Is Tagalog A Language Or A Dialect? The Answer Is Clear

avatarMille Larsen
5 mins read

The Philippines is known for being a country of no less than 182 living languages. Most of them are spoken by small groups of people, but around 75% of the people speak one of five language whereas the remaining 25% speak a minority language.

The most commonly spoken language in the Philippines is Tagalog, with 22,5 million native speakers or close to 25% of the Filipino population. There's no doubt that Tagalog is a language, but it's a language that has several dialects that differ from one another while still remaining mutually intelligible.

These dialects are normally put into four categories even though several variants exist in each category.

These four categories are referred to as the Northern, the Central, the Southern and the Marinduque dialects. The dialect spoken in the Filipino capital city, Manila is the Central dialect. This is the Dialect that formed the base for the standardized version of Tagalog, Filipino, which is the official language of the Philippines.

Read also: Where Is Tagalog Spoken And Is It The Same As Filipino?

How A Tagalog Dialect Became The Filipino Language

When the Spanish first arrived to the Philippines in the 16th century, the people of the Filipino archipelago spoke a wide range of different languages. Languages such as Ilocano, Kampampangan, Pangasinan and Visayan were the most commonly used for trade between communities, and Tagalog was more of a minority language.

The Spanish, however, decided to found Manila, the present day capital city of the Philippines in a Tagalog-speaking region. This is likely the reason that Tagalog turned into a more wide-spread language in the Philippines.

From this new seat, the Spanish colonial presence studied the Tagalog language and the first Tagalog dictionary was published in 1613.

The official language of the Spanish colony was, however, Spanish, and it remained so until 1898 when the Philippines were turned over to the US after the Spanish defeat in the American-Spanish war, and at this point, English became the co-official language along with Spanish.

The long dominance by Spain and the US had a strong impact on the Tagalog language, which is clearly visible today in the many foreign loan-words.

In the end of the American rule over the Philippines, it was decided that Tagalog should be the new national and official language of the independent language of the Philippines, which it became in 1946.

Among the arguments for this decision were that Tagalog was the most commonly spoken language in the region that didn't have significantly different variants, that Tagalog was the language spoken in the capital, Manila and that it was the local language with the most dominant literature.

In other words, Tagalog was not only considered a language, but the most important local language of the Philippines in the 20th century.

In the years that followed, the Philippines saw some disagreement in the status of the country's national language. The Cebuano ethnic group in particular was dissatisfied with the language of the Tagalog people being chosen as a national language, and to ease tensions, the name of the national language was changed to Philipino.

Philipino was, however, just Tagalog with a new name, and changing the name didn't solve much. Disagreements persisted until 1987 when the new Philippines constitution announced that a new language, Filipino was to become the new national language, and that it was to be developed with influences from the whole of the Philippines.

To this day, however, the Filipino language remains distinctly Tagalog in grammar and syntax with only a few loan-word differentiating the two.

Is Tagalog A Language? There's No Doubt That It Is

Tagalog is very clearly a language in itself. Considering it a dialect of Filipino would be wrong, because it is actually the origin of Filipino, not simply a variant.

But what actually makes a language?

A popular saying tells us that "A language is a dialect with an army and a navy" which is a way of saying that what defines a language is the importance that its speakers give it.

Danish, Norwegian and Swedish are notoriously close to one another. So are Czech and Slovak, but they're all considered individual languages. On the other hand, the language spoken in Algeria is seen as a dialect of Arabic even though the grammar, pronunciation and vocabulary differ too much for Middle-Eastern Arabs to understand it.

What all this means is that there's no clear definition of what makes a language. In some cases the distinction is difficult to make.

But for Tagalog this isn't the case. Tagalog is definitely a language, not a dialect.

If you're interested in learning the Tagalog language, go read my article "How To Learn Tagalog By Yourself".