[This is the preface to my attempt to translate the first chapters of the Filipino novel Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao by Tony Perez]
[Image of Cubao from Dennis Villegas]
I took up the project of translating what at first seemed the whimsical choice of Tony Perez’s 1995 novel, Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao, out of a fear and a hope, a repressed deep-seated insecurity no longer wanted to be broached that, as though persistently, if subtly, confronted by it, in a moment of perhaps unthinking boldness I decided to rise up to its challenge. It is the fear that, living in the United States now but having been born and raised in the Philippines, my English is not good enough: I don’t write, much less speak, English the way that native speakers do; I don’t know that well the language that is not my first. The fear that, having nonetheless been educated in English while growing up in the Philippines and solely in it upon moving to the United States, I do not know how to use Filipino, my “native” language, in a formal, scholarly, or technical way, i.e. I don’t know how to express my work in the language that is supposed to be my own. This fear, naturally, was followed by a hope, perhaps delusional: the hope that there is nothing to fear, that I do not, after all, have a conflicted relationship with (my) language(s), and hence that I could translate, which would be both realization and basis of the hope.
Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao, a book that I had first read in college, turned out to use English almost as much as Filipino. The first chapter opens with a prayer recited in English, a phenomenon common in Philippine society and repeated intermittently in the book, as towards the end when dialogue from an American movie is heard from the TV. Many proper names—e.g. Legion of Mary, Farmers Market—as well as common nouns—such as meeting hall, sliding doors, brewed coffee, script writer, continuity—are rendered in English, just as they are heard in common, everyday speech in the Philippines, including in the neighborhood where the story is set, Cubao. Much stranger, however, is the phenomenon that in the translation’s footnotes I had referred to as transliteration. Certain English words and phrases are used but, rather than rendering them in their English spelling and putting them in italics, as the author does in other instances, Perez spells them out instead as though they were Filipino words. That is to say, Perez uses the English words but writes them down in the way they would have been spelled if they were Filipino words, using the conventions of Filipino orthography and making the reader hear how they are pronounced by someone whose first language is Filipino.
This is one of the most perplexing—nakapagtataka (bewildering), as Perez puts it—features of the novel. For the translator, this makes obvious the fact that the pervasiveness of English in what is a Filipino novel does not make translating that novel into English easier. The translator is thus faced with a choice: either to spell the words out in proper English, which would get rid of a striking feature of the novel, along with its aims and effects; or to spell them out as Perez has spelled them, which may, however, make them feel out of place in what is a translation into English. The feeling of being out of place, however, is precisely Perez’s goal, the main effect the Filipinized spellings deliver. After all, Perez could have spelled these words in the original English, as he does in other instances—but he does not. What Perez is trying to accomplish in this device is merely the other side of the phenomenon of English words pervading the Filipino language—orientation, scholarship, Busy Christian Community, parish office building, executive vice president—undoubtedly itself a phenomenon that is out of place, especially when it is realized that they are interspersed in sentences that are supposed to be Filipino, constructed following the conventions of Filipino grammar and syntax.
By Filipinizing the spelling of some English words, Perez lays bare the extent of the Englishization of Filipino language and society—and directs attention to what a strange phenomenon that is, so strange, in fact, to the Filipino speaker that it cannot be helped that English words—criminal, religious activities, customer, tray, pitcher, issue, sandwich, boss—would be pronounced following the guidelines of Filipino phonetics—kriminal, relidyus aktibitis, kostumer, trey, pitsel, isyu, sanwits, bos. Despite the fact that the two languages share more or less the same alphabetical system (itself, it must be noted, a product of colonization, first by the Spanish, who got rid of the native script; then by the Americans, who modified the alphabetical system left by Spain), I chose the term transliteration to refer to this device in order to highlight that what are involved here are two different (no matter how similar, which makes possible the transliteration) languages, two different systems, and the physicality (more in sound rather than in sight) of that difference. The transliteration is already strange in the original Filipino text, especially to someone who’s had the benefit of a good education who is thus more or less comfortable in his/her English. If the English translation, by virtue of disseminating the novel to non-Filipino speakers, who may or may not be aware of the phenomenon, heightens the estrangement effect already in the original, then so much the better for the translation.
The transliterations, it must be pointed out, are justified not to the same degree. Some cases are clear-cut. Relidyus aktibitis, kostumer, trey, orange, and kriminal have native counterparts that could have been used by the author: mga relihiyosong aktibidad (which comes from Spanish), or better yet, mga gawaing banal; mamimili (literally, someone who buys); bandeha (a word hardly ever used); kahel (oreyns is much more common); and salarin (an alternative as common as kriminal and which invokes the notion of sala or sin). The fact that Perez did not use these native alternatives demonstrates how they wouldn’t have been used by the characters he is portraying (in whose stream-of-consciousness, after all, the words come up) in the milieu he is painting (the poor urban neighborhood that is Cubao) at the setting’s contemporary, postcolonial time. The fact that Perez transliterated them rather than spelling them out in official English testifies that he is playing with some device, what here I’m calling transliteration. In certain instances, the use of these transliterated forms, in representing what happens on the ground in Philippine society (in contrast to fulfilling some express agenda of the author), voluntarily or involuntarily, induces subversive effects, which I certainly welcome (not only for its politics but for the multiplication of effects—the enrichment, if you will, of the text). The use of kriminal, for example, recalls the Filipino rejection of the Spanish c in favor of the native k (undoubtedly not something that has just come from the author but is something with a long, even institutionalized, history), as well as the choice of a secular word over something that has religious undertones (perhaps something the author intended).
This certainty provided to the translator, however, is disrupted by words such as isyu, pitsel, bos, and sanwits. As noted in the translation, isyu (8), rather than the native bilang, is the appropriate word to be used in its context in the novel. Similarly, there is no other, native word that can be used to denote pitcher. Bos and sanwits come directly from the English—with bos (boss) a way to refer to someone in some position of control (it is, however, not the only way), and sanwits (sandwich) an American thing, hence its English name. I retained these words in transliterated forms as well based on the fact that the author could have used them—and spelled them out in English. The fact that he has not attests, I suggest, to an estranging intention behind this use of these words as well. Moreover, even as these cases did not replace any native words in the language or are referring to things or phenomena previously not denoted in the language—perhaps for that reason making their assimilation into the language less conflicted, disharmonious, and/or uncanny than the others—it does not erase their origin. Retaining them in their Filipinized forms thus merely point to the fact that these words originally came from English and are in the process of being appropriated, a fact that has no reason to be denied and of which readers (and speakers) should be aware. Once again, if the attempt to communicate what is expressed in one language (Filipino) in another (English) is what uncovers that, then translation, crossing between languages as it does—not only to convert but to connect—fulfills its task.
The connection (which has a considerable history) between Filipino and English is further pointed out in the original text by what can be referred to as hybrid constructions, a phenomenon common in Philippine society that Perez follows and draws attention to. “Pagse-census” (4), for example, is the appropriation of what is a noun in English, the word (census), turned into a verb by being attached to the Filipino prefix pagse-, resulting into a full word (pagse-census) that is a noun that means something like, “the act of doing a survey.” In this case, not only is the English word used in a Filipino way with a Filipino prefix; the word itself is used in a way it wouldn’t have been used in English (Is it possible to say in English, “Do a census,” to refer to the act of counting a number of participants?). The translation renders this as “to do a census,” retaining some of the strangeness (the improper use of the word census), but, admittedly, not all of it. There are other instances when the hybridity cannot be salvaged altogether. “Mga locker” (3), for example, an English word attached to a Filipino article to make it plural, is rendered “lockers,” since there is no other way to make it plural in English. As if to compensate for this, however, there are instances (unforeseen by the translator) when the decision to retain the transliterations produces strange effects, drawing attention to hybrid instances in the language. “Mga kostumer” (6), for example, an English word transliterated into Filipino and then attached to the Filipino article, produces “kostumers,” a Filipinized word that is made plural in English.
There is also the case of words that are English, such as comfort room and jeep, that are put to use in ways not done in the original language. Jeep becomes dyip, referring not to the jeep as they are known in the West, but to the dyipni (jeepney in Filipino English), a tinkered form suited for local purposes (in this case, adjusted for mass transportation). Comfort room is abbreviated into C.R. and refers to what in the United States is called the restroom. These English words that denote senses that are Filipino are retained in their form in the original text. Local interjections and nicknames, however—oy, pare, manong, mama, aling—that have correspondences in English or which would otherwise be opaque have been translated into their rough equivalents—hey, man, brother, strange man, madam.
The guiding principle throughout is—while making the text accessible (even portable, i.e. something easy to handle)—to give a sense or feel of the original, i.e. to impart not only its content (what the words are saying), not only its form (the structure of the prose, including the bold letters, the capitalizations, the spacing, and the alignments, as well as stylistic elements such as pleonasms and parallelisms, are imitated without mediation), but also to allow the effects of the original to be able to be activated in the translation. Retaining the words rendered in English, presenting the transliterations as they are, and introducing seemingly strange signifying entities such as C.R. and dyip, convey, in the translator’s opinion, the estrangement and the uncanniness of the medium that the author uses—all the medium that he has and the medium that he, very capably, represents—which is none other than the postcolonial Filipino language. There is thus no necessary fidelity to the original language of the text (Filipino) or to the language it is being translated into (English) if these are to be taken as clearly bounded, authentic essences. The fidelity is rather to the original text (or, better yet, to the text being translated)—which itself calls attention to the transfer, the crossing, the title Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao referring to the dyip that goes from Cubao to Kalaw, then back again, emphasizing what is between Cubao and Kalaw rather than Cubao or Kalaw in themselves—and the medium in which it is expressed.
The medium of this text is, as it happens, while rooted in the Filipino, a heteroglossia. That is to say, it is a medium that crosses linguistic boundaries (primarily Filipino and English, but also, within them, the language of the respective characters, the language of their (stream of) consciousness, the language of newspapers, the language of the church, the language of the TV, other dialects . . .)—in order, in some instances, to mix them, to form linguistic entities that are hybrids. I have thus made no qualms about crossing languages as well in the translation (hence the “foreign” words, hence the transliterations, hence C.R. and dyip). The crossing, however, is not arbitrary (e.g. not everything is transliterated). The work being performed, after all, is a translation—not a remake, not an interpretation, not something “based on”—of the artifact that is, it cannot be stressed enough, first and foremost the author’s. Thus if there is a crossing of languages in the translation, it is because there is such crossing in the original. For the same reason, if the introduction into the English translation of auxiliary Filipino words—such as oy, pare, manong, mama, aling—has the effect not of estranging or making uncanny but of making the text merely opaque or obscure—thereby disallowing the text to disseminate its effects—then, as the translator, I strove not to preserve these words in their present form but to find for them English equivalents that, it is hoped, would effect what was intended in or gleaned from the original.
The insistence on fidelity to the text being translated gives rise to certain issues where choices must be made—translation being always a matter of choice in each instance (rather than an a priori determination from above), with, it must not be forgotten, some attempt at overall consistency. For the most part, I, as a translator, was guided by the principle that the translation should (strive to) be as literal as possible. Literal, however, to me as a particular translator, is but another word for faithful—which means that it works on different levels: the word, the structure of the sentence, the content or signified or idea being conveyed, the evoked effects . . .—the balancing of which (i.e. the consideration of the demands of each to be translated literally) defines what is a literal/faithful translation.
One of the first issues that arises, then, is how to structure the translated sentences. For the most part, except for an irreducible difference between English (which starts sentences with the subject, followed by the verb) and Filipino (which starts with the verb, the following subject feeling like the receiver rather than the doer of the verb) that seems to block the translation from the start (e.g. in the prologue, where the active Filipino sentences sound passive), I strove to retain the different elements of the sentences in their original position. That is to say, I preserved as much as possible the order of the sentence—except, that is, when the resulting construction is too awkward, artificial, or unwieldy in English (some of this, however, I found acceptable; the English translation, after all, is a translation). This, in my opinion, prevents the addition of elements (e.g. adjectives, explanatory conjunctions) not in the original, not to mention the misplacement of modifiers or the shifting of emphasis or voice (e.g. from subject to object). This almost right away presents challenges, however. For example, in the difficult first paragraph of the first chapter written in Filipino, I felt it necessary to transform the verb nagbuntunghininga (sighed deeply) into a noun (deep sighs), to which another adjective (long) and an auxiliary verb (exhaled) are added, in order to preserve the rhythm (1). As this does not change the meaning significantly and in fact conveys the length of the Filipino word, nagbuntunghininga, which, after all, is usually not just deep but also long, I found this balancing to be acceptable.
Another important issue is the search for the right word. The dictionary is of great help in this, but it is not perfect or sufficient, especially since it cannot automatically make the decision that is the translator’s. My decisions in this were once again guided by the aim of multiplying effects and of conveying as much of the original as possible, including the formal qualities of the language of the original. Puna (xiv), for example, can be translated as either to remark or to comment. I opted for to remark as this connotes both to comment and to observe. Tugon (xiv, 11), which occurs twice, can be either to/an answer or to/a reply. I opted for to reply in order to evoke some of its connotations that may become important in the reading of its second use (on 11). Adoptee (xiv) is awkward, but so is the Filipino it is translating, inampon. Panibago (xiv) can be simply translated as new, except that the Filipino word for new is bago whereas panibago implies with the new its creation or its renewal; in this case I thus opted for renewed, which, like panibago, contains the word new in it.
When there is more than one word into which the original can be translated, I made the choice between two or more equally valid options based on context. Kainan (7, 9), for example, is used at two different places, in each instance referring to two different things (the restaurant; the dining area). Miyerkoles (2) can be translated as either on Wednesdays or every Wednesday, only the latter part of the sentence (ending with that day) to which it belongs enabling me to opt for one rather than the other. Stylistic considerations also sometimes prove to be the decisive factor. Since the author uses pananghalian (7) instead of tanghalian, for example, I opted for midday meal rather than lunch. Paminsan-minsan (7) can be simply rendered sometime, but the basic word in Filipino for sometime, minsan, is used in a construction in which it is repeated and hyphenated; this, I thought, called for something like once-in-a-while.
When these goals related to the word turn out to conflict with some other element of the text, I opted for literal translations whenever possible so long as the result is not overly awkward or disruptive. I was thus willing to add elements or make modifications in sentence structure in order to preserve the literal meanings of certain words. Inatang (3), for example, literally means placed on the shoulders; I thus translated one word into four. When the potential translated result, however, is unclear or would be clear only at the price of being cumbersome, I made the decision to look for synonymous words rather than literal translations, but with footnotes alerting the reader to this. I felt it necessary, for example, to elide pagkakataon entirely in its first use (2), expressing its sense instead with a word not directly related to it. In order to make connections with the word’s later use (12), however, I pointed out in a footnote the word that was used in the original. Pasukan (2) literally means entrance, but the sense being conveyed in its use in the novel is not just the start of the semester but the whole school year; I thus translated it as school year. Similarly, pinaglaho (1) literally means to (be made to) vanish, but in the context in which it is used, i.e. with the word silence as the object of the verb, the sense, I thought, was expressed more resonantly by the idiomatic expression in English, i.e. with the word broken.
Precision is of course not limited at the level of the word. With terse phrases especially, such as “Kaylungkot ng kuwento” (xiv) or “Masyadong masalimuot ang buhay” (2), the translator considered, “What would an English speaker say in the same situation to express the same sense, the same emotions?” In making these decisions, I found if helpful to contrast the expressions used by the author with those not chosen, other possibilities such as “Ang lungkot naman!” for “Kaylungkot ng kuwento.” Doing that helped me narrow down my choices as, for example, I realized that the author did not write, “How sad!” which is the rough equivalent of “Ang lungkot naman!” thereby directing me to the other, more precise possibilities. As in most other cases, stylistic considerations, including tone and idiosyncrasies, also played a role here. The expression “Ano kaya kung . . .” (13) can simply be rendered, “What if . . .”; then again, the author did not simply write “Ano kung . . .”; the superfluous kaya requires a corresponding superfluity: hence “What about if . . .?” with about less a literal than a stylistic translation. By the same logic, kayat, which grammatically should be kaya’t, is translated with hence preceded by a comma rather than a semi-colon.
By laying down basic principles here I do not mean to convey that translation is easy, determinable, or even always possible. The principles, after all, do not always work (are not always fulfilled or reconciled), something always being lost (or added) in translation. I remain unsure, for example, of my translation of kadahilanan (xv) into reason rather than cause, with the accompanying play of for and of (distinct articles in English) that does not exist in the original language, which contains a subtle ambiguity instead (in the singular ng). Beyond uncertainty, there are also instances that involve—evoke—a very certain sense of the failure of translation. I found no way to translate, for example, magkatagpu-tagpo (xiv)—the construction of which seems to make one hear the arbitrary, ephemeral, and repetitive nature of what it means, the act or event of encountering or meeting someone (new or strange), not to mention that its root word turned into a noun is the same word in Filipino for scene or setting (e.g. of a play), tagpo—other than with meet. The translation of bahagyang napangiti (11) into smiled slightly likewise does not convey the involuntary, even unconscious, nature of the act expressed in the original. Similarly, the translation of panukala (xv) into one of its meanings does not evoke the others.
Sometimes these multiple meanings (and hence their effects) can be retained by splitting the word up and expressing it in two or more phrases, such as with hinagod (8), which is translated as “rubbed his eyes, taking a peek.” Then again, irreducibly, there are instances when translation can do nothing but reveal its own failure. There is simply no way, for example, to translate, “Ang sarap sanang manoon ng sine—ang gaganda pa naman ng palabas” (7), that would not replace the original adjectives with versions that are vague, since that is how they would be expressed in English (see footnotes 75-77). Similarly, “Ang kasarapan ng panahon ay kalakasan naman ng kostumer” (7), cannot possibly be translated in a way that avoids a change of words (see footnote 80), to say nothing of what happens to its tone and aphoristic character. Yet perhaps nothing is a greater manifestation of translation’s failure than the presence in twenty pages of 176 footnotes.
Nonetheless, despite this, the translation shows, I think, the possibility of crossing languages with fidelity and to some success (at least the success of some of its aims). The fear taken up as a challenge became, then, for me a way to explore my relationship with the two languages, reliving through one (Filipino) a mode (of understanding, thinking, expressing, living) I hardly ever inhabit anymore (especially in a scholarly fashion) and producing in the other (English) a hybrid way to use it—in the process making me, in certain ways, more comfortable in both. Both the engagement with Filipino and the hybridization of English are, of course, something that was encouraged by the original text. The choice of Tony Perez’s Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao, then, proved felicitous: it provided me with the springboard from which to turn repressed fear into realized hope.
 Its taunting, its wager
 Especially white. Why especially white?
 Which is different from saying that it is not mine
 The only exception being the courses dedicated to Filipino grammar and literature
 I hesitate to say mother language as, in all honesty, I do not know what it means: my mother spoke to me in Tagalog, the dialect that is the basis of, but is not equivalent to, Filipino—but her first language herself is another dialect, Kapampangan; hence my “mother language” is, as it were, not my mother’s language.
 In fact, many technical terms from mathematics and the sciences are not translated into Filipino, which is part of the reason why the majority of classes in the Philippines are taught in English.
 I spent my first two years of college in the Philippines, where I had first read Cubao-Kalaw Kalaw-Cubao, and the last two in the United States
 Page numbers refer to pages in the original text, which are marked in the translation
 This has not proved possible for pulis, a transliteration of police but which in Filipino can refer not just to the institution but to the agent—i.e. the policeman—as well. Translating it into policeman or the transliterated pulisman would have proved cumbersome and disrupt the tone of the prologue, which is very terse.
 This is especially important since the novel is very aware of its formal elements and its own construction and constructedness
 By no means