TAGALOG LANGUAGE by Teresita Ramos

anabnr2.gif (15492 bytes)

by  Dr.  Teresita V. Ramos

The Philippines is a Southeast Asian country of some 7,100 islands and islets off the southeast coast of mainland China.   It is populated by about 70 million Filipinos.  It is said that there are as many as 300 languages and dialects in these islands which belong to the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages.

One of the factors that complicate the language situation in the Philippines is diversity.  Linguists say there are 75 to 150 native languages spoken by Filipinos.  The latest estimate is 109 languages, or 110 if Chavacano is included (McFarland 1994: 83).  Although these languages are in some ways grammatically and lexically similar, they are mutually unintelligible.  Furthermore, each of the major languages has several dialects that differ, especially at the phonological and lexical levels.  Depending on their region of origin, Filipino immigrants will speak at least one dialect of one of these mutually unintelligible languages.

On the basis of a probable 75 mother tongues according to Weber (1989), six are classified as major languages (the percentages indicating the number of native speakers of each language):  Tagalog (25%), Cebuano (24%), Ilocano (9%), Hiligaynon (9%), Bicol (6%), Waray (5%), and other (22%).  Because of immigration, these major languages as well as Pampango and Pangasinan are represented in America.


Following the mandate of the 1935 Constitution, President Manuel Quezon proclaimed Tagalog as the basis of the national language in 1937.  To free the Tagalog-based national language from its ethnic ties and therefore to facilitate its acceptance, Tagalog was renamed Pilipino in 1959.  However, the 1973 Constitution rescinded the choice of Tagalog (Pilipino) as the basis of the national language (Gonzales, 1977).  Pilipino was established as one of the two official languages of the Philippines under the 1973 Constitution — the other being English.  The 1987 Constitution stipulates that the National Assembly is to take steps toward the formation of a genuine national language to be called Filipino, which will incorporate elements from the various Philippine languages.   Philippine language experts predict, especially after the 1987 Constitutional deliberations, that Pilipino will be renamed Filipino characterized by an openness to borrowings from the other Philippine languages as well as from English, Spanish, and other foreign languages (Gonzales 1991:  126).

The 1980 Philippine census indicated that close to 75 percent of Filipinos speak a variety of Pilipino, especially in the urban areas.   Gonzales (1987:  212) estimates that by the end of the century, 97.1 percent of Filipinos will speak a colloquial or conversational form of Filipino.



Filipino (Tagalog) has been influenced, principally in vocabulary by the languages with which they have come into contact:   Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese, English,  and Spanish.

Some of the grammatical features of the Philippine languages are the complex system of affixes, especially of verbal affixes,which denote a special relationship between the verb and a particular noun phrase in the sentence often referred to by Philippine linguists as “topic” or “subject.”   This relationship as actor, goal, or referent in the sentence is usually marked by an affix in the verb. There are other prominent feautres of the language such as; the use of markers in a sentence, the reduplication of a syllable in a word, and the use of particles between words and phrases.



Filipino (Tagalog) is the national language of the Philippines and the cultural thread that keeps Filipinos all over the world in touch with their roots.   To promote cross-cultural and transnational understanding and mutual appreciation, wide access to the Filipino language is essential.

Philippine history has strong links with the United States.  The country was an American colony from 1900 – 1946.  Cooperation between the Philippines and the United States had continued through World War II,  in the post-Independence period, and well into the present global economy.  In part, because of this strong ties, Filipinos comprise a significant minority in the United States.

Currently, there are about a million Filipinos in the US, and more are coming every year.  This increase in the   number of Filipinos (predicted to exceed the Chinese by the year 2000) is likely to have a greater impact on American politics and social concerns.  This trend therefore requires educating Americans about the Philippines in general and, more specifically, providing our schools and community organizations with materials that help the Filipino-Americans to participate more easily and widely in the life of our nation.

According to the 1990 United States Census, Tagalog is the second most commonly-spoken Asian language in the United States, and the sixth non-English language spoken in America.  Tagalog is the lingua franca of the Filipinos anywhere in the world.  Most Southeast Asian scholars use Tagalog as the tool for research in the Philippines.  It is the language of major works in literature and that of Philippine films and songs.

A growing number of American universities are regularly offering courses in Tagalog.  The expansion of the field can be illustrated by the following facts:  in the 1960s, only Hawaii and UCLA were offering regularly-listed courses in Tagalog.  Today, Tagalog courses are offered every year at the University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell University, University of Michigan,  University of Wisconsin (Madison), Loyola Marymount University, University of Pennsylvania, Northern Illinois University, University of Pittsburg, and San Francisco State University, all of which recently joined nationwide consortium to promote teaching Tagalog.



It is of interest to note that after almost a hundred years in America, there are now second and third generations of Americans of Filipino ancestry whose command of Tagalog is limited but who desire to access Tagalog language instruction.  More and more Philippine language classes are attended by Filipino Americans.

The emergence of Filipino-American students and their growing demands for historical, cultural, and linguistic knowledge that will enable them to reclaim their heritage and ultimately discover their identity have resulted in the increasing need nation-wide for more Filipino language and culture courses in various academic institutions.  The university has become the main venue for the articulation of their demands.  It plays a significant role in assisting the students to recover their parents’ language and culture for psychological, social, and cultural empowerment.