If Words Can Talk (Part 1)

Nonfiction by | January 7, 2018

I am D. Yes D, the sound you make when the tip of your tongue will come up to the roof of your mouth, just behind the upper teeth to block the airflow, in order to create a noise in your vocal cords that stops as quickly as how it started. My conception is almost similar to a terrible idea that was not supposed to be created but came to be regardless. A blocked idea that slipped through and efforts were even made to control its damage by taking it back while it was being released, hence the sound you make when you say my name is short. D – D – D. But, you know what they say about terrible ideas. They start in the wrong foot and end up in the right one later on. Or for a non-thinking man, you can just say D, the letter.

I was the first sound she created at 3 months. D – D – D. Unlike other babies, she swerved away from the usual vowel repertoire expected from her lot. She chose to utter a consonant that was not even first in the alphabet. I was the third one in the list, by order of usage for an English-speaking man. She was not, however, an English-speaking man. She was as brown as brown can get, a sun-kissed woman from war-torn Mindanao. Not many people know where Mindanao is. If one happens to have known about it, red flags immediately start flashing in their minds. Mindanao is not safe. Mindanao is the lair of Abu Sayyaf and Maute, extremists led by a dayu – an outsider, a foreigner who distorted the Muslim values for their own gain and used the locals as pawns; yet they were branded as Filipino terrorist groups. Further, the news would broadcast there is war raging in Mindanao between rebel insurgencies and the government army. Avoid Mindanao. Foreign ministers launched travel warnings to their citizens not to visit Mindanao. DO NOT TRAVEL TO MINDANAO, the circulation will say; forgetting that Mindanao is the largest composition of several chunks of the archipelago and the food basket of the Philippines.

She knew English was not her native tongue. The air that flowed in and out of her mouth was not expelled so extravagantly like how English speakers do. So wasteful. Her language preserved every breath, for air was life and life was precious. One does not exhaust something precious in one swing, at least not from where she is from.

She was quite certain of her uniqueness. She spoke the language of a hundred generations before her who traded with neighboring kingdoms to uphold a fair barter. No goods was above the other. Her ancestors took gold without bleeding their lands dry. They took only what was necessary and no more. They talked to the eagles, the monkeys, the fish, the trees, the spirits in the forests and rivers. They sailed in wooden ships that did not need iron nails to be held together. They fought with arms and legs, with sheer strength and respected close contact defense as a measurement of their valor; weapons were for cowards. They hummed lullabies about the many gods, goddesses, and creatures that surrounded them. She knew who she was. It was not difficult to remember. Her skin told her so. Yet her parents forgot.

I knew they forgot the moment they started telling her that English is the more powerful language. Just like how their parents before them proclaimed that Spanish was the more powerful language, then Nihongo, then English; depending on what country was colonizing the Philippines at the time. Be like bamboo, bend and you will not break. That exact moment when they started eyeing her older sister to take science courses that will be deemed useful in western countries like Australia, the USA, or the UK. That exact moment when they started requiring her to speak the foreign language at home and imposing on her to learn one English word a day to expand her vocabulary.

Her vocabulary was already wide, she assumed, but she did not mind learning to speak a different language. At a young age, one does not appreciate the financial significance attached to learning a foreign language. Children usually do not understand how one language can hold vast economic power over another. Children, however, intuitively acknowledge the uniqueness of every language that passes through their ears.

They become mesmerized at the chaotic disturbance in their oral cavities. They were now expelling strange sounds from their mouths. New sounds. The letters they have grown to arrange accordingly are muddled and then aligned contrarily; an entirely new experience, a new flavor was introduced to their eager palates. I was there when the initial chaos happened. I was shoved in different directions and was made to pair up with other letters that I was not usually paired with. All of a sudden, R was beside me and he looked as oblivious as I was. Then, I became affiliated with S more. W even became a friend. My coupling with vowel cronies no longer became customary. And by mixing us, we also experienced the sensation of producing peculiar implications which resulted to different meanings. My highest honor has always been being part of her favorite Bisaya word – dabdab. I was first in line and was used twice in the mix of letters that meant ignite. It was a good strong word. I was proud.

When English came along, we were hacked in half and was forced to feel a sensation which eventually produced a different thought. We became the English ‘dab’ that meant to press against gently or strike with a light blow. A much weaker meaning compared to the Bisaya version. Then we learned to comply with the concept of specification. We were not allowed to repeat ourselves as a word like how it is used in Bisaya.: lipay-lipay, dula-dula, patay-patay, dayun-dayun, diha-diha, buang-buang. This kind of usage was considered inferior; often implied as a person’s restricted collection of words. Of course, this notion was never true. Every Bisaya speaking man and woman knew that it was never an issue of creativity or lack of intelligence. It was simply a cultural norm of beating around the bush, of the confusing play of words, of avoiding the vulgarity of being direct. Repeating a word can either mean the lightness of a matter or its acuteness. Either, or, and sometimes both. Never blunt, unless you meant to hurt or cause damage.

Many do not understand the pleasure of repeating the same exact word but said in different ways. It is always amusing to fool another with a word that means two, five or seven different things. Dagway – face. Dagway – aspect. Dagway – figure. Dagway – looks. Dagway – phase. Dagway – perhaps. Dagway – semblance. Redundancy is a Filipino virtue. Redundancy is polite. Redundancy saves face. Redundancy grants us to take our time.

Although words were not repeated in English, some letters have the advantage of repetition though. I was one of them. The repetition is not just within the word, it was a repetition set exclusively next to the first citing. DD. Add. Saddle. Riddle. Madden. Daddy. Huddle. Middle. I never really fully enjoyed this advantage. I believed it was bigoted to enjoy a privilege that many others were not lauded with; but in secret, I knew this was half-way a lie. For I marveled on my sense of importance just like M, L, N, O, E, and G amongst others. My conflicting sentiments basically mark me a hypocrite of some sort. Just like those people who say that poverty should be alleviated but are unwilling to give up their convenient lifestyles by redistributing wealth. It is easy to get used to your entitlements. You just have to turn a blind eye.

Every day, more meanings evolved. I started detesting this new language. As her English vocabulary grew, I found myself being pushed at the back of the line. To be a tail of a word does not usually hold much relevance to me, or to any other letter ever voiced. The tail is, most often than usual, neglected. It is not a good place to be for a letter. You will end up lagging behind other letters who would feel more superior just because they were ahead. In most infuriating circumstances, you will become a mere murmur when the ones being spoken to understood the meaning of the word before after the first few letters have been expressed clearly. The tail becomes an even worst place when she started associating me to things that happened in the past, with the ridiculous, semi-reliance on the letter E before I can be uttered, sometimes even unfairly replaced by another letter pretending to be me – T. I observed that she preferred relaying stories moments after they have happened, not while it was still fresh. With the new language, she needed time to organize her thoughts and present them in a logical manner. She was not too comfortable with using it real time so she ended up talking in past tense. About yesterday, last week, last month, the other day, hours ago…everything in the past.

Create-D. State-D. Activate-D. Originate-D. Play-ED. Start-ED. Paint-ED. Dance-D. Grace-D. Devirginize-D. Devirginized.

Who uses this word? Who created this word? It is not in the great book that her mother forced her to read when she was seven. The Webster’s Dictionary they called it. That thick red book with cave-like partitions on the side, designated to every known English letter. The thicker your partitions, the more pages about your letter; hence the more significant you will feel.

Deviriginized was not in the dictionary. Webster said it is not a valid word yet she discovered it and used it quite gaudily. She learned this word from a playmate, Diana, who heard it from an older brother, whom was taught by his college friend, who then copied the slang from an American cousin while he was on vacation in San Francisco, California.

Devirginized.

I hated the word but I was in it somehow. She and her playmates got bored one day while playing tag. Diana concocted the outrageous idea of using the word devirginized in their game. The rule was, instead of saying ‘You’re it!’ you say ‘Devirginized!’ instead. She was ridiculously happy. All of them were. Children playing, laughing, running around in circles in the ADDU school grounds without a clue of what the slang truly meant. I wanted her to stop. It was a filthy word. A taboo word. You are not supposed to find gaiety in losing your womanhood, lest you were just recently married, according to the norm. During those years in the Philippines, there was a brand of shame passed on from one generation to another. The brand instills in young girls that all women who have opened their legs and ripped their sheaths out of wedlock have dishonored themselves. Virginity was a gift you offered to your would-be husband only. Lose it and you will be perceived as trash. Disgrasyada. Cheap. Whore. Slut. A plaything who said, “Fuck me! Fuck me!”

This perplexing brand of shame is not applicable to men though. A truth that she will battle with later on, for she will never fully understand the social norm that dictated her to preserve her purity but confesses emboldening the male machismo. For children will be centerfolds in gatherings – a son’s virility is applauded in elders’ drinking sessions whilst a daughter’s hankering is a family’s ruin. Cheers to the men, woe to the women. There was no single consideration for other possible variables that led to the outcome of being ‘devirginized’ in the first place. There was only this and this only. I guess that was the church talking. The Philippines, after all, is a religious Asian nation. But she did not know this. Not yet, at least. Not her, not Diana, nor the other kids with whom they were playing with that day. They were simply amused with how the sounds felt in their mouths when they were saying the word. The spurts of articulators, the vibration on their throats and lips, the sport of the air flow.

Devirginized!” and then ha-ha. “Devirginized!” and then a series of giggles and squeals.

Divirgined!” Diana tags her. Selena in turn runs after another playmate and tapped, “Divirgined na ka!” Then the playmate runs after another shouting, “I’ll divirginize you!” I was getting tired of being excessively ill-treated and was thankful for the halt made possible by a Math Teacher who have happened to overhear the word loudly proclaimed by Tommy, a little boy who smacked his playmates too hard in the back – a glimpse of how cruel he will become fifteen years after.

To be continued…


Den Ramonal has a degree in Speech Communication, minor in Theater arts at the University of the Philippines. A proud Dabawena, she has always incorporated her love for the performing arts that advocates the indigenous culture of the Philippines with all her work. Currently, she is a recipient of the Erasmus Mundus +’s Choreomundus – International Master in Dance Knowledge, Practice, and Heritage.

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