I am currently living in the Philippines (since April 2014). I live in a poor area of Pampanga province. My host family speaks Tagalog at home even though the local language is Kapampangan. The area where I live is one of the “resettlement” communities that were created right after the eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991.
I enjoy walking through the neighborhood for exercise and to practice Tagalog with the people. I am greeted by many people as I walk the streets. Some know me and they know I understand Tagalog. Others do not know me, and do not know I understand Tagalog.
Here are the top greetings I hear everyday as I do my walks.
1. Helo (hello)
2. Saan ka pupunta (Where are you going?)
3. Saan ka galing? (Where are you coming from, or Where have you been?)
Many of the little kids will say “helo” to me. Even very small children. They really get a kick out of saying hello and hearing me reply with “helo” or “hi”. The little Filipino children are very sweet. Their smiles can light up anyones heart.
Many adults also greet me with “helo”. I spoke with a family member here (Filipina) to see if it’s common for her to be greeted with “Helo”. She said no. She is greeted with a smile and nod of the head. She went on to say she is greeted with the other three that I mentioned.
Saan ka pupunta?
The next most common greeting I hear everyday is “Saan ka pupunta?” (Where are you going?). The word “saan” means where in English. The word “ka” is the singular version of the English word “you”. The plural version is “kayo”. Sometimes, I think they don’t even say the “ka”.. just “Saan pupunta”.
One thing I think is interesting is the use of “ka” even though they are speaking to an older person. At the time of this writing I am 58 years old. I’ve never heard anyone say “Saan kayo pupunta?”. They always use “ka” or leave the word for “you” out of the question entirely.
The word “pupunta” means “will go”. The root of that word is “punta” (go). To make the word “future tense” or what is known as the “contemplated aspect” they will double the first syllable of the root as in “pupunta”.
Where (saan) you (ka) going (pupunta) = Where are you going?
As noted above, I am an American. Many Americans may think it is odd for some stranger to ask where you are going. It’s not really meant the way it would be perceived in the USA. It is simply a greeting similar to hello. They don’t expect a complete answer. You can simply say “Diyan lang” (There just) which means “Just there”. You may point ahead to somewhere and reply with that. Sometimes, if I am going home when they ask me that question, I simply reply with “uwi na” (Going home).
The other day, I met some teenagers walking toward me on a long stretch of road with no houses nearby. As I got near to them I asked “Saan kayo pupunta?” I used the plural “you” (kayo) since there were more than one of them. Two of the young men responded with “Diyan lang” and they pointed ahead down the road.
Saan ka galing?
The third most common greeting I hear everyday is “Saan ka galing?”. It means “Where are you coming from?”. Some of my host family here translate it as “Where have you been?”. You already know what “saan” means from what I wrote earlier. You also know what “ka” means. The last word “galing” is pronounced with more stress on the first syllable.
There is another Tagalog word that is spelled exactly the same that means something different. The stress for that version of the word is on the second syllable. That word is related to “Magaling” (Excellent or great). One way to express that someone is good at doing something is to say “Ang galing mo!” (the good of you!, You are good!) Or “Ang galing mong magluto!” (The good of you to-cook, you are good at cooking.) Just remember, the stress for this “good” version is on the second syllable.
Ok, so back to the original “galing” that means “came from”. You can use that word to ask where something came from, not just a person. Saan galing ito? (Where came-from this) which means Where did this come from? Just keep in mind the stress is on the FIRST syllable when using the word in this way.
Just like the question “Saan ka pupunta” does not require a complete answer, the same is true for “Saan ka galing” (Where have you been, or where are you coming from). You can just give some quick answer. Maybe something like “ang tindahan” (the store).
The fourth most common greeting I hear everyday is “kumusta”. It means “How are you?” in English. It is derived from the Spanish question “Como estas?” Why the Spanish? It’s because the Spanish ruled over the Philippines for more than 300 years! There is a strong Spanish influence in the language. Not very much with grammar but with “borrowed” words. Once in awhile I hear someone say “Tagalog is like Spanish”. No, it’s not. I’ve studied both languages, and Tagalog is NOT like Spanish. I think they have that opinion because they hear Spanish words intermixed with Tagalog and they here the “rolled R’s”. There’s also the similarity with some word endings, for example, Filipina (ends with “a” for a female) and Filipino (ends with “o” for a male).
I hear “kumusta” as a greeting much less than the other three greetings discussed above. You can also say “Kumusta ka” but I have yet to hear anyone say that when they greet me here.
I hope to make a video soon that will show you just how often these greetings are used when I walk. I don’t like to video people without asking their permission, so I’m not really sure how I can do it. I want to be walking along and let you see and hear them ask it.
My guess is that “Saan ka pupunta” is used about twice as often as “Saan ka galing”.
I hope you found this topic useful. I have a few more things I want to write about Tagalog greetings. For example, when you approach the window of a sari-sari store and you don’t see anyone inside, how do you announce your presence? Also, how can you respond to “kumusta?”. I will write further post to address these other topics.