Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Unya, mamaya, karon

In Cebuano, the word for “later” is unya. Unya means things will have to wait. Projects can’t proceed, work will be in stasis, the next step might happen in an hour, or a day, or a month. Unya signifies that shift so frequent in Philippine culture when everything else becomes more important than progress: food, dance competitions, chikka-chikka. It means that person whose approval you need for a project won’t be around until tomorrow – and tomorrow may not be tomorrow, it may be the day after or next Thursday – and, depending on the context, you may or may not be able to even bring up the issue when you finally do meet. Unya means a lot of exasperation.

In Tagalog, the word for “later” is mamaya. Mamaya means relax, there’s no rush. There are more important things than work: savoring life, enjoying the earth and your family and friends. Mamaya exhibits a gentle, amused scorn for the workaholic attitude, the idea that the world is inherently served by every horsepower expended, every keystroke logged, every check cashed. Mamaya prefers nature’s breezes to the scrubbed wind of an air conditioner, and worships the sun over all of man’s artificial fluorescence. It is loud, brazen and understanding, and counts neither minutes nor pesos. Mamaya slows the world’s spin and enjoys every extra instant.

In Ilonggo, the word for “later” is karon. Karon understands the possibilities of time, for in the Cebuano dialect, karon means “now”: a single word encompassing the present and future, postulating the unity of what is and what will be. Karon means just because something is unfinished doesn’t mean it’s incomplete, and because something is completed doesn’t mean it’s finished. It skips ahead, doubles back, then claims to have never moved. Karon says the sun will rise tomorrow, but that’s no reason to hurry through the moon tonight.

Unya, mamaya, karon: later, later, later.


Inday said...

In training (RP-Group 39) I was in the Cebuano language group. Ron was another in our group. Then he was assigned to a town near SanCarlos in Negros. Now, San Carlos was on the edge of the Cebuano/Ilonggo divide. They are related languages so it usually didn't cause any problems but one day he was ordering lunch or something and when he was asked when he wanted his meal he said, "karon". So the waitress was Ilonggo and didn't bring it. So he then said, "karon dayon". (dayon just emphasized the "now" that Ron was saying.) She still didn't bring the meal. Eventually, the misunderstanding was cleared up and Ron did get his meal.
I wonder how these two related languages came up with such opposite meanings for the same word?

Ryan Murphy said...

On a similar note, for a long time I was confused by the sari-sari signs that read "Load Na Dito" because I assumed "dito" was just a different spelling of "didto," which in Ilonggo means "over there." I didn't know why the stores would be telling you to load your cell phone somewhere else. It was only after many months that I found out that "dito" in Tagalog means "here."