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The Tagalog Language

by First Lieutenant W. E. W. MacKinlay

Tagalog is the most important of the many tongues and dialects of the
Philippines on account of its being widely understood, and the most
developed by contact with foreign idioms. Spoken by over ten million of an
energetic race in the islands occupying the capital city of Manila, eight
provinces surrounding the metropolis, and a number of outlying islands and
districts beyond these limits, it is also generally understood by many far
beyond its own territory, especially in seaport towns throughout the

The language seems to be divided into a northern and a southern dialect, the
former being spoken in Bulacan, Bataan, Nueva Ecija, Rizal, and parts of
Tarlac, and the latter occupying La Laguna, Batangas, Cavite, Tayabas,
Marinduque, the coast of Mindoro and part of the Camarines Norte and
Camarines Sur. Dialect differences though can only be distinguished by local
mannerisms in pronunciation but very seldom in meaning.
Philologically, Tagalog belongs to the Malayan branch of the great Malayo-
Polynesian linguistic family, which extends from Hawaii to Madagascar and
from Formosa to Easter Island west of Chile, including New Zealand, Tonga,
and Samoa, as well as Borneo, Celebes, Java, Sumatra, the Malay Peninsula,
and the Philippines from east to west, a distance of 180º, or half the
circumference of the earth.

Tagalog, together with other civilized tongues of the Philippines, such as

Visayan, Pampango, Ilocano and Bicol, has preserved the verbal system
better than any other. The basis for the comparative study of the family must
be taken from the Philippine tongues and not from the more cultivated
Malay, Kawi, or modern Javanese, all three of which have been profoundly
affected by Sanskrit and to a lesser degree Arabic, something as English has
been affected by Latin and French elements. The number of roots or
primitive-idea words in Tagalog seems to be about 17, 000 there being 16,
842 words in the Noceda and Sanlucar dictionary of 1832. Of these some
284 are derived from the Sanskrit, and are evidently borrowed through the
Malay. Many of these are names for the things unknown to the primitive
Malayan peoples, but others are abstracts and various words, some of which
would seem to have supplanted a primitive Malayan word. Thus in may
cases Americans and Tagalogs use words in their own languages which are
from the same remote source in India, and coming aroung the earth east and
west to meet again in the Philippines.

The Japanese language seems to have furnished no words to the Tagalog

although many Japanese came to the Islands during the seventeenth century
owing to the expulsion of Japanese converts to Catholicism, who found a
refuge in Manila and the adjoining provinces, mainly in Pampanga.
Notwithstanding a comparatively close contact with the Chinese for several
centuries and certainly antedating the Spanish conquest by many hundred
years, the Chinese element in Tagalog seems limited to a few commercial
terms, some household implements, and a few miscellaneous words.

The Arabic words in Tagalog, which are hardly more than a dozen in
number, evidently came in with the Mohammedan religion, and upon the
extinction of that faith around the mouth of the Pasig, all but a few words
fell into disuse.

Spanish, as a matter of course, has contributed a great number of words to

Tagalog, many of which have been thoroughly naturalized. They are mainly
religious, governmental, social, legal and abstract terms, including terms for
foreign articles and luxuries. Some names for Mexican articles are not
Spanish, but Nahuatl or Aztec, owing to the intimate connection between
Mexico and the Philippines for more than two centuries. English has as yet
given but a few words to Tagalog. English words which have no exact native
or Spanish equivalent are taken into the language bodily, while many others
are still quoted.

The construction of Tagalo does not seem to have been influences by any of
the foregoing languages but has retained its Malayan structure.
As has been already mentioned, there are some 17,000 roots in the Tagalog
language, many of which are nouns, pronouns, adverbs, and prepositions.
Verbs are generally formed by the use of certain particles (affixes) of which
there are more than twenty. Together with the noun and the adjectives
forming particles, of which there are several, the possible number of
intelligible Tagalog words can not be far from 50,000 to 60,000; quite
sufficient to express any non-technical ideas of any language whatsoever.
Yet, with all these there are some curious facts about the language and its
vocabulary. Many general terms can not be expressed in one word, but the
modifications of a general act have many words to express them, sometimes
far more than exist in English and Spanish. In addition to such
particularizing words, there are also many synonyms or words meaning the
same thing in Tagalog, many of which are local or provincial or not heard in
the same locality.

In Tagalog, there are twelve (12) names for the coconut, including its
different varieties and conditions for the maturity and preparation for use.
The verb to carry, with its variations has some eighty words to express all
combinations in Tagalog.

It should be borne in mind that Tagalog is not constructed on English or

Spanish lines, either in grammar or syntax. The universal tendency upon
using a new language is to translate one's own language word for word, or
phrase for phrase, into the foreign one. The native may understand but the
result is not elegant. No language can be learned entirely from books, and to
supplement the special needs of each person, constant practice in speaking
with educated or intelligent Tagalogs is necessary. Even with a considerable
vocabulary, the American or any other foreigner, will find difficulty in
conveying just what he wants to say in Tagalog unless he masters the idioms
and peculiarities of the language. This will not be a very easy task, but once
mastered, the key is held to all the Philippine languages, and it might be said,
to all the Malayan languages of the East Indies.