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How Many People Speak Tagalog, And Where Is It Spoken?

Along with English, Tagalog is one of the most-spoken languages in the Philippines. Its history is inextricably tied to the Philippines and Filipino identity.
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How Many People Speak Tagalog, And Where Is It Spoken?

A Brief History Of Tagalog

Tagalog is a part of the Austronesian language family, one of many languages which developed on islands and coasts in the Pacific Ocean. Other Austronesian languages include Hawaiian, Māori and Malay. Tagalog descended from a proto-Philippine language, and it developed in the Central Philippines.

For a while, there was no known record of Philippine languages before the arrival of Spanish colonists. In 1992, however, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription — an old tablet from the 9th century CE  covered with engraved languages — was deciphered and found to contain Javanese, Malay and Sanskrit. Technically, the script is old enough to count as Old Tagalog, as the language has evolved since this inscription.

Most of the early study of the Tagalog language was done by the Spanish, who ruled the Philippines from 1521 to 1898. The first dictionaries were compiled by Spanish missionaries and members of the clergy who collected the vocabulary and grammatical rules of the language. The most enduring Tagalog dictionary is the Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala, originally put out in the 18th century. It has been consistently re-edited and the most recent edition was put out in 2013.

When the Philippines fought for independence at the end of the 19th century, it needed to find ways to unify. The country comprises a number of islands, and there were different languages spoken across them. In 1897, the Biak-na-Bato Constitution was passed, and the writers chose Tagalog as the national language.

That’s not the end of the story, though. When a different Philippine Constitution was put in place in 1935, English and Spanish were made the official languages of the country. This constitution did include a stipulation that a local language should also be chosen for the people, and once again Tagalog was chosen (though the name of the language was changed in 1939 to Wikang Pambansâ, which means “national language”). Later, when the Philippines came under Japanese control during World War II, Tagalog kept its status in the 1943 constitution and was promoted throughout the country.

There were a couple other constitutions put in place in the Philippines — in 1973 and the most recent in 1986 — and each time Tagalog was kept as the official language. The name was shifted, however, first to Pilipino and then to Filipino. Filipino today refers to a standard variety of Tagalog that is used for communication in the Philippines, whereas Tagalog is a collection of dialects spoken in certain parts of the country (and the rest of the world). Part of the reason for the name change is because not everyone wanted this one language to be chosen as a national language, as it’s only one of many in the country. Calling it “Filipino” is a way to make it seem more universal than “Tagalog” did. The only difference between the languages today is that Filipino is used as a lingua franca, meaning it’s widely known so that people from different regions can use it to communicate.

How Many People Speak Tagalog?

The word “Tagalog” means “river dweller,” and it was originally used to refer to a group of people in the Philippines. And while Tagalog can be used to refer to the language spoken all over the Philippines, it more specifically refers to a subset of the languages spoken there.

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.

There are also Tagalog-speaking communities in other parts of the world. There are over 400,000 Tagalog speakers in Canada, and there are about 1.6 million speakers in the United States, making it the fourth most-spoken language in the country and fifth most-spoken in North America. This is because of Filipino migrations, leading to Filipino-American populations primarily in Hawaii, but also in a number of other states.

If you count the number of people who speak Filipino — the national version of Tagalog — the number of speakers goes up to about 45 million. While this may seem like splitting hairs, Filipino is considered to be based on Tagalog, and not the same thing. It also incorporates vocabulary from various other languages spoken in the Philippines.

What Other Languages Are Spoken In The Philippines?

The Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands; the most recent count puts it at about 7,641. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that there are quite a few languages in the country. One count found that there are 183 living languages spoken in the country, only eight of which are non-indigenous. Some of these languages are spoken by hundreds of thousands of people, while others are in danger of dying out in the near future.

We won’t list all of the languages here. The only other language nearly as widespread as Filipino is English, which is the other official language of the Philippines. It’s a second language of about 40 million, and it’s taught in schools. But it’s worth keeping in mind that while English and Filipino get the largest share of attention, the Philippines is full of linguistic and cultural diversity.

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