Honoring my mother | The Conyo-tation of my language

DURING one interaction with some university students, I heard a teacher talk excitedly about the distinct quality of Tagalog spoken in the city, as though he had suddenly dug up gold along the Central Bank complex. The millennials among our group were likewise animated in the discourse, offering examples left and right, like children showcasing new-found toys.

“Huwag tamakan ang grass” (Don’t step on the grass), “Hindi ko gani ginasadya” (I did not mean it), “Bitaw uy, mag-attend ka lang gud” (Just make sure you are going), “Nalibog lagi ko.” (I am confused) and so on.

While it is true that outsiders and visitors see our city-speak as a Visayan-Tagalog composite, I have never heard it discussed from the perspective of Dabawenyos as a truly laughable trait. True, I and my friends once talked about how quaint and amusing it is, but never to the point of ridicule. I also remember Manileño visitors pointing out that my Tagalog is funny, but that’s as far it goes.

Technically speaking, our Davao tagalog can be likened to Pidgin, that mixture of English with local languages in parts of Africa and Asia. In the same way, our Zamboanga Chabacano can likewise be a pidgin version of Spanish. In Europe even, there exists a so-called high and low German. But going back to Pidgin, an American friend had once referred to it as the bastardized version of English. The undertone of this was clear; it is a debasement of the original. So, does it follow therefore that those who speak pidgin, with their understandably-limited grasp of English, and instinctive desire to communicate and be understood, are second-class, and inferior, not to mention amusing and funny?

For me however, this was not what takes the cake. To my horror, I heard the same teacher say that this Davao-speak now had a name, and he called it Davao Conyo. Now, while good-natured laughter interspersed with the abundant samples of our “Davao Conyo”, my mind raced back to childhood. What was my language called back then, and more important, was it laughable back then? Of course I knew that the city-speak we Davao-born natives had been used to since children was amusing to some (mostly outsiders), but to call it “conyo”? Please understand, I’d love to believe that company in the room was actually proud (deep inside) that this “thing” they have branded is a uniquely Davao attribute, but Conyo is hardly the description for it.

What is Conyo by the way? For one, its colloquial connotation (or Miriam-metaphorical if you like) is north-south different from its actual Spanish translation (the vulva). Second, while it may be uncomplimentary, it is never meant to be indecent or vulgar at all. If one googles the term, Conyo is used to describe a person, with emphasis on how he/she speaks, and even strings out to how his/her behavior or ways of dressing. The Urban dictionary writes Conyo as descriptive of people who are either high-class or wannabes who are conscious of their social image and present status.

Look man, I have spoken this Tagalog-Visayan mix, this beautiful mestisa or lovable mongrel of a language since I was a child. My parents never spoke Visayan as they were immigrants, but my Ponciano playground was a merry mix of Tagalogs, Cebuanos, and other equally-lovely island-tongues. How was a child to communicate, much less survive, if he only spoke one language then? (Maybe I should make a treatise on linguistics as a survival tool too, no?)

It is because of this premise that I strongly react to my Davao-speak as being labeled Conyo by newcomers (as clearly, they are). First, like Pidgin, my Davao-speak is never inferior to any language, and I am proud I speak it. Second, it is not pretentious like conyo, because I believe that through the years, it has evolved as languages do, from the very first time Tagalogs met Visayans here, decided to stay permanently, and had children. I dread to think that perhaps those who poke at it with malicious intent and ridicule are not really the Davao lovers they say they are. Worse, they are closet Conyos hiding in our own environment.

As a final plea, can you please invent or conjure up another cute tag line, people. Do you wish to see how Dabawenyos really feel when you call us or the way we speak by another label? Here’s an analogy. If, for lack of a better name, I call you Idiot, would you like it?




Posted in Opinion