Reduplication in Filipino names and words

by aLfie vera mella

I have met a number of people who find Filipino names like Jonjon, Lala, Lotlot, Renren, Tintin, Luningning, and Liwayway and words like baba ["chin"], gabi-gabi ["nightly"], hakahaka ["conjecture"], and kakabakaba ["jumpy"]-words which consist of or contain repeated syllables-strange, funny, or even laughable. This is the reason many Filipinos find having a name or nickname like those embarrassing or at the least uncomfortable. Some would even change the nicknames of their children who bear such names instead of being proud about these just to avoid their children's being teased about it. Personal names represent our individuality and ancestry, words embody our language and culture, so we should be proud about these and we should be always ready to defend them.

Now, what the heck is wrong or embarrassing about words with repeated syllables? Are names and words like these really strange and funny sounding? Is this characteristic unique to the Filipino language? Should Filipinos whose names or nicknames contain repeated syllables feel embarrassed for having such names?

A Sign of Disrespect and Ignorance

I'm sure, many people-Filipino or otherwise-will be surprised to learn that not only the Filipino language but also other languages belonging to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages has the tendency to use reduplication in forming words and names. Furthermore, every language typically has its own distinct characteristics, so someone who singles out a particular language and then says it is funny and laughable is not only showing his disrespect to that language and the culture where this belongs; he is actually also betraying his narrow-mindedness and ignorance.

Filipino: A Malayo-Polynesian Language

The national language of the Philippines, Filipino belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages, which are widely dispersed throughout the island nations of Southeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean, with a smaller number in continental Asia. One distinct characteristic of the Malayo-Polynesian languages is a tendency to use reduplication or repetition. In linguistics, reduplication means "the process by which the root or stem of a word, or part of it, is repeated." Also, the Malayo-Polynesian languages' having simple phonologies (or, "the systematic use of sound to encode meaning in any spoken human language"), their lack of consonant clusters (like the 'str' or 'mpt' in English), and the fact that most have only a small set of vowels (five being the common number) have all something to do with languages like Filipino to have in its lexicon many words that consist of or contain repeated syllables and the tendency of Filipino speakers to coin names and nicknames that contain such repetitions.

The Last Leaf

So, before you start laughing at or feel embarrassed about Filipino names and words that consist of or contain repeated syllables, think twice! Because now that you have learned about some important linguistic characteristics of the Filipino language, you will realize that the joke is on you. To laugh at and feel embarrassed about something you don't really understand is not funny at all. It is simply a revelation of your ignorance.



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