Languages and Dialects in the Philippines

By | February 1, 2009

One advantage Filipino immigrants to North America have is that almost all of them can speak in English. Actually Filipino immigrants in the 60’s and 70’s were educated from elementary to university in English. In 1946 when the Philippines got full independence from the United States, the medium of instruction in the elementary schools gradually was changed to Filipino, the national language more commonly known as Tagalog. At present, the medium of instruction in the elementary and high school is Filipino with some subjects taught in English.

Many Filipinos are not very happy about having Filipino, which is based on Tagalog, as the medium of instruction in schools. This is because there are very many languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines. In the centennial edition published in 1998 of the “Diksyunaryo ng Wikang Filipino”, prepared by the “Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino”, there are 155 languages and dialects listed spoken in the Philippines, twelve of them recognized as primary languages. They are Tagalog, Ilokano, Pangasinan, Ibanag, Kapampangan, Bikol, Samar- Leyte, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Moro, Maranaw and Magindanao. According to the same source these primary languages were determined by having at least 500,000 people speaking each of them.

Tagalog is the most widely spoken language in the Philippines. This is the reason it was chosen to be the basis of the Filipino National Language. Article XIV, Section 6 of the Philippine Constitution states that: Ang Wikang Pambansa ng Pilipinas ay Filipino. Samantalang nililinang, ito ay dapat payabungin at pagyamanin pa salig sa umiiral na mga wika ng Pilipinas at sa mga iba pang mga wika.”

In order to achieve this goal, a National Language Commission was created. Many words from the other existing primary languages were incorporated in the national language, as well as from other international languages. To begin with many of the words in Filipino are of Spanish origin, a result of the 333 of Spanish colonization of the country. With English as the medium of instruction for many decades a way of speaking has developed, known as Taglish, a combination of Tagalog and English. This kind of language is often heard in Filipino television and commonly used by Filipinos speaking to one another here in Canada and in the United States.

Many Filipinos often talk with sadness about the lack of cohesiveness among us coming from the same country of origin. The Philippines is a small country of approximately one fortieth of the area of Canada with a population of more than twice that of this country, we now live in. But its people are scattered and separated into regions by mountains and water. The country is made up of more than 7,000 islands. Its geographic characteristics have contributed to the development of varied cultures and different languages. When Filipinos meet, they ask one another, :”Ilokano ka ba?” or, “Hindi, Bisaya man ako.” We identify ourselves by the region we come from. We organize into groups by regions. And of course, when we are together from the same region we speak in our own language be it Tagalog, Ilokano, Bicolano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan or whatever.

While most of the Filipinos know that there are many primary languages in the Philippines not much awareness exists on the number of dialects which are spoken by small groups. The creation of the Philippine National Language Commission provided opportunities for researchers to study and compile the list of existing dialects in the country and in what areas they are spoken.

An understanding of the origins of the many existing languages and dialects in the Philippines contributes to our pride as a people. It is hoped that the little information provided in this article will serve as motivation to read further and discover more about our past. In this age of advanced technology all the information that we want to access to, are available. In tracing the origins of these languages and dialects, we venture into the social, family relations, governmental and economic experiences of our forebears. We realize how rich our cultures are as a people. The languages and dialects incorporate the traditions and mores of a people.

The languages and dialects of the Philippines show the influence of the various groups from different parts of the world that came to this country to live, to do commerce or to colonize. Among them were the Hindus, Malays, Indonesians, Chinese, Araba, Cambodians, Spanish, Americans and Japanese.

Language researches in the Philippines have shown that within each of the primary languages, dialects have developed. For example in the Tagalog language, there are Tagalog-Bulakan, Tagalog-Batangas, Tagalog-Tayabasin, Tagalog Noboesihano, Tagalog-Marindukihin.

There are Tagalog words in each of those dialects that are unique and not found in the other dialects of the same primary languages. (Diksyunaryo ng Wikang Filipino, Sentinyal Edisyon, pg. 934-935)

Filipino immigrants who have recently arrived had their elementary and high school education in Filipino. Many of them have less proficiency in English than the earlier immigrants. The same is true with the children who have recently arrived with their parents. They need more assistance in adjusting to the school system in Canada.

Awareness of this situation is important for better understanding between the new immigrants and those who have been in this country for a longer time. Whatever is the language of the Philippines that we speak, we should be proud of it and encourage our children to retain it. Our language is a part of our identity as people. We can integrate and become adjusted in Canada and still keep our language.