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Commentary
Filipino, Pilipino and Tagalog

By Ricardo Ma. Duran Nolasco
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:46:00 11/14/2008

Filed Under: Language

TAGALOG, PILIPINO AND FILIPINO ARE LABELS by which the national language has come to be known at different periods of our history. In the early 1900s, people of different ethnic origins were communicating with each other with an evolving Manila-based lingua franca. Commerce and trade motivated the need for this common language. The elite spoke Spanish or English.

In the 1930s the Quezon government chose Tagalog as the basis for our national language, making it in effect the national language. It was to be the symbol of our nationhood, much like the flag and the anthem. It was to be "enriched primarily through the Philippine tongues" although the law also provided for its purification. It was also to be taught in school as a subject.

In 1959, a memorandum from the Department of Education changed the name of the language (and the subject) to "Pilipino" to remove the regional bias that the term "Tagalog" evoked. This didn't work. Instead, two strains of the national language developed. The first was the school variety, which abhorred "loans" from other languages and was difficult to learn even for native Tagalogs because of the way it was taught.

The other was a liberal and vibrant lingua franca. It was predominantly oral with a Tagalog core, used by the masses and propagated by the mass media with all the local contributions, accents, and borrowings from English and Spanish. In 1987, the makers of the new constitution finally gave recognition to this idiom. They renamed it "Filipino" to signal its non-exclusivist and multilingual character. It accepted contributions from all Philippine and foreign languages and it was used as the official language and medium of instruction, together with English.

Are "Tagalog," "Pilipino" and "Filipino" different languages? No. Someone speaking in Tagalog or Pilipino can be understood by anyone claiming to speak in Filipino, and vice versa.

Some teachers equate Tagalog with "purist" usage, and Filipino with "non-purist" or liberal usage. To them pulong and guro are Tagalog words, while miting and titser are Filipino words. "Word borrowing," however, is not a reliable basis for differentiating languages. Zamboangueño (Chavacano) borrowed heavily from Spanish but evolved a completely different grammar unintelligible to Spanish speakers.

I do not agree with the "purism" of the salumpuwit and salipawpaw type. Salumpuwit is short for pangsalo ng puwit ("ass catcher") and salipawpaw came from sasakyang lumilipad sa himpapawid ("a vehicle that flies"). What I subscribe to is the use of indigenous terms like "gasang" (Cebuano for coral) and "payew" (Ifugao for rice terraces) to enrich the national language.

Many people, especially parents, complain about the "deep" Tagalog (malalim) encountered in school. But the same is also true with English, where you have a conversational variety distinct from the academic one used in literature and in science. To be successful in school, you have to learn the intellectualized language, whether it is in English, Cebuano, Ilocano or Filipino. However, when the intellectualized language diverges from the everyday language as to render it incomprehensible even to its speakers and users, the parents may have a valid point.

Why then did we change the name of our national language from Tagalog to Pilipino, then to Filipino?

From being a language confined to native Tagalogs and their provinces, Tagalog has grown into being the common language of an entire people nationwide. Based on the 2000 census, three out of 10 Filipinos are native Tagalog speakers. But nine out of 10 Filipinos now speak and understand it thanks to TV, radio, movies, comics, out-migration and the educational system.

However, most of our people speak Tagalog or Filipino as a second language. English is also a second language that most people consider more prestigious than Filipino. According to the 2008 Social Weather Stations survey, three out of four Filipinos understand and read English, three out of five said that they could write in English and close to half replied that they could speak in English.

This explains our use of "Taglish." That's when you begin a sentence in either English or Tagalog, tapos nag-switch ka sa kabilang wika in the same sentence, or when you use Tagalog grammar but English vocabulary. (I-check mo nga ang figures na ito kung nagba-balance.)

So what do we call our language, our nationality and our country? It depends on the language you're using. The official English term for our language and our nationality is "Filipino"; for our country, it is the "Philippines." In Filipino, our language is "Filipino"; our nationality, "Pilipino," and our country, "Pilipinas." Proposing the term "Filipinas" for our country and "Filipino" for our nationality?in both languages?is really not advisable because they are contrary to official and public usage.

Twenty years after the national language was renamed Filipino, people still refer to it as Tagalog, except in school where it is called Filipino. The best thing that ever happened to the national language is that our people not just talk about it. They use it.

Dr. Nolasco (rnolasco_upmin@yahoo.com) is a board member of the Linguistic Society of the Philippines, a faculty member of the UP Department of Linguistics and the Foundation for Worldwide People Power?s adviser on Mother Language Education Initiatives.



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