The Metamorphosis of Filipino as National Language

by Jessie Grace U. Rubrico

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Filipino -- the term used in both the 1973 and 1987 Philippine constitutions to designate as the "national language" of the Philippines, whether de jure or de facto, it matters not -- has come full-circle to prick the national consciousness and lay its vexing burden at the feet of our national planners, as well as of the academe. For indeed, the past six decades (since 1935) has seen "Pilipino" (or "Filipino," its more acceptable twin ) tossed in the waves of controversies between the pros and and the antis as each camp fires off volleys of linguistic cognoscente or even garbage, as the case may be, while the vast majority watched with glee or boredom.

With a strong constitutional mandate to evolve, further develop, and enrich Filipino "on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages" (Art. XIV, Sec.6, 1986 Constitution), our language planners were supposedly equipped to deal with the legal and administrative details of the problem, after the sad episodes appurtenant to its admittedly emotional sideshows in the 1971 Constitutional Convention (Santos, 1976) and the polemical articles of Vicente Sotto, et. al. (Rubrico, 1996), among others.

Key Issue and Sub-issues

But after more than 60 years, has Filipino truly metamorphosed into a Philippine national language? To what extent? What has been its "success stories"? Its failures? What is its current state or condition in the present? What needs to be further done? What is in store for the future? What are the development prospects of the other non-Tagalog languages of the Philippines for integration into Filipino?What are the
pervasive influence of English or of other foreign languages on today's speakers?

This paper is an indicative study of of Filipino's current lexicon, particularly borrowings from the English language --an ineluctable task, but necessary nonetheless, if one has to face honestly the current
phenomenon to be described more fully in this study. The researcher fully agrees with the observation that a national language can be a unifying concept of our continuing struggle against our colonizers
(Atienza,1996), of freeing ourselves from our colonial mindset (Maceda, 1996). Still, the illusory pitfalls (Constatino, 1996) warned about in the development of the national language compendium can be cause for some soul-searching pause, even as others deny them (Almario, 1996) with equal logic.

But if debates must continue, the let the "game" begin and may the best argument -as perceived by its arbiters. the officials and the public, especially--win. Language and culture are, after all, inseparable, with the people's lexicon mirroring their culture.

The Corpus

Virtually everyone agrees that media -print, radio, and television (and now, cyberspace) has had a profound influence on people, especially on their language. The Filipino spoken today, especially by the
young (35 years old and below) is undeniably distinctive, to use a loose term, and may have been so influenced by media to a greater extent. This Filipino is spoken by a significant segment of the population and it warrants a linguistic inquiry. Selected articles from Filipino tabloids and dailies, scholarly papers from the University of the Philippines Press, candid and structured interviews of college students, television news, sitcoms and talk shows, and radio programs in Metro Manila are some of the culled sources for the Filipino words, phrase, or sentences found in this study. Filipino, Tagalog, and Cebuano words are arrayed for cognate purposes, with English juxtaposed as a meta- or reference language. The corpus is found at the end of this paper as Appendix.

The conclusion derived therefrom form the bulk of the recommendations of this researcher, particularly on the "key success variables" that could ensure the continuing development and metamorphosis of Filipino as the national language of the Philippines in the next century.

Historical Perspective

The issue of our national language has been around for the past 60, or maybe even 90, years. The inhabitants of an archipelago with over a hundred languages need a common language with which they
could communicate with each other and express themselves as a people of one nation.

The 1987 Constitution provides that, "the national language of the Philippines is Filipino. As it evolves, it shall be further developed and enriched on the basis oe existing Philippine and other languages."

Perhaps it is unfortunate that when the Philippine Commission passed a bill in 1908 providing for an establishment of an Institute of Philippine languages and the training of public school teachers thereon, the Philippine Assembly rejected it through Leon Ma. Guerrero, its Chairman on Public Instruction who recognized the need for a common language for the Filipinos but who opted to adopt a foreign language instead of the native ones. Through him, the Philippine Assembly spoke, thus:

"The idea of studying the languages of the Philippine Archipelago is very plausible; but the present aspiration of  those who are interested in these languages is to unite them or reduce them into a single
language which, based on the principal dialects of the Islands, might constitute the means of inter-communication of ideas in the entire Archipelago, and which might obviate the absolute need now felt of using a common foreign tongue as a means of transmission of ideas, sentiments, and aspirations of the inhabitants of the Philippines." (Romualdez,1936: p.302).

In 1931, the ex-officio Secretary of Public Instruction, Mr. Butte, addressing the Catholic Women'sLeague, encouraged the use of the vernacular as medium of instruction in the primary grades (I to IV). He opined:

"If we may assume that one of the national objectives of the Philippines will be to preserve the important native languages, as far as practicable, the schools may contribute to the realization of this national objective by abondoning English as the sole medium of
instruction in the elementary schools . . ." (Romualdez,1936).

It must be noted that Lope K. Santos addressed the First Indepence Congress on 30 February 1930 by expounding on "The Vernacular as a Factor in National Solidarity and Independence." In 1932, Representative Manuel V. Gallego authored Bill No. 588 which provided for the use of the vernacular as the medium of instruction in all public elementary and secondary schools. In 1934 and 1935 the national language issue was discussed during the Consti- tutional Convention. And the Constitution mandated in Section 3, Article XIII: "The National Assembly shall take steps toward the development and adoption of acommon language based on one of the existing native languages. . ."

The National Language Institute was established on 13 November1936 pursuant to Commonwealth Act No. 184, and it was tasked with "the study of Philippine dialects in general for the purpose of evolving and adopting a common national language based on one of the existing native tongues." This involved studying each language spoken by not less than half a million people, collecting and collating cognate sets and phrases from these languages, adopting a system for Philippine phonetics and ortography, comparing critically all Philippine affixes, and selecting the language which was the most develop in structure and
literature and widely accepted and used by most Filipinos --which will be the basis for the national language (Sec.V Art.1-5). The Institute was given a year to accomplish this.

Once the language is selected, the Institute is to prepare its grammar and dictionary within two years. Then it shall purify the language by weeding out the unnecessary foreign words, phrases, or other
grammatical constructions, and enrich it through borrowing from the native languages and dialects, from Spanish, and from English --in that order. And any word adopted into the national language should be subjected to the phonological rules and ortography of the Philippine languages.

In 1937, the Institute recommended Tagalog and came up with the Balarila and the Tagalog- English Dictionary. In 1959, the Department of Education called the Tagalog-based national language Pilipino. In
1965, some congressmen took the cudgels againsts the propagation of Pilipino, which to them is "puristang Tagalog," as the national language. This period witnessed the purists coining words like salumpuwit (chair), salimpapaw (airplane), sipnayan (mathematics), etc. In 1969, some non-Tagalog speakers, like the Madyaas Pro-Hiligaynon Society and some Cebuano groups complained against the movement of Manila toward "purismo." This gave rise to the problems that needed to be resolved before the non-Tagalog speakers could accept Tagalog as their own "wikang pambansa."

Be that as it may, the Board of National Education ordered in 1970 the gradual shift to Pilipino as medium of instruction in the elementary starting with Grade 1 in the school year 1974-75 and progressing into
higher grades, a level each year. It was also adopted as the medium of instruction for Rizal and history subjects in colleges and universities. In 7 August 1973, the Board of National Education introduced the
bilingual approach to teaching --that is, using two languages as media of instruction in the schools, to wit: the vernacular for Grades I and II, Pilipino for Grades III and IV, Pilipino and English for secondary and
tertiary levels.

This bilingual approach serves to promote the intellectualization of the national language --that is, to use it as medium of intellectual exchanges in the academe, government offices, as well as in other disciplines in the process of acquiring knowledge about the world which could be expressed by the said language. In addition, it will bring about a national unity and identity among Filipinos, as they can now express themselves and communicate with each other in a common language.

The 1973 Constitution states the National Assembly should endeavor towards developing and formally adopting a common national language to be called Filipino. Meantime, Pilipino and English remain the official languages unless repealed by law. Filipino is anchoredon Pilipino. Pilipino has borrowed and adopted a lot of words from the Spanish lexicon, Spain being the country's colonizer for over 300 years. These words are carried over to Filipino as Pilipino, as these lexical items have now undergone phonological and morphological processes and appear to be native terms. The borrowing from Spanish has now somewhat waned. What is prevalent in Filipino today is the rampant borrowing from English. Tabloids, dailies, weeklies, showbiz magazines, even the Cebuano weekly Bisaya are awashed with English words. The academicians as well as the newscasters in radio and television have adopted English words freely and liberally.

Filipino Today

The evolution of the Wikang Pambansa, now known as Filipino, has not remained uneventful, as one finds out from the its historical perspective in the previous section. From 1935 onwards, to the present 1990s we have seen this language develop, first as Tagalog-based that barely ill-disguised itself as the "national language"--a clear victory of Manuel L. Quezon and the espousal of the tagalistas over the Bisayan hopes of Sotto and his Ang Suga advocates-- then, in 1959 acquiring the term "Pilipino"given to it by executive fiat to remove the last vestiges of "tagalogism" and imprint its national character. In 1965, when the "puristas" (purists) attempted to enhance the vocabulary through artificial wordsmithing and thereby intensifying the 'word war" with their critics. Then, beginning in the 1970s which saw Pilipino finally being used as medium of instruction at the primary and secondary levels of public and private schools. And, lastly, from its 1987 constitutional enshrinement as "Filipino" to the present --an amalgamation of Pilipino/Tagalog, Spanish, and a preponderance for English in respelled forms.

Some lexical items given in the Appendix will now be discussed here as representing a type of dominant Filipino written or spoken in: (a) the academe;(b) a language journal; (c) a Cebuano weekly of general
circulation; (d) an article written by a noted Filipino linguists; (e) a series of TV news broadcasts, and (f) someMetro Manila daily tabloids. The choice of sources for these lexical items is rather arbitrary, albeit on firm linguistic ground that the best sources of data are the people themselves --what they speak, what they read, and so on. In this study,Tagalog and Cebuano speakers are taken as a combined language group comprising more than 50 per cent of the Philippine population (Atienza, 1996, citing NSO 1989 figures) with 92 per cent of Filipinos being able to speak the wikang pambansa, thus effectively establishing Filipino as the lingua franca of the country, if not, as the national language itself.

Exhibit A (please see Appendix) presents some lexical items used by professors of the University of the Philippines in their publications in Filipino on the same topic. These terms are arrayed alongside their
English equivalent. Thus, konsiderasyon is "consideration" (respelled form), natural is, likewise, "natural" (adopted form). The original data of about 600 terms show consistency on the aforementioned forms.

Exhibit B, with lexical items sourced from the writings of a distinguished group of Filipino writers, exhibits the same forms --respelled, affixed, or adopted (e.g., diyagram, kategorya, and minimal). Exhibit C, with lexical items from the highly popular and widely-circulated Cebuano weekly, Bisaya, shows a close congruence of Filipino usage as its staid counterparts above (Exhibits A and B). For instance, anowonser for "announcer," ideposito for "to deposit," and tiloring for "tailoring."

Exhibit D shows some lexical items from one of the works of the foremost proponent of the "universal approach" to Philippine languages (Constantino, 1974). These items are unabashed borrowing from the English language, such as fyutyur (future), vawel (vowel), tsok (chalk), sabjektiv (subjective), and diksyunari (dictionary).

Exhibit E is a transcription of terms used in selected, highly-rated TV newscasts in Filipino.Typically, the commentary is fast-paced, accompaniedby live "on the spot" camera footages, with words pouring out in staccato manner, like administrasyon, kovereyj, masaker, trafik apdeyt,insedente, aprobahan, and the like. (The respelling of these English equivalent in Filipino is the researcher's alone, consistent with the phonological rules of Philippine languages.)

Exhibit F lists lexical terms from the proliferating Metro Manila tabloids written in Filipino and read by the masa, the "man in the street" literally. Familiar words like mentaliti (mentality), sektor (sector), isyu (issue), and abroad (abroad).

Taken as a whole, the lexical items drawn from Exhibits A toF reveal a common, tell-tale pattern of usage one can ignore at his/herown peril. All point ot a heavy and consistent borrowing from the English
language. Why this phenomenon is so will be explained in the next section.

Towards a Theory of Filipino

What do academicians say about Filipino? Dr. Ernesto A. Constantino, a distinguished Filipino linguist says: "Ang pinili naming wika na idedebelop bilang wikang pambansa natin, ang tinawag naming
linggwa prangka o Filipino." [We chose to develop as national language Filipino, that which we refer to as the lingua franca] (Constantino, 1996:p.180). Atienza (1996) describes it as "isang wikang kompromiso, o lingua franca." Flores(1996) points out that Filipino is the language of the "kulturang popular na nagmula sa Metro Manila at pinapalaganap sa buong kapuluan." Another view is that of Isagani R. Cruz of DLSU who states that for him Filipino is the English-Tagalog code switch. On the other hand, Alegre (1989) expresses that "contemporary Manila Tagalog is the basis of Filipino." He claims that Tagalog is developing into the national language as it is the lingua franca of the non-Tagalog provinces.

Is the Tagalog-based Pilipino really Filipino? Dr. Constantino cites the differences between Pilipino and Filipino, to wit: Filipino (1) has more phonemes; (2) has a different system of ortography; (3) manifests a heavy borrowing from English; (4) has a different grammatical construction. Based on the trend of development of Filipino as manifested in the data presented in this study, as well as the actual usage by the linguistic trendsetters in Philippine society --newscasters (both in radio and television), Filipino writers and some academicians, showbiz personalities--it would appear that his theory is closest to reality.

There is a consensus, however, among the academicians above that Filipino is the lingua franca in MetroManila which is inexorably pervading the regional centers through the print and broadcast media,
through the songs that the local bands sing, through intellectual discussions among academicians, etc. It is the language through which a prominent Filipino linguistcommunicates (Exhibit D), as well as the medium of expression among academicians (Exhibit A), and of the "caretakers" or "authority" of national language development in the University of the Philippines System, namely, the writers and editors in the Sentro ng Wikang Filipino(Exhibit B).

Even the leading Cebuano weekly, Bisaya (which has been around for the past 68 years) has now printed in its pages loan words from English which, more often than not, retain their original spelling despite their being subjected to the Cebuano rules of grammar. One can safely say that Cebuano, like Tagalog, is undergoing linguistic change through lexical borrowing from English. Right now the Cebuanos adopt two alternate forms --the original spelling and the modified. Soon only one form will be retained, by theory of simplification as embodied in the universals of language.

At the moment, it is very clear that English borrowing has a dominant and pervading influence in the shaping of the lingua franca which is the penultimate form of Filipino, the national language. But will this
trend continue? Language is dynamic. This researcher is of the opinion that as long as English remains the official language of commerce, science,and technology the trend will continue.

Unfortunately, there isn't much borrowing from other Philippine languages. Maceda (1996) introduces some Cebuano words and phrases in her discourse. So natural was the insertion, the reader can contextualize the meaning. Atienza, in the same book included in his text "pakikipag- lakipan," the rootword of which, "lakip", is also found in the Cebuano lexicon. At the UP campus, one sees Cebuano signs like "Balay Kalinaw" and "Ugnayan sa Pahinungod." Would a little bit more adoption of words from other Philippine languages foster goodwill and unity among the etnolinguistic groups in the country in the future? Being a Cebuano, the researcher feels proud that some Cebuno terms are now significant in the national context. Probably members of disparate ethnolinguistic groups would most likely feel the same.

On the other hand, there are expressed illusory hindrances to the concept of a unifying language, to wit: (1) it is impossible to develop a national language from one of the country's 100-plus languages; (2) the emergence of a national language will wither the other languages; (3) it is equally impossible to develop a national language based on two or more languages; (4) regionalistic pride prevails over nationalistic aspiration --like the Cebuano who insists on using his own language over Pilipino.

But considering the rapid linguistic development of both Cebuano and the Metro Manila Filipino, there seems to be hope for Filipino. And this is manifested in the perceived convergence of Pilipino and
Cebuano through their respective borrowings from English. A few examples are given below:

abroad abroad abroad abroad

















One is confident that the converging process will continue, not only for Pilipino and Cebuano but likewise for other Philippine languages like Hiligaynon,Bikol, Ilokano, Waray, Kapampangan, and so on. Language change is, however, gradual and it will probably take several years before a substantive convergence can occur.What is apparent for now is that the convergence is already taking place.

Meanwhile, Almario (1997, p.9) gives an update on Filipino:

"Nasa kalooban ngayon ng Filipino ang paglinang sa "sanyata" at "ranggay" ng Iloko sa  "uswag" at "bihud" ng Bisaya, sa "santing" ng Kapampangan,"laum" at "magayon" ng Bikol at kahit sa "buntian" ng Butanon at "suyad" ng Manobo. Samantalay hindi ito hadlang
sa madaliang pagpasok ng "shawarma" "shashimi," "glasnost," "perestroika," "shabu,"  "megabytes." "odd-even," at iba ang idadagsa ng satelayt at FAX sa globalisasyon."

What does one make out of this assertion? Are we now to believe that the process of borrowing from other Philippine and foreign languages is now a linguistic reality? Judging from the data gathered and
presented here, perhaps this is only partially true. That is, borrowing is almost exclusively from the English language. And why is this so? It is difficult to give a substantive answer to this particular question, given the limited scope of this study. Perhaps one indication why there is a lot of borrowing from English compared to other Philippine languages is the facility and appropriateness or applicability of English terms to modern day-to-day living of the average urban Filipino. More so because the urbanized Filipino is constantly exposed to the trappings --high technology, media, etc.-- of modern society which adopts English as its medium of communication, commerce, and education. As for Filipinos living in rural communities, the far-reaching radio and television broadcasts bring to them the linguistic trend emanating from the urban centers.

Thus is the metamorphosis of our national language, Filipino. Quick to adapt and change with the times and the demands of its speakers' culture and politics, it had initially lain quiescent beneath the controversies and debates over its birth and composition. But now, thanks to globalization and the rising quality of life of the average Filipino, it has, like the moth, grown uncomfortable inside its cocoon prison and longed for freedom of expression. Much may yet have to be done, but Filipino as national language of unity has arrived.

Copyright@ 1998 Jessie Grace U.Rubrico

Appendices A-F:


ALMARIO, VIRGILIO S. 1997. "Mulang Tagalog hanggang
Filipino."In Daluyan. Vol. VIII, No.1-2 (1997).
Quezon City: Sentro ng Wikang Pilipino, University of the
Philippines System. pp.1-10.

ATIENZA, MA.ELLA. 1996. "Ang Pulitika sa Paggawa ng
Palisi ng Wika." In Constantino and Atienza (eds.) Mga
Piling Diskurso sa Wika at Lipunan. Quezon City: UP
Press. pp. 133-156.

CONSTANTINO, ERNESTO A. 1996. "Mga Linggwistik na
Ilusyon sa Pilipinas." In Constantino and Atienza (eds.). Mga
Piling Diskurso sa Wika at Lipunan. Quezon City: UP
Press. pp.179-186.

_____________, Rogelio Sicat and Pamela Cruz. 1974.
Pilipino o Filipino? Manila: Rex Bookstore.

CRUZ, ISAGANI R, 1997. "Ang Filipino sa Internet." In
Daluyan, Vol VIII, No 1-2 (1997). Quezon City: Sentro ng
Wikang Filipino. UP System. pp. 69-74.

FLORES, PATRICK D. 1996. "Pamamangka sa Maraming
Ilog: Ang Deseminasyon ng Filipino atang mga Daluyan nga
Kulturang Popular." In Constantino and Atienza (eds.).Mga
Piling Diskurso sa Wika at Lipunan. Quezon City: UP
Press. pp. 219-230.

sinemanang Magasin sa Binisaya). Oktubre 16, 1996;
Marso 26, 1997; and Hunyo 25, 1997. Makati:

LOPEZ CECILIO. 1932. "Our Language Problems." Philippine
Social Science Review, Vol. IV. No. 2 (April 1932).
pp. 93-100.

MACEDA, TERESITA G.1996. "Wikang Pambansa:
Pagpapalaya kay Bighani." In Constantino and Atienza (eds).
Mga Piling Diskurso sa Wika at Lipunan. Quezon City:UP
Press. pp 187-194.

RUBRICO, JESSIE GRACE U. 1997. "An Annotated
Bibliography of Works and Studies on the History, Structure,
and Lexicon of the Cebuano Language: 1610 to1996." Thesis
(MA Linguistics),University of the Philippines, Diliman,
Quezon City.

SANTOS, EMMANUEL. 1976. The Constitution of the
Philippines: Notes and Comments. Manila: The Philippine
Society of Constitutional Law, Inc.

Copyright (c) 1998 Language Links. All rights reserved.

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by Michael L. Tan

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How did Tagalogs count in the 17th century? You’d think, well, just like we do today: isa, dalawa, tatlo, etc.

That commonsensical answer is only partly right. I checked the Vocabulario Tagalo, a Tagalog-Spanish dictionary dating back
to 1624 and found the numbers were pretty much the same except for some variations in spelling (“dalaua”, “ualo” and “sampouo”).

Besides these spelling variations, the dictionary did reveal other differences. It didn’t occur to me, until I read Vocabulario Tagalo, why we say “labing-isa” for 11. To create numbers beyond 10 in old Tagalog, you used the suffix “labi-“, which means “more than”. So, “labin-isa”, or the number 11, means “one more than 10” while “labin-walo”, “eight more than 10” gives us 18. It gets more complicated when you get to the hundreds but the early Tagalogs managed that quite well. Labi sa daan isa was “one more than one hundred” or “101”. Count on to “labi sa daan sampouo” for “110” then draw a deep breath to say “labi sa daan labin-isa” or “eleven more than a hundred”.

I’m going to stop counting here and explain what I’m trying to do. I had to give a talk the other day at the Filipinas Heritage Library on the evolution of Tagalog and while doing background research I realized so little had been written about how Tagalog has evolved across the centuries. What has been written appears in inaccessible academic journals or books so I thought of doing a summary in non-technical language.

Why bother to trace origins, you may ask? Well, because it’s National Language Week and the national language, like it or not, is Tagalog-based. A more important reason though is that by understanding the origins and evolution of Tagalog, we’ll see
how it’s always been a rather cosmopolitan language, borrowing words left and right. This extensive borrowing means a search for “pure Tagalog” (or “pure Filipino”) will be futile and silly.

Let me point out we shouldn’t get an inferiority complex because of this penchant for borrowing words. Languages are like living organisms, their vigor coming from interactions with other languages. English itself is a hybrid language filled with loan-words from all over the world, reflecting how original English speakers explored and colonized the world.

This takes us to the third, and most important reason for tracing Tagalog’s, or any language’s, origins. A language’s evolution tells us of the kinds of social and political relationships within one culture, as well as between cultures. I’m not referring to colonialism alone. We’ll see how linguistic analysis can shed light on what day to day life was like among early Tagalogs.

Linguists are able to draw family trees of languages, and determine which ones are older, by comparing words, across languages and across time. In recent years linguists have started working with geneticists – putting linguistic data together with information about the DNA of different groups may give us a family tree that accounts for both biology and culture. But that’s for a column maybe five years from now. Let’s concentrate now on what we know about Tagalog.

Linguists classify Tagalog as part of a huge Austronesian (or, to use an older term, Malayo-Polynesian) family with more than 1200 living languages. The earliest Austronesian families probably emerged out of New Guinea and then spread out across a large geographical area.

Today, Austronesian languages are found from Taiwan in the north down to New Zealand in the south. Austronesian languages stretches eastward across the Pacific, to include the Hawiian islands and on to Rapa Niu (Easter Island) off the coast of Chile. West of the Philippines, we don’t find Austronesian languages except, curiously, on the island of Madagascar off the coast of Africa, because many centuries back, the island was settled by people originally from what is Indonesia today.

The Austronesian family has several branches, including a large Philippine division with more than a hundred languages. (The Summer Institute of Linguistics, a missionary group that specializes in translating the Bible, counts 171 languages, excluding dialects, for the Philippines.) The number of languages reflects our tendency toward “tribal fission” – early settlers were nomadic and constantly splitting into new groups. When two groups are isolated from each other – often by geography as in the case of the Philippines with our islands and mountain ranges -- they develop new words, diction, accents and intonation, grammar.

Intially, the variations may be minor – for example, the difference between Manila Tagalog and Batangas Tagalog – which means we now have separate dialects. Eventually, however, the differences become more radical, making it difficult for two groups to understand each other, as in the case of Cebuano and Tagalog. We now have two separate languages rather than just dialects.

Tagalog is a fairly young language, not more than a thousand years old. It belongs to a “Central Philippine” group, bearing more similarities with languages in the Visayas than those of Luzon (e.g., Ilokano and Kapampangan). Linguists say the Visayan languages are older than Tagalog so we can conclude that today’s Tagalogs are descended from settlers who originally came from the Visayas. Eventually, the settlers’ Visayan-based language evolved into Tagalog, new words being coined, others borrowed from the settlers’ new neighbors, for example the Kapampangan.

Through the centuries, Tagalog absorbed many words from other non-Philippine languages, reflecting the extensive contacts that came with trade and, later, colonization by Spain and the United States. We’ll continue with this linguistic tour next Tuesday but here’s something to keep you busy – how would a 17th century Tagalog have said “722 million dollars”, the amount of money Ping Lacson and Erap are said to have salted away in the States?

Note: This article was sent by Mr. Tan via e-mail to after a follow-up request after   Part II of this article (below)  first appeared on the online edition of his column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer dated 28 August 2001.

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by Michael L. Tan

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LAST Thursday, we began a tour of Tagalog through the centuries, tracing its origins and evolution.

Toward the end of the article I asked readers to guess how a 17th century Tagalog would say "722 million dollars"--the amount allegedly salted away in overseas bank accounts by Sen. Panfilo Lacson and Estrada.

While several readers wrote in asking for more specific information about Tagalog’s evolution, no one attempted to answer the 722-million-dollar question.

I suspect many got it right with the start--pitong daang dalauamput dalaua--properly spelled in the old style, but were stumped with "million" and "dollars."

If we rely on the Vocabulario Tagalog of 1624, a Tagalog-Spanish dictionary, it seems there were no words yet for "dollars" or "millions" at that time.

Nevertheless, the Tagalogs did seem to have words for rather large numbers: libo for thousand from the Malay ribu, and the Sanskrit words lacsa for ten thousand and yota for hundred thousand. (Yota originally meant "million" in Sanskrit but somehow got devalued when it was incorporated into Tagalog.)

Those terms for numbers are among the many loan-words Tagalogs took in from diverse languages.

There are many reasons people borrow words from other languages. Often it is a simple matter of cultural contact, often because of trade.

New goods, especially food items, come with new names. Other cultural exchanges may be more profound, involving science, religion and philosophy.

In the case of the Philippines, colonialism added another dimension to language, the dominant cultures bringing in or even imposing new words.

Let your imagination run wild now. Think how 16th century Tagalogs would have expressed their sorrow over a shattered relationship.

A commoner would have sighed, "Kay lungkot!"--lungkot being a hoi-polloi Kapampangan-Tagalog word. A datu’s daughter would have etched out a poem on bamboo, expressing her sorrow in Malay-tinged Tagalog: "O dusa! O dukha! O dalita! O dalamhati!"--all four words derived from Malay.

A datu’s daughter could have visited Brunei, with which Manila’s aristocracy had close ties, and picked up words from Malay, considered a high-status language at that time. "Dalamhati" was only one example, the intensity of sadness expressed by two Malay words: dalam (inside) and hati (heart, although it can also mean liver).

Note that luwalhati, a feeling of euphoria, is generated from the Malay luwar (outside) and again, hati.

Words have a life of their own, sometimes changing meanings as they move from one culture to another.

"Dalita" was originally derived from the Sanskrit dhrta (borne), becoming the Malay derita (to endure) and dalita in Tagalog, where it means great suffering.

The association with suffering produced extended meanings in Tagalog: dalita and dukha, both Malay-Sanskrit words for suffering, are also used to refer to poverty and the poor.

The Malay and Sanskrit words that entered Tagalog related to philosophy and religion. They were also languages of learning, as we see in the borrowing of the numerical terms I mentioned earlier.

Terms like lacsa and yota suggest that we conducted a lot of trading with our neighbors in what are today Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia.

Later, Arabic traders entered the region, bringing in not just material goods but also Islam, and new words. To give just one example, aqala, Arabic for intelligence, was transformed in Tagalog into "a concept, a notion, a hunch."

Curiously, some Arabic words may have come to us from the Spaniards, who themselves were once colonized by the Arabs.
Thus, the Arabic kafir, for an unbeliever, became the Spanish cafre for a savage and eventually became kapre, a mythical giant.

The Hokkien Chinese, who didn’t just come in as itinerant traders but often stayed on, introduced hundreds of other terms into Tagalog covering more mundane items and activities from food (siopao, tokwa, petsay) to household products (bakya, siyansi) to gambling (huweteng) and trading (suki, pakyaw).

Under colonial rule of the Spaniards and the Americans, Tagalog went through even more modifications. Hundreds of Spanish words entered Tagalog, their system of counting (uno, dos, tres, as revived recently by singer Ricky Martin) often displacing the earlier Tagalog system.

Some Spanish words we adapted as is but many others mutated, both in form and in meaning. Como esta became kumusta; hacer caso (de), to pay attention to, became asikaso.

We borrowed the Spanish pobre, meaning poor, but spinned off another word, pulubi, to mean a beggar, to whom we give alms or limos, originally alimos in Spanish.

Then there’s English, which we’ve been using in the last 100 years because of the American colonial period and, today, because it is a new global prestige language.

Listen to people speaking Tagalog in the streets and you’ll hear many English connectors--"so," "but" "and then"--as well as the occasional "shit" (or "syet") when discussing our senators’ latest "gimik."

People sometimes complain that we are captives of a colonial mentality, relying too much on English. But another perspective, often expressed with alarm by Americans and English, is that we’re colonizing the Queen’s English, gobbling up words and regurgitating them in new forms.

Just look at how English nouns have been transformed into Tagalog verbs, complete with conjugation (nag-text, mag-che-chess, makikipag-Internet).

Languages evolve because of cultural contacts, people meeting as tourists, traders, teachers, whatever. It’s not just a matter of the Tagalog language borrowing words from the world. You just wait and see.

Courtesy of the many Filipina yayas caring for the children of the world, someday we just might hear a British prime minister ordering Parliament to come to "votation"--but only after very properly offering a 10-minute break for people to go to the ‘‘See Ah.’’

Philippine Daily Inquirer Online edition
28 August 2001

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