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The untranslatable language of Katipunan

Image may contain: Andrea Mikaela Llanes, smiling, standing, sky, mountain, outdoor and nature
By: Andrea Mikaela Llanes

When I was first warned against becoming conyo upon moving to Katipunan, I was confused as to why I might become a vagina in college. 

I was never fluent in Spanish. I only ever picked up bits and pieces of it growing up. What I was fluent in was English; I’d grown up in an English speaking household, making everything about the language—the grammar, the syntax—natural to me. Tagalog would come a little later into my childhood, and even that was something I was never fully confident in. 

Much of what I know about language came from the environment I grew up in, understandably so. I am from a small city in the province of Batangas called Lipa. The Batangueño ‘dialect’ is characterized not so much by words that are distinct to us but rather our way of speaking; my college friends still joke about how unbelievably loud and crass I was the first time we met.

Despite being rather used to code switching, I found myself jolted by the melting pot of culture that was Katipunan. There were the other province kids who struggled with Tagalog because some words had different meanings in, say, Cebuano. There were the Filipino-Chinese who slipped into Hokien when they wanted to insult someone. There were the foreign exchange students and the European Studies/Diplomacy majors, conversing and learning through one another.

Amid all these vernaculars was one that I have managed to both love and hate: the concept of the conyo.

I’ve unironically adapted terms like “G?” (Game?), “dehins” (Hindi, or no), and “Alat, gago!” (That’s salty!) to my vocabulary. Every now and then, I catch myself tacking ‘make’ on to a Tagalog verb—make pa-print, make kuha. The thing about code switching is that there is supposedly a point in which you switch fluidly and fluently from one speech to another; what Katipunan has made of my tongue is less alternation and more of a butchery.

A large part of this is my need to assimilate. While my friends from home were merciless in teasing my ‘like, parang‘s every few sentences, very few of my peers from Katipunan would be able to keep up if I were to tell them a story in rapid Tagalog. It’s hard to adjust primarily because there is no literal switch in code switching; I still catch myself using words that would only make sense in Ateneo back at Lipa and vice versa.

There are inevitable deeper connotations to the languages we speak and learn. My conyo-ness has warranted a handful of jeering “Nag-Maynila ka lang, ganyan ka na!” from relatives. They nitpick at my accent and decide among themselves that it’s a product of going to Areneyow, always adding that I probably felt like I was now on some alleged moral high ground just because I was studying away from home.

Katipunan, on the other hand, has a naive and ignorant fascination for provincial life, primarily because so many people know very little beyond the echo chambers of their metros. I once joked that I used to ride a carabao to school and almost everyone in the room believed me. Being a probinsyana has served as an excuse for so many of my weird quirks, and the fact that a lot of people are so easy to accept the misconceptions they have about cities outside of National Capital Region still unsettles me.

It has been my daily struggle to find an in-between, and conyo—as flawed and cringe-worthy as it may be most days—has served to me as precisely that.

While I haven’t completely gotten over the judgement from the homes I go back and forth from, I’ve found comfort in this hodgepodge lingo that doesn’t ask much of me. There is no foreign language class for conyo, no crash course to train you in it. Over time, the other province kids and I have seen the humor in the silly terms, and we’ve begun to play with it to our own liking. I’ve come to find less spite in my heart for the Manileños whose accidents are terrible when they speak Tagalog, and more compassion for them when they ask me to translate the readings they don’t quite understand.

To adore Katipunan and its hustle and bustle was easy; to say the same about its language, not so. Whether I look to this mishmash of characters and see the speech as a status symbol or a mere product of the environment no longer matters. At the end of the day, it’s still the words that I choose to say that holds more weight—regardless of what language I convey it in.

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Published by Kaela

To which, in retrospect, I can see I have never been sufficiently kind. ~ I write things sometimes!

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