A very interesting post at A Small Gleaning Factory (“notes + observations in the style and spirit of bouvard & pecuchet”) is called “Birth of Taglish, or Why Niknok Spoke That Way.” The intro will explain the title:

Reading the passage below made me understand the phenomenon of Taglish, or the admixture of Tagalog and English. When I was in grade school, we would rush to the school library every week to read the latest Niknok komiks. Niknok, who I guess is kind of a Denise the Menace or Bart Simpson-like character, constantly found himself in trouble with his elders and with his use of Taglish. I remember educators being upset by the example Niknok supposedly held for us youngsters. Of course, this ‘problem’ had a different inflection for us in the Visayan region where we spoke the Cebuano vernacular. Instead we were reprimanded for speaking dialect in class, a vernacular that I was slowly learning.

The rest of the post is a long excerpt from Vicente Rafael’s White Love and Other Events in Filipino History (Duke UP, 2000); here’s a paragraph to whet your appetite:

Accordingly, Tagalog was designated as the basis of the yet-to-be instituted national language (wikang pambansa) by the Commonwealth government in 1938 and again by the Japanese occupation regime in 1943. But objections by non-Tagalog speakers in the national legislature during the postwar period resulted in a series of name changes. The Philippine legislature renamed the putative national language “Pilipino” to stress the national vocation of Tagalog. In 1973, however, the constitutional convention held under the martial law regime of Ferdinand Marcos changed this name yet again, to “Filipino,” while admitting that it was merely designating a Manila-based lingua franca that was still far from having a truly national currency. The constitution of 1986 upheld this term to designate not so much the national language as what the national language might be called should it ever emerge. Filipino continues to be based on Tagalog with greater infusions of English and bits of Spanish rather than, as nationalist linguists had proposed as early as 1915, a fusion of all the different Philippine vernaculars. As the linguist Andrew Gonzalez has noted, “One must class the Philippines as among those nations thus far without a national language although with a non-local common language as an official code with which to conduct [official] transactions.” In effect, there continues to be a lack of fit between the officially designated national language and officially conceived borders of the nation-state.

The excerpt ends: “As the lingua franca of the mass media, Tagalog manages in fact to have a translocal reach. It does so, however, only and always in conjunction with other translocal languages: English and Spanish. Thus, it is as another kind of language, Taglish, that Tagalog comes across as a lingua franca, providing the conditions for the emergence of a mass audience in the contemporary Philippines.” Thanks for the link, Trevor!


  1. Blame the Spanish!
    Owing to the Spanish practice of converting the native populace in their local vernaculars….
    In these enlightened modern times, respect for local vernaculars sounds like a linguist’s dream. But we forget that our romantic view of vernaculars is usually a luxury that is enjoyed after the centralisers and standardisers have done their work. The Philippines is a nation where the “national standard” does not have enough critical mass and geographical coverage to become a true standard for the nation. Thus the dominant role of English and (to a minor extent) Spanish.
    I was once vaguely interested in learning Tagalog — I may even have a textbook somewhere. But of all the Southeast Asian languages, Tagalog is the one that it is least possible to take seriously. First, most people speak some form of English. The mastery of English is not always very strong, and I have been told that it has its peculiarities (a former colleague informed me that directing staff in more menial positions to do something requires you to say “You must go and do xxx”, because the imperative is not understood). But English is ubiquitous, nonetheless. Secondly, Tagalog is almost always mixed with English in some way, whether in everyday conversation, or even in the popular Philippine press (not the prestigious ones, which are all in English, but in the “vernacular press”), where passages of Tagalog alternate with passages in English. And thirdly, it is only widely used in its own homeland in central Luzon. I have not been to the provinces, but I early got the impression that English would be more welcome than Tagalog when speaking to speakers of Ilocano, Cebuano, etc. The various languages of the Philippines are fascinating, but as a language learner you can only really pick one, at least at the start.
    The result is that Tagalog doesn’t seem quite worth the effort in comparison with languages with a more firmly-established social and national status like Malay/Indonesian, Thai, or Vietnamese.

  2. I think the World needs a spoken lingua franca as well.
    An interesting video can be seen at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LV9XU
    Evidence can be seen at http://www.lernu.net

  3. michael farris says

    I sympathise with bathrobe. I too wanted to learn Tagalog/Filipino at one point. The grammar as described in a 1971 book called Tagalog Structures is incredibly fascinating.
    But for me, the written form is important and the kind of written language I’d like to learn is essentially non-existant.
    Written Tagalog seems to come in a few varieties:
    purist Tagalog : eschews English and Spanish vocabulary for neologisms most people don’t know or use.
    Pilipino : reworked version that favors SVO word order over VSO word order (both occur in Tagalog but VSO is more natural most of the time).
    Taglish : Often little more than Tagalog case and discourse markers amid a flood of English (quotes from English are never translated and quotes from non-Phillipine languages seem to occur in English translation). Writers of Taglish inevitably give the impression that they’d rather be writing entirely in English and if they can’t do that they’ll stuff their writing with as much English as possible.
    The kind of language I would have like to learn might be called Filipino and is decades from really existing AFAIK. This would be real spoken Tagalog grammar with loanwords from other languages (generally respelled so there would be nars instead of nurse) and translated quotes. Again AFAIK no one in the Phillipines is interested in such a thing.

  4. As a very much mixed national language (apart from literary comparisons), I wonder how the situation of Taglish resembles that of Franglish as spoken in Chaucer’s day. Or maybe the more apt comparison is between post-16th c. Spangalog and 14th c. Franglish. Tagalog is absolutely littered with Spanish vocabulary (but not quite as much as Chamorro, where the population was far more overwhelmed). Is the current flood of English any worse than the earlier flood of Spanish? (A related question is whether the flood of katakana-go in current Japanese is any worse than the flood of kanji-go many centuries earlier.)
    It’s interesting that the state of Hawai‘i recognizes both Tagalog and Ilokano among its official minority languages, along with Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Samoan on many public notices (and ballots). My impression is that Filipino immigrants are not quite so sharply divided along those lines elsewhere in the U.S.

  5. michael farris says

    “I wonder how the situation of Taglish resembles that of Franglish as spoken in Chaucer’s day”
    Well we need some definitional rigor here which I have no itention of supplying. I will note that I have nothing against lexical borrowing.
    I’ll also say I have nothing against spoken code-switching (more or less inevitable in a bilingual milieu).
    On the other hand I have no intention or desire to learn a written language that looks like this:
    Kapalit nito ay ang pangakong dadalo sa lahat ng pagdinig na ipapatawag ng Senado, partikular ng mga investigating committee nito.
    “I would like to respectfully request the Honorable Committees to allow me to stay in the hospital for continued rest as advised by my attending physician,” ayon sa liham ni Bolante na naka-address kina Sens. Alan Peter Cayetano, chairman ng Senate Blue Ribbon committee, at Edgardo Angara ng committee on agriculture.
    “In the event that the inquiry on this subject matter is commenced, I hereby undertake to appear and testify on the hearings that may be scheduled by this august body for the purpose,” dagdag pa nito.
    Basically written Taglish (the primary form of written Tagalog) requires readers to be very fluent in English. Any written language that requires systematic structural knowledge of a foreign language (especially a particularly prestigious one) will fail to develop into a literary medium as too many people will choose to simply go entirely with the high-prestige language they know anyway.

  6. I’m just learning Tagalog in 2020 and i have this problem, i’ve reached B-2 in Tagalog and no one can understand me, “rather” everyone says i speak like a poet or like a pastor reading the bible, they say its to pure only people who can understand me are old filipino people, i feel like filipinos wasted such a beautiful language.

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