Forgiveness, please

Language Log discusses an article about the president of the Philippines’ refusal to apologize to Hong Kong over the death of a group of Hong Kong tourists when they were holidaying in the Philippines. The post is about a particular claim that part of the problem is that Tagalog has no word for “sorry”. The claim is of course complete crap.

However, one of the comments on the post gives a very old-fashioned way to apologize in Tagalog: “Ipagpaumanhin po ninyo ang aking pagkakamali.” This sounds seriously formal to me. If I were to translate this into English with approximately the same connotations I would render it as “I humbly beseech you for your forgiveness for the grievous wrong I have committed”. Somehow I can’t imagine saying it in any other position besides kneeling in abject supplication on the ground, clothes perhaps rent in anguish.

My admittedly poor translation sounds kind of hokey, or it can if not intoned with the proper gravitas. However, saying the Tagalog sentence with anything less than utter sincerity somehow seems wrong and even faintly immoral. I honestly can’t think of any situation where I would need to deploy this linguistic equivalent of the nuclear option. Perhaps if I’d accidentally killed my neighbour’s child or something like that.

Anyway, now you know how to apologize in Tagalog if you ever commit manslaughter.

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