The wonder of Tausug reduplicated words

The wonder of Tausug reduplicated words


Calbi Anji Asain

Tausug is the lingua franca of Sulu. It is also known as Bahasa Sug and Sinug. Strictly speaking, Bahasa Sug is more appropriate to use since the word Bahasa means “language”, and Sug is the shortened version of Lupah Sug, the way the natives call their cherished homeland. But the natives of Sulu more often than not use Tausug to refer to themselves and their language, which is a member of the so-called Austronesian family of languages spoken by several hundreds of millions of people in Asia. It is also one of the major languages in Mindanao spoken in Basilan, Zamboanga, Tawi-Tawi, and the eastern part of Sabah where many Tausugs live.

There are many colorful aspects about Tausug just like other Filipino languages. I would like to start with and focus on Tausug reduplicated words in this essay and reserve the rest to other writers or to future similar essays. Reduplicated words are those that are repeated at least twice without any elision or dropping of letters from the word being reduplicated. The original word being repeated has its own distinct meaning, and that’s the wonder of it.  Once it’s reduplicated forming a compound word, the meaning is changed, quite different from the original meaning as a single word. Bahasa Sug words, which can be reduplicated are those used in real-life situations. They could be names of animals, objects, plants, games, dances, illnesses, places, and even parts of the human body, etc. after reduplication.

Allow me now to kick off our interchange of ideas with the names of animals as the ones to be reduplicated. Let’s take the word gadja. It means “elephant” in English. And right away, the enormity of the elephant, its ivory tusks and elongated, flexible nose and   its seeming sluggishness owing to its size all flash in your mind and mine. But once you reduplicate the word gadja, those vivid characteristics vanish in an instant. For the reduplicated gadja-gadja is no longer an elephant but a kind of illness common among children medically known as “mumps”.  Another instance is when the word “pig”, which is babuy in Tausug, is reduplicated into babuy-babuy. It immediately refers now to a name of an illness called “epilepsy”. From an animal that runs, let’s move to an animal that hops better known as ambak or “frog”. You reduplicate it into ambak-ambak, and you produce a musical instrument called in English as “accordion.” From a harmless hopping animal, let’s take a scary crawling creature called in Bahasa Sug as has, which means “snake” in English. Once it’s reduplicated into has-has, you can use it as a verb in Tausug as in the sentence Maghas-has in manga tau bang way na usaha (People will suffer if they have no more work). An insect that eats up the wood materials of your house which goes by the name of anay can be reduplicated to assume another meaning. The result of the reduplication, which is now anay-anay, means “slow” in English. A similar case is the word hinang, which is “work” in English. It will have a meaning quite a far cry from its original when reduplicated. The result of the reduplication of the word in question will turn out to mean “black magic” in its reduplicated form of hinang-hinang.

Let’s take an animal with wings like manuk, which means “chicken.”   Although the word remains with a flying characteristic, it does make its flying element even more vivid because the moment manuk is reduplicated into manuk-manuk, the meaning is now “bird”. Speaking of birds, we can’t afford not to mention itik, which is “duck” in English. You reduplicate it, and the meaning changes easily into a kind of dance called itik-itik. I also remember maya, the bird I loved to watch when I was a kid as they flew in a flock and perched on the rice plantation of our neighbor. When you reduplicate the word maya, the “bird” turns into a “fish” called maya-maya, which is quite savory and expensive in Sulu. But here’s more interesting; it’s the case of kabug, a flying mammal, which is asleep during the day and awake at night looking for food. When it is reduplicated, it becomes a game usually involving a child and someone older called kabug-kabug, the purpose of which is to make the kid laugh by tickling him/her on the side of the body or on the armpit. The older playmate raises his/her hand, the fingers doing a flying motion. To tickle the child, the hand as a mock bird suddenly swoops down the child’s armpit or any part of the body depending on the whim and caprice of the tickler, chanting “kabug-kabug, kabug-kabug”. And the child bursts into peals of thunderous laughter. Birds and other creatures that fly, you know, excite our eyes and imagination because they come in different shapes and sizes.

Let’s move forward and experience other dimensions of Tausug word reduplication. This time, let’s take an animal in the sea, istah, which is a generic term for “fish”. If istah is reduplicated, it would mean an old children’s game called in Tausug as istah-istah. Let’s have a specific kind of fish. You’ll be amused when Suga or “sun” in English is reduplicated into suga-suga. It’s another fish which can tickle your appetite when it’s grilled and dipped in a sauce made of kalamansi juice seasoned with fresh hot pepper. So much for that. Let’s now move to sug, another interesting word which means “sea current” in English. If you recall, it is from this word when the name Tausug as a people is believed to have originated. When this word is reduplicated into sug-sug, it will produce two meanings: to “recite” or “to trace family relations”. Moving on, let’s have a word having to do with gastronomy. The word kari means “to come” in English but when you reduplicate it into kari-kari, it would refer to a native dish, which is also mouth-watering in savor.

Even some parts of the body could change their meanings from their previous denotations when they are reduplicated.  Let’s buckle down back to work with the word buku for you to see firsthand its transformation resulting from reduplication. This Tausug word means “noose in the rope when it’s tightened”. When you reduplicate it, you’ll get a new meaning of the reduplicated buku-buku, now referring to “ankle” in English.  Still another word like duguh, which means “blood” in English, could compound your wonderment about how it could transform itself into a sea product when it’s reduplicated into duguh-duguh. From being “blood” in meaning prior to reduplication, it is now a kind of “sea cucumber” known as duguh-duguh after reduplication.

The word lungun which means “to arrange the rope in circle” when used as a verb becomes “intestines” when reduplicated into lungun-lungun. As for the “mouth” which is simud in Tausug, the meaning of the reduplicated simud-simud is related to it in the sense that its meaning “to gossip/backbite” when used as a verb is one of its dirty functions. “Salt” for asin in Tausug becomes blackheads when it’s reduplicated into asin-asin. The reduplicated anak-anak means “small” and anak from which the reduplicated word comes means “child.” The color “red” or pula in Tausug has an interesting reduplication, which is pula-pula. And guess what its meaning is—“infant”!

The muezzin’s call to prayer which is bang in Tausug gets the meaning of “cake” when it is reduplicated into bang-bangTabid which means “to squeeze” in English when used as a verb in Tausug will likewise mean a “kind of cake” when it’s reduplicated into tabid-tabid. “Cassava” is panggih in Tausug, but when it’s reduplicated into panggih-panggih, it becomes a native Tausug “cake made up of a fried confection of flour” usually taken with coffee in several coffee shops at downtown Jolo. Similar in meaning to this is  gallang, “bracelet” in English but once reduplicated, it will result in gallang-gallang, another Tausug “native cake” comparable to panggih-panggih. The word tabuh or “market” has a shade of meaning different from its usual denotation once it’s reduplicated into tabuh-tabuh. As it is in its reduplicated form, it is no longer a “place where fish and similar food products are sold,” but when tabuh is reduplicated as  tabuh-tabuh, the meaning shifts to a “gambling place” where cockfights and other gambling activities are held.

Let’s proceed to some action words. Tukud means “answer” in English, but when it is reduplicated, it becomes tukud-tukud having the  meaning of a “riddle”. In the rural areas of Sulu where Tausug traditions remain strong, there are illnesses attributed to an abat triggered by a dead person and other spirits and can be considered as a disease etiology. When this is reduplicated into abat-abat, it will mean a traditional recital that can drive the abat away. The word kalu or “fight” in English can also be reduplicated into kalu-kalu, which means  “maybe” in English. Another one-syllable word sung or “going to” or “about to” in English can be reduplicated into sung-sung which can be translated into a “clogged nose”. Kalu-kalu which means “maybe/probably” in English comes from the Tausug word kalu meaning “fight”.

Another Tausug word landang, which is made up of nipa starch as one of the ingredients in preparing siyuruh or ginataan in Filipino when reduplicated yields the word landang-landang, which means “to fry”.  On the other hand, “firecrackers” in general are called timbak-timbak which  comes from timbak  for “gunfire” in English. Another one is tug meaning “to sleep”, but when this word is reduplicated, it takes the meaning of “droplet”. For “vapor” or “mouth sore”, the apt Tausug word for this is singaw, but it  would mean “weird” in English when it is reduplicated into singaw-singaw. Let’s close our discussion with another Tausug word which could also be reduplicated. This is the word jaga, which is the equivalent of “guard” in English. When you reduplicate this word, it’ll end up being jaga-jaga, which means the  “propeller” of an airplane. It is hoped that these reduplicated words in Tausug could propel us to discover more wonders in other languages, particularly those in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao or BARMM.

There are Tausug words, however, that look and sound like reduplicated words but they aren’t.  Take the following, for example:

Tausug                                           Translation

Kabahkabah                               butterfly

Katakata                                     folktale

Dapdap                                       a kind of tree

Hunahhunah                              imagination, suspicion

Bakatbakat                                 aimless talk

Ibut-ibut                                     urgent

Agun-agun                                 almost

Hagashagas                               whisper/gossip

Singsing                                      ring

Undang-undang                        alphabet

Habayhabay                               amulet

Kabadkabad                               twirling/swinging

irum-irum                                   brown beauty

kangkang                                    arms spread sideward

ang-ang                                      hesitant/doubtful

suysuy                                        hearsay/malicious talk

jalajala                                         porch

dingding                                     wall

dangdang                                   to grill

Below are some sentences demonstrating the difference between the unduplicated words and their reduplicated counterparts in terms of meaning:

Tausug Text                                                              English Text

Hinang                                                                 Work

Way hinang hi amah niya.                                  His father has no work.

Hinang-hinang                                                    Black Magic

Biyah hinang-hinang in sakit                             His illness is likely caused by black

niya.                                                                      magic.

Anak                                                                     Child

In anak sin amaun  ku malanjang.                     My uncle’s child is tall.

Anak-anak                                                            Small

Anak-anak in ambung niya.                                Her basket is small.

Pula                                                                       Red

Pula in warnah kasuban niya.                            Red is her favorite color.

Pula-pula                                                              Infant

Pula-pula pa in manghud niya.                         His younger sibling is still an infant.

Gadja                                                                    Elephant

Malagkuh hayup in gadja.                                  An elephant is a huge animal.

Gadja-gadja                                                         Mumps

Awn gadja-gadja sin batah yaun.                     That child has mumps.

Panggih                                                               Cassava

Mataud panggih diyaragang                             There is a lot of cassava being

ha tabuh.                                                             sold in the market.

Panggih-panggih                                                Native cake

Katan manga kahawahan, awn sadja                There is always panggih-

panggih-panggih.                                                panggih in all coffee shops.

Kalu                                                                       Fight/trouble

Subay kita lumayuh dayn ha kalu.                     We should stay away from trouble.

Kalu-kalu                                                               Maybe/probably

Kalu-kalu aku makakakap kaniyu.                     Maybe I can drop by your house.

Sug                                                                        Sea current

Mahunit untasun in dagat bang in                     It’s difficult to cross the sea

sug makusug.                                                      if the sea current is strong.

Sug-sug                                                                To recite

Kusuga in pagsugsug mu sin tarasul.               Recite the poem aloud.

Jaga                                                                      Guard

Mabungis in jaga sin tinda yaun.                       The guard of that store is irritable.

Jaga-jaga                                                             Propeller

In jagajaga sin kappal lupad                              The propeller of the airplane has

himundung na.                                                    already stopped.

Tausug reduplicated words enhance our enthusiasm and interest in learning and using this lingua franca of the “people of the current”, that’s Lupah Sug or Sulu, known in history as the land of the brave. They make this native tongue more colorful and amusing. As a living language, Bahasa Sug will continue to grow and expand its number of speakers all over our country. It’ll continue to take pride on its uniqueness and enrich the cultural identity of its native speakers, confirming once again the diverse fabric of the BARRM as a region in particular and our country in general as the bedrock of national solidarity.



Calbi Asain, PhD is a retired professor and former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the Mindanao State University-Sulu (MSU-Sulu). He is a graduate of AB English, summa cum laude, from the Notre of Jolo College; MA English from UP Diliman; and Ph.D. in Philippine Studies with specializations in anthropology, history, and Philippine literature from the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy (CSSP) also from UP Diliman. He writes short stories, poems, dramas in Bahasa Sug and English. His short stories in English were published in Focus Philippines, Weekly Graphic, National Midweek, CCP Ani, NCCA Mantala, Mindanao Life, Aday, Mindanao Harvest, and Moorings. His first collection of short stories entitled Panunggud and Other Stories was published by the De La Salle University Press in 2001. his essays and other articles on Muslim Filipino history, culture, and literature have appeared in The Filipino Teacher, Coop Forum, Focus Philippines, WRIT.HOP: new writers speak up, Selected Papers from Philippine-Spanish Friendship Day Conference, Inquirer Mindanao, and The Journal of History.

He was a fellow of UP Diliman Summer Writers’ Workshop, UP Mindanao Summer Writers’ Workshop, MSU Iligan National Writers’ Workshop, Silliman National Writers’ Workshop, and NCCA-WMSU Regional Writers’ Workshop. In 2003, he was a recipient of the Rajah Baginda Award for Outstanding Tausug in Literature granted by the Sulu Provincial government.