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Language And Linguistic Origin

Throughout the 7,100 island archipelagos, Filipinos speak nearly 90 languages and dialects. The three major dialects are Ilocano (northern Luzon, also the dialect spoken most commonly by Filipinos in Hawaii and on the U.S. mainland); Tagalog (central and southern Luzon); and Cebuano (southern islands) (BYU, 1986). Linguistically, these three dialects and all major indigenous languages are historically related ; they derive from Original Indonesian as a subfamily of the Austronesian or Malayo-Polynesian languages and share most of their basic grammatical features (Harper and Fullerton, 1994; Li, 1983). Despite their similarities in grammar and pronunciation, centuries of isolation have produced distinct and mutually unintelligible native languages (Gochenour, 1990). Regional divisions and linguistic differences and barriers have thus endured to the present; they have created major difficulties in promoting educational and cultural development (PAPEP, 1982).

For a period of time during the Marcos regime, there was a popular movement to establish and mandate the use of a national language called Pilipino. Pilipino is primarily Tagalog, the language spoken by a minority of people in the Manila region. It is highly structured grammatically and has a rich vocabulary, with words invented or borrowed from Spanish, English, and other native dialects. More than half of the population understands (Harper and Fullerton, 1994). However, because of its main basis in Tagalog, has never gained full acceptance by speakers of other dialects, although it is a required subject of study in the public schools throughout the islands and is used as a language of business (BYU, 1986; Gochenour, 1990).

With so many dialects, English has been and continues to be the unifying language. In fact, the Philippines has the third largest English speaking population in the world, after the United States and the United Kingdom (BYU, 1986). English is the language of the public schools (from fourth grade through college) and is the de facto national language of business, commerce, law, government, and often the mass media and popular entertainment. It is the language of the elite with status, wealth, and authority. The power of English and its selective usage is exemplified in the home environment. Members of a family will typically speak to one another in their particular regional dialect, with an added sprinkling of English words. Yet it is very possible for the father, when admonishing a child, to summon up a tone of authority by employing a few English words or shifting entirely into English if he can. Similarly, educated friends may typically converse in their local dialect but gradually shift into English if the subject becomes technical or especially serious. This shifting may be related to vocabulary, but it often reflects the way s feel about the language. Things may be easier to say in English, or the use of English may serve to emphasize the importance of the topic. The speakers may feel that they can be more precise in English or that English is less personal and not as potentially threatening (Gochenour, 1990, p. 38).

The use of English also can affect sensitivities. If, for example, in an ordinary transaction between two s, one of them addresses the other in English, it may be viewed as an attempt to show off and put down the other. Moreover, the tendency to equate facility in English with social class and intelligence may foster self-consciousness and insecurity in dialogues with native English speaking Americans. Many immigrants pride themselves on being English speakers and may have demeaned those in the Philippines who speak carabao (water buffalo) or bamboo English. However, once in the United States, they may find their own version of English to be unacceptable and a cause for embarrassment (Santos, 1983). Furthermore, when speaking to immigrants who appear to be fluent in English, Americans usually presumes that their English language comprehension is extensive, whereas often it is not. This expectation obviously contributes strain in American interactions, tension which the American is certain to feel much less than the, who is typically his or her own harshest critic (Gochenour, 1990, p. 40). Such sensitivity needs to be considered when communicating with Filipinos whose English comprehension is better than their expressive English and who may be insulted when addressed in childlike English (Harper and Fullerton, 1994).

English in the Philippines often contains an admixture of indigenous language elements. A Filipino's first language or native dialect significantly influences his or her accent, intonation, vocabulary, syntax, and idiomatic expressions when he or she speaks English (Santos, 1983). The phonological systems of the various languages also are a factor. For example, because Tagalog distinguishes more vowel sounds than do other dialects, a from Manila finds it naturally easier to make the distinction in English between, say, bit and bet than would someone from Cebu. As previously noted, the sound of f does not occur in most of the indigenous languages of the islands; thus, Filipino commonly substitute the p sound for f. The native English speaker hearing the sentence, I prepared this report, could easily be uncertain whether the speaker meant I preferred this report or I prepared this report (Gochenour, 1990, p. 39).

Indigenous Philippine languages are prepositional, verb initial (i.e., basic sentences have their verbs in the sentence initial position), and regularly stress the next-to-last syllable in most words (Li, 1983). Like many other Asian languages, they also have a single word for the gender pronouns he and she.

Apart from grammatical and phonological characteristics, it is noteworthy that one particular dialect called Chabacano (a local language spoken in the area around the city of Zamboanga in Mindanao) is heavily mixed with Spanish. Other Filipinos know a fair number of Spanish words that have entered their particular regional dialects, and many people and places have Spanish names. However, as a functional language, Spanish is clearly peripheral, and a relatively small number of Filipinos (primarily Spanish mestizos) speak it fluently (particularly because it was used exclusively by the wealthy, land owning families during the period of Spanish rule, and no more than 10% of the population ever spoke it). In fact, despite nearly 4 centuries of Spanish dominion, the Philippines is one of the few former colonies of Spain where Spanish did not become the national language (Gochenour, 1990; Harper and Fullerton, 1994; Winter, 1988).

The Philippines is regarded as the only nation in Asia that is predominantly English speaking, and Filipinos often are assumed to be fully proficient in the English language. The preceding discussion, however, serves to illustrate the reality of an extremely multilingual country where English is a second language. It also offers cautions and considerations regarding the dynamics of communication with English-speaking.

Languages of the Philippines

Republic of the Philippines.

National or official languages:

Tagalog (Pilipino, Filipino),English. 72,944,000 (1998 UN). Literacy rate 88% to 89%. Also includes Basque, Dutch 506, French 698, Standard German 961, Hindi 2,415, Indonesian 2,580, Italian 97, Japanese 2,899, Korean, Sindhi 20,000, Vietnamese, Arabic. Information mainly from L.A. Reid 1971; SIL 1954-1999. Christian, Muslim, secular, traditional religion. Blind population 1,144,500. Deaf population 100,000 to 4,232,519 (1998). Deaf institutions: 17. Data accuracy estimate: A1, A2.

Pros and Cons of Speaking the Language -- Why Speak Tagalog, Why Speak Visayan (Visaya)/ Cebuano

What are the pros and cons of learning Filipino languages? Let's say you speak Tagalog or Cebuano-Visaya (Visayan) now.


You will endear yourself to quite a few natives. You will seem more familiar and special. Especially people from working classes as well as peasantry and farmers and the poor in the squatter areas will like you a lot.

These are beautiful and sophisticated languages with great literature of you care to look for it. Besides they are acoustically pleasant to one's ear. Tagalog sounds like someone is playing a piano and Visaya sounds like a bubbling brook. They taste good when you speak them.


You will now be removing the respectful distance that exists between you and the average Filipino. If you make a mistake you will be made fun of. If when you spoke only English some Filipinos would be polite and happy to practice their English with you, and would see you as a high class person, now they are in the position to mockingly mimic your pronunciation and make fun of how you speak. You also shock many natives by the mere fact that you are speaking Visaya/Tagalog, etc. It can be annoying.

Some people may suspect that you are some kind of spy or call you wise (negative meaning).

You will understand bad things some people say about you. It may be good or it may be bad. Ignorance is bliss, some say.

You will also be put in an awkward situation with educated Filipinos who are not used to speaking Philippine languages with foreigners. You will be speaking in Tagalog and they will be answering to you in English.

RP languages are hard to learn since good books are not easy to come by. The Grammar is hard. In addition to that, the languages are now so diluted with English even if you speak them correctly, many natives may not understand you as the words may be too deep or archaic for them.

If you do not learn Tagalog or Visayan/Cebuano

Pros: I can see many expats in RP who do not know more than two or three words in the local languages and have no plans to study them. Most of the time they are as happy as larks walking proudly with a beautiful Filipina by their side ho is as happy as a lark, too, running businesses and enjoying a great life overall. They may not be able to endear themselves to the working classes or do serious missionary work but many do not feel the need to. The precious time that is taken by the grueling study of the devilishly hard grammar and vocabulary is spent enjoying one's life in the beautiful country to the fullest. Business meetings are conducted in English, the wife and kids want to speak English at home and the people treat you with polite deferment when you speak English to them. They say Yes, sir to you. You represent a powerful civilization that they have grown to admire- that of the English-speaking world, US in particular.

Cons: You will miss on some newspaper and periodicals that are in local languages and you may not be able to relate to the working classes, be a missionary or in any way work on a folkloric/grass root level. You will not be able to understand Tagalog movies or song lyrics.

And most people do not mind that at all. Neither the locals nor the expats.

Filipinos are so polite; they strive to accommodate foreigners and do not want to inconvenience them by making them feel uncomfortable in any way.

I speak Tagalog fluently now and Visayan/Cebuano on an upper intermediate level and have experienced the pros and the cons described. [David Kessel 10-19--05]

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