What language do Filipinos really speak?

By Romy Monteyro

GIVEN THE BASTARDIZED WAY FILIPINOS SPEAK, I often ask myself this question: What language do we Filipinos really speak? Is it Tagalog? Spanish, perhaps? Or maybe English?

The answer I believe is we speak all three at the same time which would make us Pinoys, TagSpangLish speakers!

In the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Canada English is the official, if not the constitutionally mandated national language. It is not surprising therefore that English and only English, with the possible exception of Canadian style French in some parts of Canada, particularly Quebec, is the language used in all forms of communications both in the government and private sectors.

In Japan, needless to say, everything is spoken or written in Japanese. The same is true in Germany and many other countries in Asia and Europe.

But the Philippines stands out unique in that while the current Constitution which is written in English, mandates that Pilipino, based largely on the Tagalog dialect, is the national language, and both English and Spanish may alternately be used as official languages.

The medium of instruction in all schools is English. The language of commerce, medicine, government, science, broadcast and print journalism and even the military and police is also English. And while three languages—Tagalog, Spanish and English may be used in Philippine courts of law, only English is actually used.

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That being so since the turn of the century when America introduced English in the Philippines, the Filipino is unique because like it or not he is the only national in the world who may need an interpreter in his own country’s courts to translate his native dialect into English, to in turn enable the court stenographer (whose knowledge of short hand or steno is English-based) to properly record his testimony and for the judge, prosecutor and defense counsel to truly understand what he is saying. Wow!

Thus a Visayan, Ilocano, Tagalog or Pampango, not proficient in English who testifies in court either as a witness or as the accused is provided an interpreter to translate what he says into English! Whoa, is something wrong with that picture?

Apparently not because it is the accepted norm in our courts of law since time immemorial!

Funny isn’t it? But why is nobody laughing? But wait until a witness, counsel or prosecutor happens to speak what Filipinos call Carabao English, and a very humiliating roar of laughter will thunder across the courtroom! The same goes true in the Batasang Pambansa or Philippine Congress, which would make boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao a mere comedian should he ever speak in that supposedly august body!

So if one wants to witness something funnier, as far as murdering the English language is concerned, then one should attend a session at the Batasang Pambansa! It was not comedic at all during the time of true statesmen in the incomparable stature of Laurel, Recto, Quezon, Osmena, Paredes, Fernandez, Tolentino, Ople and Salonga.

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Only after clowns like the Estradas, Sotto, Revilla, Jaworsky and a host of other comedians replaced the tried and true statesmen did the Philippine Congress become, in the words of the late great columnist Joe Guevarra, “the place to go when one wants to enjoy real comedy!” And according to a recent report, the same is true with the Philippine Supreme Court!

Again, I dare say that when the likes of Laurel and Abad Santos, Arellano and Araullo were presiding or speaking in that august chamber, the most beautiful interpretation of the English language permeated its every nook and cranny.

But let’s get back to TagSpangLish. How did that happen? Why do Filipinos speak such a gibberish gobbledygook that only they could understand? And why do, strangely enough, Filipinos (mostly) use English when writing letters to one another?

I believe the Filipino entertainment writers are mostly to blame for the proliferation of TagSpangLish., ably aided by Pinoy movie and TV personalities whose grasp of English is most wanting to say the least!

Just try to read what a movie columnist writes in his so-called column, or listen to a TV interview of Pinoy celebrities and you will get my drift. Politicians are also to blame, modern day Filipino politicos that is.

So what language do we Filipinos really speak? To be honest, I’m confused so I don’t really know the answer to that question. Perhaps, you, dear readers can tell me?


13 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Dennis Deveza says:

    Filipinos speak Tagalog in all parts of the Archipelago. Even Ilocano, Bisaya or deep in Mindanao as I happen to have classmates that come from these provinces and I have the opportunity to go from North to South because of my work and my friends invited me. So there is no confusion when our past President Manuel L. Quezon proclaimed that Tagalog is basically our Pilipino Language. Its sad that sometimes its our own kababayans that make things so confusing as they highlight problems which are are actually non-insistent as most of my friends answer me in Tagalog when ever I ask them questions during my travel all over the Philippines Archipelago. Marami pa tayong paksang dapat talakayin para sa kauunlad ng ating bayan. Ako’y nalulungkot kung itong paksang wikang Pilipino ay nabubuksan na para bagang walang wika na pinagkakaisa natin eh kahit sa ating Korte o sa Pamahalaan eh Pilipino ang wika o salita nila. At walang makikipagtalo sa iyo kung magsasalita ka sa Wikang Pilipino ang gagamitin mo sa Mataas na Korte ng Pilipinas. Sa madaling salita walang kaguluhan sa wikang Pilipino. Hindi banyagang Hispaniko o Engles ang wika natin. Ang pambansang wika ng Pilipinas ay Pilipino na nanggaling sa wikang Tagalog.

  2. Roy says:

    Multi-lingual is the word I can say. More advantages to communicate to people with different languages. Official languages Tagalog and English can be read and spoken all around the country by newspapers and TV.

  3. Fernando Sacdalan says:

    “Pinoy” is the language that most Filipino speak. It is not Tagalog, Spanish or English. It is the most “alive” language in the world. One or two words are invented every year in Pinoy language. Someday, we will have a dictionary based on the language Filipinos use when they speak any where in the world. Creating a new word based on traditional language [ex. salong-puwit=chair & lagus-nilad= underpass in Quiapo) does not work. People do not use them. Pogi, lowbat, shota and yosi are some of the sample that Filipinos like to use. I have been away from the Philippines for almost 40 years. I am an American citizen and love America and ALL the blessings that this country offered. I am proud to be a FilAm. I teach other Americans the Filipino arts and crafts. The Philippines have a lot of things that we can call “our own”.We might have gotten the idea from another culture, but we design and use it to fit our own. The Filipino”parol” is the unique that Filipinos anywhere should be proud of. The “Baybayin”, traditional system of writing in the islands BEFORE they were called Filipinos is one of a kind
    (look for Visaya Hervas in Apple computer list of fonts). Some people(even Filipinos) might described Filipinos based on other culture and that is OK to me, but ONLY Filipinos have the
    history, culture and religion that is so different from any other country in the world. I am thankful and proud that I have Filipino in my blood. Salamat.
    according to their standards

  4. Fernando Sacdalan says:

    “Pinoy” is the language that most Filipino speak. It is not Tagalog, Spanish or English. It is the most “alive” language in the world. One or two words are invented every year in Pinoy language. Someday, we will have a dictionary based on the language Filipinos use when they speak any where in the world. Creating a new word based on traditional language [ex. salong-puwit=chair & lagus-nilad= underpass in Quiapo) does not work. People do not use them. Pogi, lowbat, shota and yosi are some of the sample that Filipinos like to use. I have been away from the Philippines for almost 40 years. I am an American citizen and love America and ALL the blessings that this country offered. I am proud to be a FilAm. I teach other Americans the Filipino arts and crafts. The Philippines have a lot of things that we can call “our own”.We might have gotten the idea from another culture, but we design and use it to fit our own. The Filipino”parol” is the unique that Filipinos anywhere should be proud of. The “Baybayin”, traditional system of writing in the islands BEFORE they were called Filipinos is one of a kind
    (look for Visaya Hervas in Apple computer list of fonts). Some people(even Filipinos) might described Filipinos based on other culture and that is OK to me, but ONLY Filipinos have the
    history, culture and religion that is so different from any other country in the world. I am thankful and proud that I have Filipino in my blood. Salamat.

  5. george m. hizon says:

    Do not worry so much Mr. Romy Monteyro because all languages borrow words from another language. In Nihongo for example, they do not have a word for bread, so they borrowed the Spanish word “pan” to refer to bread. In English, they do not have a word for “coup de etat” and so they adopted the same French word in English. In Tagalog, we borrowed the Visayan word “siruhano” to refer to the word surgeon. The same goes true for the rest of the languages. The borrowing/adoption of foreign words to one’s language isn’t new and continues up to today.

  6. george m. hizon says:

    The Spanish word pan also means bread in Nihongo. Panya is the Nihongo word for bakery or bakeshop..

  7. Fernando Habito says:

    There is no such purity on the languages used by people worldwide.what counts and matter is the clarity in the use of the words and the meaning that the speakers and the receivers understand.It also depend on the time and place where the language is spoken and used.The meaning of the word varies and changes from one country to another country.Within a country
    it also varies and different from one ethnic group to another ethnic group.The law of the land
    can be written in what the majority of the population can easily understand and apply into practice..!

  8. It is an advantage in the world to be a multi-liingual. However, I do agree that a country must have one common language that can be used among themselves. I remember learning in my high school days in the late “40′s that a nation or country must meet several requirements to be identified as a country or nation. Among other things, it must have a language of its own in addition to people, territory, etc. We do have the essential requirements of a nation. We even have the language–Pilipino Language, adopted in the late “40′s. Our problem is implementation of the use of the Pilipino Language. We should make it mandatory for our public officials to speak our language in all activities of our Government. For example, Pilipino Language should be the mandatory medium of communication in all bbranches of our Government. Our main problem is we all have the tendency to show off or practice “payabangan” to show how smart we are. Maraming masyadong mayabang saatin. I have no objection to learning how to speak English or Spanish fluently. We should adopt or use our National Language–Pilipino Language–and be proud of using it in all practical occasions.

  9. anonymous says:

    I know this post is too old but I just have to say something.

    You say you’re a Filipino but you saying that Spanish could be an official language in the Philippines makes you either a pretentious person or just simply ignorant of what Philippines really is. I honestly don’t want to offend anyone but… I know A LOT of people from different places in the Philippines, in Cagayan, Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, Manila, Palawan, Davao, and so many more and I do not know a SINGLE person in this generation who speaks Spanish fluently. I’m not saying no one speaks Spanish but the fact that it is so not a common language in the Philippines remains. Filipinos use a lot of Spanish words but that doesn’t mean we speak Spanish.

    Also, Tagalog IS used in courts. A lot of laywers, senators, politicians, etc. in the Philippines use Tagalog (not Taglish). Of course, several others use English. I think the law books are all in English though. I’m not sure.

    The answer to your question depends on where you are in the Philippines. Filipinos use their local/provincial language (they are NOT called dialects which are only variations of the same language – like Ilocano in Ilocos Norte and Ilocano in Ilocos Sur). If had to say what language Filipinos really use, I’d say Filipino since it is the official language (FYI, English is also an official language) and the language of the mass. I wouldn’t say English because let’s face it, only a small percentage of Filipinos speak English FLUENTLY.

  10. Ben Finesilver says:

    I am staying in the Philipines and my wife is filiipino Physics teacher with Fluent English. This is rare. I have not met another Filipino teacher, even nglish teacher with near fluent English. Most teachers are very poor in English- een English teachers cannot hold a conversation in English. Students learn in pure English for all subjects accept Filipino. They are asked to analyse poetry, rewrite book chaptes etc However they cannot speak English or understand simple questions, for example- Do you like school? Have you eaten yet? Which subject do you like. I have witnessed students i internet cafes copying and pasting their homework from websites that they do not understand (I have asked them). Bills come in formal English, yet 90%, yes at least 90% cannot understand English well and need a translator. Road signs are in English, et 90% of people cannot understad them. I thought that the Filipino education system was good before I cam here- I was very wrong. It benefits only a handful of students and throws away the potential of most- who have to live in poverty and turn to crime. The situation with crime, corruption, uns and dishonesty is incredible. The country is the way it is to benefit the few who hold power and steal from the people. Dishonesty and general ignorance permeates every layer of society. I say this as a teacher of over 9 years. I am not saying this because I hate the Philippines. It is unfortunately the truth. Every store has metal grills to provent thieves and every shop in a mall or shopping centre has armed guards, with frisks when you enter (yet you can buy knives and guns inside- go figure!!!!!)

    Your country is very sick. Someone please stand up for your nation.

  11. Ben Finesilver says:

    Apologies typos

  12. ruben says:

    The Philippines was better of during the time of the Americans. What happen after independence was the result of the Filipino politicians who were corrupt and only interested in enriching themselves.Recently, the government is trying to make the Tagalog the national language which we in Mindanao does not like at all due the fact that we have our own dialect, the Cebuano. We as a nation should only use one language and that would be English.

  13. ruben says:

    The Tagalog dialect is so retarded to use as a national language because it keeps on repeating itself to make a sentence. There is only one way to go and that is to use an international language like English in our schools. Let us move forward and stop confusing ourselves once and for all.

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