Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Isinay Words for Baby and Grandchild

ONE OF MY daughters gave birth to a healthy baby girl last April 25. 

The 3-kg and 47-cm (at birth) baby is my first grandchild and so, to mark her coming to Planet Earth (as well as announce the good news to friends and faithful readers of Isinay Bird), the happy lolo in me thought of doing this celebratory piece on Isinay words pertaining to or associated with babies. 

Amihan Lesnai Castro Margate on April 30, 2013 (photo by Apu Charlz)
First off, the Isinay word for ‘baby’ is unga

Those of you who speak Isinay will of course know that unga is the same term used for ‘child’, and its plural form uunga also refers to both ‘babies’ and ‘children.’ (Incidentally, the Ibaloy for baby is a similar sounding nganga.)

This may be funny, but I guess unga is an onomatopoeia. Which means that my Isinay ancestors who first used the term might have been mesmerized by the first sound “ungaaa!” uttered by babies and so they stuck to it as name for their bundles of joy. Or they might have equated their infant’s cry with the “ooonga^” cry of the ubun (baby carabao) as well as its mother’s call when they don’t see each other.

Yes, the Isinay unga is not as exact as the English baby or infant, the Ilocano maladaga or tagibi, the Visayan masuso or puya, and the Tagalog sanggol. While the latter languages respectively use child, ubing, bata, and bata once the baby has started to talk or walk, Isinays still use unga for both infant and childhood life stages of a human being.

Thus, if you hear an Isinay say "Maves tiyen unga toy mansusu lan mansusu" (This kid is good because it always sucks milk), you're sure by context that the unga referred to is still a baby. But when you hear "Timbo^ tiyen unga toy amplamu olyawam ya marin umali" (This kid is hardheaded because even if you shout  at him, he doesn't come), you get the inference that the person referred to is no longer an infant.

I think this Isinay inexactitude of using unga for both a new-born baby and a not-yet-mature person has a positive implication: Isinay parents love their children so much that they would not want to call them other terms than unga until they have become old enough to be called mariit (if female) or beyuntahu (if male). Which means that they give their uunga all the care and freedom and time to grow until the said kids would no longer want to be treated as such.

And now, for our second word: grandchild. It is referred to as apú in Isinay.

Note the diacritical mark over the letter u. This is to warn readers of the proper pronunciation of the word – it rhymes with and is enunciated like “taboo.” 

Yes, if you pronounce apu as an unaccented word or what they call in Filipino balarila (grammar) as “malumanay” (smooth), it gets another meaning – this time it becomes “grandparent” or the gender-neutral apung in Ilocano and apohan in Visayan.  

Used in a sentence: Amihan di ngaron di apú ar, ot manggayhaya^ podda toy dioy mot si mangayah isaon si Apu Charles! (Amihan is the name of my grandchild, and I am very happy because there is now somebody to call me Grandfather Charles!)

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