Books & Art

Dignified Filipino Words That Need to Make a Comeback

These ideas should not be lost.

Words are powerful, and yet that doesn't stop them from disappearing from the face of the earth. Linguists estimate that as many as half of the world's over 7,000 languages may be extinct by the end of the 21st century, with one language dying out every 14 days.

How does a language die? According to UNESCO, a language becomes officially endangered when it stops being used in everyday life, and when children are no longer being taught the language by their parents. In fact, UNESCO created this fascinating interactive map that shows you where the world's most endangered languages are found, and where languages have died. The Alliance for Linguistic Diversity have put up their own version, on the Endangered Languages Project page. On both, we see that the Philippines has lost its fair share of languages, and that there are a handful that are still on the verge of dying out.

And those are entire languages that are endangered. In the meantime, words are lost every day, having fallen into disuse.  On the one hand, that's the nature of language—it must evolve in order to live. But words stand for ideas, and very often a lost word means a lost idea, a lost way of looking at the world.

The Filipino language has no lack of speakers, and it is therefore far from becoming an endangered language. And yet, many of our words are seeing far less use—perhaps because they have been supplanted by easier synonyms, or because they are simply no longer fashionable. We'd like to make a case for the revival of these common Filipino words, because they stand for ideas worth keeping alive.



DALISAY: (Adjective) Pure, chaste, real, refined, sincere.

This survives mostly as a rather handsome, thoroughly Filipino surname. Think: Butch Dalisay. Think also Ricardo Dalisay, the pure-hearted policeman of Ang Probinsyano. It's no accident that Coco Martin's white knight is named so, because the word—originally referring to the purity of material objects—has also come to mean the many different virtues associated with being pure.

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DAKILA: (Adjective) Great, eminent, distinguished.

The etymology is unclear, though some sources point to its relation to the Indo-Malay word "daku," which means "huge" or "big." This word also survives in words like "dakkel" in Ilocano, or "dako" in Bisaya, both of which mean "big." But the word dakila means "great" in quite another way—it refers to a kind of importance and significance—a nobility, even—that has to do with one's achievements, rather than, say, the large number of one's Instagram followers.

MUTYA: (Noun) Pearl

Most people now think "mutya" refers to a beautiful young woman, thanks to countless beauty pageant titles who've appropriated the word. But the word, which has origins in Sanskrit, originally refers to a pearl or an amulet made out of pearl or other precious stones.



PARALUMAN: (Noun) Muse, compass

Thanks to both the legendarily beautiful actress and to the Eraserherads song that referenced her, most people have a vague understanding of the word as having to do with a beautiful woman. But while it is true that "paraluman" refers to an inspiring muse, the older meaning of the word refers to a compass. The idea of a beautiful woman as a guiding star to one's endeavors: Now that's an idea worth keeping alive. 


BAYANI: (Noun) Hero, patriot, leading man.

This is not a lost word, you might protest; everyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of Filipino must surely know what bayani means, right? We've certainly had a number of opportunities as a nation to reflect on what "bayani" means to us.

Bayani means "hero," simply (though an archaic definition for the word also refers to "a leading man"). What bears remembering, especially today of all days, is the word's relation to the word bayan—the the community or to the nation, or, as historian Ambeth Ocampo points out, "the space between here and the sky." A bayani, therefore, isn't just any kind of hero, but he is a hero who does something in the service of country or of fellow men. 


BAYANIHAN: (Noun) Cooperative effort

Again rooted in the rich root word "bayan," "bayanihan" might conjure up images of people hoisting entire houses up on their shoulders, or, more currently, of a Filipino folk dancing troupe. Yet the idea of bayanihan is simply about doing something for the greater good, for putting in service in cooperation with one's kababayan.

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