utensils used in every meal, a second, largely unknown definition that greatly differs from the word’s common usage to mean a retreat. This definition is now only spoken by elder generations of Tagalog speakers to remind the children to clean up after eating.
These five words are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to a whole trove of uncommon words among the different Filipino languages. For any other word you’re not familiar with, Google Translate can help—it’s pretty inclusive in how it covers not only Filipino, but also other languages in the country in Cebuano and Ilocano, and possibly more to come.
Bridge the gap between languages and learn unfamiliar words by checking out Google Translate here.