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Gay Speak Morphological Characteristics

Republic of the Philippines
Central Luzon State University
College of Arts and Sciences
Gay Speak: Morphological Characteristics of Queer Language in a State University
Jeunelle Mae O. Dela Rosa
May, 2016
LIST OF TABLES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2
1. INTRODUCTION . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3
1.1 A Brief History of Gay Language . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3
1.2 Gay Language in the Philippines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4
2. STATEMENT OF THE PROBLEM . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . 5
3. HYPOTHESIS AND ASSUMPTIONS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . 5
4. SIGNIFICANCE OR IMPORANCE OF THE STUDY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
5. DEFINITION OF TERMS . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8
6. SCOPE AND DELIMITATION OF THE STUDY . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9
7. RELATED LITERATURE AND STUDIES . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .10
The study of gay language (or Queer Linguistics, as it has more recently been termed) is
a relatively new and topical area within Sociolinguistics, which focuses on the language of
members of the LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Intersex) community, their various
forms of communication and communicative practices, including the use of Lavender Lexicons,
and how members of the community affirm their sexuality and gender through language. Queer
Linguistics is thus established as a field connected to, yet distinct from Language and Gender.
Due to heteronormative ideas of gender, sexuality and language, members of LGBTI
communities worldwide, particularly gay men and lesbians, have “developed a Lavender Culture
which includes the use of code switching in their spoken communication, and non-verbal
paralanguage which communicates to other gays and lesbians key information about the
individual” (Cage, 2003, p. 1). It is this kind of communication, gay language, which this thesis
aims to investigate on a local level.
1.1 A Brief History of Gay Language
The term ‘language’ here, is used not as a constructed language with its own grammar,
syntax, morphology and phonology, but in the same way as linguists would discuss women’s
language (Cage, 1999, p. 1), as a way of speaking, a kind of sociolect. Older studies in Queer
Linguistics, such as Legman’s The Language of Homosexuality: An American Glossary,
focussed purely on Lavender Lexicons in the form of a dictionary (Kulick, 2000, p. 247), rather
than including a more holistic view which necessitates a simultaneous study of the gay culture in
which the lexicon is being used.
Gay Language in the Philippines
Baklàs are homosexual Filipino men, but the concept of Baklà identity does not map cleanly
to Western male homosexuality. With Baklàs, as with other non-Western sexual minority groups,
sexual identity is very closely related to gender identity. Baklàs often assume female attributes
and dress like women. They also use female terms for themselves and occasionally for their body
parts, and are sometimes referred to and refer to themselves as not being “real men”.
Although they have contact with other gay cultures through technology, Baklà culture
remains fairly distinct. They have their own rapidly shifting linguistic code, called Swardspeak,
which is influenced by Spanish and English loan words. This code mostly consists of lexical
items, but also includes sound changes such as [p] to [f]. Some Baklàs who move to the United
States continue to use this code, but others abandon it, regarding it as a Filipino custom that is out
of place abroad and replacing it with aspects of American gay culture. (Manalasan, Martin F. IV .
1997, p. 249 – 266).
Gay men in the Philippines, especially those who are out, speak to each other using a colorful
language that they invented, mixing English, Tagalog, Visayan, and sometimes even Japanese.
Those who would hear (or read) Filipino gay slang for the first time feel like they are deciphering
a Da Vinci Code.
The use of gay lingo was firstly because to avoid having other people hear what you are
talking about, especially when it comes to sex. This is also a means of defying the cultural norms
and creating an identity of their own.
Gay speak evolves really fast, with obsolete words and phrases being rewritten and replaced
especially when non-gays learn what it means. Saying "Ano'ng happening" (What are your plans
for tonight) would make you associated with the 1980s.
This language define the Philippine gay culture, and it would probably stay that way for quite
a while. (E.Maruja, 2007)
The research aims to know how the queer language varies in a state university in terms of its
geographical and social aspects. The study will aim to determine the queer language being
employed to discover among male homosexuals. Specifically it will answer the questions:
1. What are the sociolinguistic characteristics of the participants of the study?
1.1 Course curriculum enrolled
1.2 Linguistic community
2. What are the morphological characteristics of discourses among male homosexuals in
terms of:
2.1 Age
2.2 Speech influences/correlates
Social media
Anna Livia and Kira Hall have noted that while research in the 1960s and 1970s on the
difference between men's and women's speech made the implicit assumption that gender was the
relevant way to divide the social space, there is still considerable room for linguistic research
based on sexual orientation, rather than gender.
Many linguists believe that a specific language exist within homosexual culture. This is
not an accurate assumption. According to Don Kulick in Gay and Lesbian Language, “the
assumption confuses symbolic and empirical categories, it reduces sexuality to a sexual identity,
and it steers research away from examining the way in which the characteristics seen as queer are
linguistic resources available to everybody to use regardless of their sexual orientation” (Kulick,
2000, p.246). What Kulick means is, gay language does not rely on only people who identify as
homosexual. If this is an exclusive language, people who identify as gay should automatically
understand the word and language patterns of this language. There is no secret gay code
language—this is what Kulick is trying to explain in this quote.
One of the most prominent factors of this study is the lisping of the gay speakers. When
explanations for lisping in gay men and the lisping gay stereotype are sought, a chicken and egg
discussion often ensues. One hypothesis is that given the stereotype many gay men may actually
take on a dentalized or interdental /s/ pattern as an indirect statement about wanting to identify
with, and be a part of, the gay community. (Bowen, C. 2002)
Spending more time with women company is an influence to acquire gay speech. While the study
may have proven the existence between speech mannerisms and sexual orientation, it failed to
show where this link came from. Instead, the researchers hypothesized that some gay men may
simply subconsciously adopt certain female speech patterns.
“Perhaps you picked this up when you were young by listening to more women than
men?,” we hear a speech therapist explain in the trailer for “Do I Sound Gay?,” backing this
theory. (Rogers, H., Smyth, R. 2002)
Queer Theory and Queer Linguistics may be confronted with the criticism that they are of
rather restricted relevance because they supposedly only study matters of interest to members of
sexual minorities. This is a false claim. It deals with the discursive materialization of all sexual
identities, paying attention to the fact that heteronormativity, as the dominant discourse of
sexuality, does not just hurt members of sexual minorities, but also heterosexual people (Yep
2003). Heteronormativity must be repeatedly displayed throughout a person’s life, especially by
people who selfidentify as heterosexuals. The mere avoidance of such constructions may lead to
marginalization. This makes heteronormativity a discursively produced pressure that requires
everybody to position oneself in relation to it on a daily basis. For non-heterosexual people, this
pressure hasfar-reaching consequences that have repercussions throughout their lives: from hiding
their identity to repeated coming outs in diverse contexts, from their own personal struggle to the
fight with heteronormative. (H. Motschenbacher, 2011)
Koch is interested in the power of queer linguistics to study negotiations of power in
local settings. Performativity becomes central to this endeavour for Koch, as it allows us to see
social norms ‘as effects of power … [which] “developed” or “grew” over time based on social
agreements that became conventions that became rituals and now are seen as “natural” … through
the power of citation and repetition’ (Koch, M. 2008: 31).
For the society as a whole, this study may serve in a way to understand and accept the
speech of queer community in hope for a wider knowledge and appreciation established the male
For the scholars, this study is a contribution that would inspire them to broaden the topics
or issues stated. As the study was conducted in a setting of a Philippine state university, the
diversity of the queer language of the Filipinos was studied on its development and characteristic
For the individuals who seek sympathy and insights related to the queer language and its
miscellany, this study is an open book for them to learn more of their identity and accept gay
speak as a colorful language.
Swardspeak uses elements from Tagalog, English, Spanish, and some from Japanese, as
well as celebrities' names and trademark brands, giving them new meanings in different contexts.
It is largely localized within gay communities, making use of words derived from the local
languages or dialects, including Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray, andBicolano. (Salao J., 2010).
A defining trait of swardspeak slang is that it more often than not immediately identifies
the speaker as homosexual, making it easy for people of that orientation to recognize each other.
This creates an exclusive group among its speakers and helps them resist cultural assimilation.
More recently, though, even non-members of the gay community use this way of speaking,
particularly heterosexual members of industries dominated by gays, such as the fashion and film
By using swardspeak, Filipino gays are able to resist the dominant culture of their area
and create a space of their own. The language is constantly changing, with old phrases becoming
obsolete and new phrases frequently entering everyday usage, reflecting changes in their culture
and also maintaining exclusivity. The dynamic nature of the language refuses to cement itself in a
single culture and allows for more freedom of expression among its speakers. Words and phrases
can be created to react to popular trends and create alternatives to a strictly defined lifestyle. By
these characteristics, swardspeak creates a dissident group without any ties to geographical,
linguistic, or cultural restrictions, thus allowing its speakers to shape the language as appropriate
to the times. In this way, the language is not only "mobile" and part of a larger community, but
also open to more specific or local meanings. (Sunguitan, CG. 2010).
Lavender linguistics is a term used by linguists, and advanced by William Leap, to describe the
study of language as it is used by gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ)
speakers. It "encompass[es] a wide range of everyday language practices" in LGBTQ
communities.[1] The term derives from the longtime association of the color lavender with gay
and lesbian communities. The related terms lavender language and simply gay and lesbian
language also refer to the language used by LGBTQ speakers. "Language," in this context, may
refer to any aspect of spoken or written linguistic practices, including speech patterns and
pronunciation, use of certain vocabulary, and, in a few cases, an elaborate alternative lexicon such
as Polari. (Swann, J. Deumert, A. Lillis, T. Mesthrie, R. 2004)
Synonymous to “strange” or “peculiar”, it is not heteronormative. It challenges the
“heteronormative status quo” (Motschenbacher, 2011). It is “conceptually open” (Leap, 1996).
The study focused mainly on the morphological varieties of queer language in a
community of a state university alone. The respondents of the research were selected
male homosexuals who habitually use swardspeak enrolled in a state university in the
year 2016-2017. Questions asked to the selected respondents were not too personal and
were enclosed only in the context of developing this study.
The conclusion of the study is based only from the answers given by the
respondents of the research only for the accuracy and objectivity of the study as a whole.
The central target of Queer Language is the linguistic manifestation of heteronormativity
and, connected with it, binary gender and sexual identity discourses (Bing and Bergvall 1996).
“Linguistic” manifestation may in principle pertain to both language use and language system as
places of discursive materialization. From a Queer Linguistic point of view, the binary distinction
between language use and system must be questioned because discourses (including
heteronormativity) affect both, although they exhibit different degrees of discursive
materialization (Motschenbacher 2008). When analyzing language use, a Queer Linguistic
approach assumes that (sexual/gendered) identities do not exist pre-discursively but are
constructed socially in the very moment of speaking or writing. Thus identities become
orientation points in processes of inter- and intra-contextual identity negotiation. The relevant
question then is no longer “How do gay and heterosexual men speak?” but rather “How are
sexual identities linguistically constructed in particular contexts?”. Instead of asking how the
binary macro-categories differ in their speech behavior, one would rather ask which differences
are to be found within these categories and whether not a large amount of similarity between the
two can also be identified. This is significant for gender studies at large, which used to
concentrate on the documentation of female-male differences, while research findings pointing to
gender similarity were frequently not seen as worthy of attention or publication. Research
practices that only highlight inter-gender or hetero-/ homosexual differences may have a certain
commercial value, but they strengthen heteronormative discourses (Motschenbacher 2008).
At the core of sociolinguistics is the fact that human societies are internally differentiated,
whether by gender, age or class.
A sociolinguistic approach to problems of language and interaction target the aspects of
social problems that give people a common basis to understanding and communicating with each
other (Chambers, 1995; Fasold, 1984). The origins and uses of initial language implementation
have as great of an effect on social problems and inequality as do the perceptions around, and
stereotyping resulting from the linguistic (i.e. tonal, phonetic, semantic, etc.) variations of
genders, races or sexualities (Fasold, 1984; Myhill, 2004; Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000).
Language remains the most important aspect of intercultural and transcultural
communication. It also guides the intergenerational and transgenerational production and
reproduction of knowledge, norms and values (Downes, 1998; Skutnabb-Kangas, 2000). The
legacies of histories can be found in the sociolinguistic structures and language patterns of
individuals, communities and nations. The social strata, class structures, gender roles and
stereotypes of domesticity are reflected in the language and patterns of social interaction that are
derived from the experience of yesterday (McConnell-Ginet, 2011). We are faced daily with the
strength of the inequality and oppression of days gone by, each memory a result of a word, a
concept, a piece of legislation that permitted, forced or guides the actions of a social being. We
cannot take language away from interaction if we desire to fully grasp the realm of political,
social, economic and cultural dynamism. The ways in which language and people change open
areas for improvement, bring about hope for an equal tomorrow and challenge the present to look
towards a brighter future. It may be that a day will come when we no longer talk about sex or
gender, race or ethnicity, sexuality or normative behavior, because the indifference in which we
should treat socially constructed hierarchies will be no more; Identities will come from within and
we will have the chance to define and redefine, time and time again, the relevant meanings of all
things in an every changing world.
The most widely-used term for gay or homosexual male in the Philippines is the Tagalog
bakla or Sugbuhanon bayot. Both however are regarded as pejorative and demeaning, abusive
even to the point of being a stigma (Garcia, “Male Homosexuality in the Philippines”; 13). The
more acceptable ones are bading or badette, marse, or atey, which are, when qualified, mere
euphemisms to the supposed to be neutral term bakla but otherwise having achieved negative
connotation. Words in any language depend on the context for meaning. Although the term bakla
is also attributed to cowardice, in the literary Pasyon, where it is quoted as “Si Jesus ay nabacla.”
on the part when he was tempted by the devil, the term signifies having doubts, confusion, or
second thoughts. Its connection possibly relies on being confused or having second thoughts
about ones gender or sexual orientation.
While the language Filipino has been stuck on its seedling stage rather than its fruition
and struck with controversies and trivialities, swardspeak has been an active language, by being
an amalgam of many different languages used across the country – balaychina, from Visayan
balay, jombagin from Hiligaynon sumbagon1, and matud and daot from Sugbuhanon – and even
from Asian language such as Nippongo otoko, nomu, sukoshi and European languages with
achtunggak from German achtung, Janno Gibbs from English give, and Ombre Miles from the
Spanish hombre. The diversity and richness of the assemblage of terms that are collected and
used to create the pool of swardspeak is as diverse as the langue naturelle of Filipinos. True to its
form, swardspeak may verily be a national language – one that binds a people, is a combination
of different vernaculars and languages, is understood by its users in a magnanimous scope.
Swardspeak, coined by Nestor Torre (Alba, “The Filipino Gayspeak”), is the language of
Filipino gay men. However, with its current user base, it is not exclusive to the mentioned
population. Even women these days are known to have been using swardspeak. The use of
swardspeak has become prevalent even among women; those who are referred to as babaeng
bakla (Garcia, Philippine Gay Culture; 105), also known as fag hag, as early as four decades ago.
Aside from this, gayspeak is also adaptive. A set of gay vocabulary is determined by the social
class the user belongs to, since many if not all of the words created or modified in gayspeak is
from another language. Thus, diction is affected by either the profession, orientation, principles,
or even environment of the Filipino gay individual. Those from with extensive education
background and considered part of the upper working class stratum, would have a different set of
words used compared to those of the lower strata (e.g. Penicillin and nochikels both pertain to
phallus). The spectrum of users of this language based on age also enjoys a wide range just by
inference on how the 1970s Philippine societal scenario was teeming and was, flamboyantly
active. But, Garcia may have posited that swardspeak, a sublanguage, “provided gays symbolic
purchase into sexuality” (121). Furthermore, the said author added
Aside from sex, the other concerns which swardspeak apparently addresses are identity,
community-formation, and the outing of someone whom the swardspeaker thinks is ‘one of the
tribe. (109)
With this, Garcia may have unconsciously positioned swardspeak under a major,
acceptable and accepted language when he added that it is “less an actual language” (109);
thereby solidifying the very structure of oppression that the language is trying to dismantle.
On the contrary, quite on the rise recently is the usage of words in many different media –
in film, radio, television, and even in print. Mass media, more particularly television, has been
pivotal in the proliferation and dissemination of the words currently being used. The range of
terminologies churned out by swardspeakers has become massive and extensive that almost all
words can have equivalents or derivatives. Remoto qualifies this as swardspeak is “continuously
updated” (“On Philippine gay lingo”). This, directly negates Garcia’s mention of the limited
scope of vocabulary swardspeak had, which was, unfortunately more focused on the physical and
sexual overtones (SA, Catacutan, 1998).
There has been no widely accepted document that details the rules in creating terms to be
used in swardspeak. Although lately, through the technology available these days, there have
been attempts by many to list down commonalities and repetitive usages in various instances
which may well constitute in the future the Baklarila or Baklang balarila (gay grammar). This
absence of accepted rules to form conversational messages in spoken language could possibly be
the message content itself. Swardspeak was born into the world to defy the rules that have been
set in place to suppress the rights a particular sector of the society. It would then be ironic for the
progenitors to use that very same reason – which could be detrimental, counter-ethical, and
anachronous. In creating the common tongue among Filipino gay men, the biggest consideration
is for the message to be concealed. Tagalog Gay Lingo 101 (va.michaelangelo) presents the most
common alterations to popular terms, giving birth to a new set of communication pattern (SA,
Catacutan, 1998).
Quoting Castro in Introduction: Gender, language and translation at the crossroads of
disciplines, “language is a political act of mediation and communication which either perpetuates
or challenges existing power structures within wider social and cultural contexts” (5). The birth of
a common language among gays clearly and explicitly defies the culture that the Philippines has
had. It had tried to break away from the dualistic perspective of life – heaven and hell, black and
white, man and woman. Swardspeak was the weapon that Filipino gay men used to connect with
other gays – those who are discriminated, oppressed, and ridiculed and belittled.
Swardspeak as a language regards hierarchies as a means to exploit gender. Although
arguably, users of gayspeak do not have terms for ditse, sanse, diko, sangko, and bunso. The
general term for a male is kuyey and for the female, atey (and its variants, e.g. teh, ateng,
acheng). Bakla, baklush, badette can be used interchangeably between the two sexes, particularly
for female acquaintances. “Language is an example of a control and conditioning factor in the
over-all thought of what gender is. Precedence of masculine over feminine words denotes
dominance and superiority.” (Catacutan, 2012) The aforementioned Tagalog words for siblings
“employ a hierarchy and distinction to refer to older brothers and sisters. Although some would
contend that these show a culture of respect, nevertheless, these unconsciously inculcate in an
individual, submission to the “ruling” strata.” (Catacutan, 2012) In contrast, swardspeak does not
look at age and sex as a means to exploit or impose power over another individual.
Language is an oppressive mechanism. Taboo words or terms such as regla, which refers
to menstruation, is treated as denigrating therefore euphemisms such as dalaw and meron are used
instead of the base term which is but natural for any healthy woman of age. Swardspeak is able to
send the same message across by using the suffix “–belle” and create reglabelle (or sometimes
Regla Bella Torres, a popular Brazilian volleyball player) (Suguitan, 8). Although some may
argue that this may still be a euphemism of the original term, the nature of swardspeak verily
proves that the new term for menstruation is common, natural, and acceptable as opposed to the
base term being regarded as improper and even, unclean. Language as part of culture can be used
by society as a means to maintain gender inequality, through power relations, which is both
repressive and oppressive. In this case, men, because of the patriarchal society, have always had
the upper hand.
Swardspeak is a mode of the many forms of social resistance. How some gays are drag
queens, flamboyantly displaying faux fur and donning makeup of extreme proportions and hues,
dressing up like the latest Barbie doll or beauty pageant title holder, swardspeak rebels against the
norm of syntactic rules but gives heavy emphasis on semantics through shared consciousness and
knowledge but more importantly, unconventional pragmatics. The outright intention in the use
and origin of swardspeak is to conceal the meaning of the conveyed messages in
communications. However, it is also a battle against the norm or the status quo. It does not adhere
to strict form, nor does it squarely follow structures which other forms of languages have.
Even in its earlier stages, swardspeak was the essential communication medium Filipino
gays used. According to Professor Beth Calinawagan of the UP Department of Linguistics in
Diliman, “Tago ang pagiging bakla noon. Gay lingo was their secret code.” (Opiña, “Experts
trace origins and evolution of gay language”) Rightfully, swardspeak can be classified as an argot
(Gianan, 3), a secret language. Even with its rising popularity these days, swardspeakers, through
wit, find new derivations of terminologies in order to conceal the true meaning of messages
The term swardspeak was born during the country’s darkest days – the Martial law era.
Talking bad against the government can put you to jail, or smite you and banish you from the face
of the Earth. It was about the same time that the Philippines, in the 1970s, coined the term jeproks
and repa (or repapips) by syllable invertion (Tan, “Tagalog slang”). What effected the sprouting
of these terms and communication modes could be attributed to the power exerted against free
speech. Swardspeak, on that regard is also an underground movement. It destroys the clout of
power being brandished to minorities, oppressing those who would speak truth, and gagging the
Filipinos preventing them to communicate efficiently and freely. Furthermore, it “reflects the
experiences and historical oppression of gay Filipino men.” (Manalansan, 49).
Gays have been using this mode to express themselves. From the time that freedom of
expression has regained its footing in the Philippines after the 1986 revolution, a lot has already
been founded. From the 80s to the early years of 2000s, two shows have been created by
Philippine television network GMA-7 which catered to gayspeak – Giovanni Calvo’s Katok mga
Misis and Out – both of which had segments that dedicated to explaining the meanings and
etymologies of gay terms. These shows have made the swardspeak experience transcend into
national awareness by means of mass media. In the more recent years, Vice Ganda of Showtime
was able to concoct terms that have gained national scope and usage with anyare and ansaveh, to
name a few.
This mode of expression has become pervasive, able to migrate from spoken to written
and now to hypertext. Compendiums or lexicons of gay terms abound in many sites in the Web.
In the popular social networking site Facebook, BEKINARY – The BEKIMON dictionary lists
gay terms along with its meanings, some with etymologies. Aside from this, the owner of the
account has also uploaded videos in Youtube (bernjosep), starting three years ago, with a couple
of them breaching the 100,000 hits mark. Aside from these, the Filipino gay individual has taken
steps to celebrate his coming out by recreating himself or his works in the virtual world. Bloggers
abound, many of them becoming “avenues for a more entertaining discussion on gayspeak. These
bloggers are gatekeepers and progenitors of gayspeak; they maintain the sanctity of their own
craft … as well as contribute to the development of this language” (Casabal, 80). The Filipino gay
rhetoric, from being a common tongue among many parloristas and baklang halimaw or tarat, has
been slowly introduced into mainstream Filipino usage through different media. It has
successfully, though not completely, hurdled waves of discrimination. It has transformed from
one medium of communication to another, able to adapt to challenges technologies have ushered
us in. With Bekimon and other sites, ‘professing’ and using it online for various purposes, in
different platforms, swardspeak is here to stay – everything that ever was - available forever
Catacutan, 2012).