Tagalog and Filipino

Relationship between Tagalog and Filipino


Tagalog and Filipino are both languages of the Philippines. Many Filipinos and people familiar with the Filipino culture know and accept that. However, what confuses many people including Philippine natives is identifying what makes Filipino and Tagalog the same or different.


When speaking about the Philippine national language, Filipinos often refer to it as either Filipino or Tagalog. Many use the terms Tagalog and Filipino interchangeably, but when someone asks them if these two words are exactly the same, the seemingly easy question receives a hesitant answer. 


Answering whether Tagalog and Filipino are the same or different is in fact a very difficult question. It can’t be answer with a simple yes or no. The short answer is that it’s complicated


Understanding the relationship between Tagalog and Filipino requires some knowledge of Philippine history…


(But if you want a simple answer, scroll down to the heading “Tagalog and Filipino Today”. However, know that the answer you receive will not make you truly understand nor appreciate the relationship between Filipino and Tagalog.)


IIf you read this article fully, you will gain an understanding and appreciation of these Philippine languages that many do not have. And you can be that guy or gal at the next Filipino party that’s full of fun, interesting facts!



Evolution from Tagalog to Filipino


Spanish Arrival

Spaniards realized that Philippines has many different languages


The Spaniards arrived in the Philippines in the 1500s and marked the beginning of almost 400 years of colonization. You should be thinking, “That’s a long time!”, and indeed it is. The Spanish influence can still be felt in the Philippines today especially in its cities, and the Philippines has been coined “the Latin of Asia.” 


As the Spaniards explored different parts of the Philippines, they realized that many different ethnic groups resided throughout the archipelago. Philippines has A LOT of ethnic groups, and they spoke their own language.


Imagine being the Spaniard in charge of colonizing this archipelago, and you just learned one Philippine language and felt so proud of yourself, until you realized that you have to learn one more and another one and another one. The Spaniards knew that in order to assimilate the natives into Spanish doctrines, they needed to communicate with the Filipinos in one common language. Can you guess what that language is? If you guessed Spanish, then “muy bien.” The Spanish government established schools and taught Spanish to the natives. Soon enough, Spanish became the lingua franca of the land.




United States Colonization



Proposal of a National Language


Philippine natives never fully accepted being ruled by a colonial power. Do you want to be ruled by a grandma, who’s not even your grandma, who also does not look like you nor speak the same language as you? So the natives were ecstatic when they thought they would finally become a free people. However, the “Spanish-American War” in 1898, the least bloodiest way in history, did not grant Philippine natives freedom, but only replaced Spain with the United States as the new colonial power in the Philippines.


As the new imperial power, the United States immediately began sending teachers to the Philippines. They not only brought with them the American education system but made sure that the natives learned English.


However, the people of the Philippine archipelago remained dissatisfied with American colonization and continued to seek freedom. The United States then promised it would grant Philippines independence, and during the transitional period, the Philippine Commonwealth was established in 1935.  It was in the same year that the Philippine Assembly proposed a national language based on one of the existing native Philippine languages.



Proposal for Tagalog to be the National Language


Two years later, the Institute of National Language recommended that Tagalog be the basis for the Philippine national language. Tagalog was one of the major native languages and was also the language spoken in Manila, the capital. (See Filipino Language to learn more why Tagalog was chosen as the native language.)




Philippine Independence

Tagalog became Pilipino 


At last, Philippine independence from the United States was recognized in 1946. Debate on the national language was still ongoing because opposition from other regions where native did not speak Tagalog remained strong.  In order to appease the non-Tagalog speakers, they renamed it “Pilipino” in the 1950s. The goal was to separate it from the taint of Tagalog and make it feel more like a national language. 


Renaming of Pilipino to Filipino


By 1987, “Filipino” replaced “Pilipino” and became the official language of the Philippines. The one letter change from “p” to “f” marked a significant shift from the Tagalog abakada to the Filipino alphabet, a 28-letter alphabet that is still used today.



Tagalog and Filipino Today


The Tagalog and Filipino of today are essentially the same thing and are used interchangeably. The difference between the two is the story of their beginnings. The Filipino language resulted from Tagalog’s evolution, from being primarily an Austronesian language to what is now a hybrid of Malayo-Polynesian, Spanish, and English.


But as you’ve now learned, one must be careful in answering whether Tagalog and Filipino are the same or different, without understanding the context of how the Filipino language has evolved over the years. An oversimplistic answer without the understanding undermines the once impossible dream, the struggle and the conscientious effort to create Filipino, a national language to represent all Filipinos regardless of where they live and work in the world. 








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