Bisaya and Waray: And the Words to Not Say
Illustration by Shari Llamis
Never use sili in Leyte, because it is not as fiery as it is in Cebu.
In the Philippines, jeepneys, horse-driven calashes and tricycles are amusement transports that may aid the journey, but then, the culture shock is just something that slays travelers off. The communication barrier between folks is on top of this, largely because the dialects are highly undecipherable and are, in fact, difficult to scrutinize. The languages in the country, as listed in Ethnologue.com, ran up to a total number of 175, of which 171 are existent and being utilized whereas four are extinct.
Two of the most prominent languages in the peninsula are Bisaya, otherwise referred to as Cebuano or Visaynon, and Waray or Leyteño-Samarnon. The Bisaya, which is customarily spoken in the areas of Cebu, Negros, Bohol and some other parts of the Visayas, geographically located west, and Mindanao has around 21 million speakers while Waray, which prevails over the islands of Leyte, Samar and some parts of Biliran province, only has around 3 million. These languages are found in regions close by and are only a stone throw away from each other; hence, similarities among the two are extremely apparent and evident. Words with similar meanings or are only insignificantly altered forms of the other are immensely noticeable. Sentence constructions are not so far either.
Despite how bordering both are, the distinction always comes up and gets in the way of everyone. A Bisayan will find baffling the comprehension of Waray as much as a Waray does to a Bisayan. However, this is not always the case. Those who live and reside, for an instance, in bilingual towns like Baybay or Abuyog in Leyte, wherein the two languages coexist harmoniously, will find it undemanding and facile to translate a statement. They can introspectively and verbally use these two with a certain level of fluency, interchange and lock the tongue. However, what they will find difficult is distinguishing which words, phrases and expressions belong to which jargon. For instance, liwat in Bisaya means likeness or genetic inheritance which is a far cry from Waray’s definition as also. Similarly, yatot means mouse, rodent or rat as spoken in Leyte, yet when used in Cebu, is equivalent to dwarf men or just a dwarf. Another is bangaw, which in Bisaya refers to a rainbow but is a beggar or vagrant in Waray. So when one resides in Samar for a few weeks to seek for a holiday waterfall getaway and sees a rainbow, bangaw is a bad turn of phrase.
A priceless — most probably not in a good way — moment may come about when one misuses a term that translates to a profanity in the other. These words, which have totally different senses, must not be uttered improperly and faultily if a comedy bar materializing in place of the road one is currently walking about is the least wanted. For example, and one must not crack-up, lagay in Bisaya is a male’s penile organ and is going to make one unbelievably rubbish-looking when said. In Waray however, this means mud or anything that is moist but does not flow like gel or paste. Thus, to wit, when one is in Tacloban City for a business trip or vacation, one can yell it out safely, as he walks over the San Juanico Strait and gazes upon the blue waters that form whirlpools of arrayed and intricate streams, as long as he wants to. Consequently, the innocent sounding word sili may be used to tell the Bisayan cook of a carinderia to flavor and heat up a soup or sauce, but as it is a male’s penile organ in Waray, it is simply fastened and secured to the body, forbidding one from simply cutting and plunking it into food as an additive. If it ever happened, a crowd would have surely puked its life out.
Walk along the many streets of the Philippines, be it Colon of Cebu, Zamora of Tacloban or Roxas Boulevard of Manila, and find out that an undeniably diverse people, culture and a set of numerous distinct languages befittingly exist. Obviously exhausting without a cozy ride, traversing the majestically disconnected islands is going to take a toll to do just this though. However, the pleasure that comes along diminishes not in any way — but will undoubtedly remunerate.
Disparities between Bisaya and Waray, hilarious or not, certainly define one from the other. Instead of making these differences a reason to put asunder, divide people or a means to defame “the other” language, these differences should become the reasons to celebrate. These languages show the ingenuity of Filipino culture, developed through millennia as mirrors of its diversity and indelible marks of civilization. Clearly, Filipinos are rich in traditions and cultural backgrounds — the languages simply express it.