A History of the Philippines’ official languages (2023)

This was part of my essay for a class on Language Policy and Planning. The essay was marked with a distinction. I’m publishing a part of the essay for Buwan ng Wika.

TheDepartment of Education now has 17 designated languages that qualify for mother-languagebased education. The current Philippine constitution (1987) states that thenational language is Filipino and as it evolves, “shall be further developedand enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages.” Further,the Philippine constitution (1987) has mandated the Government to “take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a mediumof official communication and as language of instruction in the educationalsystem.”

However, this current policy on language has changed over the century, largely due to the Spanish, American, and Japanese colonisation, the liberation, and changes in the constitution post-dictatorship. There also remains to be contentions on whether Filipino, based on the Tagalog language, should be the national language of the Philippines. These contentions come from the non-Tagalog speaking region that have called the current language policy as “Tagalog imperialism.”

Given the rich history of the country and controversies regarding its language planning and policy throughout the century, this essay aims to explore the history of language policy and planning in the Philippines and the impacts it has had on its people, especially the non-Tagalog/Filipino speaking population. Secondary research and analysis will be used as a method of research.

A History of the Philippines’ official languages (1)

History of LPP in the Philippines

The Philippines’ national language is Filipino. As mentioned earlier, de jure, it is a language that will be enriched from other languages in the Philippines. De facto, it is structurally based on Tagalog, the language of Manila and the CALABARZON (Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Quezon) region (Gonzalez, 2006).

(Video) The National Language of the Philippines (Filipino)


What was the language policy and planning like during the Spanish colonisation? According to Rodriguez (2013), the Spanish Crown issued several contradictory laws on language: missionaries were asked to learn the vernacular but were then required to teach Spanish. The friars continued to learn the local languages for evangelisation which turned out to be a success (Gonzalez, 2006). Thus, teaching Spanish teaching remained limited for the elites and wealthy Filipinos ready to conform to Spanish colonial agendas (Martin, 1999).

This was a way for the Spanish to control the country, and as Mahboob and Cruz (2013) suggest, a means to divide the rich and the poor. Arguably, this can also be the reason why the ilustrados (Filipinos educated in Spain) supported Philippine independence. Gonzalez (2006) writes,

In spite of repeated language instructions From the Crown on teaching the natives the Spanish language, there was only a little compliance. Instead the friars using common sense, kept employing the local languages, so much that in the period of intense nationalism in the nineteenth century, the failure of the Spanish friars to teach Spanish was used by some of the ilustrados (Filipinos educated in Spain) as a reason to accuse the friars of deliberately keeping Spanish away from the natives so as to prevent them from advancing themselves.

Gonzales, 2006


Shortly after the independence from Spain, the Philippines came under the American rule from 1898-1946. In the beginning Filipinos saw Americans as allies against Spain. The Americans saw the perfect opportunity for colonisation that Spain did not: education. While the Spanish eventually established schools through the Royal Decree of 1863, these were literacy schools teaching reading and writing in Spanish, religious studies, and numeracy not leading to any degrees (Gonzalez, 2006). Martin (1999) notes that the Americans, on the other hand, saw education as a powerful weapon and in the Philippines they found subjects receptive to the opportunities given by the English language. Gonzalez (1980, p.27-28) writes, “the positive attitude of Filipinos towards Americans; and the incentives given to Filipinos to learn English in terms of career opportunities, government service, and politics.”

(Video) BSEE 25 Lesson 1: Languages in the Philippines: An Overview

A History of the Philippines’ official languages (2)

American policy allowed for compulsory education for all Filipinos inEnglish but was hostile to local languages. Although President McKinley orderedthe use of English as well as mother tongue languages in education, theAmericans found Philippine languages too many and too difficult to learn thuscreating a monolingual system in English (Gonzalez, 2006). Manhit (1980) notesthat during this time, students who used their mother tongue while in schoolpremises were imposed with penalties. Media of instruction were in English,teachers were trained to teach English, and instructional materials were all inEnglish. Local languages were used as “auxiliary languages to teach charactereducation, good manners, and right conduct” (Martin, 1999, p.133). Ricento(2000 p. 198) argues that LPP during American colonisation led to a “stabledigglosia” where English became the language of higher education,socioeconomic, and political opportunities still visible today.

Constantino (2002, p. 181) writes about how the acceptance of the English language eventually allowed Filipinos to embrace colonialism:

The first and perhaps the masterstroke in the plan to use education as an instrument of colonial policy was the decision to use English as the medium of instruction. English became the wedge that separate Filipinos from their past and later was to separate educated Filipinos from the masses of their countrymen… With American textbooks, Filipinos started learning not only a new language but also a new way of life, alien to theirtraditions and yet a caricature of their model.This was the beginning of their education. At the same time, it was the beginning of their miseducation, for they learned nolonger as Filipinos but as colonials.

Constantino, 2002


With the Commonwealth constitution being drafted, then Camarines Norte representative Wenceslao Vinzons proposed to include an article on the adoption of a national language. Article XIII section 3 of the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution directed the National Assembly to “take steps toward the development and adoption of a common national language based on one of the existing native languages.” In 1936, the Institute of National Language (INL) was founded to study existing languages and select one of them as the basis of the national language. In 1937, the INL recommended Tagalog as the basis of the national language because it was found to be widely spoken and was accepted by Filipinos and it had a large literary tradition. By 1939, it was officially proclaimed and ordered to be disseminated in schools and by 1940 was taught as a subject in high schools across the country.

There was resistance to Tagalog, especially among speakers of Cebuano (Baumgartner, 1989). Baumgartner (1989, p.169) summarises the sentiments of other ethnic groups and asks, “With what right could the language of one ethnic group, even if that ethnic group lived in the national capital, be imposed on others?” Hau and Tinio (2003), however, point out that this opposition to Tagalog was not a manifestation of an ethnic conflict but rather reflects battles over resource allocations parceled out by regions. This has led for anti-Tagalog forces to ally themselves with the pro-English lobby (Lorente, 2013).

(Video) Filipino Lesson 201: A Brief History of the Tagalog and Filipino Language

60’s and 70’s

The 60’s and the 70’s saw nationalist movements critical of the English language (Mahboob and Cruz, 2013). However, English remained a dominant language even at the peak of linguistic nationalism and height of student activism in the 70’s (Hau and Tinio, 2003). In 1974, a Bilingual Education Policy (BEP) was formally introduced, using English for Science and Mathematics and Filipino for all other subjects taught in school (Lorente, 2013). Gonzalez (1998) notes that this was a compromise to the demands of both nationalism and internationalism: English would ensure that Filipinos stay connected to the world while Filipino would help in the strengthening of the Filipino identity. This had little success, with English still dominant and Filipinos feared an “English deprived future.”

The year 1974 saw the start of the Philippines adhering to neoliberal policies, where the government started to promote cheap labour to other countries, advertising Filipinos’ ability to speak English. This was the year the first batch of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) was deployed to the Middle Least. An advertisement in The New York Times said: “We like multinationals … Local staff? Clerks with a college education start at $35 … accountants come for $67, executive secretaries for $148 … Our labor force speaks your language” (Lorente, 2013).

A History of the Philippines’ official languages (3)

The 70’s, which was also the time of the dictatorship in the Philippines, saw changes in the education system, restructured to answer to export-oriented industrialisation (Lorente, 2013). With cheap export labour in mind, then President Ferdinand Marcos had a strong support for English and shifted English education to vocational and technical English training (Tollefson, 1991).


(Video) Languages In The Philippines

After the dictatorship, the 1987 Constitution was written. Tagalog was changed to Pilipino and then Filipino for it to be less regionalistic, or less connected to the Tagalog region. According to this Constitution, Filipino was to be developed from all local languages of the Philippines.

Accordingto this new BEP, Filipino and English shall be used as the medium ofinstruction while regional languages shall be used as auxiliary media of instructionand as initial language for literacy. Filipino was mandated to be the languageof literacy and scholarly discourse while English, the “international language”of science and technology. However, nothing changed and implementation of thepolicy failed at most levels of education (Bernardo, 2004).

In 1991, the Komisyon ng Wikang Filipino (Commission on the Filipino Language) was established. They have led the celebration of Buwan ng Wika (National Language Month) every August. It is a regulating body whose job includes developing, preserving, and promoting the various local Philippine languages. The commission has published dictionaries, manuals, guides, and collection of literature in Filipino and other Philippine languages.

Both English and Filipino have dominated the education system in the Philippines. English is seen as the language of opportunities, and have been used by Filipinos to work abroad and find opportunities in the age of globalisation. Filipino, on the other hand, is seen as the language that can give identity to Filipinos, although not everyone agrees.

WillEnglish and Filipino continue todominate the country? With the current ideologies and policies put in place, itwill. However, as other language speakers continue to fight for their identityand the right to be taught in their mother tongue, we might be able to see somechanges, allowing for recognition of other languages in the country, and maybeeven be given the same status as English and Filipino.


What is the history of language in the Philippines? ›

When the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, they found a region dominated by three main languages – Tagalog, Llocano, and Visayan. These three are distinct languages but have enough in common that almost everyone in the country spoke at least two of them, and thus communication was very easy.

What is the first official language of the Philippines? ›

Filipino, the standardized form of Tagalog, is the national language and used in formal education throughout the country. Filipino and English are both official languages and English is commonly used by the government.

When did Filipino became the official language of the Philippines? ›

On June 7, 1940, the Philippine National Assembly passed Commonwealth Act No. 570 declaring that the Filipino national language would be considered an official language effective July 4, 1946 (coinciding with the country's expected date of independence from the United States).

Was an official language in the Philippines until 1987? ›

Eventually, Tagalog was renamed Pilipino, and when the Constitution was amended in 1973 under dictator President Ferdinand Marcos, Congress took steps to create a new iteration of the language, which was to be known as Filipino. Filipino then gained official status in 1987.

What is the original language of the Philippines before Spanish era? ›

That the Philippines had been civilized long before the Spaniards' arrival is evi- denced by an ancient form of Tagalog that has a conventional writing system known as Baybayin, used among different ethnic groups, as well as the wide- spread literacy before Spanish colonization (Gonzales and Cortes 1988; Tan 1993).

Who discovered the Philippines language? ›

In 1613, the Franciscan priest Pedro de San Buenaventura published the first Tagalog dictionary, his Vocabulario de la lengua tagala in Pila, Laguna. The first substantial dictionary of the Tagalog language was written by the Czech Jesuit missionary Pablo Clain in the beginning of the 18th century.

What is the 2nd language of the Philippines? ›

English was introduced into the Philippines during the US colonial occupation and civil regime in the early 1900s and has now become the second official language.

What is the 2nd most spoken language in the Philippines? ›

Most Spoken Languages in the Entire Philippine Archipelago
  • #8: Chavacano. ...
  • #7: Northern / Central Bicolano. ...
  • #6: Capampangan. ...
  • #5: Waray-waray. ...
  • #4: Hiligaynon. ...
  • #3: Ilokano. ...
  • #2: Cebuano. ...
  • #1: Tagalog. It is said that the Austronesian language called Tagalog is spoken by a quarter of the population of Planet Philippines.
23 Nov 2014

What are the 11 dying languages in the Philippines? ›

Among Philippine languages at risk for extinction are Arta, Binatak and Iguwak in Luzon, Inata and Karolano in the Visayas as well as Manobo Kalamansig, Tigwahanon and Manobo Ilyanen in Mindanao.

Why Filipino is the official language of the Philippines? ›

Filipino and English are the Philippines' two official languages. Filipino is a native language based on Tagalog; English has official status due to the Philippines being a colony of the United States between 1898 and 1946.

Why does Philippines have so many languages? ›

The Philippines has maintained multiple languages because of: Physical isolation. The Philippines has 7,107 islands. Resistance of the Spanish colonizers to promote a lingua franca as a form of divide-and-conquer approach.

What was the national language of the Philippines in 1959? ›

It is the native tongue of the people in the Tagalog region in the northern island Luzon. It was declared the basis for the national language in 1937 by then President of the Commonwealth Republic, Manuel L. Quezon and it was renamed Pilipino in 1959.

What is the language of the Philippines in 1900? ›

Spanish was the official language of the Philippines from the beginning of Spanish rule in the late 16th century, until sometime during the Philippine–American War (1899-1902) and remained co-official, along with English, until 1973.

What are the 187 language of the Philippines? ›

There are some 120 to 187 languages spoken in the Philippines, depending on the method of classification.
Languages of the Philippines
VernacularMalay, Spanish, Philippine English, Taglish, Bislish
ForeignTamil Hokkien Mandarin Korean Japanese Arabic Latin Punjabi
6 more rows

What is the 3 language in Philippines? ›

Ilocano. Ilocano is the language that most Filipinos speak in Northern Luzon, and its speakers constitute the third largest language community of the Philippines.

What are the 5 major languages in the Philippines? ›

Major Languages of the Philippines. The Philippines has 8 major dialects. Listed in the figure from top to bottom: Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), Ilocano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Tagalog, and Waray.

What country has the most language? ›

Papua New Guinea is the most multilingual country, with over 839 living languages, according to Ethnologue, a catalogue of the world's known languages. The site ranked countries and territories based on the number of languages spoken as a first language within their borders.

What is the most important language in the Philippines? ›

Tagalog. Including second language speakers, Tagalog is the most spoken language in the Philippines. It is spoken as a first language by 26.3 million people. Tagalog is closely related to many other Filipino languages, including Ilocano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, the Bikol languages and the Visayan languages.

What does Hi mean in Filipino? ›

Kumusta is the most direct way to say hello in Filipino, but it's not the only way Pinoys greet each other.

Where is Filipino most spoken? ›

With that in mind, Tagalog is spoken by about 20 million people in the Philippines. It's concentrated on the islands of Mindoro and Luzon, where the Philippines' capital Manila is located, but can also be found in various other places in the country.

Why do Filipinos no longer speak Spanish? ›

Throughout the 20th century, the use of Spanish declined, particularly after the destruction of the Spanish stronghold in the Battle of Manila. The country's subsequent modernization and World War II left English the nation's most common language.

Why is Filipino language dying? ›

In today's business reality, especially with the influx of the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), Filipino as a language is becoming extinct. We tend to betray our national language by learning and using new languages from our neighbors like: Chinese Mandarin, Korean, Nihonggo, Arabic, French and German among others.

What is the newest dead language? ›

Recently extinct languages
DateLanguageLanguage family
23 March 2019NgandiArnhem
4 January 2019TehuelcheChonan
9 December 2016MandanSiouan
30 August 2016WichitaCaddoan
27 more rows

What is unique about the language of the Philippines? ›

Filipino, which stemmed from Tagalog, is a blend of eight language variants spoken in the country as well as Spanish, Chinese and English. Number of letters. Filipino has 28 letters, combining the 26 letters of the English alphabet plus NG and Ñ. Tagalog only has 27 letters as it does not have the letter Ñ.

What are the difference between the national language and the official language of the Philippines? ›

The main difference between national language and official language is that a national language of a country is related to the country's socio-political and cultural functions, while an official language of a county is connected to government affairs such as the functioning of the parliament or the national court.

What is the first language in the world? ›

Dating back to at least 3500 BC, the oldest proof of written Sumerian was found in today's Iraq, on an artifact known as the Kish Tablet. Thus, given this evidence, Sumerian can also be considered the first language in the world.

Why is the Philippines called a multilingual country? ›

The Philippines as a multilingual country

(2021), the Philippines is a home to 186 languages, wherein 184 are living and 2 are extinct. Of the living languages, 175 are indigenous and 9 are non-indigenous.

What is the golden age of Filipino language? ›

From Alinea, to Mariñas, then to Brillantes, there is one explanation given for the designation of the years 1898–1941 as Fil-hispanic letters' golden age: the rich volume of literary output produced.

What was the official language in 1956? ›

As per the Constitution, Urdu and Bengali were made national languages.

What are the 13 indigenous languages in the Philippines? ›

There are 13 indigenous languages with at least one million native speakers: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Kapampangan, Bikol, Albay Bikol, Pangasinan, Maranao, Maguindanao, Kinaray-a, and Tausug.

How many languages are there in the Philippines before? ›

And while English is one of the official languages in the country, there are many other languages and dialects spoken on its territory. Indeed, there are up to 187 languages spoken by the people of the Philippines. Each of these languages has its history and origin.

Why is Filipino the first language of the Philippines? ›

It is the native tongue of the people in the Tagalog region in the northern island Luzon. It was declared the basis for the national language in 1937 by then President of the Commonwealth Republic, Manuel L. Quezon and it was renamed Pilipino in 1959.

How did the Philippines have a national language? ›

It was the first time that a President spoke on air using Filipino, which was declared the Philippines' national language by virtue of Executive Order No. 134 issued on December 30, 1937.

How would you describe the Filipino language? ›

The Filipino language has a somewhat complex history of development. In official terms it is the prestige version of the Tagalog language spoken in the Philippines. “Filipino” is also the name by which the language is noted as the national language of the country.

Why is the Philippines language important? ›

It's a part of who we are as a people. As a Filipino, our language is inextricably connected to who we are as a people. A majority of the population know how to speak Filipino, so it's a way for us as a people to be united, especially during these days. The Filipino language is the spirit of the national identity.

Why are the language in the Philippines connected to each other? ›

Linguistic evidence connects Tagalog with Bahasa Indonesia as having common roots, so the main root of the modern Filipino languages probably came with these people (although other groups of people are thought to have come to the Philippines much earlier).

How many official languages does Philippines have? ›

Official languages of the Philippines. Filipino and English are the Philippines' two official languages. Filipino is a native language based on Tagalog; English has official status due to the Philippines being a colony of the United States between 1898 and 1946.

What language is Filipino closest to? ›

It is most closely related to Bicol and the Bisayan (Visayan) languages—Cebuano, Hiligaynon (Ilongo), and Samar. Native Tagalog speakers form the second largest linguistic and cultural group in the Philippines and number about 14 million; they are located in central Luzon and parts of Mindanao.

How will you describe the major languages in the Philippines? ›

Two Major Languages

English and Tagalog/Filipino are the two official languages of the country. All government business is conducted in these two languages. That barely scratches the surface of this country's deep well of linguistics.


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