Tagalog Markers: Introduction

Beginning Tagalog 1 Grammar


Key Concepts: Marker and Focus

What is a MARKER?

Tagalog markers function in much the same way as articles in English. These words come before nouns or noun phrases to indicate their roles in a  sentence. They may mark nouns as subject, object, location, direction, etc.

Let’s talk about markers in more detail. In Tagalog, it’s very important to know what a marker is.  A marker is a word that comes before a noun. A marker  tells you something about the noun that follows it. In Tagalog,  markers  tell you something about what role the word plays in the sentence.

Let’s look at an example of a marker:

Ang  bahay

The first word Ang is a marker. The second word is bahay which means house. The marker is connected to the word (or phrase)   that comes right after it. This marker will tell you some information about the word bahay (house).

Tagalog groups its words into three broad categories. It’s like you have a project that needs to be done and you have three different jobs that need to be done to complete the project. So you contact a temp. agency, and you hire some people to come work for you. Next, you divide the temp. workers into three different groups, and you assign each of the groups one of the jobs that needs to be done. So it is with Tagalog words. Words are chosen to fit into three broad categories that tell you something about the word and what “job” it is doing in the sentence.

Now let’s go back to the project example. Let’s say that you want to identify the workers. So you give each group a sticker or label that has a color on it. So the first group might all have blue stickers, the second group might have yellow stickers, and the third group might have red stickers. Markers work in almost exactly the same way that stickers or labels do. They tell you which category the word goes into.

Keep in mind though that just as a temp worker is not locked into one job,  a Tagalog word is also not locked into one category. Imagine that on the second day of your project you only need two types of tasks done, so you only hire enough people to do the two tasks. Also, a temp worker that did the “blue job” yesterday might be switched to the “yellow job” today. Likewise, this is how Tagalog sentences work. There are three types of words, but a sentence might not use all three, and any single word can take on a different job in a new sentence.

Three categories of Tagalog words

Here are the three general categories (or “jobs”) that Tagalog words can belong to. We will learn more about these categories as we go:

1. Focus words –  the markers that identify these words are called ANG markers.

2. Relational words –  the markers that identify these words are called NG markers.

3. Locative (direction or location) words –  the markers that identify these words are called SA markers.

Again, note that a single word can be in any one of the categories depending on how the speaker wants to use it in the sentence. Take for example the word bahay (house). Bahay can a focused word (ang bahay), bahay can be a relational word (ng bahay), or it can be a locative word (sa bahay).

The Tagalog lyrics of a song below  illustrates the use of some of these markers.

by Jose Corazon de Jesus

Ang bayan kong Pilipinas,
lupain ng ginto’t bulaklak.
Pag-ibig ang sa kanyang palad
nag-alay ng ganda’t dilag.
At sa kanyang yumi at ganda
dayuhan ay nahalina.
Bayan ko binihag ka,
nasadlak sa dusa.

Ibon mang may layang lumipad,
kulungin mo at umiiyak.
Bayan pa kayang sakdal dilag
ang di magnasang makaalpas.
Pilipinas kong minumutya,
pugad ng luha ko’t dalita.
Aking adhika, makita kang sakdallaya.

Before moving on to the specific markers, we need to talk about a special concept that is found in the Tagalog language. This concept is called focus.

What is FOCUS?

In a Tagalog sentence, a Tagalog speaker will pick out a word that they most want to emphasize. This word could be the most important word in the sentence, or it could have some special sense of prominence.This chosen word of special emphasis is said to be the focus of the sentence.

Let’s look at the following English sentence as an example:

The dog bit the man.

If this sentence were in Tagalog, I would choose one of the nouns to be the focus of the sentence. How do I know which word to choose to be the focus? It all depends on what I as the speaker want to emphasize.   It might be helpful to ask myself “why am I saying this?,” or “what is the point of this sentence?”

Let’s say that I want to emphasize what the dog is biting. In other words, my main point is to tell you what it was that the dog bit. Because I want to tell you that the dog bit the man (and not something else),  I would choose man to be the focus of the sentence.

On the other hand, let’s say that I want to emphasize the dog. Perhaps I was surprised to see that a  normally friendly dog bit a man. Here the word dog would be in focus: The dog bit the man.

In spoken English we indicate something similar to focus by emphasizing the word with our voice, using stress. If the big deal in the sentence was that it was the dog that bit the man, then I would emphasize the word dog with my voice:

The dog bit the man.

Or if the important point is what the dog bit (the man in this case), then I would emphasize the word man with my voice:

The dog bit the man.

That’s how it is done in spoken English. But how does Tagalog indicate which word is the focus of the sentence?

Tagalog indicates which word is the focus of the sentence by placing a marker in front of the word that is the focus. This marker is like a little sign that grabs your attention and shouts out to you: “Hey! the word that comes after me is the focus of the sentence!”

The concept of focus is extremely important in Tagalog grammar. It is vital that you know which word is the focus of the sentence.

Focus is the key to the Tagalog language. Once you understand focus, much of the rest of the language will fall into place.

There is certain set of markers that has the job of indicating that the word they go with is the focus of the sentence. In the next section (ANG and SI/SINA) we will talk about these markers.