‘Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala’ | Inquirer Opinion
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‘Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala’

August is the time we celebrate our national language. In my childhood, we only had a week, the “Linggo ng Wika.” Today, students have a whole month, the “Buwan ng Wika.” I did not realize there is much to write about in the early history of the national language until I received a copy of the “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala” by Juan de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlucar, which was published last year by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino. This Filipino edition edited by Virgilio S. Almario, Elvin Ebreo and Anna Maria Yglopaz will hopefully make this old work generate new insights on our language.

Long before the “Noceda y Sanlucar,” as academics refer to it, there was the “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala” by the Franciscan Pedro de San Buena Ventura, one of the rarest of Philippine books. It is considered incunabula, or a book published in the half century since the first books were printed—1593 to 1643. The “Vocabulario” of San Buena Ventura was printed in Pila, Laguna, in 1613. More than a simple list of Spanish words and their equivalents in Tagalog, it is not just a dictionary but also a compilation of our earliest literature.


Contrary to popular belief, historians draw the arc that covers the Spanish period, not from Ferdinand Magellan who arrived on our shores and was killed in Mactan in 1521, but from Miguel Lopez de Legazpi who took possession of the Philippines for Spain in 1565. With the exception of two years—1762-1764—when the British flag flew over Intramuros, Spain was in the Philippines from 1565 to 1898, when it sold the islands and their people to the United States and thwarted the logical development of the still-born First Philippine Republic under Emilio Aguinaldo.

When Legazpi arrived in the islands with six Augustinian missionary friars on Feb. 13, 1565, he encountered a land and people with their own culture and language. We may not have been a great civilization like India or China, but we were not barbarians when the Spaniards took over. In Luzon alone they counted six important languages and even more dialects. Their early statistics from Luzon show that Tagalog was the most spoken, with 124,000 speakers, compared with: 96,000 Ibanag speakers, 77,000 Bicol, 75,000 Kapampangan, 75,000 Ilocano, and 24,000 Pangasinense. At the time of the Spanish contact, Visayan was spoken in the center of the archipelago and had greater numbers. This explains why, until today, long after Quezon (a Tagalog) accepted the recommendation of the Institute of the National Language headed by a Visayan and made Tagalog (now known as Filipino) our national language, Visayans still insist on a numbers game and condemn Filipino as yet another imposition by what they derisively call “Imperial Manila.”


Tagalog was the logical choice for what would later become the national language because it was the language in and around Intramuros or Spanish Manila. It was perhaps the first language learned by the missionary friars before they learned a second language to use in their place of assignment outside the Walled City.

The first missionary to study our languages is said to be the Augustinian Martin de Rada (commemorated by a busy Makati street today), who, contemporaries said, was fluent in Visayan and Chinese. Then there was the Franciscan Juan de Plasencia, who also studied the Tagalog language and culture. The fruit of their linguistic labors was the “Doctrina Cristiana” in Tagalog (published both in Spanish and Tagalog, both in Roman alphabet and baybayin), one of two or three of the first books published in the Philippines in 1593.

From 1593 to 1898, many works in Tagalog saw print. Aside from dictionaries and grammars there were  confesionarios, prayer books, novenas,  doctrinas  and other works. Each religious order published linguistic and orthographic works in Tagalog. The Augustinians published “Compendio de la Lengua Tagala” by Gaspar de San Agustin (1760), “Arte de la Lengua Tagala” by Tomas Ortiz (1740), and “Gramatica de la lengua Tagala dispuesta para la mas facil inteligencia de los religiosos principiantes” by Manuel Buzeta (1850).

Cipriano de Marcilla even published in Malabon in 1895 a study of baybayin titled “Estudio de los antiguos alfabetos Filipinos.” The Augustinian Recollects had from Toribio Minguella y Arnedo two books: the “Ensayo de gramatica Hispano-Filipina” (1878) and “Estudios comparativos entre el Tagalo (Filipinas) y el Sanscrito” (1888).  We should not presume that Spaniards had a monopoly of linguistic research because some Filipinos like Jose Rizal published orthographic studies, too. In the comparative study of Tagalog and Sanskrit, we have Trinidad H. Pardo de Tavera’s “El Sanscrito en la Lengua Tagala” published in Paris in 1888, as well as his earlier “Contribucion para el estudio de los antiguos alfabetos Filipinos” (1884).

The Dominicans published “Arte y reglas de la Lengua Tagala” by Fr. Francisco Blancas de San Jose in Bataan in 1610 and the “Lecciones de gramatica Hispano-Tagala” by Jose Hevia Campomanes in 1872 that was reissued 12 times. Not to be outdone are the Jesuits, Juan Jose Noceda and Pedro Sanlucar, whose “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala” (1754) is better known in its edition of 1860 reissued by the Komisyon sa Wikang

Filipino in 2013. (More next week )

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TAGS: ‘linggo ng wika’, Ambeth R. Ocampo, column, national language
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