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HONORING MY MOTHER | The conyo-tation of the Davao dialect

During one interaction with some university students, I heard a young uni teacher talking excitedly about the distinct quality of Tagalog spoken in the city, as though he had dug up gold along the Central Bank facility. The millennials among our group were likewise animated in the discourse, offering examples left and right, like children showcasing new-found toys. “Huwag tamakan ang grass” (Don’t step on the grass), “Hindi ko gani sinasadya” (I did not mean it), “Bitaw uy, attend ka lang gud” (Just make sure you are going), and so on.

While it’s true outsiders look at our city-speak as that of a Visayan-Tagalog composite, like I and my friends, its quaintness and being amusing has never bordered beyond laughable to the point of ridicule. I remember Manila visitors pointing out that I speak a funny Tagalog whenever I forget to transpose to the Luzon version, but that’s as far as it goes.

If we have to be technical about it, what we have in Davao can be likened to Pidgin, that mixture of English with local dialects in parts of Africa and Asia. Even as an American acquaintance once described Pidgin as the bastardized version of English, I thought his view of it as a debasement of the original can only be inferior to the fact that those who spoke pidgin, with their own limited grasp of English, were just naturally reaching out to communicate and be understood. Therefore, to view it as both amusing and funny isn’t just poor taste but derogatory and racist as well.

However, this was not what took the cake. I heard the same teacher say that this Davao-speak had a name. He called it Davao Conyo.

What is Conyo? For one, its colloquial meaning (or Miriam-metaphorical if you like) is poles-apart different from its direct Spanish translation (the vulva). Conyo now is used to describe a person, with emphasis on how they speak, and even extends to how they behave or how they dress. The Urban dictionary writes Conyo as a description for people that are wannabes who are conscious of social image and present status.

I first heard the term conyo during the college years. A basketball team from Ateneo de Zamboanga had come to visit and most of them only spoke Chabacano, the pidgin – Spanish. Interestingly enough, when I had the opportunity to visit Zamboanga during my NGO years, I heard from the Visayans there that Chabacano was actually a social status indicator for most residents there, as those who spoke it felt more “classy” than their Visayan counterparts. Are they Conyo then?

Look man, I have spoken this Tagalog-Visayan mix, this beautiful mestiza or lovable mongrel of a dialect since I was a child. My parents never spoke Visayan as they were immigrants but my Ponciano playground was a merry mix of Tagalogs and Cebuanos, and other equally-lovely islanders. How was a child expected to communicate, much less survive then, if he only spoke one language?

Because of this, I react strongly to my Davao-speak as being labeled Conyo by these newcomers. First, like Pidgin, my Davao-speak is never inferior to any language or dialect, and I am proud I speak it. Second, it is not pretentious, as I believe that through the years, it has evolved since the very first time Tagalogs met Visayans here and decided to stay permanently. I dread the thought that those who poke at it with malicious intent and ridicule are not only from here at all, but real Conyos in their own environment as well.
So please invent or conjure up another cute tag when you speak of our dialect, people.

It’s not difficult to empathize with how Dabawenyos feel when you refer to us as speaking conyo. If, for lack of a better analogy, I called you Idiot, would you like it?




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