By “Awake!” correspondent in the Philippines
IN THE Bible it states that those making up the “great crowd” praising God come out of “all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.” (Rev. 7:9) One of the “tongues” that is providing fulfillment to that prophecy is the Filipino language called Tagalog (pronounced Ta·gaʹlog). Maybe you have never heard of this tongue, but since it is now becoming very important in the Philippine Republic, it would be good to introduce you to it.
If any country could be said to have a language problem, the Philippine Republic is it! Among a population of about forty million, there are more than eighty different languages in constant use, and some of these are themselves broken up into a number of dialects.
Tagalog is spoken by several million people who live mostly in the provinces of Central Luzon, the largest island in the northern Philippines. However, it is being developed into a national language called Pilipino, and by means of education in the schools, production of films and television shows, the government is encouraging everyone to learn and use this at least as a second language. Why? So as to solve the fragmentation in the country, with all the misunderstandings and administrative problems that this involves.
Tagalog, along with all other major dialects in the Philippines, belongs to what is called the “Malayo-Polynesian” group of languages. In addition, it is agglutinative, which means that it is composed of a number of “root” words, which are given added meaning by joining syllables to them. For example, the root word awit, meaning “song,” can appear as mang-aawit (singer), umawit (to sing), awitan (to be sung to), mag-awitan (to sing together), and so forth. According to a recently produced dictionary,a with the help of these roots and additions, you can make a vocabulary of literally millions of words.
Interesting to the foreigner are the differences between Tagalog and Western languages. For example, in everyday things Tagalog is often much more specific than English. Thus, English has one word for rice, which takes it all the way from the field to the table. But in Tagalog, rice in the field is palay, while in the kitchen, before cooking, it is bigas. If you boil it, it becomes kanin, while if you then go ahead and fry it, it is called sinangag. Tagalog is also quite specific as to how things are carried. If you carry a case or a book bag, the word you use would designate whether you carry it in your hand, on your shoulder, on your head, in the arms, or under the arm.
On the other hand, distinctions that seem so important in European dialects do not appear in Tagalog. Asawa means “husband” or “wife”; anak is “son” or “daughter”; kapatid is “brother” or “sister”; and siya is “he” or “she”! If it becomes necessary to specify the sex of the one referred to so as to avoid ambiguity, the word for “male” or “female” ‘is added. What this means in practice is that while in English you are constantly being reminded whether it is a man or a woman that is being discussed because of using “he” or “she” all the time, in Tagalog you may only get one clue at the beginning of the discussion. If you miss that, you may spend a whole conversation thinking you are talking about a man, only to find that it was a woman after all!
In 1521 the Spanish arrived and eventually colonized the country, and there followed more than three centuries of subjugation to them. This is reflected in the Tagalog language by the presence of several thousand roots that have been adopted from the Spanish language—although usually they are spelled a little differently, to accommodate the Filipino pronunciation. This accident of history is quite a help, incidentally, to the Westerner learning the dialect. Sometimes the Spanish and native Tagalog words will coexist. For example, puede (Spanish) and maaari (native Tagalog) are interchangeably used for “can,” “to be able to”; pero (Spanish) and nguni’t both mean “but,” and so forth. Now and then, the Spanish word will be used to add distinctness where the Tagalog may seem a little vague. Sometimes the Spanish word has completely replaced the original Tagalog.
At the turn of the century, American influence came in, and this is reflected in the number of English words regularly used in Tagalog. Now, in fact, any new ideas are usually expressed in a Tagalog adaptation of English. For example, “to play basketball” appears as magbasketbol! “To ride a bus” is magbus. Sometimes an English-speaking person may be startled at the strange shapes some words assume. In Manila he may hear kinokompute for “it is computed,” or nagfofloor wax instead of “putting on floor wax.” In fact, in the Manila area, English words are used very freely along with the native Tagalog and Spanish words.
This symbiosis or interrelationship between English, Spanish and native Tagalog is especially seen in numbers. In counting, you will hear all three languages used almost interchangeably. In citing Scripture verses, Spanish numbers are generally used, while in counting money, Spanish or English is heard. Tagalog numbers are longer, so they are often used for small numbers, Spanish or English for big numbers.
Two more points might be noted regarding Tagalog. One is the length of the language. English tends to make a virtue of brevity. In Tagalog, however, while many words are short, some words and phrases get very long indeed, and public speakers find they often have to cut out sections of an English talk when it is given in Tagalog. With all that, however, the language has a nice ring and sonority to it because of the long words, and it can be very dignified. To say “by faith in the Almighty,” for example, is nice, concise and clear; but imagine the force you can put into the Tagalog equivalent for this: “sa pamamagitan ng pananampalataya sa Pinakamakapangyarihan-sa-lahat”!
The other point that most newcomers notice in Tagalog is the extreme respectfulness that it embodies. There are special words to use to show respect for older people. Children are taught to use these when speaking to their parents. There are also special forms of the verb, to show degrees of politeness and consideration, as distinguished from familiarity. When properly used, these forms are very pleasing to the ear.
Yes, Tagalog is a very interesting Filipino language, a very important one in the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippine Republic. Jehovah’s Witnesses are using it well to spread the good news of the Kingdom here, so that thousands speaking this tongue look forward to standing among that “great crowd” that will be shouting praises to God because of being carried safely by Him through the destruction of this wicked system of things into the new order under the righteous rule of the King Jesus Christ.—Rev. 7:9, 10, 14.
a Diksyunaryo Tesauro Pilipino-Inglis, by Jose Villa Panganiban, published 1972.