Saturday, September 30, 2006

The use of siya

I have not posted in over three months, sorry about the neglect. Do I even have any readers left? ;-) I did graduate in June and I ended up working almost all summer rather than taking my usual vacation. I also spent some time roughing it in northeastern Washington and the Oregon coast, so I pretty much had a full plate! Enough excuses, I'll try to update more, especially since I have no school for the next year.

I'd just like to mention that right now, my current interest is in Asi or Bantoanon whose verb system is highly fascinating! It's a Visayan language spoken by about 70,000 people who are native to just five municipalities on four small islands in the province of Romblon. I reviewed an Asi literature book in a previous blog entry. As soon as I have more info about the verbs, I will post my findings in this blog.

In other news...

A friend of mine who is a student at Ateneo de Manila University e-mailed me a couple of months ago. In it, one of the sentences he wrote read "narinig ko siya." I thought to mysef "sino ang narinig niya?" (whom did he hear?) However, due to the context of the message (which was about being able to listen to a high pitch tone), I immediately realized that he was referring not to a person, but to a thing.

I asked him if he seriously uses siya to mean "it." And he said yes, and that it's quite widespread. The only time I heard it used the way he used it was this YouTube video of an American LDS (Mormon) missionary named Daniel speaking Tagalog. He had used the word "Pastilan" and when asked what it meant, explained by saying "Bisaya po siya" (it's Visayan) and "yung ibig sabihin niya" (it means).

So my friend asked me what I would use instead of siya. I explained to him that I would use either one of the Tagalog words that mean "this" or "that," ito, iyan, iyon or simply no pronoun (i.e., narining ko) at all since the nature of the verb narining implies an object anyway, since it's an object-focus verb.

Now, my family hasn't been to the Philippines since the late 1980s, and so I wondered if this was a recent innovation happening back in the Inang Bayan. My mother said that it sounded rather awkward while my grandmother, who grew up in Manila and Minalabac, Camarines Sur, explained that it was wrong, and went off into a lecture saying that "siya" is only for people and that we should use "iyan." The funny thing is, two weeks later, while at my grandma's house, she gave me a fan that she didn't need and told me about its wobbly stand by saying "baka matumba siya" (it might fall).

In any case, since then I have been hearing siya to mean "it" in a variety of places, usually on The Filipino Channel. I haven't heard it much from Filipinos I come into contact with, but I'm keeping my ears open.

I had wondered if there were any studies done about this, so I asked and looked around. Dr. Hsiu-chuan Liao, a University of Hawai'i linguist specializing in Formosan & Philippine languages, referred me to her student from De La Salle named Evelyn Calizo. Ms. Calizo had presented a paper called Filipino Siya: A Case of Broadening at the 10-ICAL conference in Palawan back in January.

I recently got into contact with Ms. Calizo, and she forwarded to me her paper. She noted the presence of this phenomenon in well-known TV personalities such as Kris Aquino and Alma Concepcion.

An interview conducted by Mel Tiangco, a news anchor and reality show host, with Alma Concepcion, a movie actress about the latter’s coping with epilepsy:

Mel: Paano mo tinanggap ang sakit mo? ‘How were you able to accept your illness?’
Alma: Tinanggap ko na lang siya kasi kailangang maging malakas ako ‘I just have to accept it because I have to be strong’.
Calizo also recounted a problem in her field research; some native informants have claimed that they do not use siya to refer to objects, but have been found to do so as in the case of the librarian whom she elicited information from. This was apparently the case of my grandmother.

Summing up her data, the following groups are more likely to use siya this way were people from Metro Manila and Nueva Vizcaya (in contrast to Batangas, which was the other province surveyed), and people younger than 30. Males and females seem to be equal as far as usage is concerned.

One thing I would have preferred to have had seen in Calizo's study was the use a zero pronoun, which is my preference; she only compared siya and ito (this). Also, does the phenomenon extend to sila (them) as well? I find the use of sila used for objects to be as equally "jarring" as siya.

I wonder, though, if this phenomenon happens in other Philippine languages. I do know that in Kapampangan the use of ya and the plural la is obligatory, even when the antecedent is present. But Kapampangan is the exception, not the rule.

Another thing I have been wondering is "what if?" What if Tagalog had developed separate third person pronouns for objects, what would they be?

My guess is that they would be *angya or *aya for "it" while *ala or *anla for a inanimate "them."

How did I come to this conclusion? In Tagalog, si (as well as ni, kay) marks a person. This is reflected in siya and sila as well as the interrogative pronoun sino (who). On the other hand, ang (and ng and sa) marks non-personal nouns. The interrogative form is ano but there is no pronoun based on this.

Now, these are just the nominative (absolutive) forms. The genitive forms would probably look like *naya and *nala. The oblique forms would be *saiya and *saila. Bikol, for instance has saiya and sainda. Hiligaynon has sa ila and sa ila.

To take this a step further. There is a personalized interrogative form in the genitive case for sino, which is nino, but there is none for ano. It's not *nano but simply ng ano. In the oblique case, there's kanino and saan, which can also mean "what" but also doubles as "where."

Now wouldn't *aya (and *naya, *saiya), *ala (and *nala, *saila), and *nano be useful pronouns in Tagalog? I think they would. :-) But no, I am not campaigning for their use, since we probably get along just fine with the way Tagalog is right now.


Anonymous said...


Well, in answer to your question, you do have at least one reader left, although I must confess my visits had been growing rarer over time.

pye said...

Maabig ya agew ed sika,

Gagaween natan so Pangasinan wikipedia ya naanap ed http address to ya . No walay oras mo, komon makabisita ka ed wikipedia ed salitan Pangasinan.

Nakaukulan ka met na Pangasinan wikipedia ed pansulat na balon artikulo, editing na saray asulat lan artikulo, odino translation na artikulo manlapud arom ran lingwahi.

Pi-forward met yan email ed saray kaarom ran Pangasinan.

Komon dakel ran totoo so makatulong umpian naitulak so panag-usar na salitan Pangasinan.

Salamat ed sika.

eman said...

Still here, too, Chris. :-)

Robert said...

I have noticed that many native speakers use 'siya' as 'the'. Most of the speakers I have come in contact with are in the Laguna, Batangas, and Quezon provinces. Native speakers usually use 'ito' or 'iyan' instead of 'siya', but it does happen occasionally. I personally prefer to not use 'siya' to refer to inanimate objects.

seav said...

Hooray for evolving languages! Well, I do use "siya" and "sila" to refer to inanimate objects. But I also use "ito", "iyan", and "iyon", too.

For me, I think it depends on whether the antecedent is physically in the vicinity of the speaker. E.g., if we're talking about a book on a table nearby, I might say "Nabasa ko na 'yan". Whereas if we're talking about a movie and there's not a movie theater showing that film nearby or in sight, I might say "Napanood ko na siya."

I find it jarring to say, "Nabasa ko na iyan" when the thing to be read "ay wala diyan." Diba?

murrayjames said...

hey chris--check out learning's latest post on the seasite forum ("Ng Tula"). He uses "siya" to refer a poem he wrote.

Linda said...

I am a graduate student studying Linguistics and would really like to read Evelyn Calizo's paper on "siya." Could you get me in touch with her?

Anonymous said...

Wow! What an insightful thought. I hadn't taken much thought of that phenomenon until now. Mind if I use it the issue for my psych project?