Radical reverb: Higher tones in daily parlance (PARLANCE?)

Researchers are in a quest to describe the indescribable linguistic phenomena of high tones unprecedentedly taking over conversations.

The ostentatious appearance of high-pitched echoes of highfalutin words, also known as high tones, can only be described as ineffable. Though indescribable and elusive in its definition, once a witness to it in action, its use comes into clear view. 

Linguistic trends tend to be transient and fleeting as people get bored of using them and switch them out for fresher, more timely mannerisms. High tones have permeated—PERMEATED?!!––not only the mundane conversations but our online etiquette as well. Its emergence in the Philippine linguistic scene is unprecedented as it is one of the rare spoken tonal modifiers that can be successfully translated to digital spaces. But will this verbal utterance last to define the generation, or will this be another fad that fades into the virtual abyss?


Unraveling the tapestry (TAPESTRY ?????)

The infiltration of echoing high tones in our daily speech reinforces the mystical nature of how this manner of speaking came to be. This particular phenomenon inspired the humble yet multifaceted Associate Professor from the Department of Communications, Atty. Ma. Zophia Antoinette “Anne” Courtesy-Smith, LPT, RPm, RPh, DVM, CPA, CRA, MBA, MD, JD, PhD, to research on this topic. “I don’t know how it began. Every time I feel like I’ve found a lead or clue, I just find myself [back to] where I started,” she laments. To say the least, the advent of high tones took the Philippine vernacular by surprise, leaving professionals like Courtesy-Smith baffled.

In stark juxtaposition—JUXTAPOSITION?—this way of speaking proves to be more than just a one-hit-wonder among the younger demographic. The constant and dramatic repeating of highfalutin words can be heard all day, every day, within and beyond the University’s walls. In Essy Vega Batumbakal-Dimatibag Jr.’s (III, AB-CAM) words, “Di ko alam [kung] bakit it’s hilarious—HILARIOUS?!—[para] sakin and sa friends ko, pero it [just] is.” Despite—and because of—the lack of context, high tones just fit many people’s definition of creative comedy. 

(I don’t know why it’s hilarious for me and my friends, but it just is.)

Similarly, those on the receiving end initially feel irritated. “‘Nung una, nakakainis when my friends would do it to me,” Batumbakal-Dimatibag Jr. admits. “Eventually, I caught on, and Minarcos ko siya from them. Now, it’s just second nature.” Through this cycle, it becomes less of a surprise how the somewhat preposterous shift in higher tones continues to dominate conversations from all backgrounds and contexts.

(At first, it was annoying when my friends would do it to me. Eventually, I stole it from them.)

However, as labyrinthine—LABYRINTHINE?!—these practices may appear to be, they undeniably play a growing role not just in the vernacular scene but in Filipino culture as a whole. By digging deeper, the assimilation of these trends serves as a reflection of Filipino ingenuity. Courtesy-Smith expresses in Filipino, “Maybe we could liken the higher tones to our days of poetry and oral tradition.” Though these linguistic practices have drastically changed in form, they reflect our innate appreciation for the clever use of vocabulary combined with correct infusion of higher tones.

Examining the emboldened

Despite the gradual interpolation of these high tones into the daily vernacular, there are calls to criticize the high-tone phenomenon as a despicable, anti-intellectual practice curtailing the Philippine oral storytelling tradition. 

Linguists all over the country are wary of this new way of conversing. As the result of a fruitful discussion with fellow Professor Kween Yasmin, Courtesy-Smith candidly shares that the “exacerbated practice of such vulgar parlance may inevitably bring more ruin to our dear language.” In social spaces, the high-tones phenomenon is a terse area of discourse that divides the public into two opposing sides. Batumbakal-Dimatibag Jr. confesses, “Even within my close confidantes—CONFIDANTES?—they’re a topic of heated debate. I’ve seen [personal] takes on social media [that] it borders on making fun of others for using big words unnecessarily.”

To that end, Courtesy-Smith attests, “Given its proliferation, it has certainly warped the systemic perception of comedic timing and vocabulary.” Critics claim high tones have become an excuse for exaggerated, excessive, Imeldific behavior, falling into the peripherals of low-brow culture. Some even insist it hinders interpersonal communication, claiming that people can no longer go through a single sentence without the accompaniment of a high-toned echo, much to the exasperation of their peers. “The use is kind of arbitrary—ARBITRARY?!—because it depends on the statement—STATEMENT?!—and the occasion—OCCASION?! I’d even say it’s unpredictable—UNPREDICTABLE?!?!” Batumbakal-Dimatibag Jr. conveys. 

Nevertheless, this mannerism proves to begin the cementification of its presence in Philippine culture. “It’s more than a trend that people are catching onto. It is also a tool that people use to diffuse tension in their conversations,” Batumbakal-Dimatibag Jr. attests. While others may view it as a burgeoning agent in the social divide, it helps cross the impossible expanse—IMPOSSIBLE EXPANSE?!––between everyday vocabulary and multisyllabic jargon. 

Literally escalating (ESCALATING?!) literacy

While it may seem humorous for others to wield one’s vocabulary, it is no joke that the high tones have elevated the public’s literacy. “There’s fun in using high tones, knowing that when you converse with someone, you make an effort to rack your brain for words you normally wouldn’t use in a simple conversation,” Courtesy-Smith points out. It is then viable that this way of speaking has been a blessing in disguise for many, even when using highfalutin words in normal conversations seems like an odd linguistic preference. But given the country’s reputation for comedic discursive—DISCURSIVE?!—trends, it becomes an effective encouragement for Filipinos to learn. “Joke time siya siguro sa tingin ng iba pero sakin, my erudition—ERUDITION?!—has been showing,” Batumbakal-Dimatibag Jr. assures.

(It may be a joke to others.)

It may then be a goal to continue such a way of articulating—ARTICULATING?!—one’s vocabulary through the use of high tones and highfalutin words. Both Batumbakal-Dimatibag Jr. and Courtesy-Smith suggest that integrating this manner of speaking into the current curriculum would effectively boost the country’s literacy rate. “I actually hired a vocal coach, and it’s been effective in improving my intonations—I suggest getting one,” Batumbakal-Dimatibag Jr. shares. Courtesy-Smith is confident about the evolution of this verbal utterance. “Linguistic trends inevitably fade over time, but I’d like to believe that this one will prosper—PROSPER?”

Beyond the fun and witty intentions of speaking in high tones, it is worth recognizing how this utterance has contributed to the development of the Filipinos’ language and literacy. “It’s an eminent vernacular language, and I would further encourage everyone to utilize it in a way that makes learning enjoyable,” Courtesy-Smith hopes. 

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s Spoof 2024 issue. To read more, visit bit.ly/TLSSpoof2024.