Sanskrit in Tagalog

potetjp potetjp at
Mon Nov 22 22:45:07 UTC 1999

Waruno Mahdi,
    I agree with you on most points, and enjoy your comments, so I won't
repeat here what you said in today's message. I just want to add some
specifications. [I use "Indonesia" in the classical sense, not to refer to
today's political entity.]
    I am still  convinced that, not all, but the majority of Sanskrit
loanwords did not reach Tagalog through an intermediary language, but
directly. My principle is that if the Tagalog form is very close to the
Sanskrit form while the Malay form is not, the odds are that the borrowing
was direct. Conversely, if the Tagalog form is closer to its Malay
equivalent than to the Sanskrit original, then there is every chance that
the borrowing took place through Malay, or another intermediary language. Of
course your reminder about Old Malay is paramount.
    Early Filipinos had more contacts with the outside world than many
imagine. They had big ships called _da[ong]_ ; they used them to carry goods
to and from other countries. There were people from Luzon in Indonesia when
Mendes Pinto was there (first half of the 16th Century). Besides commercial
relations with the Malay world, Filipinos must have voyaged to Buddhist and
Hinduist centers in Indonesia. After all, if the rulers of Butuan were able
to send embassies to Beijing in 1003 and 1011, why couldn't they, or other
Filipino rulers,  have a century later sent envoys to such places and
studied there? Several Chinese Buddhist monks went to Indonesia to learn
Sanskrit, why not some Filipinos?
    Although Sanskrit aspirated consonants are single items, they are
interpreted as clusters in Tagalog, and the aspiration is treated for its
own sake as the glottal fricative /h/. Since Tagalog has no clusters, the
two consonants thus obtained have to be split. The splitting varies
depending on whether the aspirated is initial or intervocalic. Initials are
split with an epenthetic vowel, generally similar to the one already
present, e.g. Sans. bha:gi > Tag. ba[ha]gi "part". Intervocalic ones are
just treated as belonging to two successive syllables, e.g. Sans. katha >
Tag. kat-[haq] "story, literary piece".
    The same system was applied to Spanish clusters and ñ, e.g. Span. cruz >
Tag. kur[rus] "cross",  Span. Santo Niño > Tag. [San]to [Nin]yo "Holy
    In brief , an intervening schwa is not necessary.
    If Tag. kala[bao] "water buffalo" is a loanword, its original form must
have been *krabau. There again, there is no need for a schwa.
    Incidentally, the more I read about reconstructions, the more I wonder
whether a schwa in a reconstruction is not a mistake. Surely it was merely
an unstressed vowel. That such vowels are now realized as schwa is Malay is
unquestionable, but why should this presume of the existence of a schwa in
PAN?  Wouldn't it be preferable to reconstruct the vowel itself?
    Basically no Tagalog word can end on a vowel; it is always followed by a
nihil consonant. This consonant is realized as a light [h] (see Bowen's
phonetic transcriptions), but the majority of native speakers insist that
there is no such sound there. Whatever, this [h] ceases to be silent when a
suffix is added, e.g. mag-[sa]-bi(h) (focused on the actor) > sa-[bi]-hin
(focused on the patient) "to say". Now, if we turn to Sanskrit borrowings
ending in a vowel, we see that some are provided with this [h], e.g. Sans.
rasa > Tag. [la]-sa(h) "savor, taste", while others are provided with the
glottal stop /q/, e.g. Sans. mutya > Tag. mut-[yaq] "pearl".
    The reason why this final, phonemic, glottal stop appears is all the
more mysterious as it is also found in many Spanish loanwords, e.g. Span.
campana > Tag. kam-[pa]-naq "(church) bell",  Span. cocina > Tag. ku-[si]naq
"kitchen", Span. Americano > Tag. slang Ka-[noq]  "American". This seems to
stultify the hypothesis of an intermediary Malay dialect with the final
glottal stop, unless the habit taken on by Tagalogs from the Malay traders
you are referring to was carried over to Spanish. Who knows?
      My best regards to Waruno Mahdi and all those who are patient enough
with the both of us.
Jean-Paul G. POTET. B. P. 46. 92114 CLICHY CEDEX. FRANCE.

More information about the An-lang mailing list