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Where oh where did ‘kung saan’ come from


(Editor’s Note: This series is in celebration of Buwan ng Wikang Pambansa in August.)

(Second of a series)

We pick up where we left off, as we said in our first installment of “Language Matters.”

“Kung saan tayo huminto, doon tayo magsisimula.” That was our second example of the usage of the phrase kung saan, the way our speakers and writers in the broadcast media do not use it.

And here’s how they use it. Overheard on the radio: “Ikinagalak ng mga mamamayan ang pagdating ng congressman kung saan naghayag siya ng suporta sa kanilang mga hiling sa pamahalaan.”

On TV, in the annotation of the parade of nations at the London Olympics: “Italy. Year 1900 pa ang kanilang first gold, kung saan sila ay nanalo sa sport na … .”

Frequently read: “Sinipi niya ang bahagi ng Saligang Bataas kung saan nakatadhana ang mga tuntunin … .”

Again on radio: “Dumating na ang helicopter kung saan nakasakay ang Presidente.”

Here’s a very simple suggestion. In each of the examples above, one can always substitute the word na.

“Ikinagalak ng mga mamamayan ang pagdating ng congressman na naghayag ng suporta sa kanilang mga hiling sa pamahalaan.” “Italy. Year 1900 pa ang kanilang first gold na napanalo nila sa sport na … .” “Sinipi niya ang bahagi ng Saligang Bataas na nagtatadhana ng mga tuntunin … .”  “Dumating na ang helicopter na sakay ang Presidente.”

The benefits are obvious in terms of verbal efficiencies. One word instead of two words is always 50-percent less fat, and obesity is costly where airtime is precious. The rest of the sentences were left more or less untouched just to demonstrate the minimal editing needed.

Or we might even look at where the apparent meaning of kung saan is confused. In at least one of the examples, the adverbial phrase required is that of time instead of place, so perhaps we might change it into kung kailan?

No, it is not as easy as that. Because that is precisely where the apparent meaning is confused. Like serious journalists, let us do some research, some grammatical detective work. Like professional journalists, let’s be sure about our facts; and like professional writers, let’s be sure about our words.

Let us therefore move our magnifying glass over kung. Indulge us as we give a few lessons in balarila.

Kung is a conjunction in Filipino, or pangatnig or pang-ugnay. It may be translated into the English “if,” “in case,” “when,” “granting,” etc.

Its Filipino synonyms are kahit, bagaman, etc. That should be clear and simple enough.

Kung may be used in combination with adverbs of place, time, or number or quantity, as in kung saan, kung kailan and kung ilan.

For recall, let’s call these the Kung Fu Combinations. But, and here’s the thorny but: All these combinations are what are called indefinite adverbial phrases. They describe something that is not clear about time, place or number in the mind of the speaker. The speaker does not know when, where or how many.

Now why is kung saan as used in the media as foul-smelling as the debris coming out of the esteros after a rain? Because it has been used without thinking.

It is a quick, mindless, convenient translation of where, wherein, whereat—which are in themselves, as any English grammarian worth his salt will tell you, the most abused and lazy connectives in English. We have adopted an anomaly. We have imported garbage.

In the media, kung saan has become a definite adverbial phrase, the opposite of what it is. The speaker knows precisely where, when and how many.

Question: If the speaker knows precisely where, when, and how many, why use the conditional kung?

This is where we recommend the definite, self-confident, fat-free, no-frills na. See how self-effacing it is? You almost missed it at the end of that sentence!

Once more with feeling, here are examples of how kung saan and the other Kung Fu Combinations should be used: “Alam mo ba kung saan makabibili ng photographic paper?” “Hindi sinabi sa text kung kailan ang petsa at oras ng pasinaya, ngunit sinabi sa imbitasyon.” “Alam ko kung saan idaraos ang piging ngunit hindi kung kailan.” “Kung kailan pa siya tumanda saka natutong gumamit ng kolorete.” “Maraming bahay daw ang napinsala sa lindol, ngunit hindi sinabi sa balita kung ilan.” “Sabay-sabay tayo sa tree-planting; sabihin lamang kung ilan ang sasama sa inyong pangkat.”

And here are examples where the scourge of kung saan has been completely eradicated. And you won’t even notice it. “Narito po tayo ngayon sa pinangyarihan ng aksidente.” “Nilagdaan na ng Pangulo ang kasunduan na naglalaman ng lahat na tadhana’t kondisyon.” “Sinaksihan ng mga kinatawan ng lahat ng partido ang mabilis na pagtakbo ng mga PCOS machine na pinagbibilangan ng mga boto.”

“Kung saan napunta ang nakatutulilig na ‘kung saan’ sa mga pangungusap na ito ay hindi natin alam.”

For us, conscientious users of the language, that is nothing short of a prayer. But if even prayers don’t work, let’s just mouth the self-fulfilling prophecy: Good riddance, “kung saan!” Madapa ka sana!


Marne Kilates is an award-winning poet and translator from Filipino into English.

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Tags: buwan ng wikang pambansa , Education , language , Learning

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