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He or She

2011 October 9
by Randy C

heshe596 He or SheCommunication deficiencies can, more often than not, be the cause of many misunderstandings. It is difficult enough when two people (supposedly) speak the same language, it is even a greater challenge when native languages are different.

If the words spoken were all that mattered, it would be a much simpler affair, but the meaning behind those words is not always necessarily comprehended in the manner intended. Believing that because your words were understood, but not knowing that the message wasn’t, can compound the problem even further.

In my various discussions with pilipinos, their accents, and I’m sure what they view as mine, has only added to the confusion. I know have have been caught repeating back a word, over and over, trying to determine what was being said. A simple matter of putting the accent on a different syllable can make it hard to process the words sometimes. Try saying “comfortable” accenting the “fort” and with a little foreign accent added. For me it caused some puzzled looks, and many repeat attempts, before the “ah ha”.

Hoping to be able to communicate better, not only with family but also with the populous, is one of the main reasons behind my attempt to learn Bisaya. This has helped me to not only understand (sometimes) their spoken word, but also why there is the comprehension problem with regards to some aspects of what is being communicated.

One of the things I’ve always had a hard time getting my head around was why all pilipinos that I’ve had discussions with mix their he and she, his and her. It can be incredibly difficult to follow a conversation when the “he and she” are changing like a moving target. “He said that she was leaving, but he wasn’t ready yet”. Seems pretty straight forward, right? Well that could mean any of a number of things, because he and she are not necessarily used correctly.

What I’ve learned, at least in regards to Bisaya/Cebuano, is that they only have one word for he or she – “siya” or variants thereof. The point being is they don’t differentiate male or female, as we do. Once I figured that out, it really helped me understand why they keep mixing them, or using them incorrectly. Unfortunately it didn’t help me that much with figuring out what was being said any better than previously.

Even the most well spoken pilipinos that I’ve met seem to mix he and she. Not always, but they’ll throw it in there now and again.

I’m sure there are many other examples that I will eventually get a better grasp of. That is all the process of living and learning. Being there should accelerate the, at least I certainly hope so. Given my communication skills at times, I’m not sure anything is going to help though.


Photo credit : Carmen the Chicken Killer

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. October 13, 2011

    This happens all the time when I talk to my asawa. I asked Bebe about this when I was taking lessons and she said after the siya, you further explain about the person you are talking about.

  2. October 13, 2011

    Yes, I asked Bebe the same thing. So it is clear in Bisaya, but of you are talking about a lot of people that could get clumsy, too.

    I was talking to someone recently about their taxi ride, and three times in a row “she” was used to describe the male driver. I pointed that out each time and it was acknowledged that it was a man but it continued. Just as quickly they can turn and start using “he” again.

    It gets confusing unless you can physically see the people they are referring to. Obviously it usually gets figured out, but on rare occasion I have simply given up knowing.

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