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Batangueño in Manila: a Matter of Accents

The San Sebastian Cathedral of Lipa City.
There used to be this old joke, when I was a small kid, about a Batangueño who allegedly went to Metro Manila and tried his darnedest to blend right into the landscape. The poor feller, in other words, did not want to let on that he was prom di probins.

So he went into a nearby church, found himself a convenient pew, knelt down piously, made the Sign of the Cross and proceeded to pray out loud for all and sundry inside the church to hear:

“Ama namin ooh!
Sumasalangit ka ooh!
Sambahin ang ngalan mo ooh!”

...and he went on till the end of the prayer sounding exaggeratedly as though he was born and raised in Pasay City. Chances were that he was born and raised in some obscure little corner of Batangas.

Personally, I am a subscriber to the maxim “When in Rome...” There is a bit of wisdom to this: you are spared having to tell your story to every Tom, Dick and Harry; and you do not have to kill anyone if the bigotry is particularly offensive.

Not that the Metro Manila born and raised will go out of their way to point out your punto to you. Yeah, well... Maybe an initial over-accented cry of “Ala Eh!”; a loud guffaw; and that will be it.

Truth be told, the Big City is such a cosmopolitan place – it was even when I was in college – that those native to it are so used to hearing a cacophony of accents, local and otherwise. The Batangueño punto, legendary though it may always have been, is in truth just one of countless heard in Metro Manila.

By and large, natives of the Big City will probably recognize the punto of a loud Batangueño; but will not go to the extent of actually making a fuss off it. When one considers how large the population of the metropolis is – particularly these days – then it is safe to assume that many of even those born and raised there probably have parents and/or grandparents who themselves speak with provincial accents.

Not to mention, of course, that if somebody from Metro Manila was to come to Batangas, then it would be this somebody whose punto – yes, it is that – would now be distinct from the local one. Hence, the opposite version of the earlier joke used to be like this:

“Ama namin eh!
Sumasalangit ka eh!
Sambahin ang ngalan mo eh!”

Yet, while Manileños are generally tolerant of accents, there is also still something comforting about being able to blend right in. In my case, when I was in college, it was not so much trying to speak the way the natives spoke but – rather – speaking neutrally, i.e. without any discernable accent, or simply allowing myself to be influenced by whoever it was that I was talking to. Nagpapadala sa kausap, kung baga...

The latter was easy enough to do because, having grown up inside the Base – where native Batangueños were the minority – in a household where the prevailing accents were Western Batangas and Ilonggo, my ears and lips were accustomed to hearing and copying different speech intonations. This is not to say that everyone I knew enjoyed the same luxury.

I had a contemporary, for instance, who complained to me in some quiet corner of the university we went to, “Bakit ga hindî ko matanggal ang pagka-Batangueño ko?” I had to suppress an urge to burst out laughing but instead kept my lips sealed diplomatically. Why be ashamed?

Personally, I had no problems with blending right in with whoever I was with. If I was with folks from the Big City, I could talk and act as they did; if I was with fellow Batangueños, I could be as loud as they were. I did keep a personal rule: pag sampa ko ng BLTBCo., kahit ano o sino ang kausap, Batangueño ako!

Attitudes change over time, of course. Some of my own students, for instance, after they went off to college in the Big City used to come back to tell me of how they would even make it a point to loudly speak with the punto even in high-traffic places in their colleges and universities. Way to go!

Then again, there are those – bato-bato sa langitna kapag nakatungtong sa Maynilâ ay napipilipit ang dilâ for good. No different, I suppose, from certain Filipinos na iisang taon pa sa America ay bulol na mag-Tagalog pag balik sa NAIA. But I'm being mean...

Occasionally, this alumnus of the football team that I used to coach – bato-bato ulit sa langit – would come to school to join us for scrimmage. The lads tongue is hopelessly deformed and now talks to members of the current team and even to his own teammates who sometimes join him with a punto na animoy laking Pasay. Being me, I sometimes have something derogatory to say to him; and not that anything I say ever fazes him.

The lad was here yesterday – it being summer vacation – and late in the afternoon during scrimmage, one of the younger boys inadvertently planted a full-blooded kick into one of his shins. “Aray ko!” he blurted out. There is nothing uniquely Batangueño about the words aray ko. It was the punto with which the expletive was shouted that was unmistakably Batangueño. I instantly burst out laughing!

“Ah-ah,” I remarked happily, “nalabas ang tunay pag nasisipâ...” Ethnic amnesia is a funny old thing. Sometimes all it takes is a right proper jolt to make one remember.

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