“To be or not to be”: how to say it in Tagalog

In one of my previous posts I have mentioned how, despite the fact that many Filipinos automatically switch to English whenever they cross the border line between superficiality and communicating profound concepts, the Tagalog language can, to some extent, be used to talk about science, philosophy or other weighty subjects.

Nevertheless there are gaps in the language that sometimes make it tricky to translate a number of concepts.

A case in point is the famous quote “to be or not to be, this is the question”.

There isn’t a verb that translates specifically as “to be”, but the verb “maging” meaning “to become” often acts as an existential verb.

If I say something like “ako ay Italyano” that would mean “I am Italian”. However the word “ay” is not the verb “to be”, actually it is not a verb at all, rather it is an “inverter” of the equivalent expression “Italyano ako” literally meaning “Italian I” where the verb “am” is simply implied.

“Who am I?” would simply be rendered as “Sino ako?” meaning “Who I?”.

Translating from English to Tagalog such expressions as “a state of being” or “I am what I am” or “it is what it is” is not an easy job for those who come from countries where people speak a language that uses the verb “to be”.

Similarly there is no way to translate into Tagalog the expression “Human Being”, as they just say Tao basically meaning “human”.

So, “To be or not to be, this is the question” is hard to translate literally in Tagalog.

This is not that much of an issue for most Filipinos though, as very few of them are interested in exploring the Tagalog grammar. Many Filipinos would rather ask themselves the question: “to beer or not to beer?” and that would be the real “question”.

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