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Filipino

The Filipino language has an intriguing history surrounding its name.

Sometimes confused with the Tagalog language from which it is derived, and previously referred to as Pilipino, the Filipino language was not declared the official language of the Philippines until 1987. The Philippine government’s choice to call the national language “Filipino” reflects the complex cultural history associated with the language, a predominant tongue of the Philippines.

Classification and Terminology of the Filipino Language

The Filipino language is based on the Tagalog language, which is classified as a member of the Austronesian, or Malayo-Polynesian, language family. One of the world’s largest language families, the Austronesian language family is divided into two groups, Central-Eastern and Western. Filipino belongs to the Western, along with the Malay, Indonesian and Javanese languages.

Technically, Filipino is considered a variant of the native Tagalog language of the Philippines. Practically speaking, however, Filipino and Tagalog are essentially the same language. Filipino is considered the proper term, especially by Filipino-speakers who are not of the Tagalog group of peoples.

Filipino vs. Tagalog?

Map of Philippines

Filipino and Tagalog, the basis for the modern Filipino language, are mutually intelligible and in fact essentially identical. The grammar and vocabulary between the two languages is identical. The current constitution of the Republic of the Philippines declares Filipino to be the national language, as well as one of the official languages, of the country. There is a significant amount of history behind this decision regarding linguistic terminology.

Tagalog is the native language of the Tagalog peoples, a dominant native group of the Philippines. In the 1930s, it was decided that Tagalog would serve as the basis for the national language of the Philippines; this language was called “Wikang Pambansa” (literally “National Language”).

This proved problematic, as many non-Tagalog peoples came to see the predominance of the Tagalog language in the country to be equated with Tagalog cultural dominance. In hopes of giving the language a more nationalistic connotation, it was renamed “Pilipino” in the late 1950s. It was not until 1987 that “Filipino” became the official language of the Philippines.

Early History of the Filipino Language

Relatively little is known about the Tagalog language upon which Filipino is based. Some linguists maintain that, like the peoples of the Central Philippines, the Tagalog people originated along the Northeastern Mindanao or Eastern Visayas.

The first written example of the Tagalog language dates from circa 900 AD. Fragments of Tagalog, Sanskrit, Malay and Javanese appear in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. The first known book written in the Tagalog language is a Christian Doctrine. Dating from the late 16th century, versions were written in both Spanish and Tagalog.

Early Development of the Written Filipino Language

Two versions of the Christian Doctrine of 1593, the first known book written in Tagalog, were created – one written in a Latin alphabet and the other in the Baybayin script. Baybayin is an ancient writing system of the Tagalog language that existed in the Philippines before the arrival of the Spanish.

While it bears some resemblance to south Indian languages that influenced the development of many Southeast Asian languages, Baybayin is believed to have descended from the Buginese script of the Bugis people of Sulawesi, an island south of the Philippines.

Development of the written Filipino language progressed immensely throughout the years of Spanish occupation. Spanish missionaries and members of the clergy worked on manuals and vocabulary guides to Tagalog, which helped stabilize the language.

Spanish Influence on the Tagalog Language

In 1565, the first Spanish settlement was established in the Philippines and a period of Spanish colonial rule ensued. Throughout the period of Spanish dominance in the Philippines, the Tagalog language underwent significant evolution.

Thanks to Spanish influence, Tagalog gained an enormous number of Spanish language loanwords – today, an estimated 40 percent of informal Tagalog vocabulary used in common speech consists of Spanish loanwords or words derived from Spanish origins. Derived from Tagalog, the modern Filipino language has retained this influence today.

The Philippines After Independence

Flag of Philippines

Spain continued to dominate over the Philippines until the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, at which point the United States was awarded control of the Philippines. The Philippines did not gain total freedom until 1946, when it became a fully independent democratic republic.

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos imposed a state of martial law in the Republic in 1972, resulting in protests and the development of the People Power Movement. Marcos’s regime was dismantled in 1986.

Filipino as an Official Language

One year after Ferdinand Marcos’ fall, a new Philippine democratic constitution was ratified. The 1987 constitution of the Republic of the Philippines designated Filipino as the official national language of the Republic.

The linguistic debate was revived again in the 1970s and with the drafting of a new Philippine constitution in the 1980s. The 1987 constitution officially declared “Filipino” to be the national language, and made provisions for future evolution of the language in accordance with other Philippine languages. Today many Filipino-speakers, especially those who are non-Tagalogs, refer to their language as “Tagalog-based.”

Filipino Language Today

With approximately 14 million members, native Tagalog-speakers make up one of the largest linguistic and cultural groups of the Philippines. Today Filipino serves as the national language of the Philippines and, along with English, is one of the country’s official languages – an impressive feat considering that more than 100 languages exist within the Philippines. Filipino is taught in schools throughout the Philippines and is the official language of education and business.

Filipino can also be found in immigrant communities in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Hong Kong. The Filipino language is spoken as a first language by an estimated 15 million people around the world.


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Filipino Quick Facts

Alternate Names & Spellings: Pilipino

Language Family: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Meso Philippine, Central Philippine, Tagalog

Official Language of: Philippines

Spoken by Approximately 15,000,000 people

Also Spoken In: United States

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