The x in Filipinx is rooted in the 1970s English neologism Mx., an alternative to Mr. and Ms. for people who do not identify with neither Mr. nor Ms.
By analogy, this morphological process was extended to Latinx and folx and more recently to Filipinx. Analogy (or what some might derisively call gaya-gaya or nakiki-uso) is actually a very productive linguistic process. Some of the regularities in languages are because of analogy.
The label is not meant to replace existing identities. It was coined as an alternative to Filipino/Filipina for those who do not identify with this binary. It also carries with it the histories, relations, and alliances of those who choose to own and identify with this label—histories that are unique and have long diverged from the histories of other Filipinos in the Philippines and in diaspora; relations that are their own, forged in communities that are different from ours; and alliances borne out of the political need for visibility in a struggle that might be far from our everyday life.
And this cannot be denied. Who are we really to deny the identity (and with it the label) of a group who is trying to assert itself amidst the threat of erasure?
Based on social media exchanges, it seems that the gigil is coming from (1) an imposition of the label and (2) linguistic claims of gender neutrality of Philippine languages. Unfortunately, these huge thoughts are reduced to “memetic” banter online—a meme for a meme.
The emergence of the lexicon caused some discomfort, misunderstandings, and raised eyebrows. These are common reactions when change occurs or when a new lexicon is introduced. Three decades ago, when the word unibersidad was suggested instead of pamantasan, friendships ceased and relations were redefined. But if you look at it now, it seems so silly.
Whenever I hear people say Katip instead of Katips, it still draws a tiny reaction deep down my very soul. The mutation of the familiar affects not only our phonetic and morphological aesthetics, it also disturbs our personal linguistic equilibrium, thus the discomfort.
On top of the discomfort toward what some think of as a binaboy na term, arguing that this label should replace Filipino/Filipina became too much to handle. Any imposition, linguistic or otherwise, always gets a strong push back. The inclusion of the term in the dictionary was also interpreted as an imposition. However, lexicographers are not word enforcers, they are collectors and compilers of lexicon. Most follow a basic rule that if a word sees print, then it must be included in the dictionary. The definition that appeared with Filipinx however needs some work.
Proponents of the term should understand that Filipinx speaks of their experiences and realities and not those of other Filipinos, but we also have to acknowledge that the Filipinx experience is unique and valid and different from ours. If you identify as Filipinx, I support you. If you do not, then that is fine as well but there is no point in deriding each other because doing so is a victory to the colonizers and the patriarchy.
The second point argues that there is no need for x because Philippine languages are gender neutral. The illustration/evidence that comes with this assertion is the Tagalog form of the third person singular pronoun, siya. We claim that because of the inclusiveness of siya, as opposed to the he/she binary of English, that our language is gender neutral.
However, one linguistic feature does not make a language gender neutral. The absence of the gender grammatical category as exhibited in some Indo-European languages does not mean that gender is unmarked in the Philippine linguistic system. It may mean that it is differently marked.
The argument against linguistic gender neutrality online has to do with the -o and -a endings of some nouns, which in turn is rebutted with the point that -o/-a endings are borrowed features and therefore, non-Philippine. The argument goes, the fact that there are terms to refer to female Filipinos (Filipina) belies the gender neutrality argument. The -o/-a endings are quite productive in Philippine languages: tiyo and tiya, maestro and maestra, tindero and tindera, the examples are numerous. Sometimes they are not endings at all but penultimas like in manang and manong, manay and manoy, both pairs were derived from hermano/hermana.
Were these endings borrowed from Spanish and therefore non-Philippine? Were they introduced from Spanish? Certainly. Are these non-Philippine? They are as Philippine as sibuyas and kabayo, both terms were also borrowed from Spanish.
Languages borrow from each other without the intention of returning whatever was borrowed. It becomes part of the linguistic inventory of the borrower and becomes part of that language. It is of that language.
Languages are not just products of genetics; they are also products of contact. If we say that these endings are non-Philippine, are we also denying the Philippine-ness of lexicon such as puti, baka, mukha, Lunes, Diyos and all other lexical items which have not descended from Proto-Philippines or from any of the intermediate nodes of the Philippine language tree?
Apart from the nominal pairs ending in -o/-a, there are words in Philippine languages that are not gender neutral. The terms lalaki and babae for example automatically alert the speaker-hearer to the gender classification and roles and expectations embedded in these terms.
There are heaps of examples of exclusively male and exclusively female lexical items and phrasal constructions in Philippine languages, for example, bana ‘husband’ in Hiligaynon and maybahay ‘wife’ in Tagalog.
Gender differences are also expressed in adjectives; there are adjectives that refer primarily to women and there are those that refer to men. A preconceived object of modification appears with adjectives such as maganda, mahinhin, malandi, malakas, matipuno, etc. While a lalaki can also be maganda (magandang lalaki) and the babae can also be malakas, there is something to say about the prototypical images that go with these modifiers.
The expression of gender in our languages are not as overt as the gender classifiers in Spanish or French, instead the feature is coded more subtly. Even our linguistic performance is also governed by gender expectations—that is why we have expressions like “kababae mong tao…”.
It helps to remember that language is a witness to the life of a society; it encodes its realities within. A sexist society will find ways to produce sexist language.
There are definitely more reasons for the gigil, and the two mentioned above may not even be the main reasons.
For all I know, it is just a case of “Aba! Aba! Baket?”, “Sino ba kayo?” and “Anong K nyo mag-imbento ng Filipinx?” which are also reasons why the group felt the need to assert itself in the first place.
About the Author
Tuting Hernandez is an Associate Professor of Linguistics at the University of the Philippines Diliman. His research interest is on Austronesian and Philippine languages and culture history and in the documentation of endangered languages in the Philippines. Outside of work, he is a hermit, a technophobe, and a dinosaur.