The Philippines is a
Southeast Asian country of some 7,100 islands and islets off the southeast coast of
mainland China. It is populated by about 70 million Filipinos. It is said
that there are as many as 300 languages and dialects in these islands which belong to the
Malayo-Polynesian family of languages.
One of the factors that
complicate the language situation in the Philippines is diversity. Linguists say
there are 75 to 150 native languages spoken by Filipinos. The latest estimate is 109
languages, or 110 if Chavacano is included (McFarland 1994: 83). Although these
languages are in some ways grammatically and lexically similar, they are mutually
unintelligible. Furthermore, each of the major languages has several dialects that
differ, especially at the phonological and lexical levels. Depending on their region
of origin, Filipino immigrants will speak at least one dialect of one of these mutually
On the basis of a
probable 75 mother tongues according to Weber (1989), six are classified as major
languages (the percentages indicating the number of native speakers of each
language): Tagalog (25%), Cebuano (24%), Ilocano (9%), Hiligaynon (9%), Bicol (6%),
Waray (5%), and other (22%). Because of immigration, these major languages as well
as Pampango and Pangasinan are represented in America.
Tagalog, Pilipino, Filipino
Following the mandate of the 1935 Constitution, President Manuel Quezon
proclaimed Tagalog as the basis of the national language in 1937. To free the
Tagalog-based national language from its ethnic ties and therefore to facilitate its
acceptance, Tagalog was renamed Pilipino in 1959. However, the 1973 Constitution
rescinded the choice of Tagalog (Pilipino) as the basis of the national language
(Gonzales, 1977). Pilipino was established as one of the two official languages of
the Philippines under the 1973 Constitution -- the other being English. The 1987
Constitution stipulates that the National Assembly is to take steps toward the formation
of a genuine national language to be called Filipino, which will incorporate elements from the various Philippine languages.
Philippine language experts predict, especially after the 1987 Constitutional
deliberations, that Pilipino will be renamed Filipino characterized by an openness to
borrowings from the other Philippine languages as well as from English, Spanish, and other
foreign languages (Gonzales 1991: 126).
The 1980 Philippine census indicated
that close to 75 percent of Filipinos speak a variety of Pilipino, especially in the urban
areas. Gonzales (1987: 212) estimates that by the end of the century, 97.1
percent of Filipinos will speak a colloquial or conversational form of Filipino.
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Linguistic Features of the Language
Filipino (Tagalog) has been influenced, principally in vocabulary by
the languages with which they have come into contact: Sanskrit, Arabic, Chinese,
English, and Spanish.
Some of the grammatical
features of the Philippine languages are the complex system of affixes, especially of
verbal affixes,which denote a special relationship between the verb and a particular noun
phrase in the sentence often referred to by Philippine linguists as "topic" or
"subject." This relationship as actor, goal, or referent in the sentence
is usually marked by an affix in the verb. There are other prominent feautres of the
language such as; the use of markers in a sentence, the reduplication of a syllable in a
word, and the use of particles between words and phrases.
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Filipino in the United States
Filipino (Tagalog) is the national language of the Philippines and
the cultural thread that keeps Filipinos all over the world in touch with their roots.
To promote cross-cultural and transnational understanding and mutual appreciation,
wide access to the Filipino language is essential.
Philippine history has
strong links with the United States. The country was an American colony from 1900 -
1946. Cooperation between the Philippines and the United States had continued
through World War II, in the post-Independence period, and well into the present
global economy. In part, because of this strong ties, Filipinos comprise a
significant minority in the United States.
Currently, there are
about a million Filipinos in the US, and more are coming every year. This increase
in the number of Filipinos (predicted to exceed the Chinese by the year 2000) is
likely to have a greater impact on American politics and social concerns. This trend
therefore requires educating Americans about the Philippines in general and, more
specifically, providing our schools and community organizations with materials that help
the Filipino-Americans to participate more easily and widely in the life of our nation.
According to the 1990
United States Census, Tagalog is the second most commonly-spoken Asian language in the
United States, and the sixth non-English language spoken in America. Tagalog is the
lingua franca of the Filipinos anywhere in the world. Most Southeast Asian scholars
use Tagalog as the tool for research in the Philippines. It is the language of major
works in literature and that of Philippine films and songs.
A growing number of
American universities are regularly offering courses in Tagalog. The expansion of
the field can be illustrated by the following facts: in the 1960s, only Hawaii and
UCLA were offering regularly-listed courses in Tagalog. Today, Tagalog courses are
offered every year at the University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell University,
University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin (Madison), Loyola Marymount
University, University of Pennsylvania, Northern Illinois University, University of
Pittsburg, and San Francisco State University, all of which recently joined nationwide
consortium to promote teaching Tagalog.
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