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Language Spotlight: Tagalog vs Filipino

in Travel and Tourism

Can the notion of introducing a national lingua franca, a language to unify the speakers of different mother tongues, work on a mass scale? The story of Tagalog and Filipino is a fascinating tale of an attempt to introduce a national language in the Philippines, and how the social and political impact has influenced the country’s primary language today.

Tagalog: A Historic Language of the Philippines

The word ‘Tagalog’ is derived from ‘taga-ilog’, which means ‘river dweller’, with the first Tagalog dictionary published in 1613. It was first declared an official language of the Philippines in 1897, by the Constitution of Biak-na-Bato.

With the Philippines comprised of around 2,000 inhabited islands, some 180 languages are spoken throughout this incredibly diverse country. Today, Tagalog is the first language of approximately one-third of the nation’s population.

The Journey from Tagalog to Filipino

In 1935, President Manuel L Quezon first floated the idea of introducing a lingua franca, assigning this task Surian ng Wikang Pambansa (the Institute of National Language), which decided on Tagalog.

At the time, Tagalog was the primary language used in Metro Manila, the Philippines political capital; a great deal of literature was written in Tagalog; and there were many speakers across the country.

This initial decision was opposed, and the concept of a lingua franca was postponed, being picked up again in 1970 by President Ferdinand Marcos. As part of his vision to create ‘a new society’ for the people of the Philippines, he set about developing the Pilipino language, which took many elements from Tagalog, yet replaced unpleasant or clumsy-sounding words with terms from English, Malay, Chinese or Spanish instead. In 1973, this newly evolving language became known as Filipino.

As a result, Filipino is heavily based on Tagalog – in fact, it is believed that around 80-90% of modern Filipino is actually Tagalog. The remaining 10-20% is mainly comprised of English, Spanish and other Filipino languages. Despite this, it is Filipino, rather than Tagalog, that is seen as a national language of the Philippines, along with English. Filipino was officially given this title in 1987, more than 50 years after the notion of a lingua franca was originally floated.

The attempt to enforce Filipino as the Philippines’ lingua franca in the 1970s has seen essentially seen it become a dialect of Tagalog – it could be described as a Tagalog-based language. In 2007, linguistics expert Ricardo Maria Nolasco declared: “They are mutually intelligible varieties and therefore belong to one language.”

Tagalog vs Filipino

There are some key differences between Tagalog and Filipino, however; for example, the Filipino alphabet has 28 letters, whereas Tagalog has just 20 (extra letters include c, f, j, x and z). This is because Filipino takes words from other languages, yet it shares the same grammatical structure, pronouns, linkers and verbal affixes as Tagalog. Filipino doesn’t borrow any of these elements from other languages of the Philippines, such as Ilokano, Cebuano or Hiligaynon – it is regarded by many as an upgraded version of Tagalog, with the two terms often used interchangeably.

Did Introducing a Lingua Franca Work?

Yet it is Filipino that is heralded during the month-long celebration of the national language in the Philippines each August, and it is Filipino that is now used by the country’s mass media. At the same time, Tagalog remains the common overseas language of Filipino people, and it is still the first language of many.

The original idea of introducing a lingua franca was to unite the Philippines’ diverse population, and its widespread use indicates that this has worked to some degree, but Tagalog remains prevalent, and it could be many generations before its close ties to Filipino are forgotten.

At Language Connect, we work with native speakers of both Tagalog and Filipino, who are fine-tuned to the nuances between these languages. Our translators are able to localise your work to a high standard quickly, helping you to reach your audience sensitively, professionally and effectively, with no misunderstandings along the way.



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