Philippine Honorifics and Culture 101

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Hello ! Renxkyoko Iglesias here. * waves *

Today is Good Friday. For Catholics, it’s Fasting and Abstinence aka meatless day. Catholics used to actually fast the whole day ( no eating the whole day ) but I guess no one follows this tradition anymore. But It’s still meatless day today , so, yeah, we’re having fish for dinner. ( which is nothing special, come to think of it. In our household, we eat fish all the time ) In fact, we don’t eat meat for 3 days during the Holy Week; Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Black Saturday.

I live in a liberal household that is, at the same time, very much steeped in religious and cultural traditions that are very Filipino. We’ve retained what is good, and does not harm others. Such as ?, you ask. Well, the whole family attend the Christmas Eve Midnight Mass, after which we have dinner , a midnight dinner we call Noche Buena. And like most Asians, we use honorifics even here in the US. In fact, the use of honorifics in Philippine culture is mandatory. Not using a honorific is rude and disrespectful

and reveals to others that said person has not been taught good manners and right conduct by the parents. For example, young people do not use the singular pronoun YOU in addressing a much older person or one with a higher “status” . It has nothing to do with subservience, bondage and inequality. It simply conveys respect. This is similar to addressing a judge ” Your honor “, instead of YOU.

The Philippine word that is equal in meaning and usage in the English lamguage of the word YOU is the singular pronoun IKAW. (pronounced ee-kaw ) IKAW is used only to address a person younger, same age, slightly older, or someone of similar or lower level in status. Otherwise, the plural pronoun of YOU or IKAW , which is KAYO, ( pronounced kah-yoh )is used. There’s no equivalent plural pronoun for YOU in the English language. In other words, English speakers use YOU to speak to a 5 year old kid and to a 90 year old aunt.

Philippine conversations are also interpersed with the word PO when speaking to an older person , and someone of much higher status.  They don’t say directly NO to an older person. ( HINDI is No in Philippine language ). They say HINDI PO.

I know it’s a bit disconcerting that I seem to give undue emphasis on social status. It may seem like that, but it’s not , really. There’s no institutionalized caste system in the Philippines, although I have to admit, albeit reluctantly, to the ever-present class system …..but, it exists all over the world, doesn’t it, even here in the US . As they say, the rich are different from you and me. That said, age still takes precedence over status. A 30 year old manager will never use Ikaw ( singular YOU ) when speaking to a 60 year old company janitor. He will also use “po” and use some honorific title like “Manong ” before the name, as a sign of respect for his age. It’s similar to Mister, but not quite. There’s a tad more respect in Philippine honorific. I myself use honorific titles on my elders. I call my older brother KUYA Bert and my older sister ATE Jenny, or just Kuya and Ate . ( pronounced Koo-ya and Ah-teh , meaning, older brother, older sister ). Funny thing is, last night, my sister’s boyfriend ( a white guy ) just hollered ” Ren, your Ate is calling you.” Ha ha . He used the term correctly. The use of the term gives it more authority, and that means, I have to do her bidding , pronto. Of course I ignored it, he he. I was watching something interesting on TV. You know, I will teach my future kids to call their older siblings Ate and Kuya, and teach them this sweet traditional  Philippine gesture, too ———–>

pasko_mano-po

And my kid will then say, ” Mano po, Lola.” ( Your) hand, Grandma …….and it will be so cute  even if my American kid will pronounce it as ” Manow pow, Lowla.”

In South Korea, older brother is Oppa and older sister is Onee-chan ( not sure… I think that’s Japanese ).., Speaking of which, what is that  idiot pres. of North Korea , Kim Jing Un thinking, with his bellicose threats and saber rattlings, by declaring a “state of war”  againts South Korea and threatening the US with nuclear missiles?  Does he know what our  B-2 Stealth bombers  can do, and that  60% of  US military forces are now  being  deployed  to the Pacific?  Does he know South Korea can obliterate them with their K-Pop boy bands, Gungnam style?  Pfffft !

I’m blabbering . Guess  I have to say bye now. .  My next post  is my tour of France.

PS…. I’m having second thoughts on this post. I find it such a total snooze.  But this is not random.  My  Ate Jenny ‘s BF  even wants me to call him Kuya.  Aaaarrgh. I cringe.

Bye . Stay cool.  France tour is next. * clicks Publish *

96 responses to this post.

  1. Hahah, I enjoy blabbering, I do it all the time. Can’t wait for the France tour, I loved the Spain one.

    Reply

  2. Which Spain ? There are 5 on Spain.

    I tend to blabber and ramble. I do that all the time. I was supposed to start on france, but got lazy to post photos. It does take time.

    Hey, Cheers !

    Reply

    • Yeah, blogging takes way more time than I really thought myself. Triple the amount of time if working with photos (at least for me). I meant the entire Spain series. 😀 I read them all, I am pretty sure. Sounds like there are some I missed, gonna have to come back and check those out.

      Reply

      • Right. I also have to choose which ones to use.It takes time. Oh, and one more thing, I also do some researching about the place. Like Carcassone. What do I do about the place. It really takes time. So, I decided to just chat away whatever, ha ha.

        Reply

  3. Sweet, Sweet, Ren, First, Happy Easter!
    – As you know, in Japanese and also in Farsi (Iranian language) we have different vocabularies to refer to our elder than our younger. It used to be thou, three, thine vs. you in old English. But also, for exact same comment to and older is totally said differently to the younger. I like cultures which respect the elders.
    – France? You’re not done with your European posts yet? How many countries did you cover? 😀 )))

    Reply

    • Awww ! Happy Easter to you too, Ms. Fae.

      OMG, right ! You’re fluent in Japanese ! ! ! Honorifics is even a bigger deal in Japan, isn’t it. I learn a lot from mangas.

      Actually, I couldn’t explain it properly. I think it’s in the soul. I know exactly when to use the words.

      Ha ha, No I’m not done yet. 2 more, I think.

      Reply

  4. Ha Ha! This was like going through never-ending grind of instructions and announcements before reaching Paris.

    Reply

  5. Thank you for the honorifics segment in the post. I learn something new. And Happy Easter, Renny! May the Light of Love be with you, as always 🙂

    Reply

  6. hello, Ren… this is a hilarious and an engaging read, my dear. i like this in particular —

    “The use of the term gives it more authority, and that means, I have to do her bidding , pronto. Of course I ignored it, he he.” 😉

    hahaha. maybe one day, you could write an essay about the Filipino ways like what Amy Tan did – about the culture of the Chinese in the US, what say, eh?

    btw, do you know Happy Slip? she’s a US-based Pinay nurse who does videos of Filipino culture, very ironic and funny. she came over to the Phils in 2008 and I, of course, went with the rest to meet her personally. she gave everybody a pic of herself and a warm hug, cool… you can see her vids on YouTube, she does hilarious personification of her mom, aunt and cousin. ayon… medyo may hawig kayong dalawa sa mga hirit, hihi. ^^

    happy Easter, Ren. hugs! 🙂

    Reply

    • he he he… just because she’s older…. hmmmph ! !

      Ah, I thought this post was boring though. It wasn’t ? yay ! !

      Okay, I’ll do that ! ! In fact, I saw several videos made by some Filipinos… by guys, though.

      happy easter to you too, Ate ! !

      Reply

      • haha, sige na nga. just because Happy Slip is older, yes… 😉

        this post isn’t boring. kakatuwa nga… 🙂 btw, i have a similar post – Maraming Salita ang title. ang taas ng nagi-generate na Stats, nagtataka ako – ba’t kaya hilig ng mga taong basahin, haha. boring yong write up, kinda… hahaha. 🙂

        basta, panoorin mo pa rin si Happy Slip. gusto ko ang portrayals nya ng kanyang Tita, aliw…. hello, Ren! 🙂

        Reply

        • Sigue, bisita ako sa blog mo. I’m still wondering why I’m not getting your updates. naghahanap ako sa site mo kung ano dapat i click ko, pro, there’s none. I don’t even get yours on My Reader.

          Reply

          • a, ganito. punta ka sa reader. tapos, look to the upper right portion of the page – you’ll see something about subscriptions, then the edit command. click the latter.

            what will come out is the list of sites you clicked follow. look for my site in the list, then, click edit. you’ll be asked the frequency of subscription (instantly, daily, weekly), choose one. then, you’ll see that the change/option you clicked is reflected on the command e.g. you will receive post instantly and no email from this site. there… i hope this’ll work… 🙂

            Reply

  7. re: the Korean issue. pinapatulan na ang north ngayon ng south at US. sinasabayan na nila ang walang kwentang threats ni north. stressed tuloy ngayon ang north na patunayan ang mga yabang nila. haha!

    Reply

    • Really? is that the news there? I read the South Koreans were pretty relaxed and unworried about the North ‘s threats . It’s like like the boy who cried wolf. The real problem though is they do have some nuclear capability. And their president is psycho.

      Oo naman. Parang gusto ko sabihin, bring it on, pero, medio deadly consequences. Pero, it’s true, 60% na ng US army fighting resources have been deployed there already, even before the threats. * whisper* kasi, dahil sa China.

      Reply

  8. Happy Easter!

    Reply

  9. Very well written – Happy Easter to You and Yours… 🙂

    Reply

  10. haha, sige na nga… sabi mo,e… 😉

    ahehe, pinanood nya na ang vids ni Mike Bustos, ang saya… nagustuhan mo ‘yong pagkahilig ng Pinoys sa kanin? i like that… 😉

    happy Easter Sunday, cheerio!

    Reply

    • Who’s Mike Bustos? Yung may video? There were two guys making these videos. And Dad ko super rice eater. Ulam nya spaghetti, aha ha ha… it’s amost disgusting, he he he.

      Reply

      • hello, Ren… oo, si Mikey Bustos, na-mention sa isang comment before – do’n sa post mo about Pinoy ways, lalo pa pag nasa airport? ahaha.nakakatuwa yong sa kanyang vids… 🙂

        nagi-gets ko dad mo. di rin kami mapaghihiwalay ng rice. nag-uulam naman me ng pancit sa rice – Pinoy na Pinoy, haha. what to do? 😉 masarap kaya, try mo 😉

        Reply

        • Rice and noodles… ahaha… double whammy yan huh. Starch on starch. When Mom cooks noodles, she doesn’t cook rice anymore. But dad eats the left-over rice, ha ha ha. OMG, my dad… rice with spaghetti… muahahaha. But I’ll try that. I will ! !

          Reply

  11. Posted by chilibilly18 on March 31, 2013 at 10:43 am

    Awesome!
    *hmmm*
    Awesome po! 😀

    Reply

    • Ha ha ha, Billy. That’s cute ! And you used it correctly ! !

      *whisper*, hey Billy, not all gals would like to hear “po” when speaking to them he he he….. aaaargh, you know women, in denial about age. I use that on people at least 20 years older….

      I had my cousin say to me, Awwww, Ren, have mercy… I’m only 35. Ha ha ha

      Reply

  12. I’m a full on American in this case. I don’t use any of these honorifics at all. Mainly because I was born and raised here. It’s always an interesting culture clash when I do go back to the Philippines. 😛

    Reply

    • Ah ! I was old enough before we left the Philippines ( 6 1/2 ) to learn a few stuff, like the ” mano po ” thing. …. just did that to the mom of our relative’s wife a few months ago.

      Did you get to observe the common greeting and goodbyes were kissing on the cheeks? Filipinos kiss a lot.

      Reply

  13. I think most – if not all – of Asia has similar honorifics, I certainly know that Bangladesh has with THREE different versions of You – apni, tumi and tui. It get’s very complex working out which you use with who! Nevertheless, I love it and I’m grateful for how learning the language and the culture has helped me re-evalutate respect and find it again in my own culture which has now all but lost respect altogether.

    Reply

    • You know that word “po” that I talked about? Not all would appreciate to have young folks use that when speaking to them, especially the ladies. I thought it was okay when I was talking a lady * following good manners thingy “, and she said, with a nice , kind smile, ( I hope) Awwww, Ren, you don’t have to use “po” , not yet, I’m only 35 years old. ” Ahahahaha ! Ouch ! !

      Reply

  14. France tour? when’s your canada tour?? lol! thank you for the leson in culture 🙂

    Reply

  15. I love your work!
    Don’t ever change. * clicks Post Comment *

    Reply

  16. Those honorifics can be so confusing, if you are from a country like Denmark (we have honorific, but nobody uses them) and try to learn an Asian language such as Japanese or Korean. Speaking of North Korea, it’s hard to take someone with such a haircut serious. Is that lunatic for real???

    Reply

    • In Spanish, they use “usted. ” yes, I understand it would be difficult. I came here to the US when i was 6 1/2 years old, practically just a babe… so I had to be taught what to do when i met my old relatives.

      LOL yeah ! About the haircut ! Oh, my gosh. What else can I say? he he he

      Reply

  17. Posted by ~REBECCA DAWN~ on March 31, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    there are lot of Filipinos that work at Mcds where I work, and they call the older ladies (Filipinos) Ate. Most of my english co workers call them Ate as well. They call my boss sir,but i think they are getting used to our english ways 🙂
    i always tease them, that they are very polite they make us look bad…because of the canadian stereotype. that canadians are too polite. which isnt true 😉

    Reply

  18. Posted by 최다해 gongjumonica on April 1, 2013 at 5:20 am

    This is something which I am proud of being a Filipino. We are polite! It is not everywhere that we can see adults paying respect to the elderly. Until now, I still do the “mano po”

    Reply

    • When I was there 3 years ago, I did a lot of mano po, as taught by my parents.
      Not that American folks are not polite…. it’s just not in the language… but one thing, Americans are very concerned and respectful too of their elders, especially the disabled, veterans, etc. Very.

      Reply

  19. Posted by WordsFallFromMyEyes on April 1, 2013 at 7:08 am

    This wasn’t a snooze post, Renxkyoko! I enjoyed it. I didn’t know a bit of that, and it in fact surprised me. I didn’t realise it.

    It’s funny to me that people eat fish meat, & not call it meat. Very odd! But I know it’s common.

    You’r going to France next? Oh my gosh, I just don’t know how you get to do this. You must have been a princess in a past life… or this life! It’s wonderful fortune, to be able to travel this world. Best wishes on your travels. I know you’ll keep us posted 🙂

    Reply

    • You know, about the fish ” meat” … I did think of that, but I hoped no one would notice, he he he.

      France was part of our tour. It’s the last one of my ” travelogue” though. After this, I don’t know what I’m going to talk about… be nerdy and geeky, I guess, and talk about that kind of stuff.

      Reply

  20. Very beautiful and enlightening post! I know that French also has some of those unique words used to address elders.
    I sincerely enjoyed the read!
    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply

  21. I had a breezy read myself 🙂 I am always up for anything that I do not know, and as it turns out, you have a lot to offer 🙂 Write up more in this series, whenever you get time.

    France 🙂 Well… I am jealous 😦 Some day, may be…

    Reply

  22. Geez, tatsat, I’m running out of topic . France will be the last… after that, I don’t know. I have no life… the same thing everyday.

    Reply

  23. I’m glad you decided to write and publish this… I find it very interesting to learn a bit about Filipino culture and what goes on in your own life! As someone raised in the South, I understand how it just feels right to address people with respect to their age and/or position relative to yourself, and how not doing so — as is typical in most of America — feels a bit rude.

    Reply

    • We can always say, yes, ma’am, no ma’am. It’s equivalent to that.

      Kayo, the plural form of YOU, means “you and people your age, and all the pain , struggles and happiness that you have experienced “

      Reply

  24. Happy Easter, Ren.

    Reply

  25. NOT a snooze at all Ren … very informative! 🙂 Loved it and Tweeting it now 🙂

    Reply

  26. When I talk or write to my British boss, I feel a little bit guilty of being disrespectful because I don’t address her “Ma’am” like what we usually call to our superiors in the Philippines. Language tells so much of our culture!

    Reply

    • Yep, yep, ” That way to the freezer section, ma’am, or sir.” I was always called Ma’am when I was in the Philippines, even though the salesclerk was obviously 20 yars older than me. ha ha

      Reply

  27. hello, Ren… i couldn’t explain the topic as well and as clever as you did, my dear… and funny way you tackled it, too… going over the write-up again, i still laugh…. i can imagine you and your family talk a lot. i mean, how else can you know so much about Filipino culture and the nuance of the language? ikaw na… hope things are well. 🙂

    Reply

    • Read my response to countingducks below you, 35and… I consider myself a student of Philippine culture, and thus, I’m more acutely aware of things that you guys consider automatic and natural behavior.

      yes, we do talk a lot. * You can just imagine what about, he he he… my family’s extremely opinionated.

      Reply

      • hello, Ren… oo nga, no? maybe for us, these things are almost automatic… but for you, they’re things and ideas that feed your curiosity. come to think of it… ^^

        one time, my MM-based niece was telling a story about her friend’s speech and behavior in a drinking spree.. she was mimicking the friend who hailed from the same province that we did. it was only then that i discovered that my niece, our niece, was acutely aware of our provincial language – the accent, the inflections and the nuances. she only gets to visit the province once or twice a year, imagine? twas amazing to learn – alam rin pala nya maski di nakasanayan… 🙂

        hahaha. those are intelligent discussions during family meals, i suppose… 🙂 btw, Ren, ang init-init na rito, hehe… regards sa yo dyan sa California. ~ Ate San

        Reply

        • Ang dami kong topics na puede ma discuss, Ate San, pero, it’s too parochial…. but there’s one that I hope will interest our worldwide readers. It’s about learning a language. My family have discuseed this over dinner so many times. It won’t be an expert analysis, obviously, but I hope I can make it an intellgent one from a layman’s point of view, ( from an airhead like me, ha ha ha)

          Reply

          • too parochial? well, let’s hear some of them. it’s how one tells the story, e. and, mahusay ka namang magkwento, hehe… sige, one of these days, post that one about learning languages, probably interesting. especially with your hirits, haha. 😉

            Reply

  28. First time Here! I love everything about this blog. Food, colors, culture, uniqueness! 🙂 so Cool! Maraming salamat po.

    Reply

    • Ky Benard…. that’s not a Filipino name….. How come you know “Maraming salamat po”? Do you know I don’t know how to respond in Philippine language?

      I think my posts are random…. I write down anything that comes out of my mind at the moment… One commenter wrote it’s like a box of chocolates…… lol

      Reply

  29. Have to say that was very interesting and very well explained. In Europe, or certainly northern Europe, automatic respect for your elders, and the appreciation for what they’ve done and experienced is a thing of the past sadly

    Reply

    • Countingducks, the language and tone are like automatic… Filipinos are not aware of it anymore. Non- native speakers, like me ( though I speak the language at home, but not much… I left the Philippines when I was 6 so my vocabulary is quite limited) who are trying to learn the language , are more conscious and more acutely aware of the nuances of the language.

      Reply

  30. Sana meron ding honorific words ang ibang nation when addressing to people ; younger ,older, etc 🙂 hhahha

    Reply

    • Ang Asian countries, meron… Japan has more honorific terms than the Philippines. Even among young people honotifics are used. ” -kun ” is used after names of young guys, and same age. sa Philippines, wala, di ba?

      Reply

      • wala nga… naalala ko , sa korea din pla meron.

        they put “seyo” pag older age ang kausap. 🙂

        Reply

        • Posted by Honeyvelle on June 13, 2015 at 10:10 am

          Meron namang honorific na tawag sa mga mas nakababata sa Pilipinas.
          Totoy/Toy= Called to boys way younger than you.
          Nene/Ne= Called to girls younger than you.
          And in Cebu…
          Inday/ Day (pronounced as Daii)= commonly used for younger sister, My ate always calls me this, and it can also be called to girls younger than you, even to a friend girl younger than you.
          Ondong/ Dong= called to boys younger than you, or to your younger brother. 😉

          Reply

  31. that’s why we are cool people and we know what we value. we may not totally respect elders through actions but at least we automatically do it in words.

    another term that’s hard to translate in English is “kita” it’s like “you are me.”

    i = ako
    you= ikaw
    we= tayo
    it= ito

    Reply

  32. I don’t know if the language’s hard to learn. One thing, it’s easy to pronounce. It’s pronounced as spelled, unlike other languages. For ex, Cannes. It’s pronounced Can…. the additional “nes” is so pointless. “though”… why not spell it as “tho”? What’s ugh there for? ~lol~

    Hey, cheers !

    Reply

  33. Very interesting post – thanks for sharing!

    With my children, I’ve taught them to refer to each other by honorifics also (we’re Korean…mostly – I’m half-white). Maybe someone else corrected you already in the comments, but just to let you know, here’s how the sibling name thing works in Korea:

    Boys
    to older brother: hyung
    to older sister: noona
    to younger sibling: dongsaeng (my son calls his younger sister this sometimes)

    Girls
    to older brother: oppa (this is what my daughter calls her brother)
    to older sister: unni
    to younger sibling: dongsaeng

    Reply

  34. Posted by JK Bevill - Lost Creek Publishing on April 10, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Reblogged this on lost creek publishing.

    Reply

  35. This is really interesting! I love learning about different cultures and language, etc. I wish we were a little more respectful in the English language, honestly… But great descriptions! I especially love learning about how the Catholic faith plays a role in many Filipinos lives… (Did you “get” my last poem, btw?)

    Reply

    • Huh, Jessica? Last poem? You’ve writing poems, lately, and they’re beautiful, but which are you referring to?

      I love learning about other cultures too. I don’t want to talk about American culture coz I think the whole world knows about us already. ha ha

      Reply

      • I thought you might have understood who the “he” was in “carry on,” my most recent post, and what “He’s God’s” might mean other than being dead. 😉

        Haha.

        And yes, American culture is boring and, really, too diverse to talk about for long. Other cultures are far more interesting.

        Reply

        • Okay, okay, I’ll reread the poem. Ha ha It didn’t ring a bell. I thought you were being spiritual, that’s all.

          Reply

          • 🙂 I actually tend to shy away from “spirituality” in my posts. Obviously I believe in God, but that’s just sort of the background for what I talk about. I have a lot of questions about religion. Definitely not a Bible beater!

            Reply

            • Ah, Jessica, in my family, our dinner conversations are dotted with this question…. What’s the scientific explanation for that?

  36. Posted by Nessy San on June 2, 2013 at 9:27 am

    An interesting blabbering so it’s uncommon 😉 True, the usage of honorifics for Filipinos are hard to get rid of. It’s part of our culture wherever we go. And I have to say I am proud that we have something like this. I laugh at that NK comment. Man, he deserves some spanking!
    Anyway, great post girl~ I have to catch up on lots of reading so pardon my late come back here. Have a good day!

    Reply

    • Hi ! You’re the Filipina living in Greece, right? So lucky ! We were supposed to go to Greece, but it would take so much of my vacation time if we chose the tour that included greece. My mother and I are now regretting it. I would have loved to see the Pantheon.

      Reply

  37. I enjoyed this post, Ren! It is always interesting to hear about different cultures. When I was in the Navy years ago, I had a lot of friends from the Philippines. And I’ve been to Olongapo a couple of times. Unfortunately, about the only thing my friends taught me was some bad words! 🙂 I think I’ve forgotten most of them by now. Anyway, I love learning about different cultures, and I love the Philippines, so this was a great post!

    Reply

  38. Thank you ! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I really thought that would be an interesting topic… that is , respect for elders, in words and in deed.

    Ha ha ha Bad words are really the first words foreigners learn, and they should. It ‘s always nice to be aware that a non- speaker should know when he or she is being dissed, lol.

    Cheers !

    Reply

  39. Very interesting cultural details. Historically English too had the so-called ‘T-V distinction’ common in many other languages, with the singular/plural-informal/formal second-person pronouns ‘thou’ and ‘ye,’ which both became to be replaced by ‘you’.

    Reply

  40. Beautiful work

    Reply

  41. Posted by Jihye on November 29, 2016 at 12:46 am

    Unni is the honorific for South Korean Term for Big sister… Onee-Chan is Japanese

    Reply

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