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Definitely maybe — Tagalog

week 29, Episode 57

Do you know where Tagalog is spoken? Is it in an African kingdom? In an Indian state? Maybe on some Indonesian island? Tagalog is often confused with another language—Filipino, which probably now gives you an idea how to answer the question posed.

Meet Tagalog—the language spoken by 25% of the population of the Phillipines. So why is it confused with Filipino? The answer lies, as always, in the past.

You know, the Phillipines consists of more than 7,600 islands, which means multiple ethnicities, cultures and—languages. To unite them all under one common national language, in 1935 it was proposed to develop one. Out of 8 major languages, Tagalog was chosen as the basis for it for a number of reasons.

In 1939, the national language based on Tagalog was renamed into wikang pambansâ (national language), in 1959—in Pilipino, and in 1973—in Filipino. But the core of it is still Tagalog.

Are Tagalog and Filipino the same language or different? The answer is debated by many experts. But the common idea is that they are mutually intelligible varieties, and therefore belong to one language. Think about Filipino as Tagalog+: same grammar, more words borrowed from other languages.

OK, so what is Tagalog like? After 333 years of the Spanish rule in the Phillipines, the language was "materialized" in the Latin script and it adopted lots of words from Spanish, no doubt, but Tagalog has a specific way of pronouncing those words and its own letter not found in Spanish—ng, which is read as nung (with "ng" part being nasal as that in the word "sing").

This nung sound will constantly chase you in Tagalog. For example, a sentence "I need help" in the language of Filipinos will sound like "Ako ay nangangailangan ng tulong", and "What I saw was disturbing" turns into "Nakakapágpabagabag ang nakita ko." Simple examples :)

The Spanish flavor of Tagalog is noticed basically since the first steps in learning it:

  • Kumusta? (Koo-moos-tah)—from Spanish "Cómo está?"—for "How are you?"
  • Siguro. (See-goo-roh)—from Spanish "Seguro"—for "Maybe" or "Definitely", depending on the context
  • Ingles (In-g-less)—from Spanish "Inglés"—for "English"
  • etc.

But it is just a tinge on the palette—Tagalog in no way sounds similar to Spanish.

Next time someone asks you whether Tagalog and Filipino are the same language, answer "Siguro" and let them figure out if you meant "Definitely" or "Maybe". Definitely maybe :)

Well, I guess we're ready now to tackle Tagalog in a more profound way. Ready?

Tara na! (Tah-rah nahLet's go!

"Gimme some lovin' :) A comment would be nice, too"

Discover more about Tagalog and other languages at!

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