No word for 'sorry' in Tagalog

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Following up on yesterday's "No word for rape" post, several readers have pointed me to another recent addition for the "No word for X" archive, namely Isagani R. Cruz, "Lingual misunderstanding to blame for refusal to apologize?", China Daily 11/12/2013:

The refusal so far of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III to issue a formal apology for the hostage-taking incident in Manila in August, 2010, in which eight Hong Kong tourists were killed, may be blamed partly on a lingual misunderstanding.

Aquino's mother tongue is Tagalog, once the national language of the Philippines, now replaced by Filipino, which is based on it. […]

There is something peculiar about the Tagalog and even the Filipino language. There is no word for "sorry" or "apology." When Filipinos are at fault, they say in Tagalog or Filipino, "Pasensiya na." That literally translates into, "Please forget your anger" or "Please let it go". It's important to note that the personal pronoun used is in second person, not the first. […]

Needless to say, there may be political or lingual reasons for Aquino's reticence when it comes to apologizing to Hong Kong. But it is important for the people in Hong Kong to understand that it is lingually impossible for a Filipino to apologize in the British or American sense, because the words for admitting fault do not exist in Tagalog or Filipino.

It's true that the conventional English phrase "I'm sorry" is often used in unapologies whose content amounts to saying "I'm sorry that you've chosen to take offense at something that was not my fault and anyhow was not wrong and maybe didn't even happen at all". And it may be true that Filipino conventional unapologies are more transparently not actually apologies at all — perhaps some readers who know Filipino can comment on this.

But surely Tagalog would allow the president to say things like "I made a mistake", or "I failed to prepare adequately for this situation", or  "I ask you to pardon me for what I did (or for what I failed to so)", if he wanted to do so.

In this general line of language, Google Translate offers this as Filipino options for English "apology":

And this for "apologize":

China Daily tells us that

The author has a PhD in English from the University of Maryland. He is president of the Manila Times College and a former under-secretary (deputy minister) of education in the Philippines.

 



69 Comments

  1. Bob Couttie said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 2:16 am

    Most Filipinos use the word 'sorry' ad Mr Cruz's argument is a bit thin since the Philippine president a) is very fluent in English and b) would communicate with his opposite number in China in English.

    [(myl) Dr. Cruz addresses this issue as follows:

    When he speaks publicly in the Philippines, Aquino prefers Filipino and hardly ever uses English. While most observers assume that he does this to communicate with the majority of Filipinos, it is also possible that he feels most comfortable in his native tongue and most likely also thinks in it.

    "A bit thin" is a fair description, I think.]

  2. ysmith said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 2:42 am

    In Malay, there's no single word for 'sorry' so you say minta maaf, which means '(I) ask forgiveness'.

    The idea that lacking a single word for something means the concept doesn't exist in a language is fun.

  3. Norvin said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 2:52 am

    The expression that the author quotes literally means something like 'be patient' (it starts with a Spanish loanword, meaning 'patience'); it does have a 2nd person subject when its subject is overtly expressed (which it isn't, in the version that the author quotes), but then, so does 'Pardon me' in English, so I'm not sure how deeply culturally significant this is. You also often hear people borrowing the English word 'sorry'. I don't think these have to be unapologies; they're standard ways to apologize (and there are others, which are more formal and less common, that use entirely Tagalog words; here's a website that offers 'Ipagpaumanhin po ninyo ang aking pagkakamali', literally "Please forgive my mistake":)

    http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Tagalog/Tagalog_Homepage99/useful_tagalog_phrases3.htm

    The Google translation for 'apologize' that you've gotten literally means 'ask for forgiveness'.

  4. Bob Couttie said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 3:04 am

    Indeed, my Filipino friends tell me the term is 'Pa-umanhin'

    When Mr Aquino's mother was president I was told that she gave speeches in 'deep Tagalog', or Pook Tagalog, which few ordinary Filipinos now understand and didn't then.

  5. Jeremy Wheeler said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 3:18 am

    I might be off target here but it occurs to me that sorry and apology have only relatively recently (19th and 18th centuries respectively) had their associations with accepting fault anyway.

    My, rather unscientific, guess is that there is a tendency for languages to develop words for sorry primarily without admitting fault. For example, in French, desolé, in German, entschuldige, and in Hungarian, elnészést all have elements of avoiding responsibilty at their root and one could as easily say that these languages have no word for sorry – in the sense of admitting fault.

  6. Alexander T. Magno said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 3:43 am

    Ipagpatawad mo. (There's even a VST & Co. song with that title)

    Patawarin mo ako.

    Ipagmaumanhin niyo na ako.

    These sound somewhat old-fashioned. But those who speak Tagalog understand them. In everyday use of course, sorry or pasensya na is more common.

  7. Birdseed said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 4:11 am

    Which, indeed, is the case with english "excuse me" and "forgive me" as well, which are certainly second-person phrases, "not a single word" and contain responsibility avoidance. That the word that has ended up as most forceful in the apology stakes in English is first-person and expresses putting yourself down is mere coincidence.

  8. Joseph M. Garcia said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 4:16 am

    Not true!
    "Pasensya" is not equivalent to sorry, it means to have patience, to "bear with me" , Patawad is a more appropriate Tagalog word. The more acceptable explanation is that the term "patawad" is a very serious word it denotes complete humility and acceptance of guilt. It is not as common as the English term "sorry". Not long ago President Arroyo made an " I'm sorry" statement but was not accepted as well. Patawad is a very personal word it is an extension of self of is therefore appropriate when committing a personal fault. The Tagalog language is not peculiar its just endowed with so much cultural implications like many other language,it may be inferior in being technically specific but is far superior in describing emotions and other inter-relational ideas. Language has nothing to do saying sorry sometimes a simple bow of the head will do, accepting mistake is all about character.

  9. Bastiaan said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 7:52 am

    I don't think French desolé has an avoiding responsibility meaning. It means '(I am) saddened'. 'Excusez-moi' or 'Pardon' is the 'Excuse me' equivalent.

  10. Erica said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 8:37 am

    It seems to me that among English-speakers there has been a growing tendency over the last several years to focus on the surface semantics of apologies, and judge them not good enough if they have even the faintest whiff of blame-shifting. In some circles you can no longer say "I'm sorry if I offended you" without incurring a scolding about how you ought to have said "I'm sorry that I offended you".

    I think Jeremy Wheeler makes a good point that pure self-blame is not necessarily a feature of apology formulas, and is not required for apologies to be true and heartfelt. How you apologize in a language is a fact about the language and not a fact about its speakers' feelings.

  11. Adrian said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 9:09 am

    Erica: But people are right to criticise the weasely formulation "I'm sorry if I offended you." Why qualify "I'm sorry" at all?

  12. Erica said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 9:27 am

    Adrian, if I were to say to you, "There's Coke in the fridge if you're thirsty", would you take it to mean that if you were not thirsty, the Coke would not be there? English conditionals can be used in ways other than their most prototypical sense. "I'm sorry if I offended you" doesn't imply that offense was not taken; it is in fact an acknowledgement that offense was taken.

  13. un malpaso said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 9:56 am

    I propose that all languages adopt the following gesture in lieu of saying "I'm sorry" in their particular vernacular:

    *mimes hitting self with stones, using fist, several times in the sternum, while bowing and covering head with other hand*

    Maybe that will satisfy the semantic doubters.

  14. Ellen K. said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    I find it odd that the author of the article (quoted in the original post) seems to think "I'm sorry" expresses fault. Not directly. Only implied by context. "I'm sorry" said to someone who lost a loved one expresses regret and contains no implication of fault on my part. "I'm sorry" when said about something I personally did no more is a direct expression of fault, it seems to me; fault is merely impled. If I add what I did, "I'm sorry I said that" for example, only then am I admitting fault.

  15. D.O. said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 11:22 am

    Why the whole content of an idea must be contained in a single word or a very short phrase? The idea that there is a language in which it is not possible to express remorse is somewhat nutty. And the focus on "magic words" is also somewhat weird. What if I say "I sincerely apologize for my actions and ask for you forgiveness, it was my fault and I bear full responsibility for what happened" and keep crossed fingers behind my back?

  16. Ellen K. said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

    Pardon the bad editing on my comment a couple above this one.

  17. Rodger C said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

    It seems to be a sociolinguistic fact in English, at least, that men tend to construe "I'm sorry" as implying fault more often than women do. If I were consoling someone over a loss I'd say something like "That's terrible," not "I'm sorry."

  18. JS said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 12:38 pm

    D.O.–
    My understanding is that in Tagalog there is no way to "cross one's fingers behind one's back"; that is, every statement must be sincere. This seems a much more natural explanation for the lack of apology in this case than the odd notion of a "missing word"…

  19. TR said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 12:40 pm

    English has no word for sorry either! Sorry is etymologically the same as sore, and saying that you're in pain about something isn't the same as admitting fault. And apology is the ultimate responsibility-avoiding word, as it means "talking away" (apo-logeo) blame from yourself. Obviously it must be linguistically impossible for an English speaker to apologize, because the words for admitting fault don't exist in English.

  20. Sili said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

    And English doesn't have a word for "I hope you'll enjoy your food", which reflects on the blandness of la cuisine anglaise.

    /snark

  21. Jerry Friedman said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 12:58 pm

    un malpaso: "I die. O my hair falls out and my flesh rots and my bones are cracked by the hungry ta!a'an. He drops me behind him all around the forest and nothing will grow where his excrement from my marrow falls. As the years pass the forest dies from the poison of my remains. The soil washes into the sean and poisons the fish and all die. O the embarrassment."

    Joe Haldeman, "A !Tangled Web"

  22. julie lee said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 1:23 pm

    Some time ago, a few Chinese friends and I decided there was no Mandarin expression for "Excuse me" or "Excuse me, please". When we have to squeeze past a row of seats in the plane or theatre, we will make do with the expression "Sorry !" (dui-bu-qi 對不起)。But an older gentleman suggested the correct, and older, expression for "Excuse me" should be lao-jia, 勞駕 (literally "Trouble your gracious presence" ). I see that lao-jia 勞駕 is indeed translated "Excuse me" in an online Chinese-English dictionary.

  23. Doug said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

    I think it's relevant to note that a quick web search reveals numerous articles in which people from the Philippines demand that Japan apologize for its actions in World War II. So evidently they have the concept of nation-to-nation apologies and have notions of what makes these adequate.

    Erica said:
    "It seems to me that among English-speakers there has been a growing tendency over the last several years to focus on the surface semantics of apologies, and judge them not good enough if they have even the faintest whiff of blame-shifting"

    That may be true, or we may have a recency illusion here. I know it's bugged me for decades that railroads tend to say, "There's a 30 minute delay. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have cause." Why hedge with "any" and "may have"? If the train is half an hour late, it's essentially certain that some people are inconvenienced, so why not come clean and apologize for "the inconvenience this has caused."

  24. Felix J said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 3:00 pm

    Though informal, "my bad" is my favorite English apology. It's succinct and takes full responsibility.

    Thanks to Jerry Friedman for the reminder about the Joe Haldeman story. I've never seen more epic apologies.

  25. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 3:14 pm

    In English, we also use formally apologetic language as a polite/indirect/euphemistic way of making requests (i.e. saying "excuse me" or "sorry" while trying to squeeze past someone in tight quarters even if, frankly, they should have taken the initiative to get out of your way rather than saying "will you please let me through" or "get out of the way, doofus"). That may be in some abstract sense "insincere" but it's rather the opposite of an unapology. I recall being fuzzy as a child on the distinction in Japanese between "sumimasen" and "gomen nasai" (both of which I was taught meant more or less "excuse me") but internet sources suggest they actually make explicit a distinction which is often implicit in English with e.g. the first perhaps being what you say when trying to squeeze by someone under circumstances where you have a perfect right to do so but the second being what you say instead if you accidentally step on their foot while doing so. This seems to be an area where culture-specific notions of politeness etc. are going to be so thick on the ground that for any given pair of languages there may not be one to one mappings for a particular stock word/phrase. So it likewise seems like an area where it might be particularly likely for someone's uninformed reaction to a lack of one-to-one mapping to be "language A has no word for X."

  26. Andrew (not the same one) said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 4:04 pm

    Ellen K:

    "I'm sorry" said to someone who lost a loved one expresses regret and contains no implication of fault on my part.

    I'm surprised by how often I find people who aren't aware of this usage, or are aware of it but consider it incorrect: when someone says 'I'm sorry' as an expression of sympathy, they respond 'Why? It's not your fault.'

    Etymologically, of course, the more fundamental meaning is 'I'm sorrowful', and only secondarily does it mean specifically 'I'm sorrowful because of what I have done'. But clearly for many people 'sorry' has no use other than to accept blame, and for them the lack of a word with this specific function in other languages will no doubt be surprising.

  27. Rubrick said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 4:54 pm

    What contentious comments! Sorry seems to be the hardest word.

    (Apologies to Bernie Taupin, though I'm not admitting any fault.)

  28. julie lee said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 5:20 pm

    @J.W. Brewer:
    Exactly. The English "Excuse me" can be used in a wide variety of situations. I don't think Mandarin "Lao-jia 勞駕" can be used in all those situations, for instance, in "Please excuse me for not coming to class," or "Excuse me please" when you want to leave the dinner table.

  29. Ken Brown said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

    When walking in a crowd Americans say "Excuse me" after they collide with you. Brits say it as a warning that they will push you out of the way if you don't get out of the way.

    But then we also say "sorry" if someone else collides with us.

  30. Vasha said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

    Well, the main difference between English "I'm sorry" and "Excuse me" is that the latter apologizes for a rudeness in advance of or while committing it. In Turkish, the ordinary expression is the same in both cases, "Affedersiniz" literally "Please excuse". I don't see why there has to be separate words, necessarily.

  31. wanda said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 6:20 pm

    Ellen K. said, ""I'm sorry" said to someone who lost a loved one expresses regret and contains no implication of fault on my part."

    Is that still generally understood? Several times, I've said, "I'm sorry" to people who are having bad days, and they've replied, "Oh, you don't need to be sorry; it wasn't your fault." (Or sometimes they say, "Why? Did you kill [my grandmother]?" but that's usually in jest.)

  32. David Morris said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 6:41 pm

    @Doug:
    "any inconvenience this may have caused" v ""the inconvenience this has caused".

    I have recently been pondering the strong and weak uses of 'any'. I have been applying for jobs at universities in South Korea. I conclude my application letter with "I look forward to any communication from you regarding my application". Unfortunately, I get very few acknowledgements that they've even received my application, so I think maybe I should type "I look forward to *any* communication (at all!) from you".

    Sydney train station announcements used to be "The [time] train to [destination] has been cancelled for today only" (ie the driver didn't show up), thereby making no promises about tomorrow. The announcement is now "has been cancelled", which just might mean "always".

  33. Neil Dolinger said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

    Further to Julie Lee's comment, in my Mandarin classes in college, we learned 对不起 duìbùqǐ as the "one size fits all" translation of "I'm sorry", "excuse me", etc., though its literal meaning is something like "(I) can't face (you)" During my visits to the PRC, I have just as often heard 麻烦你 máfannǐ (" (May I) trouble you"). I have never encountered 劳驾. I wonder if has become somewhat out-of-fashion in more recent generations.

    Then there is 不好意思 bùhǎoyìsi. I hear this phrase more often than any other in situations when someone is apologizing. The literal meaning is something like "bad meaning", yet in this era 不好意思 seems to be the go-to phrase for apologies.

  34. TR said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 8:38 pm

    Etymologically, of course, the more fundamental meaning is 'I'm sorrowful'

    Surprisingly enough, this isn't true: at least according to the OED, "sorry" is etymologically related to "sore" but not to "sorrow".

  35. julie lee said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 8:53 pm

    Neil Dolinger,
    Thanks for the information on usage in Mainland China of duibuqi 對不起 as a "one size fits all" for "Sorry" and "Excuse me". And for the info. that you are not encountering laojia 勞駕 for "Excuse me"。 And that buhaoyisi 不好意思 is used a lot. I haven't lived in Mainland China so was wondering about whether laojia勞駕 is widely used there. I've heard it used in Taiwan. But the Mandarin of Taiwan and that of Mainland China has diverged somewhat because of the decades of separation. I imagine there is a similar divergence in the German spoken in East and West Germany and in North and South Korea.

  36. Neil Dolinger said,

    November 21, 2013 @ 9:52 pm

    Julie,
    I didn't mean to imply that 对不起 can be used in all situations, just that it was the one phrase we were taught. As a non-native speaker, my observations are probably suspect. But it seems that 对不起 maps most closely to "I'm sorry", 麻烦你 is closest to the "pardon me" one says before asking for something, and 不好意思 is what you say when you stumble into someone, step on their toes, burp, etc. I welcome critiques from native speakers from both sides of the Strait!

  37. julie lee said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 12:54 am

    Neil,
    Your usage of those phrases are correct, except I'd say bu-hao-yi-si 不好意思
    means "I'm embarrassed" and serves as apology for bumping into someone, stepping on their toes, burping etc. Ma-fan-ni 麻烦你 means "(May I) bother you", and serves as "pardon me" before asking for something.

  38. Victoria Simmons said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 4:00 am

    JS said:
    "My understanding is that in Tagalog there is no way to "cross one's fingers behind one's back"; that is, every statement must be sincere."

    That seems perilously close to saying one cannot lie in Tagalog, which reminds me of the Noble Savage moment in the movie "Amistad" when the American lawyer is told there is no word for 'lie' in Mende. A fine jab at corrupt Westerners for dramatic purposes, but not a very sensible description of Mende or any other language.

  39. Joyce Melton said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 4:35 am

    I remember being told in my Vietnamese classes (forty years ago) that the common phrases for "I'm sorry," "Thank you," and "You're welcome," were worn down from flowery equivalents that roughly translated as: "I beg your grace," "I have a debt," and "I would not dare." Not sure If I was accurately informed.

  40. Jason said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 7:22 am

    @Victoria Simmons

    That seems perilously close to saying one cannot lie in Tagalog, which reminds me of the Noble Savage moment in the movie "Amistad" when the American lawyer is told there is no word for 'lie' in Mende.

    It's a popular claim.

    It reminds me of the claim that I've read there are Australian languages in which there is no way to ask for something, because all exchange relationships are defined by kinship and everyone knows what should be given and received and to who and in what quantities beforehand, with everyone being looked after appropriately, without the necessity of having to ask. I think the intention of this is to contrast the fantasy of Noble Savage Socialism with our grasping devil-take-the-hindmost philosophy.

    One is always stuck this this connection between the pole of ethnocentrically asserting that something is impossible, and the opposite pole of credulously accepting every far-fetched story of linguistic difference and its alleged cultural significance. Reading Dan Everett, for example, it's clear that the Pirahã are unusually bad at mental arithmetic, even by hunter-gatherer standards, but equally, that his more far-fetched interpretation of the reason for this (the whole overarching theme that, for a Pirahã, nothing outside of immediate experience exists and that they do not have abstract concepts at all) is deeply implausible when it isn't theoretically incoherent and self-contradictory. (Eg, this is alleged to explain why they have a severely diminished inventory of color terms, but the problem with this is why call color an abstract term when shape or texture terms are equally "abstract" in his definition, and he agrees they have those.)

  41. Brian said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 7:39 am

    Begging for forgiveness of sins is a fundamental purpose of prayer in many religions. How id this done in a language that does not allow admission of guilt?

  42. Avinor said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 8:01 am

    In Swedish, tack does double duty as thank you and please. For some English speakers, this seems to lead to either of two contradictory conclusions:

    1. Swedes are terribly impolite, since we have no word for please.
    2. Swedes are terribly polite, since we say thank you all the time.

  43. Sarapen said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 8:24 am

    "Ipagpaumanhin po ninyo ang aking pagkakamali."

    Norvin, that is some seriously formal grovelling. Somehow I can't imagine saying it in any other position besides kneeling abjectly on the ground before the wronged party, clothes perhaps rent in anguish.

  44. Rodger C said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 8:40 am

    Then there's the fairly recent (???) "Excuse you!", said in annoyance to someone who's bumped into you etc. without apologizing.

  45. Rodger C said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 8:43 am

    Several times, I've said, "I'm sorry" to people who are having bad days, and they've replied, "Oh, you don't need to be sorry; it wasn't your fault."

    See my comment and others above. Deborah Tannen makes this a gender difference, but maybe this isn't (any longer?) the case.

  46. Forgiveness, please « Sarapen said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 9:05 am

    […] The Sadness of Sweetness » Forgiveness, please Published on November 22nd, 2013, at 9:04 am Language Log discusses an article about the president of the Philippines' refusal to apologize to Hong Kong over the death of a […]

  47. Doug said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 9:09 am

    @Roger C

    "Then there's the fairly recent (???) "Excuse you!", said in annoyance to someone who's bumped into you etc. without apologizing."

    That goes back at least to the 1970s, since I remember it from elementary school.

  48. AlexB said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    Isn't all this a bit like claiming that Italian has no word for tomato, because 'pomodoro' originally means 'golden apple'?

  49. Sybil said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 9:19 am

    @ Ken Brown:
    "When walking in a crowd Americans say "Excuse me" after they collide with you. "

    ? Not the usage I've ever heard. "Excuse me" usually would be said in advance, asking someone to move so you could pass.

    Unfortunately, in some neighborhoods in NYC at least, the response is often a sarcastic "excuuuuse you!"

    A long-time NYC usage is to say "Watch your back." It means, from what I can gather, "I'm passing by you so don't be in my way when I get there," and is used even when the person saying it is passing in front of the other.

  50. Breffni said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 10:01 am

    JS:

    'My understanding is that in Tagalog there is no way to "cross one's fingers behind one's back"; that is, every statement must be sincere.'

    Wouldn't this refuted by my saying, for example, "My name is Irving" in Tagalog? How could Tagalog, or any language, prevent me from saying such a thing? Or is the idea more subtle than that?

  51. V said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 10:19 am

    Hm, this supposed tendency to use words which don't admit guilt for an apology is interesting to me. In Bulgarian, извинявай(те) literally means "absolve me of guilt", which implies there is guilt in the first place, but it's also used in situations when there is none.

  52. Levantine said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 10:54 am

    wanda: I'm young (reasonably), British, and male, and I routinely encounter and use 'I'm sorry' in its condolent sense. Sometimes I'll hear (or even myself say) 'Oh, it's not your fault' in response, but I always treat this as a sort of awkward 'thank you', or a way of acknowledging that the person saying sorry has made a special effort to be sympathetic. I've never noticed a gender divide in the use of this kind of sorry.

    Vasha: I don't think that Turkish would ordinarily use the same phrase in those two situations. 'I'm sorry' is normally expressed by 'özür dilerim' (lit. 'I beg your pardon') or 'kusura bakma(yın)' (lit. 'overlook [my] fault'), whereas 'affedersin(iz)' (lit. 'you will forgive [me]') is almost always reserved for 'excuse me'. Often, you'll hear 'pardon' for the 'excuse me' that one says when one is trying to get past someone in the way. In Istanbul, getting past someone will very likely entail an aggressive shove, which just goes to show that whether or not a language has lots of polite phrases doesn't reveal all that much about its speakers.

  53. JS said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 11:34 am

    Was being facetious re: Tagalog speakers as "truth-tellers"

    Mand. duibuqi implies fault, meaning it can't be a condolence, but it's fine for 'i am or am about to be in your way/space'… a relative is duibuzhu, though this is much more weighty and seems to retain more of its literal sense of having disgraced oneself in the eyes of the addressee

    also baoqian, which can stand alone as a formal 'sorry' (comp. daoqian 'to apologize'), guoyibuqu

    Buhaoyisi also connotes fault but has very general application, basically meaning a certain behavior is or would be presumptuous / unseemly / socially gauche (thus lit. "[I create] a negative/unseemly impression")…

    for emphasizing trouble caused to others, mafan, darao, etc… laojia has some nice sarcastic applications (bu lao ninde da jia)… have also heard people say jieguo 借过 when negotiating crowds, which is nice and literal; not sure of provenance…

  54. Mark F. said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 12:18 pm

    I think Levantine is exactly right. You try to acknowledge the "I'm sorry" and your repertoire of responses consists only of treating it as an apology, even though you know full well it isn't.

  55. Breffni said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

    Oh, my apologies, JS. (I'm sorry, forgive me, my bad, etc.) I've come across the notion put forward in earnest, honest. In relation to evidentials, possibly.

  56. julie lee said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

    @Jason says:
    " I've read there are Australian languages in which there is no way to ask for something, because all exchange relationships are defined by kinship and everyone knows what should be given and received and to who and in what quantities beforehand, with everyone being looked after,,,,:"

    And all this is reflected in the language. As we know, modes and mores affect a language, which is why translation can be hard.

    An example from Chinese: Many years ago, when I was a poor graduate student in America, I sent $80 (a third) of my monthly earnings as waitress to my desperately impoverished mom in Taiwan; I said it was to help her. Instead of receiving a thank you, I received a rebuke. I was told the word bang -zhu 幫助 "help" was inappropriate. That children don't "help" their parents, they jing-xiao 敬孝 "respectfully offer their filial piety". I, educated in English schools, then understood. Since filial piety including supporting parents was a duty, no thanks was due. (The IRS does not thank one for sending in one's tax return, because it is a duty, it is their due.)

    [Incidentally, Lao-jia 勞駕 "excuse me" (in older Mandarin) is literally "(I am) bothering your carriage". "Your carriage" means "you" because a direct "you" was disrespectful. "Your carriage" is a circumlocution meaning "your honor", "your grace". Mao swept away all such nonsense, in language at least.]

  57. Neil Dolinger said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    JS, thanks for the additional apology phrases, some of which jogged my memory, some of which were new to me. Isn't baoqian also the typical phrase used when offering condolences?

    Then there is the non-apology 来, 来, 当心 Lái, lái, dāngxīn! I used to hear in my teacher days in Shanghai, when guys in delivery carts were coming up behind me and were in no mood to slow down!

  58. David Morris said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 4:57 pm

    @Jason: the Indigenous language of the Sydney region has words for 'ask' and 'deceive' (Jackelin Troy, 1994, citing British writers recording the language during the early settlement/colonisation/invasion period).

    @Rodger C, Doug: Google ngrams has 'excuse you' from 1800. Without context it's impossible to know whether that's in the same sense as you are meaning. I can think of strings such as 'without any excuse, you (did sth objectionable)' where those words appear together with another meaning.

  59. Leandro said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

    In Spanish are used both the first and the second person. We can say "Lo siento" (something like "I regret it") or "Perdona" ("Forgive me"). It doesn't make any difference. Indeed, I hadn't realised that until now.

  60. J. W. Brewer said,

    November 22, 2013 @ 6:35 pm

    You can click through from the n gram results (at least if your screen looks like mine . . .) and see individual instances and (possibly with some more clicking through and poking around) their context. So, e.g., "Excuse you, Sir John, I love your frankness; but why won't you be franker still?" (From an 1806 edition of a farce by David Garrick titled Bon Ton; or, High Life above Stairs: the speaker is responding to Sir John's utterance of "excuse me" in the prior line.) Elsewhere in the same play it's Sir John who finds a somewhat different, but also non-imperative use: "O yes, my lord ; but I am afraid the devil won't excuse you at the proper time !" (FWIW wikipedia says the play was first performed in Drury Lane in 1775, and may have originally been written some years before that.)

  61. V said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 7:50 am

    Leonardo: I just realised that beside извинявай "absolve me of guilt" in Bulgarian there is also съжалявам "I share your grief" which can be used as an apology without admitting blame, beside in its more straightforward meaning.

  62. V said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    But it can still imply it, same as depending on tone of voice извинявай can sound like no blame is implied…

  63. V said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 8:06 am

    Indeed with the proper tone it can be a more serious apology, despite etymology.

  64. Rodger C said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 11:53 am

    @David Morris: Or simply, "I shall excuse you this time."

    @Doug: Well, the 1970s, which is after I (allegedly) grew up, is recent enough for me.

  65. Jonathan Mayhew said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

    The concept of apology actually covers a lot of ground.

    Responsibility: I was the one who did it.
    Wrongness of the act: What I did was wrong.
    Remorse: I feel bad about what I did.
    Recognition of harm to others. Someone else suffered because of what I did.
    Asking for forgiveness.
    Providing recompense, making it right, etc…

    So a simple speech act like "I apologize" covers a lot of ground. It seems silly to say that because a particular phrase doesn't cover all of this ground semantically it doesn't count pragmatically as an apology (as in the original article).

  66. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 10:49 pm

    @Jonathan Mayhew — This blog about apologies, Sorry Watch, has plenty of examples of various apologies for those who want examples:

    http://www.sorrywatch.com/

  67. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    November 23, 2013 @ 11:16 pm

    In American English, the way "excuse me" or "sorry" is said affects the meaning a lot. I think this is true of other words and phrases in English that are used for social interaction in ways that aren't obvious from the surface meaning of the words, such as "how are you" or "good to see you" or "please."

    It seems to me that intonation is a big feature of the meaning of these social politenesses, but intonation isn't as commonly as important (or perhaps not used as much?) in ordinary conversation. Saying "He walked down the street" doesn't necessarily contain social cues through intonation, but other phrases can be neutral, friendly or sarcastic depending on intonation independent of the wording. Intonation can make a big difference when someone says "please pass the potatoes," "sorry, buddy," or "well, excuuuse me."

    Do native speakers of English focus more on the way these things are said than their surface appearance or is any deviation from neutral intonation a signal for additional social cues? (I'm sure there must be more accurate terms for these processes, but unfortunately I don't know them.) And are things like a sarcastic tone used for "excuse me" universally recognized even by nonnative speakers or are there languages where what an American would call a sarcastic tone just isn't used or heard?

    It does sound to me as though the issue of apologies from the Philippines to Hong Kong is not so much an issue of Tagalog vocabulary as the difference between expectations in Hong Kong and Philippine incomprehension or unwillingness to meet the nuances of those expectations. Trying to paper over those difficulties by claiming linguistic differences are at work doesn't solve the conflict.

  68. µµµ said,

    November 24, 2013 @ 11:37 am

    @V: "In Bulgarian, извинявай(те) literally means "absolve me of guilt""

    This is also the case with Portuguese "desculpa". English "excuse me" is not very far from that, either.

  69. TESS SANTOS said,

    November 28, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

    As my friend Connie says

    "Wouldn't "dinaramdam ko na ……." be more heartfelt ?"

    So there you go – from us, Sydneysiders…

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