The Tagalog language is one of the largest linguistic groups of the Republic of the Philippines, and it also serves as the basis for the country’s national language, Filipino.
Although Tagalog and Filipino are essentially identical, the Philippine government has made efforts to establish the distinct identity of Filipino as an autonomous language from Tagalog. The political and social reasons underlying this differentiation can be found in the Tagalog language’s intriguing history and its relationship to the Philippines.
Classification of the Tagalog Language
The Tagalog language is classified as a member of the Austronesian language family. Formerly known as the Malayo-Polynesian language family, Austronesian is one of the world’s largest language families. It is divided into two groups, Central-Eastern and Western. Tagalog is part of the Western Austronesian group, along with the Javanese, Indonesian and Malay languages.
Early History of the Tagalog Language
Tagalog is the native language of the Tagalog peoples, an indigenous group of people living in the Philippines. The early history of the Tagalog language remains relatively obscure, and a number of theories exist as to the exact origins of the Tagalog peoples and their language. Most scholars suggest that the Tagalog people originated along the Northeastern Mindanao or Eastern Visayas.
The earliest known example of the written Tagalog language is found in the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. Dating from about 900 AD, this text includes fragments of various languages, among them Sanskrit, Malay, Javanese and Tagalog. The first Tagalog language book is a Christian text dating from the late 16th century.
Development of the Written Tagalog Language
The Christian Doctrine of 1593 – the earliest known Tagalog language book – appeared in two forms, one version written using a Latin-based alphabet and the other written using a Baybayin script. The ancient writing system of the Tagalog language, Baybayin is thought to have descended from the Buginese script of the Bugis people of Sulawesi, an island south of the Philippines.
This Baybayin script appears to have existed in the Philippines before the arrival of Spanish colonials, who introduced a Latin script to the country. The Tagalog language underwent significant developments thanks to Spanish colonial influences as Spanish missionaries developed Tagalog language manuals and vocabulary guides that helped standardize and stabilize the language.
Spanish Influence on Tagalog
Thanks to an extended period of Spanish colonial rule over the Philippines, the modern Tagalog language exhibits a significant Spanish language influence. Throughout Spanish rule, Tagalog picked up a large number of loanwords. Today, an estimated 40 percent of colloquial Tagalog vocabulary is comprised of adopted Spanish words or Tagalog words derived from the Spanish language.
Relationship Between the Tagalog and the Filipino Languages
Tagalog serves as the basis of the Filipino language, the national language of the Philippines. The two languages are frequently confused – understandably as they are essentially identical. Filipino and Tagalog share the same vocabulary and grammatical system, and are mutually intelligible. However, there is a significant political and social history that underlies the reasons for differentiating between Tagalog and Filipino.
Establishing Differences Between Tagalog and Filipino: A Complex History
Although the Filipino and Tagalog languages are basically the same and Filipino is technically considered a variant of the native Tagalog language, the government of the Philippines has taken great pains to establish Filipino’s status as a distinct autonomous language.
In the 1930s, it was decided that Tagalog would serve as the basis for the national language of the Philippines. Referred to as “Wikang Pambansa” (literally meaning “National Language”), the language quickly incited conflict among residents of the Philippines. The problem with basing the national language on Tagalog, the native language of the ethnic Tagalog peoples, was that non-Tagalog peoples saw this act as establishing the dominance of the Tagalog language-- a dominance that they equated with Tagalog cultural and ethnic dominance.
Tagalog After Philippine Independence: Filipino as the National Language
Spain maintained its control over the Philippines until the late 19th century. With the end of the Spanish-American War in 1898, control of the Philippines was handed over to the United States. It was not until 1946 that the Philippines became fully independent.
The newly independent government was left with the problem of handling non-Tagalog Filipinos’ discontent with the state of the national language. In an attempt to rid the national language of its association with the Tagalog peoples and to give the language a more nationalistic connotation, the government renamed the national language “Pilipino” in the late 1950s.
In 1987 the national language’s name was changed again and Filipino was declared the official national language of the Philippines. The fact that the Philippine government chose to call the national language “Filipino” rather than Tagalog speaks to the history of non-Tagalog opposition to Tagalog cultural and linguistic dominance in the country.
Tagalog Language Today
The current constitution of the Philippines maintains that Filipino is the country’s national language as well as one of its official languages, alongside English. Today, Filipino is considered the proper term for the language of the Philippines, especially by Filipino-speakers who are not of Tagalog origin. Many Filipino-speakers acknowledge Filipino’s roots by referring to the Filipino language as “Tagalog-based.”
Native Tagalog-speakers continue to make up one of the largest linguistic and cultural groups of the Philippines, numbering an estimated 14 million native speakers. The Tagalog-based Filipino language is taught in schools throughout the Philippines and is the official language of education and business. There are an estimated 15 million native Tagalog language speakers worldwide, with significant immigrant communities in Canada, the US, the UK and Hong Kong.
Tagalog Quick Facts
Language Family: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Meso Philippine, Central Philippine, Tagalog
Spoken by Approximately 15,900,000 people
Spoken In: United States
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