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University of the Philippines Open University
MMS121 Multimedia and Popular Culture
Second Term 2013-2014
What up, pitches (Finals Edition)
SWARDSPEAK: A QUEER PERSPECTIVE
Sonny Atencia Catacutan
Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies
1
Introduction: cultural cross-section of swardspeak
The most widely-used term for gay or homosexual male in the Philippines is the Tagalog bakla or Sugbuhanon
bayot. Both however are regarded as pejorative and demeaning, abusive even to the point of being a stigma
(Garcia, “Male Homosexuality in the Philippines”; 13). The more acceptable ones are bading or badette,
marse, or atey, which are, when qualified, mere euphemisms to the supposed to be neutral term bakla but
otherwise having achieved negative connotation. Words in any language depend on the context for meaning.
Although the term bakla is also attributed to cowardice, in the literary Pasyon, where it is quoted as “Si Jesus
ay nabacla.” on the part when he was tempted by the devil, the term signifies having doubts, confusion, or
second thoughts. Its connection possibly relies on being confused or having second thoughts about ones
gender or sexual orientation.
While the language Filipino has been stuck on its seedling stage rather than its fruition and struck with
controversies and trivialities, swardspeak has been an active language, by being an amalgam of many different
languages used across the country balaychina, from Visayan balay, jombagin from Hiligaynon sumbagon1,
and matud and daot from Sugbuhanon and even from Asian language such as Nippongo otoko, nomu,
sukoshi and European languages with achtunggak from German achtung, Janno Gibbs from English give, and
Ombre Miles from the Spanish hombre. The diversity and richness of the assemblage of terms that are
collected and used to create the pool of swardspeak is as diverse as the langue naturelle of Filipinos. True to
its form, swardspeak may verily be a national language one that binds a people, is a combination of different
vernaculars and languages, is understood by its users in a magnanimous scope.
Swardspeak, coined by Nestor Torre (Alba, “The Filipino Gayspeak”), is the language of Filipino gay men.
However, with its current user base, it is not exclusive to the mentioned population. Even women these days
are known to have been using swardspeak. The use of swardspeak has become prevalent even among
women; those who are referred to as babaeng bakla (Garcia, Philippine Gay Culture; 105), also known as fag
hag, as early as four decades ago. Aside from this, gayspeak is also adaptive. A set of gay vocabulary is
determined by the social class the user belongs to, since many if not all of the words created or modified in
gayspeak is from another language. Thus, diction is affected by either the profession, orientation, principles, or
even environment of the Filipino gay individual. Those from with extensive education background and
considered part of the upper working class stratum, would have a different set of words used compared to
those of the lower strata (e.g. Penicillin and nochikels both pertain to phallus). The spectrum of users of this
language based on age also enjoys a wide range just by inference on how the 1970s Philippine societal
scenario was teeming and was, flamboyantly active. But, Garcia may have posited that swardspeak, a
sublanguage, “provided gays symbolic purchase into sexuality” (121). Furthermore, the said author added
Aside from sex, the other concerns which swardspeak apparently addresses
are identity, community-formation, and the outing of someone whom the
swardspeaker thinks is ‘one of the tribe. (109)
With this, Garcia may have unconsciously positioned swardspeak under a major, acceptable and accepted
language when he added that it is “less an actual language” (109); thereby solidifying the very structure of
oppression that the language is trying to dismantle.
University of the Philippines Open University
MMS121 Multimedia and Popular Culture
Second Term 2013-2014
What up, pitches (Finals Edition)
SWARDSPEAK: A QUEER PERSPECTIVE
Sonny Atencia Catacutan
Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies
2
On the contrary, quite on the rise recently is the usage of words in many different media in film, radio,
television, and even in print. Mass media, more particularly television, has been pivotal in the proliferation and
dissemination of the words currently being used. The range of terminologies churned out by swardspeakers
has become massive and extensive that almost all words can have equivalents or derivatives. Remoto
qualifies this as swardspeak is “continuously updated” (“On Philippine gay lingo”). This, directly negates
Garcia’s mention of the limited scope of vocabulary swardspeak had, which was, unfortunately more focused
on the physical and sexual overtones.
Break the rules, create no rules
There has been no widely accepted document that details the rules in creating terms to be used in
swardspeak. Although lately, through the technology available these days, there have been attempts by many
to list down commonalities and repetitive usages in various instances which may well constitute in the future
the Baklarila or Baklang balarila (gay grammar). This absence of accepted rules to form conversational
messages in spoken language could possibly be the message content itself. Swardspeak was born into the
world to defy the rules that have been set in place to suppress the rights a particular sector of the society. It
would then be ironic for the progenitors to use that very same reason which could be detrimental, counter-
ethical, and anachronous. In creating the common tongue among Filipino gay men, the biggest consideration is
for the message to be concealed. Tagalog Gay Lingo 101 (va.michaelangelo) presents the most common
alterations to popular terms, giving birth to a new set of communication pattern.
Power Relations and Swardspeak
Quoting Castro in Introduction: Gender, language and translation at the crossroads of disciplines, “language is
a political act of mediation and communication which either perpetuates or challenges existing power
structures within wider social and cultural contexts (5). The birth of a common language among gays clearly
and explicitly defies the culture that the Philippines has had. It had tried to break away from the dualistic
perspective of life heaven and hell, black and white, man and woman. Swardspeak was the weapon that
Filipino gay men used to connect with other gays those who are discriminated, oppressed, and ridiculed and
belittled.
Swardspeak as a language regards hierarchies as a means to exploit gender. Although arguably, users of
gayspeak do not have terms for ditse, sanse, diko, sangko, and bunso. The general term for a male is kuyey
and for the female, atey (and its variants, e.g. teh, ateng, acheng). Bakla, baklush, badette can be used
interchangeably between the two sexes, particularly for female acquaintances. “Language is an example of a
control and conditioning factor in the over-all thought of what gender is. Precedence of masculine over
feminine words denotes dominance and superiority.” (Catacutan, 2012) The aforementioned Tagalog words for
siblings employ a hierarchy and distinction to refer to older brothers and sisters. Although some would
contend that these show a culture of respect, nevertheless, these unconsciously inculcate in an individual,
submission to the “ruling” strata.” (Catacutan, 2012) In contrast, swardspeak does not look at age and sex as a
means to exploit or impose power over another individual.
University of the Philippines Open University
MMS121 Multimedia and Popular Culture
Second Term 2013-2014
What up, pitches (Finals Edition)
SWARDSPEAK: A QUEER PERSPECTIVE
Sonny Atencia Catacutan
Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies
3
A form of resistance against oppression
Language is an oppressive mechanism. Taboo words or terms such as regla, which refers to menstruation, is
treated as denigrating therefore euphemisms such as dalaw and meron are used instead of the base term
which is but natural for any healthy woman of age. Swardspeak is able to send the same message across by
using the suffix “–belle” and create reglabelle (or sometimes Regla Bella Torres, a popular Brazilian volleyball
player) (Suguitan, 8). Although some may argue that this may still be a euphemism of the original term, the
nature of swardspeak verily proves that the new term for menstruation is common, natural, and acceptable as
opposed to the base term being regarded as improper and even, unclean. Language as part of culture can be
used by society as a means to maintain gender inequality, through power relations, which is both repressive
and oppressive. In this case, men, because of the patriarchal society, have always had the upper hand.
Swardspeak is a mode of the many forms of social resistance. How some gays are drag queens, flamboyantly
displaying faux fur and donning makeup of extreme proportions and hues, dressing up like the latest Barbie
doll or beauty pageant title holder, swardspeak rebels against the norm of syntactic rules but gives heavy
emphasis on semantics through shared consciousness and knowledge but more importantly, unconventional
pragmatics. The outright intention in the use and origin of swardspeak is to conceal the meaning of the
conveyed messages in communications. However, it is also a battle against the norm or the status quo. It does
not adhere to strict form, nor does it squarely follow structures which other forms of languages have.
Even in its earlier stages, swardspeak was the essential communication medium Filipino gays used. According
to Professor Beth Calinawagan of the UP Department of Linguistics in Diliman, “Tago ang pagiging bakla noon.
Gay lingo was their secret code.” (Opiña, “Experts trace origins and evolution of gay language”) Rightfully,
swardspeak can be classified as an argot (Gianan, 3), a secret language. Even with its rising popularity these
days, swardspeakers, through wit, find new derivations of terminologies in order to conceal the true meaning of
messages conveyed.
Swardspeak, a stigmatype revealing social stratification
The “founding” of swardspeak and its pervasion in the country has become a stigmatype creating a template
or stereotype of those who use the language and attributing characteristics and traits to them, and then
afterwards, the stigma. Although swardspeak has become a little less of a code and more of an entertainment
these days, individuals who use the said mode of communication are still being regarded as renegades,
instead of mavericks, of the society. A woman who can effectively banter using swardspeak is called babaeng
bakla which comes with other improprieties: loud, foul-mouthed, and even loose. Men, needless to say, lose
their macho image whenever they are heard using gay terms.
Just the same as other minorities race of color, women, religious and Semitic groups the LGBTs,
particularly those who use swardspeak, are discriminated and pushed back out from the mainstream society
which is largely patriarchal, Western, racial, and theistic. A very clear parallel example of this is how the Star of
David had been used by the Nazi Germans during the Holocaust to tag and identify Jews. The said emblem
has created a stigma against them after being stereotyped as “parasitic vermin worthy only of eradication”
(“The Holocaust”).
University of the Philippines Open University
MMS121 Multimedia and Popular Culture
Second Term 2013-2014
What up, pitches (Finals Edition)
SWARDSPEAK: A QUEER PERSPECTIVE
Sonny Atencia Catacutan
Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies
4
Ekaterina, ecce keblah, et cetera ETEWAF
The term swardspeak was born during the country’s darkest days – the Martial law era. Talking bad against the
government can put you to jail, or smite you and banish you from the face of the Earth. It was about the same
time that the Philippines, in the 1970s, coined the term jeproks and repa (or repapips) by syllable invertion
(Tan, “Tagalog slang”). What effected the sprouting of these terms and communication modes could be
attributed to the power exerted against free speech. Swardspeak, on that regard is also an underground
movement. It destroys the clout of power being brandished to minorities, oppressing those who would speak
truth, and gagging the Filipinos preventing them to communicate efficiently and freely. Furthermore, it “reflects
the experiences and historical oppression of gay Filipino men.” (Manalansan, 49).
Gays have been using this mode to express themselves. From the time that freedom of expression has
regained its footing in the Philippines after the 1986 revolution, a lot has already been founded. From the 80s
to the early years of 2000s, two shows have been created by Philippine television network GMA-7 which
catered to gayspeak Giovanni Calvo’s Katok mga Misis and Out both of which had segments that
dedicated to explaining the meanings and etymologies of gay terms. These shows have made the swardspeak
experience transcend into national awareness by means of mass media. In the more recent years, Vice Ganda
of Showtime was able to concoct terms that have gained national scope and usage with anyare and ansaveh,
to name a few.
This mode of expression has become pervasive, able to migrate from spoken to written and now to hypertext.
Compendiums or lexicons of gay terms abound in many sites in the Web. In the popular social networking site
Facebook, BEKINARY The BEKIMON dictionary lists gay terms along with its meanings, some with
etymologies. Aside from this, the owner of the account has also uploaded videos in Youtube (bernjosep),
starting three years ago, with a couple of them breaching the 100,000 hits mark. Aside from these, the Filipino
gay individual has taken steps to celebrate his coming out by recreating himself or his works in the virtual
world. Bloggers abound, many of them becoming “avenues for a more entertaining discussion on gayspeak.
These bloggers are gatekeepers and progenitors of gayspeak; they maintain the sanctity of their own craft . . .
as well as contribute to the development of this language” (Casabal, 80). The Filipino gay rhetoric, from being
a common tongue among many parloristas and baklang halimaw or tarat, has been slowly introduced into
mainstream Filipino usage through different media. It has successfully, though not completely, hurdled waves
of discrimination. It has transformed from one medium of communication to another, able to adapt to
challenges technologies have ushered us in. With Bekimon and other sites, ‘professing’ and using it online for
various purposes, in different platforms, swardspeak is here to stay everything that ever was - available
forever.
WORKS CITED
University of the Philippines Open University
MMS121 Multimedia and Popular Culture
Second Term 2013-2014
What up, pitches (Finals Edition)
SWARDSPEAK: A QUEER PERSPECTIVE
Sonny Atencia Catacutan
Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies
5
Alba, Reinerio. “The Filipino Gayspeak (Filipino Gay Lingo).” National Commission for Culture and the Arts,
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and Language 7.1 (2013): 7-12. Web. November 18, 2003.
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Studies Newsletter, November 2004. Web. November 18, 2003
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Philippines Press, 1996. Print.
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Web. November 18, 2003
“The Holocaust.” Victims of the Nazi Era: Nazi Racial Ideology. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
ushmm.org. November 18, 2003
Manalansan, Martin. Global Divas: Filipino Gay Men in the Diaspora (Perverse Modernities). Durham: Duke
University Press, 2003. Print.
Opiña, Rimaliza. (). Experts trace origins and evolution of gay language. Baguio Midland Courier, February
26, 2012. Web. November 18, 2003
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Suguitan, Cynthia Grace. A Semantic Look at Feminine Sex and Gender Terms in Philippine Gay Lingo.
University of the Philippines, 2005. Web. November 18, 2003.
Tan, Michael. “Tagalog slang.” Inquirer mobile, March 27, 2009. Web. November 18, 2003
va.michaelangelo. “Tagalog Gay Lingo 101”. badingtionaryphoenix.blogspot.ca. October 15, 2010. Web.
November 25, 2013.
... What triggered the conception of swardspeak and the lexicon of new terms which comes directly from the masses "could be attributed to the power exerted by the government against free speech". (Catacutan, 2013) Considering swardspeak as an argot, users consciously mask the intended meaning of the words. ...
... Although lately, through the technology available these days, there have been attempts to list down commonalities and repetitive usages in various instances which may well constitute in the future the baklarila or baklang balarila (gay grammar)." (Catacutan, 2013) These recent technological advancements have accelerated the rate at which we transform our societies into becoming part of a global phenomenonthe information age. From an agricultural to industrial age, we are now living in an information age where "capital becomes UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES OPEN UNIVERSITY Authoring a Lexicon of Swardspeak through Community of Practice Sonny Catacutan Bachelor of Arts in Multimedia Studies less important than information" (Flor, 2009). ...
Thesis
Full-text available
Swardspeak, also known as gay lingo of Philippine culture, is more prevalent as a spoken language. Its written form has not been established yet primarily because of its nature-its dynamism, being relatively new, and being an argot, a secret medium to communicate. There exists a need to create and establish a lexicon of terms widely used by swardspeak users to penetrate this class of our social spectrum, in order to, not dismantle and expose its intended meaning but, provide for a better understanding of its users. There is no better way of authoring this lexicon but through an online community of practice (CoP) which transcends regions and borders, social strata and classes, and subjective differences and individualisms-the same features and commonalities associated to swardspeak. As CoP members interact with each other through swardspeak, the assemblage of the terms used and shared will form knowledge base to the lexicon product of the community. The utilization of the Delphi method ensures that the swardspeak terms are understood by its users and that the information wastage is low.
Article
Full-text available
Introduction. The fact that ‘gender is an omni-relevant category in most social practices’ (Lazar 2005:3) lies at the very core of both feminist linguistics and feminist translation studies. Admittedly, most of the scholarly works produced within these two dynamic fields in the last three decades emphasize the role that language and translation play in the construction of the social world. In particular, much attention has been paid to investigating how gender roles are discursively constructed through language and translation – both understood as social practices per se – and how gender definitions are constantly interacting with other similarly constructed parameters such as race, geography, class or sexuality, therefore having consequences at the level of material practice.
Article
Gay language has achieved a higher degree of acceptance in recent years in the Philippines. Both gays and non-gays can be heard uttering gay expressions. But the main role of gayspeak for gay people in the Philippines is to function as an "armor" to shield themselves from the chasm and the social stigma caused by gender differences. From a linguistic point of view, this paper not only describes the nature of this gay language and how expressions are coined; it also looks at how code mixing (gayspeak + English language) is made possible. This paper also examines how this code-mixing creatively violates the grammatical structure of the use of the English language in the Philippines.
National Commission for Culture and the Arts
  • Reinerio Alba
Alba, Reinerio. "The Filipino Gayspeak (Filipino Gay Lingo)." National Commission for Culture and the Arts, June 05, 2006. Web. November 18, 2003.
Gender and Language". MMS111 -Gender and Multimedia
  • Sonny Catacutan
Catacutan, Sonny. "Gender and Language". MMS111 -Gender and Multimedia. University of the Philippines Open University (2012): 2 nd semester. Web.
Male Homosexuality in the Philippines: A Short History". International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter
  • J Garcia
  • Neil
Garcia, J. Neil. "Male Homosexuality in the Philippines: A Short History". International Institute for Asian Studies Newsletter, November 2004. Web. November 18, 2003
Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM
  • J Garcia
  • Neil
Garcia, J. Neil. Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1996. Print.
The Evolution and Expansion of Gay Language in the Philippines
  • Emy Gianan
  • Ruth
Gianan, Emy Ruth. "The Evolution and Expansion of Gay Language in the Philippines". Scribd.com, 2008. Web. November 18, 2003
Experts trace origins and evolution of gay language
  • Rimaliza Opiña
Opiña, Rimaliza. (). "Experts trace origins and evolution of gay language." Baguio Midland Courier, February 26, 2012. Web. November 18, 2003
On Philippine Gay Lingo
  • Danton Remoto
Remoto, Danton. "On Philippine Gay Lingo." ABS-CBNnews.com, May 5, 2008. Web. November 18, 2003.