Tagalog or Filipino – 2015 Update

speak tagalog

Are they really the same one language?

I’ve already covered this topic in another article in another blog. I’ve learnt a little bit more about the history of the Filipino language during my stay in the Philippines so this post will be an update to the same post on my other blog.

When I was growing up, my parents would speak both Tagalog and English to each other. However they only spoke English to me because I was growing up in Australia where English is primarily spoken. Sometimes my parents would teach me a few Tagalog words but I would first call them Filipino words. Every time relatives call the language Tagalog, I would always call it Filipino for simple reasons: Filipino is a language from the Philippines. Eventually, I would call it Tagalog too.

Later, I found out that the names Tagalog and Filipino (once known as Pilipino) both refer to the same language and are often interchanged for different purposes. Much like Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa MalaysiaSpanish and Castillian and even Chinese and Mandarin.

They both have the same grammar, vocabulary and syntax. Are there any differences between the two? Why does one language have two names?

If there are some inaccuracies, let me know.

How Tagalog became Filipino

I’ll just quickly give the background of the Filipino language because I’ve already written about it in the article with the link above.

Before the arrival of the Spaniards, there was no unifying language in the archipelago, although Tagalog, Cebuano and Ilocano were the three most common languages. A possible lingua franca at the time would be Old Malay but it was mainly used to communicate with Brunei and Srivijaya, which was based in Sumatra. After independence from Spain, the Philippines needed a unifying language other than Spanish to represent the Filipino nation.

The national constitution requested a national language based off an existing language native to the Philippines. In 1937, a committee consisting of members of different languages, spearheaded by then-President Manuel L. Quezon, held an election where they chose Tagalog out of the many languages in the Philippines. It was chosen mainly because it was the language of the capital, Manila, it was a widely-spoken language in the archipelago and there were already more publications in Tagalog than other languages. However, speakers of other languages complained about why their language wasn’t chosen feeling that they have to learn someone else’s first language and native Tagalog-speakers didn’t have to learn anyone else’s.

Later, Pilipino was renamed to Filipino in 1973. Article XIV, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution states that the Filipino language was supposed to consist of elements from other languages of the Philippines. As of now, the official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and English.

Is Filipino just plain Tagalog?

Having already mentioned the short history of the Filipino language, it is now stuck in minds of Filipinos on whether Filipino/Pilipino and Tagalog are truly the same language. Sometimes, even Filipinos have trouble explaining the difference between Tagalog and Filipino. If you ask me if there is a difference, my answer would be: Linguistically, yes. Politically, no.

As mentioned earlier, Filipino was based off Manila Tagalog and that there are different Tagalog dialects spoken in other provinces like Bulacan, Batangas, Laguna, Quezon, etc. It is said that the Tagalog dialects of Batangas, Marinduque and Quezon are considered as the deepest. However, not all Tagalog dialects is considered as the Filipino language except the Manila Tagalog, although speakers of the other Tagalog dialects can still get by most of the time. For example, There are two Tagalog words to mean “ant”: guyyam and langgam. Guyyam is a mainly used in Marinduque while langgam is widely used in Manila. Although guyyam is a Tagalog word it is not considered part of the Filipino language while langgam has been accepted to mean “ant” in Filipino.

Tagalog has already existed even before the arrival of the Spaniards to the Philippines let alone before the inception of the Filipino language under the Quezon presidency. Also mentioned earlier was that Pilipino was merely Manila Tagalog with a different name when the committee decided that Tagalog would be the national language rather than say, Waray or Cebuano (many Filipinos, mainly Cebuanos would have agreed that this should have been the case because it was more widespread than Tagalog throughout the country).

Also as mentioned in the 1987 Constitution, Filipino was supposed be the national language based off Tagalog and have included other elements of languages from the Philippines in order to somehow remove the ethnic bias. The goal was to make the language a lingua franca rather than basing the national language of a native language of a certain group thus “Filipinizing” the language into something that encompasses the entire country. Having said that, both Tagalog and Filipino were supposed to be two different languages as of 1987 even though the two languages remain pretty much the same. Many Filipinos may tell you that Filipino is a mixture of other Philippine languages including Tagalog but little has been done so far.

So while Pilipino was just Tagalog with a different name, Filipino was supposed to have evolved and have incorporated different vocabulary and elements from other Philippine languages in order to distinguish it from Tagalog,

Filipino today?

Since the reformation of the Filipino language in the 1987 Constitution, majority of the new words that would be incorporated into the language, for now, has been mostly from English, which is not a Philippine language. Some people do get the misconception that Taglish (Tagalog and English code-switching) is either Filipino or Manila Tagalog, which is not the case.

So far, the only words from other Philippine languages I’ve noticed in Filipino are:

  • manong – older brother (Ilocano)
  • manang – older sister (Ilocano)
  • pasaway – nuisance (Hiligaynon)

Each one of these words already have Tagalog equivalents so there is not a lot of need to use these words although one could still hear them being spoken.

“Other Filipino languages”?

Apparently there is a chance that there may be variants of the Filipino language and I’m not just talking about Tagalog. There may be a few emerging vernaculars of Filipino in places like Cebu or Davao. The Davao vernacular of Filipino is probably the most well known for now, commonly known as Davao Filipino.

It is said that Davao Filipino is based off Tagalog but with even more heavy influences from Cebuano plus Hiligaynon and probably a little Ilocano. The native language of most people in Davao is still Cebuano, but this infusion of Tagalog and Cebuano et al is a fast developing lingua franca for the city of Davao. This vernacular is an example of what the Filipino language should have been like according to the 1987 Constitution. Yes, it is still based off Tagalog but chances are a guy from Manila would have trouble understanding a guy from Davao if he spoke this dialect.

However, the only place to get this information from is from blogs and some theses. There is almost no support or heavy promotion for public awareness by linguists or the government therefore one must go to Davao or Cebu to even expose themselves to this way of speaking. Unfortunately I haven’t been to Davao yet, even I really would like to visit there. When I do get the chance to visit Davao or find credible resources about its Filipino vernacular, I can only write about another time when I’ve gotten the information needed.


So this is my new view of the Filipino language. Both Tagalog and Filipino are linguistically one language but politically two languages. It has a long way to go before it can be truly accepted as a national language. Several communities have already done that by mixing Tagalog with the regional language which is great, however they’re not getting the commendation they or their new vernacular deserve. Some say that the entire country should just use English as a lingua franca the same way India has 300+ languages, no national language and English as a lingua franca.

Regardless on whether there should be a national language or not, the other 170 languages of the Philippines need equal recognition and protection. One small way to do that is by learning and using some of the basic phrases every time you go to a province in the Philippines that doesn’t speak Tagalog as a native language. You will be admired for your efforts in learning bits of their language, believe me.


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