Why there is no Tagalog word for ‘efficiency’

Lots of people seem to have, at best, a rather shallow understanding of what I mean when I keep harping about the lack of a concept of “efficiency” in the Tagalog dialect. My simple explanation is that the lack of a concept of efficiency native to (or long embedded in) Tagalog reflects the inherent intellectual range of its speakers. Why then is it important for us to understand how language comes to reflect the inherent potential of its speakers to achieve in the modern world? Only when we learn to appreciate the full nature of what hinders our ability to apply knowledge that is otherwise unprecedented in history in its abundance and accessibility can we learn to embrace wholeheartedly the key to our future prosperity — the English language. It begins with acquiring a good grasp of the profound bankruptcy of the Philippine intellectual landscape.

The modern concept of “efficiency” (i.e. in the sense that it is now used for evaluating engineering problems) didn’t really come of age in the English language until the invention of the steam engine when more careful thought began to be put into measuring wastage incurred in the process of converting heat into mechanical energy (which is what engines do). Key point here is that the concept emerged organically in English to reflect the requirements of its speakers — as they advanced technologically. As the ethic of technological achievement blossomed and more devices that turned fuel into useful work were invented, the language grew and evolved to reflect that progression. Societies where that sort of inventiveness became a habit needed a word to describe the fundamental performance metric of these new contraptions — the amount of useful work these delivered given a quantity of energy; in the case of English-speaking societies, the word efficiency came to be used to describe it.

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In fact, as more of the nuances of engineering these machines came to be understood and how that understanding also uncovered the scientific and mathematical principles that governed how these machines work — and how well they worked — more words were needed to articulate that understanding so that they may be applied to further scientific and technological advancement.

To go further with our example (bear with me as there is a point to all this), the rise of efficiency to memetic dominance went in parallel with continuous improvements in engine design that made machines more efficient — delivering more work for less fuel. Soon, however, it became apparent to engineers that there was no such thing as a perfectly efficient engine; i.e., one that converted all of the energy it consumed into useful work. Every engine always wasted some of its fuel in the form of heat that it dissipates into its environment.

But then someone came up with the bright idea that energy is neither created nor destroyed (the principle of conservation of energy). This means that the total amount of energy in the universe remains constant. It just gets transformed from one form to another. So scientists then wondered about what happened to all the waste heat dissipated by engines. Because this energy had been dissipated, it can no longer be harnessed for useful work. Here we see, yet again, the emergence of a new notion that required articulation. The term entropy came to be used in the English-speaking subset of the technological world to describe such a notion — the existence of a quantity of something in a closed system that is unuseable or beyond the reach of re-ordering.

And so the English language added efficiency and entropy to its lexicon as a result of what its speakers achieved. It went on to acquire many other words as its speakers expanded their knowledge, technological prowess, and scientific insight. And that growth continues to this day.

The point I wanted to make in that quick look at that tiny cross-section of scientific history that led to the birth of two concepts that are completely outside of the scope of the Tagalog dialect is that the English language came to acquire its conceptual depth and range as a result of the inherent character of its speakers.

So perhaps, as some would argue, communication is efficient when both parties are “comfortable” with the medium over which it is transmitted, and this they use to argue for the continued use of a quaint but impotent language as a medium of education. I agree to some extent. When two Filipinos are exchanging ideas, the exchange is better articulated in Tagalog — a language that most Filipinos are quite comfy with. Trouble is, we have for so long known that Filipinos don’t learn much from fellow Filipinos. For that matter, we rely on foreigners as a source of just about every form of capital our livelihoods rely on — financial capital, intellectual capital, social capital, and cultural capital. Indeed, much of our entire future is hinged upon the prospect of attracting foreign capital to the country. And the medium over which this capital is negotiated, acquired, and exchanged is not Tagalog. Those who have the best shot at acquiring and controlling this capital tend to be the ones who are proficient in the language that it is traded in. That language is English.

Specifically, the knowledge that time and again proves to be useful to support our aspirations to advance in development is knowledge that lies outside the Philippines. This knowledge — technology, modern ways of thinking, and groundbreaking ideas — are all articulated in English. To gain access to this knowledge, we need to be proficient in a language with both the range and depth of capability to represent it. Does the Tagalog dialect fit that criteria? Guess again. The fact is, those who have superior command over the English language will always have an immense advantage over those who don’t in both acquiring the knowledge to succeed and transacting with those who have capital to invest.

As such, the obvious solution is to equip as many Filipinos as possible with command over a language that has a more complete coverage of important knowledge — the sort that could help Filipinos extricate themselves from that supposedly most pressing of our national issues: chronic poverty.

37 Replies to “Why there is no Tagalog word for ‘efficiency’”

    1. Help me help you, please. You probably have a clear idea around what a “language” is and what a “dialect” is. But unless you share that internal “clarity” of yours with us unwashed masses, we will always be forever trapped in a dialect-vs-language insisting match here. Are you able to provide some guidance around what exactly differentiates a “language” and a “dialect”?

      Here is something I picked up from Wikipedia (my boldface for emphasis):

      There is no universally accepted criterion for distinguishing a language from a dialect. A framework that may aid in analyzing the issues is provided by the linguistics concepts of Ausbausprache, Abstandsprache and Dachsprache. A number of rough measures exist, sometimes leading to contradictory results. Some linguists[3] do not differentiate between languages and dialects, i.e. languages are dialects and vice versa. The distinction is therefore subjective and depends on the user’s frame of reference. Note also that the terms are not by themselves mutually exclusive; there is by itself nothing contradictory in the statement that “the language of the Pennsylvania Dutch is a dialect of German”. However, the term dialect always implies a relation between languages: if language X is called a dialect, this implies that the speaker considers X a dialect of some other language Y, which then usually is some standard language.

      Language varieties are often called dialects rather than languages:

      – because they have no standard or codified form,
      – because the speakers of the given language do not have a state of their own,
      – because they are rarely or never used in writing (outside reported speech)
      – or because they lack prestige with respect to some other, often standardised, variety.

      Seems like even the “experts” can’t agree on exactly what a “dialect” is and how different this is from a “language” (which makes it tempting for me to crown myself a de facto expert on the subject just to make things a bit more final). But just going by the latter four-point criteria, it seems Tagalog fails in three out of the four success factors for it to be considered a bona fide “language”.

      1. To be precise, Tagalog is a language while Filipino (notice the F) is just a nationalized name of Tagalog as a standardized form and is in fact merely the Metro Manila dialect of Tagalog. Pilipino (notice the P), on the other hand, is the “old” official spelling of Tagalog / Filipino according to the 1959 order of the then DECS. It’s technically Tagalog as well

  1. Someone, quickly! Digitize the Tagalog and archive the record to repository wherein, the future scientific community will find the cure for the debilitating disease called “Dialectus-Atrophyxia” unique to Filipinos. Although it achieved global recognition -cause celebree, [so far as the variant goes] it remain localized as of yet and had not spread wordwide affecting others who has a Philippino genetic make-up as part of their DNA.

    1. Even Rizal during his own time tried his best to learn foreign languages especially Spanish, because he knows his own native language is woefully limited and lacks a wider audience.

      Ang OFW na sariling wika lamang ang nalalaman at ginigiit ay magugutom kasama ng kanyang pamilyang umaasa sa kanya. Ang pamilyang patay ay mabaho pa sa malansang patay na isda. Mas may katuturan ang magmahal sa pamilya kaysa sa wikang wala masyadong katuturan. Marami pong salamat 😀

      1. And you’re basically not following Rizal’s words there.

        Rizal learned other language not because he hated his own but he needed it to learn more about whatever he is studying for.

        That quote of his is addressing our current issue with the language as to hating it for reasons you just stated yourself. For shame!

    2. To quote GRP:

      “Jose Rizal died in 1896 and Tagalog was declared the official language of the Philippines only in 1937. This can only mean that Rizal wasn’t really talking about Tagalog when he made this statement:

      “He who does not love his own language is worse than an animal and smelly fish.”


      Who made the arbitrary directive to make the Tagalog dialect the “National Language” to begin with?”

      Please read more:

      Jose Rizal never had Tagalog in mind when he encouraged us to love our own language

  2. So how many wika does Jose P. Rizal mahal? Ang tanong ay hindi sa “Mahal” -kataga na emo-laman;
    bagkus, sa episensiyang utilidad ng anong wika na
    maiintindihan ng kapwa na maraming gumagamit na

  3. The Japanese; the Chinese; the Russians; the Germans use their own languages in their technical fields; because; they Add these technical words, as they advance in Science and Technology. We advance in “snail pace” in Science and Technology. Because, all we do and talk is about Politics…Highly intelligent Filipinos, go to Politics…it’s where the money is…all you do is: delude people and act, as if you are working for the gullible Filipino voters…

  4. It seems to me that capitalism, which, along with war-mongering,inspired lots of innovation, introduced many new concepts in whatever language you choose to wrestle with. Efficiency is one. And quantitative risk assessment is another. Megatons is a third.

    1. This. Don’t worry my dear friend, article writer, Tagalog has specialized in the production of apathetic gibberish neo-medieval words.

  5. The article is quite agreeable.

    Language is indeed a reflection of the concepts that are materialized which are continually growing.

    Every year, new words are added to dictionaries.

    As of June 2011, the Oxford English Dictionary added lots of technical terms such as:
    – – –

    cryosectioning, n.
    cryostasis, n.
    cryostorage, n.
    cryosuspension, n.

    – – –

    In the Filipino dictionary, I’m not quite sure. I’ve done a bit of searching, and these were all I found out.

    UP Filipino Dictionary (August 2010):

    nger nger


    1. Even if, we have the available words. We don’t have the available high technology…so it’s useless to create words in Pilipino; without people seeing the material technology, and processes involved.
      I was schooled in Technical Field in the Philippines. I studied Technical books, availlable in the Philippines. When I migrated to U.S.; I had to learn the languages and words of their advanced technologies. In order to perform my job well. So, I have to go back to school…

      1. asa lang ang kaalaman natin sa kaalaman ng ibang da lahi dahil sila ang nagbigay ng mga teknikal na katawagan sa pumapalaot ng pagsulong sa laranagn ng teknolohiya.

    1. Borrowing is not the issue. The issue is whether both the word/term has to this date a clear and precise equivalent in Filipino (Pilipino/Tagalog)–The the answer to which is a resounding NONE!

      No matter how gallantly we fight and hide this shame, Tagalog/Filipino proves to be wanting in words, vocabularies, or expressions which are characteristic of societies known to spawn new industries.

      1. kung hindi ng hiram ng salitang efficiency ang enles ay wala din sa bukabolaryo nila ang salitang ito.

        The old Latin original may not exactly mean the same thing as its English adaptation.

        It was the English-speaking world that spawned the industrial revolution which therefore proves that not only did they have a productive grasp of the modern concept of efficiency, but may even have introduced this modern concept to the rest of the world. Being advocates if not themselves authors of this modern concept, the absence of Latin would not have detracted them. They would have simply used, perhaps even create, a different word to articulate this concept.

        We may say that English not only borrowed or adapted from Latin, but enriched and developed it to take on new meaning.

        Contrast that now with Pinoy society. They take a concept such as, say, ‘Democracy’ superficially. So, instead of enriching it like what English-speaking societies have done, had corrupted the concept to practically mean mob rule or bandwagon power (and I would bet that this revelation would still escape most Pinoys–especially those triumphalists, full of false patriotism, too proud and callous to acknowledge that they need to change their way of thinking). Pinoys appear to neither care enough nor have the initiative to articulate this important concept.

        Having been immersed in English for decades now, it is quite disappointing to see how this very valuable efficiency concept still fails to sink into the collective Pinoy psyche. Our culture, infrastructure, inefficient management of our environment, way of life, and way we choose our leaders continue to demonstrate this.

      2. ang tagalog, maliban sa may sariling pinagmulan ay lenguwaheng nabahiran at naimpluwensiyahan ng iba’t ibang wika mula sa mga dayuhan, tulad ng mga salitan malay, intsik, espanyol, engles, arabo. ang yaman ng wikang tagalog, tulad ng ibang ibang banyagang wika gamit ng isang bansang nasasakop at naiimpluwensiyahan ng mas malakas na bansa ay unti unting nawawala dahil ang mahinang bansa ay sapilitang napapayon sa impluwensiya ng nakakasakop dito.

        maliban doon, bilang pangkalahatang pagkila sa engles na paggamit na uri ng salita upang magkaunawaan ang magkaibang lahi, marami sa ibang mga salita ay unti unit din nawawala. ang generasyon ngayon ng mga bansang tulad ng hapon, korea, saudi arabia at marami pang iba ay asa na din na matuto ng salitang engles para sa pakikipag ugnayan.

        sa ganitong kaganapan, maraming katutubong salita ang isang wika ang nalilimutan dahil sa paggamit o pagimpluwensiya ng banyagang salita… tulad ng salitang efficiency na mag halos magsingkahulugan ng sulit, husay, tipid… o sa ikalawang antas – masnakakasulit, masmahusay, masnakakatipid, maspakikinabangan – dipende sa paggamit ng salita.

        ang yaman ng wikang tagalog ay sa kasamaang palad ay hindi napagyaman at naalagaan ng mga naunang salin lahing pilipino.

        sa ngayon, tulad ng masnakakaraming sumusubaybay sa mga naililimbag sa website ito, balitaktakan, nakikipagpalitang ng kaalaman at kuro kuro at pagbibigayan ng sariling opinyon, ang pagsulat at paggamit ng salitang engles ay mas sa kadahilang nasasaating sarili kung paano natin gusgustuhin ang makipag ugnayan.

    1. Sa palagay ko ang Tagalog ng efficiency ay kabisaan,mula sa salitang bisa. Maari ding gamitin ang mga ibang salita tulad ng inam, kainaman; bisa, kabisaan;lunas, kalunasan). Bagamat ang epektibo ay orihinal na banyagang salita, maari ring gamitin ang episensiya.

  6. Any lack of efficiency has less to do with the absence of the word in local languages as non-protectionist economic policies that do not encourage the prevalence of the idea.

  7. “Specifically, the knowledge that time and again proves to be useful to support our aspirations to advance in development is knowledge that lies outside the Philippines. This knowledge — technology, modern ways of thinking, and groundbreaking ideas — are all articulated in English. ” – statement is over rated and is wrong.

    Why is it that Japanese technology is also advance? They are not expert at English language? English language is not a pre-requisite to technological advancement. It is merely words used to describe an event or things. Japanese language adopted the terminologies used to convey their ideas but still uses their own language. Tagalog can do that to, it is not needed for everyone to be good at English for a country to flourish, but to share that given information to those who learned it using their native language to their fellow country men.

    1. Not all ground breaking technologies come from the English language, for all you know majority of ground breaking advance comes from Japan, France, Sweden and other European Language not only English speaking countries.

      1. Yeah. But all of those countries have strong traditions of scientific and technological achievement as well. So their respective languages, like English, reflects that collective character.

    2. You know what the japanese called the toyota land cruiser?

      They call it “rando kuruza”.

      So much more english words were translated to japanese this way.

      If not for the exceptional qualities of japanese products, they will not be known for what they are. Their preference to use japanese language had nothing to do with their achievements.

  8. The lack of a Tagalog word for Efficiency is due to:

    1. The local language was stymied when Spain colonized the country and making Spanish a preferred language.

    2. The development of language or vocabulary is the amalgamation of words or phrases learned irrespective of their origin. As descriptive and expressive is the English language, one can determine from the etymology of its vocabulary that not every word in their language is of English origin. Which begs the questions: Is there really a need to have a local version of a foreign word? Is it a must to come up with a word/name for something when there is already a word/name for it?

    3. Maybe there is actually a local equivalent for Efficiency; however, it was lost or forgotten over generations because most speakers prefer the use of another word. Its disuse/non-use made it forgotten. Examples: Bakulaw (Gorilla), Bahag-hari (Rainbow), Palaso (Arrow), Yeso (Chalk), Payaso (Clown)

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