Filipino or Pilipino (Wikang filipino) is the national language of the Philippines, according to the country’s constitution, and is spoken by 90 million people worldwide.
Filipino is a modified version of Tagalog (Wikang Tagalog), the main language of southern Luzon and some nearby areas. Originally, it was intended to include many words from the numerous other languages of the Philippine islands, but this project stalled. In reality nobody actually uses official Filipino, but rather plain Tagalog instead.
About a quarter of the population of the Philippines speak Tagalog as a native language and many more understand it as a second language. Filipino and English are the two official languages of the Philippines, with English being the more prestigious of the two and exclusively used in court judgments and legislation. Filipino is widely used in schools throughout the islands, including regions where the local language is not Tagalog.
Tagalog is a member of the Austronesian language family, fairly closely related to the other languages of the Philippines such as Cebuano, and more distantly to Malay/Indonesian and various languages of the Pacific islands. Due to European influences in the Philippines, it has loanwords from both Spanish and English, and is one of the few languages in Southeast Asia to use the Latin alphabet. Baybayin, the pre-colonial writing system is sometimes taught in schools, but not commonly used in everyday life, although the use of the script is growing in popularity and efforts are being made to revive it.
The main difference with its grammar is that it is not word-order transitive like English. For example, the sentence Jill gives the book to Tom in Tagalog can’t tell who is giving to whom without the personal markers si and ni. If an actor focus verb is used, Jill becomes si Jill (the subject), and Tom becomes ni Tom (the object). If a non-actor focus verb is used, then si and ni are reversed. This works something like active and passive voice in English, but neither form would seem passive in Tagalog.
People learning Tagalog should take note that translations for the to be verbs, such as am, are, is may be confusing. This can be overcome in one of several ways:
- Use “ay” or “ay mga”
- This is may or may not be a verb depending on each person, but means “is equal to” but some Filipinos may consider this as a linking verb. Use “ay” for before singular nouns and use “ay mga” to indicate noun plurality.
- Use “may” or “may mga”
- This is a verb which can mean “there is/are” or “has/have” (beginning of sentence only). Use “may” for before singular nouns and use “may mga” to indicate noun plurality.
- Skip it
- Where not absolutely needed for meaning, it can be omitted — even though this sounds awful in English. Sino siya? literally who he? (or who she?)
The good news regarding word order in Filipino, is that you can juggle the words just about any which way and still be understood (assuming the personal markers are attached to the correct person). Also, it’s easy to substitute similar words within simple sentences like those found in this phrasebook. However, the bad news is that proper word order has a steep learning curve and can be affected even by the number of syllables. Also, Filipino is notorious for its large number of complicated verb forms which require several words in English.
The vast majority of Filipinos are either bilingual (Filipino and English) or trilingual (Filipino, English, and the native language of the speaker). English is one of the official languages of the Philippines and is overwhelmingly used as the main language of government, commerce, and education. Filipinos use Philippine English, an English variety based largely on US English, though it might be spoken with a distinct accent and contains certain colloquialisms and slang unique to it (e.g. the most common word for “toilet” or “bathroom” in the Philippines is the Philippine English “comfort room”, usually shortened to the initials “CR”).
Code-switching is also common in everyday speech, with most conversations incorporating both English and Filipino to a certain extent. Some English words are even used exclusively when using the Filipino equivalent can be considered too formal (e.g. “mall”, “computer”, “internet”, “highway”, “hotel”, and “taxi”). If you are having trouble finding the correct word or phrase in Filipino, don’t hesitate to switch to English. For example: instead of saying “Saan ang labasan?” (Where is the exit?), you can say either “Saan ang exit?” or “Where is the labasan”.
Note that similar to Malay, there are two equivalents of the English word “we” in Filipino. If you wish to include the person(s) you are addressing, the word to use will be táyo. If the subject does not include your listener(s), the word to use will be kamí.
Social distance is considered when using the correct word for “you”; Tagalog uses “ikaw” as the common form, while “kayó” is used as the polite form, alongside the honorific “pô”. Using them the other way around, for example, using “ikaw” to a superior, unless you know the person very well, is considered a breach of etiquette. The Batangas dialect follows the mainstream Tagalog convention, but it also uses the third-person “silá” as a very polite form, similar to how Italian uses lei in polite speech.