Monthly Archives: December 2011

My Confidants Will Know What I Am Talking About

In the course of discovering, quite unexpectedly, that I am just one degree of separation away from Barack Obama (this may partially ameriolate my 3-degrees-of-separation connection with Al Capone), I encountered a little fire-fight on the interwebs that I sum up as follows:

Person A:  “I was a confidant of Barack Obama when he was an undergraduate.”

Person B:  (Addressing Person A):  “You can’t claim you were a close friend of Barack Obama’s, since you met him only twice.”

Person A:  “I never said I was a close friend of Barack Obama’s; I said I was a confident of his.  The two are not the same.  Someone I meet in an elevator can be my confidant.”

Now I have absolutely no intention of going back to the exact wording of the dispute, so please assume, until you have any firm evidence to the contrary,  that any criticism of the arguments of the real people A or B that may seem to be implied here is in fact a straw man.  I am just interested in the narrow question:  Does ‘A was a close friend of Barack Obama’s’ follow from ‘A was a confident of Barack Obama’s’? 
I suggest that how much one is a confidant of a person is a measure of how close a friend one is to him.  One might hear, for example:  “I know that you two are close friends, but I don’t know how close, so I am not going to elaborate on this remark I’ve just made because then you might come to know too much.”  One measure of how much one is a confident of a person is how much he is willing to tell you information that he is at pains to withhold from the general public.  Another measure is how long-lasting the relation is and how regularly he confides information to you.  Let’s assume, then, just for the sake of argument, that I am reluctant to divulge to the general public the following items, listed in descending order of the urgency with which i need to keep these things private:

1.  My boyfriend is this really cool vampire, but now my love-life has become complicated by this really hot (and I mean really hot) werewolf who has a desperate crush on me … and I am becoming more and more attracted to the werewolf by the minute.

2.  I adore Country Music.

3.  As an undergraduate, I was a fervent adherent to the philosophy of George Berkeley, and I used to argue vehemently, not only that this chair would not exist if no one perceived the chair, but also that sometimes this chair actually does sometimes fall out of existence because, there being no God, God is not around to perceive the chair when no lesser sentient being happens to be around to perceive it.

Any one of these three revelations, I believe, would forever dash any presidential aspirations I may have.  Nonetheless, I am much more sanguine about 3) become widely known than I am 2), or, God forbid, 1).  I am not sure how I could live down widespread knowledge of 1). 
Now if I meet Philippa Foot once and only once in my lifetime at a philosophy conference, and tell her 3) while we are in the elevator, is Philippa Foot now my confidant?  My own intuition tells ‘well, in a way.  Sort of kind of.’  But I seriously doubt that Philippa Foot’s membership in the set comprising ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt’ is 100%.  Would not the degree of membership be closer to something like 1%?  (Permit me for the moment to use the terminology of fuzzy set theory.)  The urgency with which I want to withhold the information is low.  The relation to my sort-of-kind-of confidant is not a long-lasting one. Nor do I regularly or habitually confide private information to her.
Alternatively, should I collar some stranger in the elevator and tell him — outside of any context whatsoever . . . we are not at a conference of Robert Pattinson fans, for example — “My boyfriend is this really cool vampire….”, my intuition is that this is another case in which the membership of this unfortunate person in the set of ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt’ is considerably less than 100%.  The urgency with which I normally withhold this information from the general public is quite high (I don’t know what came over me in the elevator), nonetheless, my sort-of-kind-of confidant is not someone with whom I have a relationship lasting through a significant stretch of time to whom I regularly confide things.
But if I confide 1) to someone to whom I regularly confide things and with whom I have associated for a significant amount of time, my intuition is that, yes, this person does have 100% membership in the set comprising ‘confidants of Cliff Wirt.’  But this person also has 100% membership in the set of close friends of Cliff Wirt. 
So yes, ‘A was a close friend of Barack Obama’s’ does follow from ‘A was a confident of Barack Obama’s’ when membership in the set of ‘confidants of Barack Obama’ is 100%.  The vagueness of the terms ‘confidant’ and ‘close friend’ might lend support to an evasion of this implication, but at the core (by that I mean ‘at the level of 100% membership in the sets), the implication does hold. 
Anyone is welcome to advance differing intuitions here.


Nagmahal Ako Ng Bakla

Nagmahal Ako Ng Bakla. In a nutshell, the rapper protagonist tells his ex-girlfriend:  ‘You dumped me…sniff sniff sob…besides you never did treat me right … sob…sniff sob sniff… so I am dating a gay guy instead. Gay guys are everywhere, after all.’ The writer of the song, Daniel Darz of the group Dagtang Lason, based the story on the experience of a friend of his.

Openly gay people are everywhere in the Philippines. The amateur anthropologist in me wants to attribute this to the survival of American-Indian-like attitudes towards gay people in the indigenous population that the Spanish were never quite able to stamp out, but of course I have no idea if that is true. Whatever the cause, one apparently can be openly gay in the Philippines without fearing violence; town mayors will sponsor gay beauty contests; at least some families in the slums are wonderfully supportive of their effeminate children (see Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros — The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros); there is a beauty parlor operated by openly gay people in every town; whatever misogynistic-inspired disapproval arising from men insecure in their macho-hood gets met with delightfully flamboyant fearless mocking defiance (see Markova); relentless swarms hit on one when he is at all gwapo.  ( Although I do have to admit that when I visited to the Philippines, I did not experience the constant, open, relentless not-seeming-to-know-what-‘no’-means propositioning that some visitors report; but that may have something to do with the fact that the taste for fat, balding middle-aged men is relatively rare.)  In spite of the tolerance, however, openly gay people in the Philippines often encounter a glass ceiling and tend to get shunted into a restricted range of professions.

Doubtlessly I am exposing my ignorance of Rap Music, but I was pleasantly surprised to hear a rapper being (relatively) supportive of gay people. From a Rap Song, I expect something more along the lines of “First I machine-gunned down 20 <<derogatory term for women>>, then I killed 5 <<derogatory term for gay people>>.”

Yes, Nagmahal Ako Ng Bakla is badly misogynistic . . . and whether the misogyny is intended ironically I have no idea. At least the ‘sniff…you never  treated me right then you dumped me…sniff sniff’ seems to invite an ironical attitude.  The line “Seriously….why do they always leave me?” seems rather vulnerable to any list of unattractive traits (“For one, have you considered picking up your socks?  For another, maybe you can stop picking your nose in public….”).  Nor is homophobia completely absent from the song. But the difference in attitude from what I expected from this genre is wonderful.

Plus the boys are cute!  (Though tastes vary.)   Plus it is nice to see straight guys (or at least guys presenting themselves as straight) not being afraid to touch one another.  The homophobic paranoia that started to suffocate relations between males in the United States after the 19th century does not seem to exist yet in Southeast Asia, and hopefully never will.  When I visited the Philippines and Vietnam, I frequently saw men walking around with their arms around one another.  Let that open warmth thrive for a long, long time.

Here are the lyrics, along with a translation.  The translation is partly mine, partly taken from a source I have lost track of.  (I will include the source here should I ever come across it again or if anyone sends it to me.)  My Tagalog is shaky, so let the reader by forewarned.

Mga tambay lang kami sawa sa babae
May mga babaeng manloloko
Pineperahan lang kami
Kaya ngayon bakla na lang ang aming iibigin
Masarap magmahal ang bakla
Ohh kay sarap… damhin.

We are just lay-abouts who are sick of women
There are women who betray us
For them, we are just ATM machines
So now it’s just a gay man who gets our love
Sweet is a gay man’s love
Oh how good …. feel it!

Simula’t sapul ang puso ko ay lagi nang sugatan
Sineseryoso ko bakit ako ang iniwanan
Kaya ngayon nagising na ko sa
Katotohanan na lolokohin lang kami
Ng mga kababaihan.

Starting from way back when, my heart has always been wounded
Seriously….why do they always leave me?
So now I have already woken up to
The reality that for women we are just jokes.

Kaya ngayon napagpasyahan
Na bakla ang aking iibigin
At ipapadama ko na himig na aking
Damdamin sa kanya
Oo nga! At hindi sa isang babae
Dahil ang puso ko ay kanilang sinabutahe
Para bang ako’y isang laruan.

So now I have firmly decided
That a gay man be my love
And to express to him the melody of my feelings
Yes! And not to a woman
Because my heart is where they work their sabotage
For sure I was just a toy for them.

Na kanilang tinapaktapakan pagkatapos
Pagsawaan kanilang tatalikuran
It’s so unfair kaya bakla na lang
Ang iibigin kaya ngayon pakinggan niyo
Para sa inyo itong awitin.

After getting stepped on for a long time
I will be loathed, thrown out, and abandoned
It’s so unfair….so only a gay man
Will be my love …. so now you listen
This song is for you.

Mga tambay lang kami sawa sa babae
May mga babaeng manloloko
Pineperahan lang kami
Kaya ngayon bakla na lang ang aming iibigin
Masarap magmahal ang bakla
Ohh kay sarap… damhin.

We are just lay-abouts who are sick of women
There are women who betray us
For them, we are just ATM machines
So now it’s just a gay man who gets our love
Sweet is a gay man’s love
Oh how good …. feel it!

Hinanakit sa babae ang dahilan
Kung bakit nagmahal ako ng tulad niya
Kahit siya ay pangit
At di niya pinagkait at sakin di lumapit
Kaya hanggang ngayon virgin pa ang aking pwit
At alam ko naming wala akong kahati.

Hurt from women is the reason
Why I loved such as him
Even though he is ugly
At least he did not hold back [sex] and did not hit on me [did not try to be the penetrator]
So my ass is still a virgin
And I know we won’t have issues.

Di ko siya mabubuntis
Pagkat pareho kami ng ari. Grabe!
Buong buhay niya ay sa akin binigay
Lahat-lahat kanyang inalay
Basta wag akong mawalay sa kanya
Di na kita iiwan kahit na ika’y bakla
Basta’t tiwala mo sa akin sing kinang
Ng tala at totoo.
Relasyon natin ay parang ginto
Mahal kita wag lang sana kong magkatulo.

I won’t get him pregnant
Because we both have penises. Seriously!
He has given his whole life to me
He offered everything
As long as I don’t wean myself from him
I will never leave you even though you’re gay
As long as you trust me to me you will be as bright and shing
As the stars and true
Our relationship will be like gold
I love you — just don’t give me an STD.

Mga tambay lang kami sawa sa babae
May mga babaeng manloloko
Pineperahan lang kami
Kaya ngayon bakla na lang ang aming iibigin
Masarap magmahal ang bakla
Ohh kay sarap… damhin.

We are just lay-abouts who are sick of women
There are women who betray us
For them, we are just ATM machines
So now it’s just a gay man who gets our love
Sweet is a gay man’s love
Oh how good …. feel it!

Na sulat ko ang kantang to dahil sa galit
Pagkat sa tuwing nagmamahal
Puso ko’y napupunit
Ginawa ko naman ang lahat
Sa kanya inilaan
Binigay ang nais na luho
Pati ang aking katawan.

I wrote this song all because of madness
Everytime I love
My heart is torn into a million pieces
I gave everything she wanted
And I gave her some more
I gave all that she ever desired
And my body I even offered

Pero kapalit nito ay isa palang kataksilan
At nagawa pa niya na ako’y pagtawanan
Kaya ngayon si Len Jack
Ay labis ang pag-iyak
Puso ko’y parang nasagasaan
Ng limang milyong truck.

Yet in exchange all I got is betrayed
And after all of that she even laughed at my face
So now Len Jack is crying
Way too much of an attack
It’s like my heart has been run over by 5 million trucks

Siya ay simpleng tumatak
Ang sakit ng natamo
Kaya nagdesisyon tuloy ang puso na laging bigo
Na bakla na lang ang iibigin ko
Di na ko masasaktan nagkapera pa ako.

Everything is so simple
But the pain still remains
So the heart made a decision in spite of all of its pains
That maybe I’ll just love someone who’s gay
I’ll never be hurt, and I’ll make money anyway

Mga tambay lang kami sawa sa babae
May mga babaeng manloloko
Pineperahan lang kami
Kaya ngayon bakla na lang ang aming iibigin
Masarap magmahal ang bakla
Ohh kay sarap… damhin.

We are just lay-abouts who are sick of women
There are women who betray us
For them, we are just ATM machines
So now it’s just a gay man who gets our love
Sweet is a gay man’s love
Oh how good …. feel it!

Isang bakla ang iibigin habang buhay
Sa kanya ko lang inalay ang puso kong makulay
Siya ang nagbigay ng tawa at saya
Pag-ibig kong ito sa kanya lang
Lumigaya kesa sa GF ko
Na wala namang pake.

Only a gay man is worth lovin’ all through my life
To him I will give my heart with all its colors so rife
He’s the one who gives laughs and joy
This love of mine became happy with a boy
Heck, my GF never really cared.

Nagmahal ako sa kanya ng wala ng silbi
Kaya sa isang bakla ako ay nagmahal
Kahit sa ibang girl pag-ibig ko ay matumal
Kahit karumaldumal pa ang kanyang pagmumukha
Basta wag niya lang akong gawing kaawaawa
Kaya sa bigo, sa mga babae diyan
Umibig ng bakla nakakalat lang yan diyan.

I loved her, yeah, but it never mattered anyway
So I started to love a very gay man
Even if to girls my love was always a problem
Even if his face is a reminds me of a crime spree
As long as he doesn’t make me appeal to anyone’s pity
So if you’re like me, and you keep on losing your woman
They’re everywhere, really, start loving a gay man.

Mga tambay lang kami sawa sa babae
May mga babaeng manloloko
Pineperahan lang kami
Kaya ngayon bakla na lang ang aming iibigin
Masarap magmahal ang bakla
Ohh kay sarap… damhin.

We are just lay-abouts who are sick of women
There are women who betray us
For them, we are just ATM machines
So now it’s just a gay man who gets our love
Sweet is a gay man’s love
Oh how good …. feel it!

Ayoko ng umibig ng kahit na sino pa
Kasi ako sa’yo ay okey na
At ako’y sa’yo na
Basta yung responsibility ay wag limutin
Wala kang ibang gagawin
Kundi ako’y pasayahin, ako sa’yo ay happy
Kasi lagi akong busog
Hindi mo ako ginugutom
Cause takot kang mabugbog.

I don’t want to love anyone else
Because I am okay with you
And you with me
As long as your responsibility is not forgotten
You can’t do anything except make my glad….with you I am happy
Because I am always full
You will never let me starve
Because you fear I’ll beat you.

Sa buhay ko ikaw ang pumapapel na yaya
Pero kahit ganun hndi pagpapalit sa iba
Pero wag kang umasa na sa’kin ka maka-isa
Bago tayo magtabi sa kama magpa-opera
Oh di ba hi-tech?
Tayo ay modern na lover
Pag dumukit ka sa’kin sisigaw ako holdaper!

In my life you fill the role of my own all-around and nurse
If it’s true, replacing you’s the last thing I’m thinkin’ of
But don’t pin your hopes that you’ll pull a fast one
Coz before we lay side by side for a sex change operation
Oh yeah, high tech, we are really modern lovers
If you lay a hand on me, I’ll scream out “Holdaper!” [Hold Up!!! Robbery!!!!]

Mga tambay lang kami sawa sa babae
May mga babaeng manloloko
Pineperahan lang kami
Kaya ngayon bakla na lang ang aming iibigin
Masarap magmahal ang bakla
Ohh kay sarap… damhin.

We are just lay-abouts who are sick of women
There are women who betray us
For them, we are just ATM machines
So now it’s just a gay man who gets our love
Sweet is a gay man’s love
Oh how good …. feel it!

Mga tambay lang kami sawa sa babae
May mga babaeng manloloko
Pineperahan lang kami
Kaya ngayon bakla na lang ang aming iibigin
Masarap magmahal ang bakla
Ohh kay sarap… damhin.

We are just lay-abouts who are sick of women
There are women who betray us
For them, we are just ATM machines
So now it’s just a gay man who gets our love
Sweet is a gay man’s love
Oh how good …. feel it!

UPDATE (12/18/2011): Several revisions made in an attempt to improve the flow of the writing.

UPDATE (10/14/2012):  Corrected the name of the writer of the song.

The English Laughs Names A Relation; The Tagalog Tumatawa Names A Set

Saying  ‘Kha laughs’ I do not pretend to have full control over how to refer to an utterance. I have this feeling that a whole can of spaghetti awaits me here, and disentangling each strand of spaghetti will take some doing is akin to typing the letters “K” “h” “a” onto the screen of a semantic machine and into an underlined area of the screen that precedes the string “laughs”, The hell with it — I am going to use the British orthographic rules for combining quotation marks with other punctuation; the American orthography for this is horribly misleading   then hitting ENTER.  “Laughs” names a predicate that possesses an agent parameter.  Entering a string argument for that parameter creates a proposition — something that can be true or false.  Hitting ENTER completes the utterance:  the function delineated in the previous post gets called; the entity bearing the name “Kha” gets selected; the truth value, represented by the string “T”, associated with that entity gets returned.  Kha is indeed laughing now; the proposition is true.

The semantic machine works a little bit differently in the case of the corresponding Tagalog sentence ‘Tumatawa si Kha’, at least if the machine has been constructed guided by the notion that the canonical Tagalog sentence has a predicate = topic structure in the way outlined in the first post below.  The Tagalog semantic machine has on the screen “∃x ∈ tumatawa: x = si _____”.    But should the user type in “K” “h” “a”, the machine will work the exact same way as in the case of _____ laughs and return the result.  The function { Kan → F, Chris → T, Kha → T, Guile → T, Juan → T, Corliss → T, Ralph → T, John → T, Robert → F, Ken → F } gets applied to Kha.  The truth value T, represented by the string “T”, gets returned.

Notice now the difference between laughs in _____ laughs and tumatawa in ∃x ∈ tumatawa: x = si _____.  [L]aughs is a relation because it is a function.  (All functions are relations; not all relations are functions.)  It is a 1-place function, taking as its sole parameter an agent.  (A more intuitive example of a relation would be _____ throws _____,  a 2-place parameter which takes an agent argument in the first parameter and a direct-object parameter in the second parameter.)  [T]umatawa, on the other hand, is a set, not a relation.  A verb is a relation.  So, naming a set, the string “tumatawa” is really a noun, not a verb.  That the Tagalog “verb” is really a noun is a position Naylor argues for; I hope to get into that argument later.

Trying To Understand The Subjectless Tagalog Sentence Umuulan (Rains)

Looking at the semantics for a 1-place predicate such as the English laughs (an “intransitive” verb, i.e., a verb with a transitivity of 1, having only an agent parameter into which arguments can be plugged naming the agent) suggests a way to understand at least one subjectless, 0-place predicate Tagalog verb:  umuulan.

The semantics for laughs can be described as a function from an agent to a truth value.  For the sake of simplicity, I will restrict the members of the set of entities who can laugh to just 10 — this is our pretend universe of people who are able to laugh.

[[ laughs ]] = { Kan → F, Chris → T, Kha → T, Guile → T, Juan → T, Corliss → T, Ralph → T, John → T, Robert → F, Ken → F }

A truth value T or F is assigned to each member of the set according to whether the person laughs now or not.

Imagine now a machine on whose screen one sees “_ laughs.”  The machine takes as input an argument for the agent parameter.  The argument is a string representing a particular person who can laugh.  Suppose we enter the string “Chris,” and hit ENTER.   The machine produces two outputs.  One output is the string “Chris laughs,” which is the syntactic effect of the operation.

The other output is the truth value T, which is its semantic effect.  Calling the function with the argument string “Chris” selects the entity Chris denoted by the argument and returns the associated truth value T.   (See  This truth value might be represented, say, by the string “T” appearing on the screen, or, less prosaically, by a shaft of light coming down from the heavens accompanied by the sublime choir of Caravaggio-esque angels.

How would one construct a similar machine for the Tagalog predicate umuulan, which has no agent parameter accepting an argument….in fact, has no parameters at all?    Unlike the English speaker, who has to plug in a phony agent to produce the sentence “It is raining” (there has to be SOMETHING that is raining, a close friend of mine said, apparently basing his intuitions on his first language Vietnamese and his second language English), the Tagalog speaker simply says umuulan — rains.

(Let me write umuulan when I am talking about the complex of the string “umuulan” and the semantic machine, and “umuulan,” as I have just done twice, when I am talking about just the string, stripped from its context in the semantic machine.)

Let’s construct the function this way:

[[umuulan]] = { Locality around Jamby at time t0 → T, Locality around Juan at time t1 → F, Locality around Jamby at time t1 → T … }

The assignment of the truth values T or F to each locality is determined by whether drops of water can be felt dropping in that locality.  How ‘locality’ is to be defined — how many miles or fraction of a mile around Jamby etc. is enough to count as a locality, is a sorites issue which I will ignore for the moment (though of course it cannot be ignored forever).

Jamby logs into the semantic machine using the string “Jamby.”  The machine captures the time of his logon with a timestamp, which happens to be t0.  The semantic machine calls the function using the string “Jamby” and the timestamp,  selects the locality determined by those two values, and returns, on the syntactic level, the string “umuulan,” and on the semantic level, the truth value T (represented however which way).

Construed this way, umuulan would function as a kind of indexical.  The indexical character of the predicate enables one to show how the semantic machine can select a  particular member of the set of localities and return its associated truth value without the aid of an argument plugged into an agent parameter.  Without an agent parameter — without any parameter — the predicate lacks a subject. It is a subjectless sentence.  It is a sentence nonetheless — actually, a proposition — because even in its naked agent-parameter-less subjectless state it is either true or false.

If anything could be a well-formed sentence without a subject, umuulan would be it.  Rain has a pervasive quality — in all the grayness, mist, and clouds, it is difficult to point to any specific thing that is the agent of the the raining, that is doing the raining.  The case is different in the unusual and maybe somewhat comical situation in which a single dark cloud above one’s head is raining on one, because that cloud is identifiable.  At least in the less rational parts of one’s mind, the cloud is an agent doing something, initiating an action, even as one’s rational mind discounts this.

(In any attempt to deal with the vagueness of the term ‘locality,’ I would want to work with the notion ‘point at which nothing gets identified as the agent of the raining.’ )

So this is my account of one Tagalog subjectless sentence, umuulan.  No subject is required for the hypothetical semantic machine to do its work in the case of umuulan.  But what about the other subjectless Tagalog sentences, a category which according to Paz Buenaventura Naylor, Paul Schachter, and others, includes all Tagalog sentences?  What sort of account can be given for all of these sentences?  Can a way be found to construe the workings of these sentences as not needing a subject, in which case the notion of a subject is not a linguistic universal after all, or will we be forced to re-introduce the notion of a subject in order to understand them?  Can a way be found to make the subjectless character of these sentences (if in fact they are subjectless) intuitive, as (maybe — my friend may dispute this) was done with umuulan?

The attempt to answer these questions is what is motivating these posts on Tagalog.

Predicate = Topic Structure In Tagalog Sentences

Titser ang….

Imagine a Tagalog speaker in the act of uttering a sentence, beginning with those words.  Not having yet uttered the noun phrase that is about to come after the ang, the speaker hasn’t yet come to the topic — what the utterance is about.  So far we, the speaker’s audience, have no handle on any definite person or object being talked about — this will come a bit later, after the ang noun phrase.  What we can reasonably guess, though, is that the person being talked about is identical with some member(s) of the set titser, i.e., the set of teachers.  (We can guess that, that is, if we are familiar with the notion of sets.)  To use the database theorist C.J. Date’s terminology,  we already know that the person, whoever he or she is, putatively belongs to the type titser.

Titser ang babae.

If the speaker’s utterance has not misfired — if his confidence is not misplaced that we will know whom he is talking about — then at the utterance’s conclusion we, his audience, will have identified from the context which person is being talked about.  The context can be either perceptual (say, the person has just walked into the room) or spoken (the person, say, was previously mentioned in conversation).  The identification is something happening at the pragmatic level.  (Warning:  I have recently picked up just enough linguistics to be a danger both to myself and to society at large.  I am now able to persuade myself that I can distinguish between the pragmatic, semantic, and syntactic levels of an utterance.)  Assuming the statement is true, we now know which member of the set of teachers is being talked about.  So the utterance has the effect of:  [Do I need to cash out this ‘has the effect of’?]

I embraced the summer dawn

One member of {A, B, C…} = this particular woman. (Where A, B, C … are members of the set of teachers.)

I embraced the summer dawn

I advance this analysis of Titser ang babae in an attempt to cash out the linguist Paz Buenaventura Naylor’s claim that the canonical Tagalog sentence (comprising predicate on the left + topic or ang phrase on the right) is an equality.  Consider the following English sentences, identical with or almost the same as the examples Naylor uses:


Teacher = the woman.

Beautiful = the man.

Left = the woman.


These express in English the force of:   [Can I get away with the metaphor ‘force’?]


Titser ang babae.

Maganda ang lalaki.

Umalis ang babae.


At first sight, Naylor’s claim is, I think, more intuitive in the case of Titser ang babae than it is in the other two cases. How is beautiful equal to this particular man?  What could that possibly mean?  Likewise, how is left (as in ‘left the room’ ) equal to this particular woman?  But if we cash out thse equations as:


One member of {A, B, C…} = this particular woman.  (Where A, B, C, etc. are particular teachers.)

One member of {A, B, C…} = this particular man.  (Where A, B, C… are particular beautiful objects or people.

One member of {A, B, C…} = this particular woman. (Where A, B, C…are particular people ((or animals, or anythings else with agency)) who have left some place, e.g., a  particular room, a city, a country.) [Can I get away with restricting ‘left’ in the third example to leaving a particular place, as opposed to a job, a wife, a party, and so on?]


… then the equality becomes much more intuitive in the case of the second and third examples.

If, like me, you like to think in terms of wildly undisciplined, not completely respectable pictures and metaphors, picture at the start of the utterance — Titser ang…. — a crowd comprising all the teachers in the world.  [How strict do I need to be in specifying this set?]  Our view of each teacher is fuzzed out or grayed out so that no teacher can be distinguished from another.  The utterance completes:  Titser ang babae.  The moment the utterance is understood, our view of one teacher in the crowd resolves itself.  We now clearly see one particular woman who is a teacher.  Likewise, gather in one’s imagination all the beautiful objects or people…and all the entities with agency who have just left a place…..  The same picture we used in the case of  Titser ang babae applies, mutatis mutandis, to the other two utterances.  When the utterance completes, our fuzzy picture gets resolved, and a particular beautiful man (Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It or even in The Tree Of Life) appears, or a particular woman (Marlene Dietrich, say) who has just left this particular room.  Brad Pitt pops into view.  Marlene Dietrich pops into view.

The equation makes sense now in these two latter cases because one particular gets identified with another particular when we utter the sentences.   ‘This particular thing (veiled at the start of the utterance) is identical with that particular thing (known to speaker and audience through the context, i.e., pragmatically). ‘


∃x ∈ titser: x = ang babae.

∃x ∈ maganda: x =  si Brad Pitt.

∃x ∈ umalis: x = si Marlene Dietrich.


We make sense of the claim that the canonical sentence in Tagalog has a predicate = topic structure when we regard not just titser, but also maganda and umalis as names of sets.  One member of each set equals an entity named in the topic that has been identified pragmatically.  This will also start to make sense of Naylor’s intitially counter-intuitive claim that in Tagalog what look like verbs are actually nouns, i.e., names.

To use an even less respectable conceit (‘conceit’ used here as in the sense it is applied to the technique used by English Metaphysical Poets), it is as if we identified an unknown star in the morning with an already identified Evening Star.  The ang phrase codes old information:  we already know the Evening Star is the planet Venus.  The predicate codes new information:  we now know, by the end of the sentence, which bright object showing up in the morning is in fact identical with the Evening Star is in fact identical with the planet Venus.  It is as if something like this were happening with every Predicate = Topic Tagalog sentence….

All right.  Enough of strained metaphors … although this one at least lets me picture the function of the Tagalog predicate as coding new information and the Tagalog ang phrase as coding old information.  And lets me picture ‘start of utterance’ (morning) with ‘completion of utterance’ (evening).


When I first started suffering under the delusion that I had some grasp of how Tagalog works vs. English, I pictured the canonical Tagalog sentence as a weighing scale:  one puts the predicate on the left side of the scale, then places the topic, the ang phrase, at the right side of the scale so that now the two sides are completely balanced, are completely level.  I contrasted this with the standard English sentence, say “The man threw the ball” which is “transitive” — i.e., energy flows into the ball from the man, energy gets transmitted from the man to the ball.

This first picture contrasting with the second was my first Aha-Erlebnis regarding Tagalog.  Balance and equality vs. transmission.  This Aha-Erlebnis gained strength when I encountered Naylor’s claim that the canonical Tagalog sentence has a Predicate = Topic structure, though I did not completely understand what that equation meant in the cases of (ostensible) adjectives and verbs.  (I say ‘ostensible’ because Naylor persuasively argues that the ‘verbs’ at least are really nouns — on the syntactic level — in Tagalog.)  I submit that we can understand this this equality by thinking in terms of sets, i.e., of types.  The canonical Tagalog sentence works, as it moves from start to completion, first, by restricting the range of things possibly being talked about to members of a set, then by changing the status of one object of that set from ‘currently unidentified’ to ‘identified’  by equating it with an object known from the context by the time the utterance completes to be the object being talked about.  Typically, that object, coded by the topic, constitutes old information of some sort:  everyone has seen Brad Pitt enter the room, for example, or he has been talked about previously.  And typically, the predicate codes new information, or information that hits one with a renewed force that calls for a likewise renewed predication: Brad Pitt is beautiful.  ∃x ∈ maganda: x =  si Brad Pitt.  Maganda si Brad Pitt.

UPDATE (12/10/2011):  Beiged out a metaphor that is, while still useful to me as unfinished lumber, is likely to be confusing to anyone else.  Tried to clarify the concluding sentence in red.

UPDATE (12/14/2011)  Added the ∃x ∈ <<name of set>> statements.