To live in Pilipinas I have to have a bisa. Do I speak Bisayan in the Visayas? As is often the case, I was triggered to mull over the F and V sounds swapped for P and B sounds after being sort of sideswiped by an article in New Scientist that historian Norman Owen brought to my attention.
Those in smart houses who like to feel superior to their less ‘educated’ brethen in the shanty next door will sometimes mock them for using Ps and Bs in the ‘wrong’ place. As do some porringers, er, foreigners.
What I would like to know, though, is whether the F and V sounds existed in the ancient languages of the archipelago we now call Pilipinas or Philippines, after King Felipe of Spain? There are Spanish loan words, as well as loan words from Mexican indian languages that arrived through Mexican Spanish because most of the time the Philippines was administered from Mexico until the early 1800s.
There were certain sounds that the Spanish spelled differently. With no W sound, places like Wawa and Wiwan became Guagua and Guiuan.
I am no expert in the linguists of ancient languages but those who do study such things have discovered that F and V sounds did not exist in hunter-gatherer societies but emerged with the development of agriculture. The reason for that is diet.
Put your upper and lower teeth together so they don’t overlap, edge to edge. Now try and say ‘functional’ and ‘Vesuvius’. It isn’t comfortable, a bit hard.
To make those sounds you have to place your lower lip against the edge of your top teeth. You have to have an overbite, when the top teeth overlap the lower teeth to make that happen.
Labial sounds like P and B only need the lips. They are easier to say.
Ancient hunter-gathers did not have overbite, their teeth were edge to edge and they had strong Jaws because their diets were ‘hard’. It was difficult for them to make F and V sounds. Agriculture led to softer food and weaker Jaws, which is why most people today have an overbite and they can pronounce F and V in a way their predecessors could not.
So, when someone pronounces an F as a P or a V as a B, don’t mock it as ignorance, appreciate it as the echo of your ancient Filipino past, a part of your heritage.