The Philippines is an archipelago that consists of over 7000 islands. Located in Southeast Asia, the country is home to a number of beautiful beaches and diverse cuisine. For many people, the Philippines is a paradise.
Communication in the Philippines is easy, as English is very widely spoken. In fact, it is one of the official languages of the country. While Spanish was once an important language, its use has dropped in favor of English thanks to the influence of the US in the following years. However, in reality, English is mainly learned as a native language in major urban areas, and as you move further from the these areas and the likes of Manila, the level of fluency in English drops.
Tagalog, or as its standardized form is known: Filipino, is the other official language of the Philippines. The combined native and secondary speakers of Filipino outnumber the English speakers, and with around 180 indigenous languages native to the country, it plays an important role as a lingua franca.
Let’s have a look at Tagalog and what makes the language so special.
As mentioned before, Tagalog is the official language of the Philippines. It is endemic to the country, an Austronesian language that has prevailed through the years of occupation by several different countries – most notably Spain and the USA.
The language is most predominantly spoken in the northern regions of the Philippine Archipelago – especially those surrounding Manila. However, it is spoken as a second language throughout the country. Tagalog itself has many different dialects in different areas of the country.
Tagalog has made its way around the globe thanks to the substantial spread of Filipino diaspora communities. The population of the Philippines is over 100 million, with an additional 10 million living overseas. In the USA alone, there are close to 4 million. These communities bring with them many aspects of the culture, including the Tagalog language.
Interestingly, the Philippines has implemented a ‘Multilingual Education’ system, where students in their early years are taught in their mother tongue – usually the local regional language – with English and Filipino being offered as extra classes. In secondary education, the languages of instruction is Filipino and English, establishing the two as the main language in their school life. This system allows students to achieve some level of fluency in each of the languages.
As an Austronesian language, Tagalog shares many similar elements to the indigenous languages of the surrounding area. The most notable and prominent Austronesian languages still in use today are perhaps Malay and Javanese. Even within the Philippines, there are numerous related languages, though the number of speakers of these smaller languages is significantly lower.
Unfortunately, there is no mutual intelligibility between the likes of Malay and Tagalog, though some words may share similar roots. The same is true for Javanese. Other than a few familiar words here and there, the grammar, syntax and vocabulary differ between the 3 languages. A repeating theme with Tagalog is the impact and influence that the many countries that have occupied the Philippines have had on the language, steering it away from the other languages of similar descent.
The grammar is vastly different from English. Tagalog has a flexible word order, usually with a structure of VSO ( Verb-Subject-Object) and VOS (Verb-Object-Subject). While the verb usually remains at the beginning of the sentence, the following noun phrase is flexible in its order. The different orders change things like emphasis. This is quite a big hurdle to get your head around, especially for English speakers, where SVO structure is the norm.
Thankfully, Tagalog is, for the most part, a gender-neutral language. However, with the influence of Spanish, some gendered words entered the Tagalog vocabulary. The loanwords that take a gender generally fall into certain categories like occupations and ethnicities. The most famous of these is probably ‘Pilipina’ and ‘Pilipino’, which refer to a female Filipino and male Filipino respectively.
The language has taken many loanwords from Spanish and English. In casual conversation, as many as 40% of words can come from Spanish origin. English has also greatly influenced the Tagalog. It is not uncommon for Filipinos to code-switch between English and Tagalog, mixing words from the two languages within the same sentence, to create what they call ‘Taglish’. Finally, while not sharing too much with the other Austronesian languages, Malay has also left its mark. Once the key language for trade, around 3000 words of Malay origin have entered the Tagalog vocabulary.
Tagalog has a long history with the Philippines. While English is indeed a national language of the Philippines, Tagalog has much closer cultural bond with the country and its people – a symbol of national pride that has prevailed through years of different occupations. Learning the language will enable you to speak with more people, opening up many more opportunities – especially when trekking outside the larger urban areas into the country side and of course islands.
Other than these, there are the usual reasons for learning: it makes you more interesting, you can speak to more people and you increase your employability. If that sounds good, you should try out the Ling Tagalog app on Android to test yourself and learn at your own pace.