There’s no easy way to say what language is spoken in the Philippines, unless you’re willing to name and enumerate nearly 200 of them. There are 183 living languages currently spoken in the Philippines, the vast majority of which are indigenous tongues.
This sounds like a lot until you consider the fact that the Philippines consist of 7,641 individual islands. Even though most of them are uninhabited, that still leaves plenty of opportunity for linguistic diversity to flourish. This data visualization tool will probably help you get a better grasp of how this looks in practice, but to give you an idea, there’s a 76 percent to 84 percent chance that any two random people in the Philippines grew up speaking a different language, which makes this nation more linguistically diverse than at least 190 other countries. In fact, the Philippines has a whole month in August to celebrate this fact (called Buwan ng Wika, or Language Month).
Still, there are official and national languages to speak of, as well as several other tongues that are more widely spoken throughout the nation.
What Language Is Spoken In The Philippines?
The two official languages of the Philippines are Filipino and English. Filipino is the national language, and the official status of English is a holdover from its time as a U.S. territory between the years of 1898 and 1946.
Filipino is the primary language used in school and media, and it’s also the lingua franca that unites the nation’s disparate linguistic communities. You’ll mostly encounter English in government, newspapers and magazines.
Filipino Vs. Tagalog
Are Filipino and Tagalog more or less the same language? Almost, but not quite. Filipino is an updated version of Tagalog that includes elements of other native Philippine languages, as well as English, Spanish, Malay and Chinese.
Due to its status at the time as the main language spoken in Manila, Tagalog became the national language of the Philippines in 1937 when Congress voted to include a native language among the officially recognized languages. Eventually, Tagalog was renamed Pilipino, and when the Constitution was amended in 1973 under dictator President Ferdinand Marcos, Congress took steps to create a new iteration of the language, which was to be known as Filipino. Filipino then gained official status in 1987.
The evolution of Pilipino into Filipino was part of Marcos’ efforts to create a “new society.” Part of this meant incorporating elements of other languages, often by replacing Tagalog words deemed “aesthetically unpleasing” with alternative words that sounded nicer. The letters f, j, c, x and z were added to the alphabet, and the spellings of some words changed to better reflect how they’re pronounced.
Other Major Languages
The Philippines were under Spanish colonial rule for 300 years beginning in 1565, and during this time, Spanish was the official language (and remained the lingua franca even after it lost its official status). Spanish actually became an official language again, together with English, according to the Constitution of 1935, but it was demoted to an “optional and voluntary language” in 1987.
There are also major regional languages spoken in the Philippines that include Aklanon, Basian, Bikol, Cebuano, Chavacano (a Spanish-based creole), Hiligaynon, Ibanag, Ilocano, Ilonggo, Ivatan, Maranao, Tagalog, Kapampangan, Kinaray-a, Waray, Maguindanao, Pangasinan, Sambal, Surigaonon, Tausug and Yakan. These are all mostly indigenous languages belonging to the Austronesian language family.
Out of these, 10 languages account for the language over 90 percent of Filipino people speak at home. These languages are Tagalog, Bisaya, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Maguindanao, Kapampangan and Pangasinan.
Immigrant populations have also affected the linguistic landscape of the Philippines. Major immigrant languages include Sindhi (20,000 speakers, according to Ethnologue), Japanese (2,900), Indonesian (2,580), Hindi (2,420) and German (960), as well as Korean, Arabic, Vietnamese, Malay, Tamil and various types of Chinese.