Languages of the Philippines

Philippine Alphabet
Two kinds of ancient Filipino writing with approximate English equivalents 

About 87 different languages and dialects are spoken in the Philippines. The ten main ones are:

  1. Tagalog, spoken in Batangas, Manila, Mindoro, and most of Luzon;
  2. Sugbuhanon, in Cebu, and parts of Mindanao;
  3. Hiligaynon, in Negros Occidental and Iloilo;
  4. Samarnon, in Samar and Leyte;
  5. Bikol, in Camarines North and South;
  6. Pampangan, in Pampanga and Tarlac;
  7. Ilocano, in La Union and Ilocos;
  8. Maguindanao, in Cotabato;
  9. Maranao, in Lanao; and
  10. Tausug, spoken in Jolo, parts of Zamboanga City, Basilan, other parts of Mindanao, and the Sulu Archipelago.

The languages are basically of Austronesian or Malay-Polynesian origin, but many have assimilated words from Indian, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish and English. All these influences can be seen in many words of the Tagalog language. Nowadays, Filipinos use Taglish which is a mix of Tagalog and English. If you notice, most Filipinos switched back and forth from English and Tagalog as they speak.

From Sanskrit (Indian) – Tagalog adopted words such as aksaya (waste), katha (compose, or write), kuta (fort), and others;

From Arabic – alam (know), Salamat (thanks), etc.;

From Chinese – ate (elder sister), hibi (dried shrimps), and many food and trading words;

From Spanish – mesa (table), silya (chair), kalatas (letter), bapor (ship), and pader (wall); and

From American (English) – piyer (pier), istraik (strike), words for sports such as besbol (baseball), boling (bowling), boksing (boxing), and many more.

There is no C, F, J, Q, V, X in the Philippine alphabet. K is used for C; P or PH is used for F; H is used for J; K is also used for Q; B for V; and KS for X. When I was in high school, our Tagalog teacher taught us the ancient alphabet. I often wonder if it is still being taught in school today. Probably not.

Tagalog was declared the official language by the first revolutionary constitution in the Philippines, The Constitution of Biak-na-Bato in 1897.

In 1935, the Philippine constitution designated English and Spanish as official languages but mandated the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing native languages. After study and deliberation, President Manuel L. Quezon proclaimed on Dec. 30, 1937 the selection of Tagalog as the basis for the evolution and adoption of the national language of the Philippines. In 1939, President Quezon renamed the proposed Tagalog-based national language as Wikang Pambansa (national language). Under the Japanese puppet government during WWII, Tagalog as a national language was strongly promoted.

In 1946, Tagalog which had been made the national language of the Philippines became one of the three official languages, the other two being English and Spanish. If you go to college, chances are you will learn a few Spanish words because “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” by Jose Rizal, our national hero, are required courses to take in order to graduate and it is in Spanish. In my college years, those two novels are required reading in Spanish. “Noli Me Tangere” in my junior year and “El Filibusterismo” in my senior year. Not that we are immersed right away in Spanish but we had to take Spanish 1 in our freshman year and Spanish 2 in our sophomore year. Once we entered our Spanish class in my junior year, no English or Tagalog were spoken. It was a total immersion in the Spanish language. We were fined for violating the rule. Twenty-five cents every time we spoke Tagalog or English. By the time we ended the course in our senior year, our professor treated us to a big dinner party at a nice restaurant. Here is a group photo of the class at that end of the year party.

Spanish Class 1963

I’m the second person on the left. Our professor (with the bow tie) was a military man and run the class with military precision but we liked and respected him and we learned a lot from his class.

Along with English, the national language has had official status under the 1973 constitution as “Pilipino” and under the 1987 constitution as “Filipino”. I still prefer to call it Tagalog. To me, Pilipino is the term for the Filipino people.

The world Tagalog is derived from the endonym taga-log (“river dweller”), composed of tagá (“native of” or “from”) and ilog (“river”).

The Tagalog language also boasts different accents unique to some parts of Tagalog-speaking regions. Batangas Tagalog boasts the most distinctive accent in Tagalog compared to the more Hispanized northern accents of the language. Because of its uniqueness, the Batangas accent has been featured in film and television. The Batangas dialect is also known for the particle eh. While it is used throughout the province, some variations exist such as ala eh. This particle has no intrinsic meaning. Its closest equivalent in English is in the conversational context of “Well. . .”

Whenever a Filipino asks me where I’m from and I say “Batangas”, I inherently know their next comment is “Ala eh”.


Reference: The Philippines by John Cockcroft


Until next time. Let’s keep exploring the Philippines.



8 thoughts on “Languages of the Philippines

  1. A friend was just talking about some Tagalog that she (and her daughter) had picked up- how interesting to hear some of its history, and about some of the other dialects!


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