Spanish used to be the main language of the Philippines. Not surprising given the 300 or so years the Spanish occupied the archipelago. Although Magellan was Portuguese, he led a Spanish funded expedition that ‘discovered’ the islands in 1521. He also died there although history doesn’t record if his last words were in Spanish or Portuguese. In 1564 Legaspi came and set up shop in Cebu and espanol was here to stay. For a while, sir.
According to records and surveys taken in the day, by 1898 70% of the population spoke Spanish and it was considered the common language of the people. The people comprised Peninsulars, (Spanish born), Insulars (Locally born of Spanish parents), Mestizo (mixed Spanish and native) and Indio (native or ethnic Malays). There were also Chinese-Spanish and Chinese-native people. The ones with mixed blood were the ‘Filipinos’ referred to in the records of the day. They spoke Spanish and possibly the local language or dialect. When the revolution against the Spanish kicked off in 1896, it was these ‘Filipinos’ who led the Indios against the colonial rulers. As most of the action happened around the capital, Manila, it is not surprising the native tongue commonly used by the Katipunaros was Tagalog, the language of that region.
A Common Language For The Commonwealth
In 1936, under American occupation, the new Commonwealth of the Philippines government passed Commonwealth Act 184 to create the National Language Institute. They wanted to discover the best common language for an archipelagic nation of over 185 languages. The following year President Manuel L. Quezon issued Executive Order No. 134.s.1937 approving the adoption of Tagalog as the basis of the national language, Filipino. The argument in favour of Tagalog, despite there being more native Visayan speakers and the large number of Ilocano speakers was that this was the pre-Hispanic language of the national capital. Additionally, there were no ‘daughter’ languages, such as Bicolano or Cebuano are variants of Visayan (or Bisayan as it is also known).
On top of this there was a body of literature in Tagalog second only to that by Filipino writers in Spanish, it was widely spoken in the major cities and they had a Tagalog dictionary all ready to go since a Czech Jesuit missionary, Paul Klein, had composed one in the early 1700s. This dictionary is still used today, the latest edition being 2013.
So What Is Filipino?
Filipino, or Pilipino as it is also spelt, is basically Tagalog with very little input from any other language. Interestingly, my wife considers her native tongue, Cebuano, as Filipino and refers to Filipino as Tagalog. I imagine people in other regions speaking Ilocano, Waray Waray, Kapampangan and Bicolano also consider their native tongue as Filipino. In 1959, Tagalog as the national language was officially called Pilipino until 1973 during the Marcos era when the 1972 Constitution called for a national language to be called Pilipino but representing the polyglot of Austronesian languages in use in the country. The 1986 Constitution knocked this on the head but made sure the word ‘Tagalog’ was nowhere to be seen, merely stating there is a national language called Filipino and it will evolve and be ‘further developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other languages’.
For those of you wondering which language should you learn, Filipino or Tagalog… relax. It is the same thing.