29 May 2012

A Note on the Filipino Language Sentence Structure

One thing that Filipino language learners should understand and remember is that the normal and natural way of speaking in Filipino is to start the sentence with the verb. I do not say that this is the right way of speaking in Filipino; only that this is the way that the average person in the Philippines uses his native language. So when starting to learn how to build sentences in Filipino, start with the verb, and then the subject, and then a direct object if any, and then adverbs.

However, there are a few instances when the subject, then predicate, then the rest pattern is used but these are very rarely done except only when one wants to emphasize the doer of the action. For example, one can say Ako ang nagsara ng pinto (I'm the one who closed the door.) As Filipinos are not predisposed to draw attention upon themselves, such sentence pattern is used only in special circumstances.

In the schools, children are taught the proper way of talking in Filipino which as you can imagine follows the English way which starts with the subject, then the predicate, and then the rest. For example, one of the first Filipino language sentences that children are taught to read is Ako ay si Pedro (I am Pedro) followed by Ako ay Pilipino (I'm a Filipino). However, the child will pretty soon discover that this pattern is not used very often and the way that he is spoken to at home almost always follows the verb, then subject, then the rest pattern.

So when someone asks, Amerikano ka ba? (Are you an American?), you don't reply with Hindi, ako ay Pilipino (No, I'm a Filipino). You say instead, Hindi, Pilipino ako. There is really nothing wrong with the first answer and it may be the proper way of speaking in Filipino. In fact it is perfectly understandable and grammatically correct. But when you speak using that pattern every time, people will say you talk like a book or that you speak like a foreigner.

In fact, this is one of the more difficult things to master if you're a foreigner learning the Filipino language. This way of speaking in Filipino will be very difficult to learn in a classroom environment. You would have to live with the natives for sometime before you could master this manner of speaking. But you should note that this is the natural way that the language is spoken in the Philippines.

Take a look at this sentence which is grammatically correct and understandable: Ako ay nagtatrabaho sa isang opisina sa Makati City (I'm working at an office in Makati City). But nobody will talk with you like that. Most probably the person will say, Nagtatrabaho ako sa isang office sa Makati City. In fact, when answering a question about one's self, the subject itself is often omitted so in answer to the question Ano bang ginagawa mo? (What is it that you're doing?), one can simply say Nag-aaral (Studying) or Nagbabasa (Reading). The subject I which is already understood in the context is not mentioned anymore.

Another sentence example is: Kami ay nag swimming sa Batangas kahapon (We went swimming in Batangas yesterday). The sentence is correct and perfectly understandable. However is will sound artificial and may be stilted to the ears of a native Filipino speaker. This is because the sentence was not spoken in the natural way that a native speaker would have said it which is: Nag swimming kami sa Batangas kahapon.

The English sentence I will go with you will sound unnatural if translated using the subject, then predicate, then the rest pattern: Ako ay sasama sa iyo. The natural way of saying it is Sasama ako sa iyo or the more indirect but powerful Sasamahan kita. The latter has the implicit additional tone that says I will go with you and guide you and protect you from any harm.

However, when you want to put the weight of the sentence on the doer of the action, the English pattern of subject, then predicate, and then the rest must be used. For example, Si Pedro ang aaktong chairman sa miting natin bukas (Pedro will act as the chairman of our meeting tomorrow). Aaktong chairman si Pedro sa miting natin bukas sounds like a newscast and unnatural. Aaktong chairman sa miting natin bukas si Pedro sounds stilted and awkward. All of these sentences are perfectly meaningful and understandable but the first one sounds the most natural. A more natural but long and convoluted way of saying it is: Ang aaktong chairman sa meeting natin bukas ay si Pedro.