Tagalog, Filipino, Pilipino: What’s the difference?

Fiona De Vos

A historical perspective

By Fiona De Vos

Tagalog is the native language of the Tagalog ethnic group in the Philippines. It has several dialects, the most prominent of which is Manila Tagalog. Considered to be standard Tagalog, it is the language used in the national media, and the lingua franca of Filipinos both in the Philippines and outside the country.

Shortly before the Philippines gained independence from the United States, Filipino lawmakers agreed that a national language was needed to replace English and to unify the multilingual and multicultural archipelago. One idea was to use one of the local languages as the national language. Another was to construct a fusion language out of the different local languages.

In 1937, Tagalog was proclaimed the basis of the national language, making it the de facto national language. It was promoted throughout the country and taught in grade school and high school.

In 1959, Tagalog was given the name Pilipino to lend it a national character.

In 1987, the national language was once again given a new name—Filipino. According to the politicians who advocated the change, Pilipino was no different from Tagalog, while Filipino would be “enriched” with words from other local languages and eventually become a fusion language.

More than 25 years later, Filipino is still the same as Tagalog, which unless otherwise specified, is generally understood as standard or Manila Tagalog. The grammar is identical. No substantial body of words has been added from other local languages. And although alternating between Tagalog and other languages in a conversation—also known as code-switching—is common, no fusion language has emerged.

Nobody can claim to be a native speaker of Filipino but not of Tagalog. It would be absurd to ask someone to speak Filipino instead of Tagalog. And the majority of people—from native speakers to foreign linguists—still call the language Tagalog.

So what’s the difference between Tagalog, Filipino and Pilipino? In reality, there is none. Filipino and Pilipino are simply different names for Tagalog.

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