LINGUIST List 6.1227

Sun Sep 10 1995

Sum: Filipino

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. "Christine Brisson", sum: Filipino

Message 1: sum: Filipino

Date: Fri, 08 Sep 1995 21:39:53 sum: Filipino
From: "Christine Brisson" <cbrissonclarity.Princeton.EDU>
Subject: sum: Filipino

With my apologies for the long delay, here is a summary of responses to my
query about "Filipino," the national language of the Philippines.
My original message read:

"A local newspaper recently printed a letter to the editor that read, in
part, as follows:
'Tagalog is not a language but the second-most commonly spoken dialect
in the Philippines (next to Cebuano) out of more than 50 dialects. The
national language is Filipino, as required by the Philippine Congress in
Does anyone out there know what Filipino is, or where I might find some
information on it and the events in the Philippine Congress in 1989? I'd
like to use this topic as a starting-off point for a class discussion
about dialect vs. language, and prescriptivism, but I need to know more."

The short version of the answer to my question is that Filipino is a language
based on Tagalog, but renamed and altered slightly in an attempt to bring
about a national language (rather than choosing one of the many languages of
the Philippines as dominant, a plan almost sure to cause ethnic strife; or
borrowing a language from colonials, such as English or Spanish). However,
many Filipinos recognize the language as being essentially Tagalog, and so
the success of the program is apparently open to debate.

The writer's confusion over the "dialectical" status of Tagalog is due to the
fact that non-linguists in the Philippines refer to the various Philippine
languages as "dialects." This is probably due to the general tendency by non-
linguists to use "dialect" as a slightly disparaging term.

Some of the respondents provided some more detailed information, which I've
attached for people who might be interested. Many thanks to Rudy Barlaan, Loren
Billings, Joseph DeChicchis, Mimi Barker, Eulalia de Bobes (hope I've got that
spelling right), Tom Payne,, Mike McHale, and anyone
else who replied who I might have left out.

To: IN%""


 I imagine you'll get lots of replies that will tell you this, but just
in case . . . Calling Tagalog and the other 50 languages of the
Philippines "dialects" is a typical non-linguistically informed POV, and
highlights our task as linguists to educate the public and our
undergraduates. Tagalog and Cebuano are distinct languages by every
criterion except that they don't each have and army and a navy.

 Tagalog is the language spoken around Manila, and so is in some sense
the most prestigious. However, sometime earlier than 1989, I think in the
late 60s (I'm sure someone else will tell you exactly when) "Filipino"
was invented in order to diffuse claims by minority language speakers
that Tagalog speakers were controlling the country. Filipino supposed to
be a "combination" of all the Philippine languages, but in fact is just
Tagalog with a few artificial changes made in the dictionaries and school
materials. For example, Tagalog does not have an "f" phoneme. The fact
that Filipino starts with an "f" is cited as evidence of the universality
of this language. Filipino and English are the official languages of the
Philippines, and are both used in all of the schools. Hope this is of
some help.
Tom Payne

To: IN%""

Check the 'Ethnologue Database' at


or, more concretely,


I hope it will help,

To: nIN%""

Ms. Brisson,

I don't have time to give you the full story now (especially since my
computer is a bit flaky right now); however, please be careful with this
topic. There are many complex issues here, and the newspaper item which
caught your attention represents but the tip of the iceberg. I know of no
single source which adequately reviews the usages and meanings of the terms
"Tagalog", "Pilipino", "Filipino", "language", "idiom", and "dialect" in
the Philippines; it's best to read widely, perhaps visiting the East Asian
collection at the U. of Pennsylvania, though Rutgers should have plenty of
stuff on the Philippines. In any case, you might start with some of the
reports written by Paz Buenaventura Naylor, until recently a professor at
the U. of Michigan and director of the Tagalog language program there.

Good luck!

Joseph DeChicchis
Associate Professor, Department of Foreign Languages
Faculty of Integrated Arts and Sciences, Hiroshima University
Kagamiyama 1-7-1, Higashi Hiroshima 739, Japan
(telephone +81-824-246432 voice; -240755 fax)

23-JUN-1995 12:34:27.61
To: IN%""
Subj:6.828, Qs: Bertinetto, Statistical CL, Philippine Nat'l Lang.


 As you know, the word _dialect_ has a stigma to non linguists
that means something like "less than fully acceptable language use". In
the Philippines, specifically the Tgalog-speaking area (which happens to be
located in an area roughly centered on Manila and extends for a couple
provinces in most directions), _speaking in the dialect_ is a quite
pejorative term for someone "not civilized enough", as it were to speak in
English. Thus, the _dialect_ is any native Philippine language that a
Filipino might have grown up speaking (for example, Cebuano if that person
is from Cebu). Where I attended high school, in Nueva Ecija province, we
actually had a fine for not speaking English in school. The idea, perhaps
a worthwhile one to those who want their children to be "better" educated,
was nonetheless quite damaging to any sense of one's own heritage, and was
quite harmful to those smart students who, for some reason, just weren't
adept at foreign (to them) languages.

P.S.: There may have been changes since I left, [in 1981 - C.B.] but the
nationalized language was always spelled _Pilipino_ and the nationality/ethnici
_Filipino_ (_Filipina_ is feminine). Strangely, Tagalog does not have an
/f/ sound, hence the _Ph_ or _F_ becoming _P_ in these words. The words
in Tagalog for _Philippines, Filipino_ are pronounced and spelled as
_Pilipinas_ and _Pilipino_. --LAB

 From: Rudy Barlaan,
 Subject: Philippine Nat'l Lang.

 This is in response to your inquiry on "Filipino." Apparently, the
 author of the letter in the local newspaper you mentioned is not a
 linguist. Filipino laymen refer to the different Philippine languages
 as dialects. So Tagalog, Cebuano, Pangasinan, etc. are refered to as
 dialects even if they are not mutually intelligible. Linguistically,
 they are actually different languages with different dialects of their
 own. So, for Tagalog, some of the dialects are: Bulacan Tagalog,
 Batangas Tagalog, Laguna Tagalog, etc. These are mutually intelligible
 but with notable differences.

 Now regarding `Filipino' it is the new name of the national language
 in the Philippines. The same term is used to refer the citizens of the
 Philippines. Before 1989, the national language was `Pilipino.' For
 some reason, the spelling was changed. Sorry, I can't remember the
 rationale for the change. What I remember was there was a lot of

 `Filipino' is actually Tagalog renamed for political reason. As the
 letter implies there are many other regional languages in the
 Philippines. And the author claims that Cebuano has a wider
 distribution than Tagalog. There are evidences (undocumented) that
 s/he is right. This causes some problems among some Cebuanos because
 their language which has wider distribution than Tagalog was not
 chosen as the base language for the Philippine national language. Some
 Cebuanos (people who speak Cebuano or people from Cebu island) cannot
 accept `Filipino' as the national language because they still see it
 as purely Tagalog with different name.

 For more and precise information, I will refer you to the 1991
 publication of the Philippine Journal of Linguistics, Volume 22,
 No.1&2. If it is not available to you I refer you to Brother Andrew
 Gonzales, Linguistic Society of the Philippines, c/o Linguistic
 Office, Taft Avenue, Manila, Philippines.
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