Tagalog is a mere dialect

The Tagalog dialect is the pale basis for “Filipino” which is a variant of it Filipinos were led to believe is their “national language”. This is why Manila — which started as a Tagalog settlement that was turned into a colonial outpost by the Spaniards — is referred to as “Imperial Manila”. That’s because non-Tagalogs continue to regard the force feeding of the Tagalog dialect down their throats as modern imperialism. Indeed, most Filipinos can’t even speak the Tagalog dialect properly!

Even as Filipinos quibble over what Tagalog really is, it seems that there really is no point to this “debate”. John McWhorter in his article “What’s a Language, Anyway?” published in The Atlantic observes…

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Faced with the question, linguists like to repeat the grand old observation of the linguist and Yiddishist Max Weinreich, that “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”

But surely the difference is deeper than a snappy aphorism suggests. The very fact that “language” and “dialect” persist as separate concepts implies that linguists can make tidy distinctions for speech varieties worldwide. But in fact, there is no objective difference between the two: Any attempt you make to impose that kind of order on reality falls apart in the face of real evidence.

But then, M. Theresa Centeno Savella, senior lecturer at the Department of Asian Studies at Cornell University writes

From strictly linguistic point of view, Filipino and Tagalog are varieties or dialects of the same language. They share a big bulk of common lexical items and they have very similar grammatical structures.

It therefore comes across as baffling why certain “academics” consider it a big deal..

When one considers how Filipinos, such as the author of the above tweet, a certain Zyza Nadine Suzara who is “executive director” of the “Institute for Leadership, Empowerment and Democracy” (iLead) issue shrill opinions on the matter all over social media, it becomes evident that a big point is being missed when discussing Tagalog’s place in the scheme of things. It seems the idea that 110 million Filipinos embrace (debatably so) Tagalog as their national lingua franca is the only reason it is glibly regarded a “language”. Thing is, its number of speakers does not necessarily make Tagalog a great medium for communication any more than cockroaches outnumbering people a thousand to one don’t necessarily make them a great animal.

The better topic Filipino “thought leaders” could spend their time chattering about would be how best to fatten the pipeline of relevant knowledge flowing into Philippine society. The trouble with Tagalog and other Philippine dialects, is that these don’t offer any significant body of useful knowledge that could equip Filipinos to thrive in the modern world. Indeed, just in the field of public transport, Filipinos remain trapped in the decades-long “debate” over whether or not their beloved jeepney should be junked in favour of more modern mass transit systems. Perhaps it is their quaint Tagalog dialect which lacks a word for efficiency that imprisons this chatter within such a tiny square.

Why continue to squander resources propping up a quaint dialect that does not contribute to Filipinos’ collective ability to participate in today’s competitive world. It’s time Filipinos ditch their heritage of smallness and embrace real languages that help them move forward rather than keep them chained to useless tradition.

36 Replies to “Tagalog is a mere dialect”

  1. So very true and painful of what was depicted about the Filipinos, of which our character is alike an amoeba. Instead of uniting ourselves for the good of the country, we tend to dwell on the petty stuff that is, sadly evident of our ‘kanya-kanya’ syndrome. Because of ‘kanya-kanya,’ we are not able to instill a strong sense of solidarity, where we, despite our differing beliefs, are not able to find workable common denominators among ourselves and cannot learn to compromise for the benefit of all just to get things done. The more we take ourselves first, the more we end up as poor followers with a weak sense of responsibility to our fellows, the community, our country, and the outside world in that order. Kanya-kanya also hinders the development of self-discipline which, in the long run, is meant to breed a collective culture of efficiency, order, and system. And need I add more after stressing the consequences of the ‘kanya-kanya’ syndrome, take note of countries with multiethnic populations, most notably Malaysia and Singapore; both countries respect the different beliefs, languages/dialects, customs and traditions of the Malay, Chinese and East Indian communities while, at the same time opting to prefer to converse in English when they intermingle with each other. Why is it such the case? For one, English is the most convenient language when people discuss scientific as well as technical matters–as most reference books and periodicals on science and technology are in English. Two, English is the language of commerce, of communication as well as the language of law, where legal terms are best expressed in, you’ve guessed it right, English. And three, English is the language for moving up and moving forward–as one wants to be a part of the bigger, growing global community; even countries where English is not a major language also see more and more of its people ending up being comfortable chatting and communicating in English! And, thanks to the wonders of technology, these same people in non-English speaking countries learn how to translate using online translation apps! So there. If only, for the sake of practical reasons yours truly has mentioned above, it is high time we Filipinos set aside that sense of being Tagalog, Pangalatok, Ilonggo, Cebuano, Chavacano, Waray, Hiligaynon or whatever to concentrate more on English as that unifying factor and that common denominator that can get us ahead and keep up with the fast-paced changing trends in the global economic, political and even cultural scenes! Lastly, think of how foreign companies and entities prefer to hire Filipinos among other nationalities as OFWs because of their proficiency in the English . . .

    1. I’m willing to bet that, say, an average Ilonggo would be far more comfortable speaking in Tagalog/Filipino than English when speaking to another Filipino ethnolinguistic group. For the vast majority of Filipinos, English is nothing more than a language they learn at school and through media but never get to use it, as there is are other languages they are far more comfortable using, even with Filipinos from other ethnolinguistic groups.

      1. That’s why castilian really makes sense as the main official language, since its pronunciation is very easy and so many words sound familiar. Best of all is we know it already worked out as such.

    1. It can’t be when tens of millions of people have it as their first language and many more as their second language.

  2. I’ll be real. Tagalog is a useless language. You’re better off learning English, European and Japanese languages than learning Tagalog.

    1. Agree with you 100 percent! In this day and age of global interaction, English is the way to go–and to advance ourselves. Just in case Filipinos who happen not to be proficient in English (or are simply embarrassed to speak English) can hire an interpreter, as with the case in other countries where English is not widely used such as China, Vietnam, Brazil and in emerging markets like Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan. Still, in these countries, we see more and more people craving to learn English so they can simply get ahead, professionally and personally.

  3. As I said on the FB page, if you’re going to sell to a foreign market, it would be dumber to require buyers to learn your language to buy from you. You learn their language to sell to them.
    This is assuming the existence of “dapat mag-Tagalog ang mga Amerikano!” types. lol

    1. It is stupid to require foreigners to learn Tagalog before entering Philippines. I’ve heard enough stupidity of people there complaining that Americans can go there easily despite not knowing how to speak Tagalog. Why is Tagalog so important? It’s also as stupid as criticizing Filipinos in other countries if they don’t speak Tagalog. I’ve seen those in comment sections. What’s worse is I’ve seen people in Manila making fun of Visaya people for their Tagalog accents which is disgusting, like Tagalog is an important language, but it’s useless, especially in countries outside of Philippines.

      1. Hey Mr. Clean, please be reminded that you should refrain from using ad hominem in a public discussion as you’ve frequently and repeatedly reminded everyone else.

        Your renewed arrogance fails to convince and in this manner appears stupidly worst re your dubious and pretentious one-way policy.

        1. Ad hominem? I’m criticizing the argument and the action, not the person itself. I’m just adding what ChinoF said which I agree with.

          You’re saying I’m arrogant? You’re either using ad hominem or closer to it than I am, I’m just telling the truth. Attack the argument, not the person. Nothing wrong with saying that the action is stupid or bad or something. There’s also nothing wrong with calling an opinion stupid, just don’t attack or insult the person.

        2. @No Data it’s because you called Tagalog a useless language. By doing that you’re attacking an entire ethnic group.

          But of course you don’t see it that way.

        3. @Jose I’m talking about the language, not the people or ethnic group. A person can be a Filipino or Visayan by ethnicity while speaking only English. By the way, the true arrogance is saying things such as the Americans should speak Tagalog, which is dumb and arrogant.

        4. @No Data:

          “true arrogance is saying things such as the Americans should speak Tagalog, which is dumb and arrogant.”

          No one’s actually saying it other than you!

          To agree with ChinoF’s assertion based only his mere assumption is dumb, adding something to it founded on lies is even dumber.

        5. @No Drama wrong again. Wanting foreigners to speak Tagalog when entering Philippines is arrogance and saying that it’s not arrogance is wrong.

          “No one’s actually saying it other than you”, you’re saying that I’m the only person who’s right and everyone else is wrong? Because saying things such as the Americans should speak Tagalog is really dumb and arrogant, it’s wrong to say it’s not dumb and arrogant. The majority is not always right.

        6. @No Drama oh, by the way, I’ll rephrase it. It’s dumb and arrogant to tell foreigners to speak Tagalog when going to Philippines as if they really need to do so as well as requiring buyers to learn your own language when buying from you in a foreign market, like ChinoF said.

        7. Native Filipino World Citizen pretender No Data’s utter disrespect for Tagalog and showy embrace for the English language did not help him to tighten up on his comprehension, only on his confused arrogance.

          Here’s why:

          And like ChinoF said, “This is assuming the existence of “dapat mag-Tagalog ang mga Amerikano!”

          Focus on the phrase “assuming the existence of”, what does that mean?

          Aral muna tayo! Alay sa atin ng Grammarly.

          “Presume is a verb that means to suppose, to take for granted, or to dare.

          “Assume is a verb that means to suppose, to take for granted, to take upon, to don, or to undertake.

          “In the shared meaning of “to suppose,” presume is usually used when you suppose based on probability, while ASSUME is used when you suppose WITHOUT ANY EVIDENCE.”

          Ngayon, ano na? Tama ka pa rin ba sa mga sinasabi mo?

          Heto pa: “No one’s actually saying it other than you.” most definitely does not mean as “…you’re saying that I’m (that’s you, No Data) the only person who’s right and everyone else is wrong?”

          Again, it just an assumption, right? Tell us, right about what exactly? No Evidence!

          Maling akala o naging engot lang? Ano sa palagay mo? Aamin ka ba?

          Sabi mo itaas, “…the true arrogance is saying things such as the Americans should speak Tagalog, which is dumb and arrogant.”

          Kung mali ka nga, ano naman gusto mo na itawag sa iyo?

          “No Data”! Hmm… Bagay sa iyo… Para lang “Walang Laman”… Pero puno pa rin… ng Yabang!

          Paumanhin… Nagbibiro lang!

  4. “The trouble with Tagalog and other Philippine dialects, is that these don’t offer any significant body of useful knowledge that could equip Filipinos to thrive in the modern world.”

    But, so what?

    What will prevent native Tagalog speakers (or other Filipino dialect speakers) from accessing such significant body of useful knowledge that the world offers when these same regular native speakers are also able/capable of understanding/comprehending materials written in English and/or other foreign languages? I guess nothing!

    Would there be a problem with regular Filipinos who can read, write and understand in both English and Filipino? Personally, I think there’s none.

    The problem lies more with a lot of people’s social condition which the government and the people themselves need to address- something that hinders an ability to access proper education.

    To limit the argument which is better, English vs. Tagalog, for a people who use both languages (or dialects as suggested or preferred) is nothing more than, but, please forgive the word, a useless proposition and a waste of time.

    BTW, some countries in Africa and South America lost their original native languages due to colonization and for years are using lingua franca languages of their First World colonizers, namely, Spanish, French and English and yet, still they remain poorer than us.

    1. In a way, the arguments you presented above offer some good points to ponder as a challenge to benign0’s theory (not limited to the transport issue but when applied generally):

      “Perhaps it is their quaint Tagalog dialect which lacks a word for efficiency that imprisons this chatter within such a tiny square.”

      Indeed, just short of advocating to abandon a homegrown language to embrace a foreign one isn’t always exactly a guarantee to an aspired national ambition, especially to a country whose people are capable of using another language beside their own.

      1. Benign0 has always wanted to eliminate the usage of Philippine languages because he sees them as obstacles to “progress”. He refers to them as “dialects” because that’s his way of putting them down.

        He still hasn’t answered the question what Tagalog is actually a dialect of and I doubt he ever will.

    2. I’m not really proposing that Filipinos abandon the Tagalog dialect and embrace English. It’s more of the public resources being invested in its propagation that concern me. Filipinos should be left to their devices to decide what language they want to speak among themselves and in their homes. But public funds invested in communications media that don’t offer any pipeline of information from sources that offer knowledge that contributes to people becoming more competitive are a tragic waste

      1. “It’s time Filipinos ditch their heritage of smallness and embrace real languages that help them move forward rather than keep them chained to useless tradition.”

        What’s this then?

  5. @benign0:

    The English word “efficiency” in Spanish is “eficiencia” and its root word “efficient”, translated to Spanish, is “eficiente”.

    In a Wikipedia entry, there states that:

    “In their analysis of José Villa Panganiban’s Talahuluganang Pilipino-Ingles (Pilipino-English dictionary), Llamzon and Thorpe (1972) pointed out that 33% of word root entries are of Spanish origin.”

    If that’s the case, would it be considered a big deal if the words “episyensya” and “episyente” are to be counted in and be adopted in ours as well?

    Even the English language on its own can’t claim to be a “pure” language anyway. In fact, it has a lot of loan words incorporated to it!

    But, if indeed there is no Tagalog word for “efficiency” would it be impossible to explain its concept in the context of, say, in the field of economics that would be generally understandable?

      1. Actually there already is a native Tagalog word for efficiency: Kahusayan.

        But I’m pretty sure Benign0 will find a way to discredit that word.

    1. The point I was making is that, as you pointed out, Filipinos needed to borrow a word to express the concept of “efficiency” and, therefore, said concept is not part of Filipino tradition as evident in our lack of a Tagalog word to articulate said concept.

      The Japanese do the same but have themselves developed a strong scientific and technological tradition in their society. This means said tradition can actually be embedded. However, recent history has so far shown that Philippine society is not up to the task as it has all but been left behind by the rest of its regional peers.

      1. We do really need to develop a strong scientific and technological tradition in our society. It’s a process, it will take time.

        I believe the late President Ferdinand E. Marcos then launched an industrialization program in the late 1970s based on 11 heavy industries led by the steel, petrochemical and engineering industries ’till it was rudely interrupted and neglected by those who came after him. Then, there’s anti-industrialization policy implemented all those years through IMF conditionalities.

        Even according to writer Cecilio Arillo, who authored books on said topic, he commented: “… it isn’t hard to understand that for the past 60 years, this country has been under the continuous economic supervision of the IMF. There is no country in the world that can claim to be under the supervision of the IMF for even a fraction of that time.”

        With Duterte and Marcos Jr. or whoever will replace them after, may the country experience the upswing.

        Putting the above topic aside for the meantime, something I noticed in the Filipino language is that it isn’t fond of using single descriptive words but tends to describe more with a combination of words.

        That is why it’s not unusual for it to be observed as a “flowery” language as opposed to it being a technical one. Perhaps it’s one reason sometimes which gives it the impression that it lacks words to describe specific things. To wit:

        Ang pagiging produktibo (productivity) ay tumutukoy sa bilis at/o dami (rate) ng paggawa kung saan ginawa ang mga produkto, o ginanap ang gawain.

        Ang kahusayan (efficiency) ay nagpapahiwatig ng estado ng paggawa (work process) ng pinakamataas (maximum) na maayos (kalidad o quality) na bunga ng paggawa (output) na may limitadong mga mapagkukunan (input) at pinakamababa (minimum) na pag-aaksaya.

        If the Japanese translates “Typhoon Club” as “Taifū Kurabu” (台風クラブ) and the English language can come up and get away with “SUDS” or “Sudden Unexpected Death in Sleep” as their translated version of the Filipino word “bangungot” why deny that same right to formulate our own? The word “nightmare” isn’t technically correct because it never resulted in sudden death.

    2. @Belle, yes we can only hope that a traditional of scientific and technological excellence could still emerge in Philippine society — unlikely, but still possible.

      At the moment, however, a vast foundation to enable this is still missing. See the way Filipinos conduct themselves and regard things with a general lack of precision (an essential ingredient to a strong engineering ethic) and one appreciates that it may easily be decades, if not even a century before that materialises.

  6. Is there a thing such as an original word? There has to be context to be able to compare and contrast words and their meaning. If we must insist on origin then it has to be the experience of a word or an idea itself. Translation is from general to specific, and the seeming difference is just superficial. Pattern precedes scale.

  7. Benign0’s use of the word “embedded”, from the root word “embed” caught my attention and it got me curious if it has a local word equivalent. I tried but initially struggled to come up with a Tagalog word for it. It’s not instantaneous for me that I still needed to flex the brain, it, being also a muscle, ’till I came up with these:

    – nakabaon (sa isipan)
    – nakatatak (sa kamalayan)
    – nakadikit (sa pagkakakilanlan)
    – nakapirmi (sa kinalalagyan)

    The above Tagalog words, on their own, appears to mean something else. But, when applied with other words intended, placed them in their proper context.

    Somehow, I came to realize, Tagalog is for smart people… one has to be smart really to understand and appreciate the Filipino language or the Tagalog dialect if anyone wishes to call it that.

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