The Language Complex of Tagalog

Baybayin Script: Tagalog in its ancient form.

Lately, there has been one thing that never seems to fail to get me excited: meeting people here in the States that speak Tagalog.

Since I returned, I’ve been encouraging my parents to speak to me in only Tagalog. And I push myself to speak as much Tagalog as I can when I’m home with them. It’s my way of returning to the Philippines while I continue my life here in Seattle.

But Tagalog is a confusing language to learn. The structure is the complete opposite of English: verb then subject. My bilingual struggle includes learning how to differentiate tenses, use the right pronunciation and tone and form the right sentence structure. I brought several grammar books with me but I haven’t had time to delve into any of them.

Not only is Tagalog confusing but it’s not really Tagalog anymore.

It’s a language filled with plenty of Spanish and English vocabulary; Tagalog-speaking Filipinos were unable to resist absorbing lingual elements of their colonizers. For example, “Cama” is bed for both Spanish and Tagalog. It’s also evident not only in the everyday language but the street names in the Philippines (i.e. McArthur, Dela Rosa).

Old Tagalog phrases are no longer used. My favorite discovery was that “I miss you” is technically”Nangungulila ako sayo.” Now, you’ll probably hear something like “Na-miss ako sayo.” 

Unfortunately, many conversations I had with my family and other Filipinos I met resulted in the following confirmation: “There isn’t really such a thing as Tagalog anymore.”

The nature of Tagalog is only part of the language complex that exists in the Philippines. There are also issues that come with having 120+ dialects. There’s a lot of spoken and unspoken tension about the country’s national language. Currently, the national language is technically Filipino not Tagalog. Someone told me that this was to avoid naming one of the 120 dialects as the main language. Just think, if Tagalog was named the national language, Filipinos from other provinces like Illocos, Mindanao, Pampanga and Cebu would feel stifled. Like many other countries, Filipinos tend to be regional.

When I talk to fellow Filipinos, one of the first questions I typically get asked is “What part of the Philippines are your parents from?” Oftentimes, it results in discovering some uncanny connection between our families. My mom has met many Filipinos at Costco who share a family tie with us.

In a way, the dynamics between Filipinos of different regions is similar to the dynamics between Americans within the different States. Some provinces/states are known for particular accents, others known for specific types of cuisine or products and others known for their progressive (or not so progressive) ideologies.

It’s hard enough to try and pick up the language of Tagalog while I hear English on a daily basis. Recognizing the complex history that shaped Tagalog’s current state is another lesson in itself. For now, I’d like to thank all my family and friends who refuel my love for the language on the daily. Hopefully, one day, I can get myself to be completely bilingual but that may take another three month trip to the Philippines.

Categories: Personal, Filipino, Reflections
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One thought on “The Language Complex of Tagalog”

  • Raisa says:

    Buti naman at di mo kinakalimutan ang Tagalog. XD

    One thing that really saddens me is parents back in the Philippines don’t even speak to their kids in Tagalog anymore. I worked in a preschool there for over a year, and some parents told us to speak to their kids only in English. My cousin happens to be one of them. He’s 16, grew up in Manila, doesn’t speak a lick of the language. :( I’m actually the only one among my family’s age group that’s fluent, and I’m the eldest. My sister’s been making an effort though which is great.

    If you ever wanna practice Tagalog, let me know! I don’t know any Filipinos since moving here to Philadelphia so I’ve been speaking English all the time.

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