Word Power (Not People Power) is the Cure to Filipino Dysfunction


Language is one of the most basic elements that define a culture or nation. For many countries, it is the unifying factor of their people and the key distinctive that sets them apart from other societies around them.

Much has been discussed and even debated on the Philippine’s pursuit and cultivation of a national language. Some say it is a waste of time; others say we need it for national identity (another way of saying “to feed Pinoy pride”). It is enshrined in the constitution, and our institutions, mainly education and media, have gone to great lengths to establish Tagalog (a.k.a. Filipino) as the common denominator of every Filipino who resides in this vast archipelago of many tribes and tongues. Great – we’re united, but at what cost?

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

Vocabulary = Power

We all know that Tagalog is a very limited language, particularly in the area of vocabulary. One word in English will have at times up to a dozen synonyms, each giving a diversifying inflection or slightly different flavor to the main word. On the other hand, Tagalog not only lacks a lot of equivalents of English words in its vocabulary, it also has very few synonyms for each word.

What arsenal (array of weapons) is to a soldier in a battlefield vocabulary is to a person reasoning or arguing in a discussion or debate. The reason many Filipinos are intellectually bankrupt, lose in a duel of words, and just end up resorting to expletive-loaded ad hominem attacks is because they limit themselves to a very weak language, a tool that is no match to an ever advancing world around it. Filipinos act as if they are the proverbial hare in the race with the turtle, when in fact they do not have the luxury to stay lethargic about their own level amidst the exponential increase in knowledge in this fast-evolving modern age?

Each word in the dictionary corresponds to a different world or dimension. The reason why some people are very powerful is that they have access to more worlds than many of us. Just think for example of how some article or book writers are able to articulate a lot of concepts, paradigms, and ways of looking at a situation. The key is in possessing an enhanced and rich selection of words that empower the proponent of an argument or idea to take readers on a journey that transcends the average Pinoy mentality and worldview.

Three Powerful Nation-Altering Words

To further illustrate the power of vocabulary, let’s touch on just three words I believe Filipinos should add into their collection.

  1. Convenience

Much of the dysfunction we see in our basic services is rooted in the lack of this key word in people’s basic way of thinking. Convenience is a choice that one can create. For example, if I were a bank manager, how should I set up the system of making customers queue for their turn to be accommodated by the teller? Should I have them line up standing for hours, or should I install an automated sequential number system so they can take a seat while waiting for their number to flash up front?

People who lack this word in their vocabulary are relegated to a counter-productive mentality that goes: “this is the way we’ve been doing it; so this is the best way it can be done.” Take for example riding a jeepney: why do we have to ask other passengers to pass our payment over to the driver, have the driver look for change while driving (illegal in many first world countries), and then have those same people pass the change back to us? Why not create some convenient way of payment like an RFID card system that automatically deducts the fare upon riding the jeepney? And why do we have to shout “Para” amidst the bustling noise, when push buttons can be installed onto the jeepney ceiling to signal to the driver way up front that a passenger wants to get off at the next “authorized stop”?

  1. Efficiency

Many Filipinos do not have the slightest idea of this word. They think that working hard is the same as working smart. Take for example an ax that is dull. Would it be better to spend 10 minutes sharpening it first in order to complete a wood cutting job in 15 minutes (total 25 minutes), than to force the poor dull ax blade to do the same job in 2 hours?  (Pinoy scratching his head now) In the end, the lifetime of the ax’s handle is greatly reduced due to the amount of excessive force it had to absorb in an inefficient process.

Efficiency even has an equation: amount of work done per unit time. Do Filipinos even wonder why some people like Steve Jobs can do more in 24 hours than a dozen Filipinos can in a week? Is it any wonder why in terms of productivity (per capita GDP), 1 Singaporean is equivalent to 20 Filipinos?

Instead of thinking up new ways to make a task less time consuming, Filipinos try to look busy just to get their meager day’s wage to survive.

  1. Precision

Aha, this is a good one. If you look at the workmanship of many “skilled” Filipinos, you will wonder if it was the product of your 6 year-old or if the guy who worked on it had a hangover from last night. The margin for deviation is so large in the Philippines at times, that it’s appalling that kid’s toys like Lego blocks are far better than the building blocks used in industries/products that are a matter of life and death for end-users.

Related to precision are words like “accuracy” and “standard.” If you stopped a random Filipino walking on the road and asked him to explain the difference between “precision” and “accuracy”, how many do you think will get it right? These are two different paradigms; and failure to understand these concepts can be devastating to a project or endeavor.

If the Philippines started a space program to launch rockets, failing to have a good grasp of these concepts can spell multi-billion pesos in losses and wasted man-hours if the payload ends up crashing into the open sea.

The Choice

We can go on and on discussing more words one at a time, but the simple point is this: the reality is that Filipinos are weak and prone to failure and dysfunction because they fail to empower themselves. They are happy to spend most of their free time chilling out or watching their useless crappy TV shows that bring nothing of productive value. Yes, Filipinos are having fun, and get to laugh a lot. Ultimately it’s a choice – dysfunction can be stamped out of our society; but are Filipinos willing to work at it at the cost of those bellowing echoes of “halakhakan”.

Forget the sham “People Power” guys. It’s “Word Power” that counts. Mabuhay ang wikang Ingles! Long live the empowered Filipino!


24 Replies to “Word Power (Not People Power) is the Cure to Filipino Dysfunction”

  1. The author does not know anything about linguistics: words like convenience, precission, dysfunction, language, development, education, society, publish, simple, point and so many others in English are borrowings from other languages, mainly French. Now try to say English is shortin terms of vocabulary…

    1. That is precisely WHY English is such a powerful language. It’s taken lots of useful bits from other languages.

      1. Tagalog can localize foreign words, like those in English, and, boom, an expanded vocabulary.

        If you ask me, I still prefer English for pragmatic reasons: Most of intellectual literature are written in it and it helps me earn money.

      2. That is precisely WHY English is such a powerful language. It’s taken lots of useful bits from other languages.


      1. You just gave me an idea Add. In Taglish: Tagalog words make up the skeleton/bones; English words make up the flesh. Eventually Tagalog will slide into obscurity.

        So Taglish na ba tayo here in GRP?
        Medyo it’ll take some getting used to nga lang.
        Plus kakaasar nga lang tong auto-spellchecker ng smartphone ko pag Taglish tinatype ko.

        1. ‘Wag tayong matakot gumamit ng ibang vocabulary. Even English no longer sounds like the language originally called English:

          Bealocwealm hafað fréone frecan forth onsended
          Giedd sculon singan gléomenn sorgiende on Meduselde
          Thæt he ma no wære, his dryhtne dyrest
          And maga deorost Bealo

          That’s what English originally looked like and sounded like. Eh, kung ‘di s’ya humiram sa mga Norman, sa German, sa Latin, heck even sa Gaelic, magiging ganito ba ang English ngayon?

          Eh ano kung ang Tagalog hindi na maging ‘yung Tagalog na alam ni Rizal? Do people still speak like Shakespeare? Meron pa bang nag-sisingan gleomenn sorgiende sa USA or UK? Kung gusto talaga nating lumaganap ang “Filipino” ‘wag tayong matakot na, someday, mawala na nang tuluyan ang “Tagalog”.

  2. I agree.
    Tagalog is for poetry.
    But even there, it’s still stifling when compared to the English language.
    For a developing country, I say we would do well with less poetry in our daily transactions.

  3. Tagalog can absorve any foreign word, as the English did with French without being “swallowed”. The question here ut is the Filipinos who consider their languages are inferior, when that’s not true. In Hungary, there is Hungarian; in Iceland there is Icelandic; in the Netherlands there is Dutch, and so on. You can not survive with English in those countries without speaking those languages. The fact that English is so important here and in the US does not mean it is the same elsewhere. Otherwise all languages in the world would be dissapearing, and that’s not the case at least in the national ones.

  4. The whole problem is not with Tagalog itself but those who presume to be its guardians. Too many believe that borrowing words from other languages is “colonial mentality” and that Tagalog vocabulary can only be increased by coining new words.

    I used to have lively discussions with a fellow teacher who taught “Filipino” who thought that ONLY those nations with their “own” language became successful. When I told him that the USA did not have its own language but instead borrowed and repurposed the language of England, he said I was lying. Even when I said “Well, that’s why it’s called ‘English’ not ‘Americanlish'” he couldn’t understand: English was obviously the American language while Tagalog was the Philippine language.

    When an American or an Englishman reads their prose from 100 or 200 years ago, they find that the language seems so outdated; that’s natural. Why, then, can Pinoys still read our Tagalog prose from Balagtas’s time? Even from Rizal’s and Bonifacio’s time? How can we still read Jacinto’s essays? Because Tagalog was never allowed to evolve. They made it a museum piece to preserve it, while other countries like Japan and Korea (countries that Tagalog supremacists love to cite as countries with “sariling wika”) liberally borrow words from America, Germany and China and, thus, remain relevant.

    The test I always make to see if they are Tagalog supremacists is this: I ask which is the proper Filipino word to say goodbye? Is it “paalam” or “babay”? They will always insist it is “paalam” even though virtually all modern Filipinos, including them, say “babay”.

    1. That’s right. In particular, the Japanese have a totally distinct Alphabet just for imported words called Katakana. It’s funny how they change the sound though – like “the earth” will read/sound like “zee aaaassssu”.

      Ha? Can you say that again? “zee aaassssssssu”.

      It’s one thing they can’t export back unfortunately.

      1. It’s because Japanese have very few phonemes they can even pronounce in their language (even compared to other languages) and a comparatively limited character set (by comparison, Hangeul is able to spell foreign words better). Doesn’t stop them, though. They can unashamedly borrow words with abandon and, at the end of the day, still call it Nihonggo. They pronounce “Thor” as “So”… but “So” what? They do it and encourage it.

        Pinoys are actually more fortunate: our exposure to Spanish and the Indo-Chinese languages allow us to be able to, potentially, borrow any vocabulary in the world and spell it correctly… except we don’t. “Speak straight FILIPINO!” said one of the teachers of my youth because one of my classmates would mix, in her Tagalog, not English words, but Ilocano. Rrrrrrrright.

        If only the Manileños allowed extensive borrowing from just the other languages in the Philippine Islands itself… but ah, the law says Tagalog is “Filipino”. Florante at Laura is required reading… but not Biag Ti Lam-ang. Heck, I learned more about the other stories of other Philippine ethnic groups from a book in English.

        The worst enemy of Filipinos are Filipinos, alas.

  5. >> When I told him that the USA did not have its own language but instead borrowed and repurposed the language of England, he said I was lying.

    The poor quality of teaching in the Philippines never ceases to amaze me.

    Honestly, the kids who don’t go to school are probably smarter.

  6. Laurie Anderson had a great take on this language kerfuffle with her hit: ‘Language is a Virus’:

  7. Words are powerful…as a way of communication; as a way of describing things; and as a way to transfer information.

    Unfortunately, our Filipino language lacks, highly technical terms. It is English, that we can use. In the Old world,it was Latin, or Greek.

    As the technological advances of a country grows; so its languages/words. New words and terms are added. Our country, is two(2) centuries, behind in technology, compared to an advanced country.

    So, we have no recourse, than to use English , as our language. It is good also to learn other foreign languages. It opens your world.

  8. English is the most spoken Language in the world , if you want to be successful in Philippines learn good English and you would get a job anywhere with good pay, not saying give up your traditional language, The longer my wife lives with me the better her English has become, I correct her all the time. I built a house here what a disaster, Govt. needs to bring in Plumbing courses , and you should have to pass an exam and get a certificate,(not a false one)Also electricians Certificate , do a course, and not be allowed to work on constructions without them, also plumbing Electrical inspection by trained inspectors will create jobs. Please listen to Westerners/ foreigners when they try to give you advise, most where tradesmen at sometime in their countries. that is one of the biggest problems here , listen and you will learn.The Banks need to upgrade their systems and policys here also, Foreigners get a lot problems with banking and the banks.everything might have worked OK years ago, as you say it worked OK then so why change it! And don’t forget A lot of country’s send millions of dollars in relief/ emergency funds and inject a lot of foreign investment into the Philippines, Australia Take Filipinos to that country for surgery for people with Birth defects ect.A bit of gratitude goes a long way!

  9. James, I am afraid your ‘people from the West are best’ attitude, in this, or any other non-western country is at its best misplaced, and at it’s worst arrogant. There are also rogue traders in the USA, Australia, England.Not all of the practising tradesmen from those places have certificates. We have had Technical Colleges here for years, but just like in those countries, you have some people who work who have learned on the job. Some are excellent, some are crap.It is always good to take correct and up-to-date advice from the relevant resources. I suggest therefore, that if you want your wife to learn ‘proper’ English, you either brush up on your grammar and spelling, or send her to one of our many excellent English schools.

    1. I have to agree with this. I can’t help wondering what mangled form of English James’s wife is learning.

      Still, however bad craftsmen are back in “the West” (and many of them are), most of them are much worse in the Philippines. Weirdly, there are a small number who are absolutely world-class, with not much in between “absolutely awful” and “exceedingly good”.

      1. I have yet to meet a better cobbler here in Australia than literally every one in a typical Mr Quickie shop. Pinoy tailors seem to have more skill at repairs and alterations than any I’ve met here too.

        But, but, but… cobblers and tailors here earn a good living and are seen as highly skilled craftsmen—what they do is just another job and it doesn’t make you less than a lawyer, a doctor or an engineer. One can be proud to be a cobbler, tailor, plumber, carpenter or any sort of tradie if that is your career.

        In the Philippines, you’re a cobbler because you were “bobo” in school. You are a tailor because you were anak of “sinubayan?” and cannot go to the best universities. You’re seen as second-class citizens who are there because you deserved it for not being “madunong” in school. If you’re a tradie in the Philippines, if you’re caught speaking better English than some Manileño, you’ll be “akala mo kung sino”.

        No, West ain’t necessarily the best… but if you are a tradie, it might as well be.

  10. If Filipinos insist in having a national language that has rich vocabulary without the effort of reinventing the wheel, then they will probably have to settle with Taglish as a formal and legal evolutionary form of Pure Tagalog.

    All English words will be carried over to this new superset language. The rules of verb inflection should also be formally taught/settled.

    Root word: attend
    Future tense: aatend
    Past tense: umattend
    Present progressive: umaattend

    Because let’s face it: Nobody says “Lalahok ka ba sa pagpupulong?” nowadays. All have evolved to say “Aattend ka ba ng meeting?”

    We all say “ang cute naman ng baby mo”; not “ang tambok-tambukin naman ng sanggol mo”

    So no need to Tagalogize the spelling of English words like: velocity–> belosidad, which is outright stupid and a waste of time.

    In an ideal world I really would have preferrred not mixing Tagalog and English in the same sentence. But if there’s no way stopping Taglish; then we should legalize it so it won’t be called a bastardized language anymore.

    Just my 2-cents. Pero kung matigas talaga ulo ng Pinoy: as Mar would say “e di bahala kayo sa buhay niyo”. Ayaw niyo umasenso- e di wag.

    1. Quite right.

      Taglish should not be called a bastardized language any more than English is a bastardized language. Not any more.

      If I were in charge of language education in the Philippines, I wouldn’t keep on reprinting the same Balarila that my grandparents and their grandparents used. I would, for the meantime, use English technical terms to study and describe the language: I’d use terms like “nouns”, “adverbs”, “adjectives” etc. instead of outdated, Tagalog terms that have lost any meaning (like “pangngalan”, which sounds like the Tagalog word for “name”, or “pandiwa” which, to the uninitiated, does not mean “verb” but “what gives the spirit of things”).

      I would allow the sort of evolution that gave us terms like “tambayan” (originally from the root word “stand by”)—unarguably a very Filipino word that does not belong exclusively to just Tagalog but is used by all ethnic groups in the Philippines.

      And, yes, I agree: I won’t go for the stupid Tagalization of spellings. Or, if we do Filipinize it, make it make sense: instead of “belosidad” it can just be “belositi”… that is, if we cannot maintain the original spelling of “velocity”… and why not? We maintain the original Spanish spellings of so many loanwords without Tagalizing it (“cabeza”) or, when we do modify it, still sounds like the original (“singko” for “cinco”, etc.).

      Ah, but the Tagalog supremacists annoy me no end. I feel sometimes that they only insist on a “pure” language because only theycan fulfill the requirements of it (and sound like asshats).

      1. I might add that we should stop calling “Taglish” by that term. Nobody went and renamed English to Normlish (because of the added Norman) or Franlish. Nobody called it Deutchlish (for German) or Latinlish (for the Latin). Nobody went and called it Navaholish (for Navaho) or Hindilish (for Hindi).

        In fact, of any evolved language currently in use by actual Pinoys, it is the so-called “Taglish” that should bear the name “Filipino”. It should be encouraged and not seen as a sign of being uncouth or uncultured.

        And when I mean “Taglish”, I don’t mean that stupid and idiotic mess that comes out of Kris Aquino’s mouth (which, while not mere drivel, is closer to Swardspeak than true national language).

  11. If you don’t stand sincere by your words
    how sincere can the people be?
    Take great care over words, treasure them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.