Davao Tagalog

I get the typical stereotype of someone who hails from Davao City.

“Taga Davao ka pala, Duterte ka ‘no?”, quipped one friend here in Down Under during the 2022 election period. It’s not the first time I get such a comment so it was easy to play indifferent.

But also, I occasionally get asked about the dialect where I come from.

As a melting pot of multiple cultures, Davao’s identity is somewhat a fusion of different backgrounds. I belong to a third-generation of Boholano immigrants who¬†migrated to Davao in search of a better life.

When it comes to the mother tongue, Cebuano is the dominant dialect. Yet, Davao’s melting pot identity reveals certain characteristics. We are also taught Filipino as a subject in school, so we are quite confident to strike a conversation with our brethren from the North.

Interestingly, it’s not what we speak is the question, it’s how we speak it.

We’ll argue that Dabawenyos speak the Filipino language, not Cebuano, as it’s often a combination of Cebu’s native tongue, with a sprinkling of Ilongo, Tagalog, and other local slangs that we cannot translate to other dialects. If there’s a dialect that encapsulates the Filipino language, Davao’s native tongue can put up a strong case.

And there’s that peculiar characteristic of the Dabawenyo dialect that I was fond of sharing with friends in Hong Kong and Sydney: Davao Tagalog.

Make no mistake, the first impression newcomers perceive is that our dialect is just the same as Cebuano. It’s the dominant local parlance that folks on the whole island of Mindanao can speak with ease. But there are certain subtleties that sound humorous at least to us who can distinguish its difference from others. This is noteworthy in how we speak Tagalog, as our version becomes aptly termed Davao Tagalog. The name itself is a misnomer as it’s often sprinkled with English terms too.

Davao Tagalog makes use of language structure revisions that bastardize the Tagalog grammar rules, plus extra hooks for emphasis. If there’s a local version of Manilenyos’ “conyo” speak, this might be it. And for good measure, my Ma’am Carongay and other Filipino subject teachers could sigh a collective cringe every time they hear the metamorphosis of how the lessons they taught us have evolved.

Tagalog: “Mabait talaga si Titay”
Davao Tagalog: “Mabait gyud talaga si Titay”
Davao Tagalog overdrive: “Ka-bait gyud talaga ni Titay uy?”

KA: enhancing the adjectives when we describe things.
“Ka-sungit gyud ni Sir Facundo sa klase kanina ba.”
“Ka-cute talaga sa bulldog ni Dalmacio noh?”
“Ka-kinis talaga ng kutis ng Korean drama actors.”

GI: verb prefix
“Gi-lakad ko ang buong Uyanguren sa paghanap ang Jollibee.”
“Gi-tupad niya talaga yung promise niya sa akin.”
“Gi-nanon ko sya sa mukha sa sobrang galit ko”

MAG: prefixing an action word like a do+verb format
“Mag-kain muna kami para hindi kami ma-pasmo.”
“Wag ka mag-talon diyan, ma-appendicitis gyud ka.”
“Ka-dumi na ng bahay, mag-walis ka dyan.”

GANI: Added emphasis when asking questions, loosely equivalent to Tagalog’s “nga”
“Sino gani si Filemon sa Embalming 101 class mo?”
“Ano gani name nung poisonous snake na nakita natin?”
“Saan gani yung lugar na maraming piranha?”

It can also be used to affirm a statement by simply responding, “gani” (I agree).

“Sana may bola-bola ang karinderya ni Nang Esmeralda.”
“Gani” (replying in agreement)

BITAW: Similar to “gani” as a statement of affirmation
“Bitaw no, supladahon talaga yan siya.”

NAKIN: Dabawenyo version of “ko”
“Alam naman nakin sagot diyan ba.”

MAKA: Similar to “nakaka-” prefix in Tagalog language
“Maka-suya talaga itong si Tiburcio, pala-kopya sa exam.”
“Maka-excite naman ang announcement ni Kiko at Lenlen.”
“Maka-asar gyud ito si Agapita ba, sige lang ka-late.”

UY: Used as a point of emphasis or Davao Tagalog’s equivalent of adverbs we often use to embellish something
“Hindi pa man sya nagdating, uy!”
“Ano man yan sya uy.”
“Galinga talaga nya uy!”

GYUD/GUD: Another example term used to embellish something.
“Ka-bright niya uy, nakakuha gyud sya scholarship sa UP.”

BA: ditto
“Dorotea ba, alis ka muna mag selfie lang ako.”
“Best friend, maka-inis ka na talaga ba.”

BEH: Not to be confused with the term of endearment Bebeh.
“Akin na lang yung pasalubong mo, beh”
“Sige daw beh, hulaan mo ano pasalubong ni Lola Basyang”
“Pakikuha nga yung arenola sa banyo, beh”

KUAN: A sure sign that often the mouth speaks faster than the brain thinks.
“Sabi ni Mama, kuan daw ang gawin mo sa kusina.”
“Si kuan kasi di marunong sumayaw, ayun sige kami katawa.”

HALA: Sort of our version of “Oh, my!”
“Hala ka, isumbong gyud kita kay Ate Maritess na chismosa ka!”

What’s more baffling is that many of these words are also found in Tagalog vocabulary. For example, if I affirm someone’s statement, I would say “bitaw”.

But this term does not mean letting go, which is its equivalent in Tagalog. Nor how it’s spoken similarly. The literal translation would make Manilenyos’ head spin in confusion.

Kurdapya: “Ka-gwapa gyud ni Jane uy”
Me: “Bitaw”

Writing this piece reminded me that Davao Tagalog isn’t the only “peculiar” language out there. The global lingua franca though we often give it a pass.

Although the Jejemon fad came and went, Davao Tagalog is here to stay or at least tries to reinvent itself with each passing time.

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