Where is the Tagalog Language Spoken and is it the Same as Filipino?

avatarMille Larsen
6 mins read

Tagalog is the language spoken by around 23 million people in the Philippines. It's part of the Austronesian language family, meaning that it's related to the Indonesian, Hawaiian and Malaysian languages.

The Philippines are known for having many different dialects of Tagalog, meaning that it's not always exactly the same language that the Philippine people speak among themselves. This is why the Philippine government decided upon defining a standardized language that were to be the official language of the whole of the Philippines. This language was based upon the dialect of Tagalog spoken in the capital, Manila, and the new language was names Filipino.

What's the Difference Between Tagalog and Filipino?

Tagalog has roots that go as far back as the 9th or 10th century. Originally, however, the people of the Philippines spoke a wide variety of languages across the country's many islands. After the Philippines won their independence from Spain the the late 19th century, the country decided on Tagalog as an official language.

The name "Tagalog" itself means "river-dweller" in the Tagalog language, which might describe the original people who spoke the language. (There's a river going through the capital city, Manila).

The country since went through quite a few changes, where Spanish and English became official languages, and then Tagalog again, and then finally the Manila dialect, which was named Filipino. Other widespread dialects of Tagalog are Bataan, Batangas, Bulacan and Tayabas. (And there are plenty of other languages in the Philippines that you can't characterize as dialects of Tagalog).

While both Tagalog and standardized Filipino have many loanwords from other languages, these are much more current in Filipino, and in Filipino they have been made an official part of the Filipino lexicon. Because of these foreign words becoming official Filipino words, the Filipino alphabet also has a few extra letters that aren't used in words with Tagalog roots.

The words that have been integrated into the Filipino languages are mostly of English and Spanish origin, but other local languages from the Philippines, such as Hiligaynon and Kapampangan have provided vocabulary too.

Where else is Tagalog spoken?

Other than the Philippines, where else is Tagalog Spoken? The Filipino diaspora count more than 12 million people across the globe. This means that you can meet Filipinos in every corner of the world. The biggest foreign Filipino community is no doubt the USA. Close to 3 million Filipinos live in the US, making up close to 1 percent of the American population!

The reason for the high number of Filipinos in the United States is obviously the close bond that the two countries share. The Philippines which was a Spanish colony from the 16h to the 19th century came under American rule after the end of the Spanish-American war in the end of the 18th century.

Despite several attempts to break out of American dominance (and sadly, many lost lives) the US founded an Insular Government in the Philippines that controlled the country until the admittance into the commonwealth in 1935. The American-ruled period brought the English language and a strong connection to the USA to the Philippines, and this must be the main reason for the important number of Filipinos in the US today.

A significant number of Filipinos equally live and work in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates. Between these four countries, more than two million Filipinos have either settled down permanently or temporarily for work or business.

There are additionally a big number of Filipinos present in several other countries across the globe and although the majority still live in the Philippines, Tagalog is clearly an international language.

What other languages are spoken in the Philippines?

Filipino, being a standardized form of Tagalog is the official language of the Philippines. But despite this fact, it it's far from being the language of the Filipino majority.

In fact, only 24% of Filipinos speak Tagalog (or Filipino) as their first language. The Philippines is an island state, so despite being a unified country today, many local communities still speak their own language, even though they master some form of Tagalog as their second language.

There are actually more than 180 languages in the Philippines, but many of them, sadly, are on the verge of dying out. (And there used to be many more)!

Until the 1980's, the Cebuano language, which is spoken in the eastern part of the Philippines, was actually a more common native language than Tagalog in the Philippines.

When Tagalog was picked to form the base for the official Filipino language, it did spark some controversy, but the argument at the time was that Tagalog was a more established language in terms of literature and linguistic history. It was also the main language of the capital, Manila, which might have played a part too. Around 22% if Filipinos speak Cebuano as their mother tongue today,

Next comes the languages Ilocano, Hiligaynon and Waray. Together these languages are spoken (as a mother tongue) by some 22% of the Filipino population.

The last 25-35% of Filipinos speak close to 180 different local languages.

But that's all about native languages. What about secondary languages?

English is one of the official languages of the Philippines. It's an important language in the country because the Philippines were under American rule for 48 years in the first half of the 20th century. Today, English has the status of an official language in the Philippines and it's used namely in education and news media. At least half of the Filipino population speak English, and the number is probably higher in reality.

Spanish is also an important language in the Philippines. Until 1973 it was an official language in the country, but the country has since removed this status. (And then it became official again, but since 1987 it's not been an official language in the Philippines).

Despite the Spanish language's importance in Filipino history, it isn't a common language in the Philippines today. Less than one percent of Filipinos are reported to speak Spanish fluently, but this number is growing due to demand in commerce and international relations.

some 5-6% of Filipinos are Muslim, and many of these learn Arabic to some degree. It is, however, mostly a lithurgical language for this part of the population, and it would be rather unusual to have a casual conversation in Arabic in the Philippines today. Still, many Arabic loanwords can be found in everyday Tagalog.

Lastly, other languages are equally present in the Philippenes today. To name a few, there's the Spanish creole language Chavacano spoken mostly in Zamboanga City, Hokkien, Japanese, Korean and several other Asian languages present in the country today.

Are you interested in learning the Tagalog language? Then go read my article "How to Learn Tagalog by Yourself"