Language in the Philippines

Main languages and dialects

Language in the Philippines

The Philippines is made up of over 7000 islands with between 120 and 175 languages. With 2 national and 12 auxiliary languages there is a very diverse mix that confuses many expats.

Official languages in the Philippines

The original official language of the Philippines was Spanish for many centuries until the early half of the 20th century. Then, under US occupation, English was introduced into schools and in 1935 English was added to the constitution alongside Spanish as a national language.

In 1937 steps were taken to develop a national language based on one of the existing native languages. Tagalog was chosen as the base language and, in 1973, the language, christened Filipino, became the joint official language along with English.

Filipino is almost exclusively composed of Tagalog as spoken in the Manila region. Tagalog is spoken as a first language by nearly a third of the population of the Philippines and as a second language by the remainder.

Filipino is the official language of education, but is considered less important than English in schools. As a result most Filipinos, especially in urban areas, can speak a decent level of English. This fact is reassuring for expats, and definitely helps foreigners settle in to daily life. Filipino is the major language for cinema and broadcast media, but print media relies more on English.

Indigenous languages and dialects

There are 13 indigenous languages in the Philippines that each have over one million native speakers. These are:

  • Cebuano
  • Tagalog
  • Ilokano
  • Hiligaynon
  • Waray-Waray
  • Kapampangan
  • Bikol
  • Albay bikol
  • Pangasinan
  • Maranao
  • Maguindanao
  • Kinaray-a
  • Tausug

There are hundreds of dialects found in the Philippines, with variations occurring between towns on the same island. While there are many native speakers of these dialects and regional languages, most Filipinos speak English and you will often hear a mix of English and a Filipino language.

Further reading

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