Filipino Language

The Filipino language is the national language of the Philippines today. It is based on the Tagalog language, which is a native, regional language spoken in the capital city of Manila and its surrounding provinces.

Filipino was borne from the intention of creating a native language that would unify the people of the Philippines and assert their independence from foreign rule under Spain and the United States. It was a vision originated during the 1934 Constitutional Convention and since had many iterations. The national language was not formally called Filipino until 1987. Hopes and sentiments for a unifying, native language was best articulated by one of the delegates during the 1934 convention, when Felipe R. Jose¹ delivered a powerful speech in Tagalog:

We have to let the world know today that we are a people no longer under the Flag of Spain, nor under the shadow of the American Flag. It is necessary that as early as now we must love the freedom and the soul of the nation – our own language. We will only deserve freedom if we can defend the sacred soul of the nation, our own language. Because language, the language of any country in the world, is used as a powerful tool for expressing people’s sentiments, for gaining knowledge and for defending their rights.

This vision of having one nation, one people, unified under one Filipino language brought about the evolution of Filipino. Today, that vision is more or less realized. Filipino is taught in schools all over the Philippine archipelago and most Filipinos can understanding, speak, and write in Filipino. Filipino has also become a global language, as it connects the many Filipinos living and working overseas with a language they can all speak and understand.


Why was Tagalog chosen as the basis for the national language?

The 1934 Constitution brought about a renewed sense of nationalism amongst the delegates and fervor for a “native” language to be the basis of the Philippine national language. However, choosing which native language spurred an intense debate. Filipino and American language experts, including Najib Mitry Saleeby, had a preference for Tagalog over other native languages even back in 1924. But, delegates from non-Tagalog regions opposed the quick choice of Tagalog, and this led to the establishment of the National Language Institute, which in turn decided on Tagalog to be the basis of the national language on 1937 as proclaimed by President Manuel Quezon².

To choose the native tongue which is to be used as a basis for the evolution and adoption of the Philippine national language. In proceeding to such election, the Institute shall give preference to the tongue that is the most developed as regards structure, mechanism, and literature and is accepted and used at the present time by the greatest number of Filipinos.

Two other reasons for choosing Tagalog, which was supported by many and articulated by the language expert, Saleeby³, was “its relation to the national capital…and Philippine heroes.”

Manila was the center of government and commerce, and its people spoke Tagalog.  Many of the Philippine heroes including Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Aguinaldo, and Apolinario Mabini also spoke Tagalog. In fact, the language used by the Katipunan, a Philippine revolutionary society, whose aim was to become independent of Spain, was Tagalog. Hence, for many language experts, Tagalog made the most sense to become the “Wikang Pambansa” or “National Language”.


Why was Tagalog changed to Pilipino?


Tagalog was later changed to “Pilipino” in 1959 in order to separate it from the identity of Tagalog (including the Tagalog ethnic group). The aim was to create a more national identity by naming the national language “Pilipino”.


What is the difference between Pilipino and Filipino?

Many non-Tagalog groups were still unsatisfied with “Pilipino” because they felt that it was exactly the same as the Tagalog language. Indeed, even “Pilipino” was deemed very Tagalog since it was based on the spelling and pronunciation of “Pilipinas”, which followed the abakada, a Tagalog alphabet which lacked the letter “f”, thereby replacing the “f” in the original name of the country Filipinas with “p” to make it “Pilipinas”.


Philippine alphabet preceding Filipino language
The 1987 Constitution renamed “Pilipino” to “Filipino” and replaced the 20 letter abakada alphabet with the 28 letter Filipino alphabet. In this new Philippine alphabet, new letters were introduced, including c, f, j, ñ, ng, v, x, and z.
Filipino alphabet of the Filipino language
These new letters embody the goal of the Filipino language to be more inclusive of other native Philippine languages, whose sounds were not represented in the Tagalog abakada. These additions also make the modernization of the Filipino language faster and easier, particularly when borrowing words from the English, Spanish, and other international languages.

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