BlogCultureFilipino vs Tagalog Language: what’s the difference?

Filipino vs Tagalog Language: what’s the difference?

Have you ever wondered what the differences between Filipino and Tagalog are? Whether a linguistics enthusiast or culturally curious, you might have come across these terms and felt puzzled by their differences. Especially when they’re often used interchangeably.

Key takeaways

  • The interconnection between Filipino and Tagalog has led to mix-ups and confusion among native and non-native speakers.
  • Major languages in the Philippines include Tagalog, Cebuano, and Ilocano.
  • The native language of the Tagalog ethnic group is centered around Manila and surrounding provinces, particularly near the Pasig River.
  • The main difference between Filipino and Tagalog is that Filipino is more inclusive and flexible, borrowing from various source languages.
  • Most Filipinos are bilingual, speaking both Filipino and English, the two most widely spoken languages in the country.
  • Modern Filipino integrates the letters F, J, V, and Z, which are not part of the traditional baybayin alphabet.
  • Mass media and younger generations have popularised the use of Filipino, solidifying its status as a lingua franca

The Philippines has been one of the most dynamic and thriving economies in the Southeast Asian Region. Being one of the Asian hubs, the Philippines has much to offer to global companies and businesses, so, unsurprisingly, its language has significant reach and impact.

As we explore these unique languages, you will gain a deeper understanding of why they play such a significant role in the rich culture of the Philippines.

Let’s investigate their origins, characteristics, and critical differences to unlock common questions and misconceptions about the two languages.

Brief History of the Philippines and its Languages

The archipelagic nation in Southeast Asia boasts a diverse and complex linguistic landscape. With over 7,000 islands and a history marked by various foreign influences, it’s no surprise that the country is home to more than 170 languages. Before diving into the distinction between Filipino and Tagalog, it’s essential to appreciate this linguistic diversity and the historical context from which these languages emerged.

Throughout history, the Philippines has been subjected to numerous colonisation attempts, most notably by the Spanish, Americans, and Japanese. Spanish colonisation began in the 16th century and lasted over 300 years, significantly shaping the Filipino linguistic landscape. As the Spanish regime sought to consolidate power and establish a centralised government, they introduced the Spanish language as a lingua franca, bringing about the widespread use of Spanish loanwords in local languages.

In the late 19th century, the Spanish-American War led to the United States gaining control of the Philippines, ushering in a new era of linguistic influence. The Americans introduced English as the medium of instruction in schools, and it quickly became another dominant language in the country.

However, despite these foreign influences, the native languages of the Philippines have persisted and continue to thrive. The sheer linguistic diversity of the country led to the need for a national language to foster unity and communication among its citizens, which brings us to the story of Tagalog and Filipino.

Let’s talk Tagalog

Tagalog is an Austronesian language predominantly spoken in the Philippines, particularly in Central and Southern Luzon regions, including the capital city, Manila. It is one of the major regional languages of the country, with an estimated 28 million speakers as of 2021.

The Tagalog language boasts a rich history, with its earliest inscriptions dating back to the 9th century. Tagalog has been influenced by an array of different languages, such as Sanskrit, Malay, Chinese, Spanish, and English, resulting in a unique blend of vocabulary and linguistic features.

Tagalog initially used the Baybayin script, an ancient writing system native to the Philippines. However, the Latin alphabet was adopted due to the Spanish colonisation, leading to the current Tagalog writing system, which uses the modern Latin script with some additional letters.

Tagalog literature has flourished over the centuries, with notable works such as the 17th-century epic poem “Florante at Laura” by Francisco Baltazar and the revolutionary novel “Noli Me Tangere” by national hero Dr. José Rizal, written in the late 19th century.

When the Philippines gained its independence from the Spanish and American colonisers around the 1930s, the Philippine government declared that Tagalog was the primary language by then-President Manuel L. Quezon since it was widely spoken in the country’s capital.

However, this was met with controversy because, in the other significant parts of the country, the usage of its native language has been retained. Thus, in 1973, Filipino became the National Language, further enhanced in 1987 when the constitution was established. Tagalog purists argue that the Filipino language dilutes the purity of Tagalog.

Definition of Filipino

Filipino encompasses all Philippine languages, including Tagalog and is currently being used as the official language of the Philippines.

Filipino, the national language of the Philippines, was established in 1987 as a standardised version of Tagalog. It was developed to foster a sense of unity and facilitate communication among the diverse linguistic communities within the country. According to the Philippine constitution, Filipino is the official language alongside English, and both languages are used for government, education, and business purposes.

While Filipino is based on Tagalog, it has evolved to incorporate words, expressions, and grammatical structures from other Philippine and foreign languages. This linguistic integration reflects the Philippines’ rich cultural heritage and makes Filipino a more inclusive language representing the various regions and ethnic groups nationwide.

Filipino uses the same Latin-based writing system as Tagalog and has a similar phonology and grammar structure. However, the language continues to evolve as it assimilates influences from other languages spoken in the Philippines and worldwide. As a result, Filipino is a dynamic and ever-changing language that reflects the diverse and multifaceted identity of the Philippines.

English words have been integrated into Filipino, reflecting the influence of American colonisation

Key Differences Between Tagalog and Filipino

Though Tagalog and Filipino share many similarities, some key differences set them apart:

Where it’s spoken

Tagalog-speaking regions are usually tied to specific ethnic groups in provinces such as Central Luzon (particularly in Nueva Ecija), Southern Luzon, and Bicol Region.

Filipino is primarily used in Metro Manila, the National Capital Region, and some urban centres across the Philippine archipelago. The confusion comes in because Metro Manila, the capital, is located within the region formerly mentioned.

Scope and inclusivity

The primary distinction between the two languages is their purpose and scope. While Tagalog is a regional language spoken mainly in Central and Southern Luzon, Filipino was created as a national language to represent the entire Philippines. Filipino aims to be more inclusive by incorporating words and expressions from other regional languages and foreign influences, making it a true reflection of the country’s diverse cultural landscape.


While both languages share a substantial amount of vocabulary, Filipino has a broader lexicon due to its integration of words from other Philippine languages and foreign languages such as English, Spanish, and Chinese. This expanded vocabulary makes Filipino more adaptable to various contexts and better suited to address the needs of a multilingual nation.

The vocabulary of Tagalog and Filipino also differs in some ways. Tagalog has many words specific to the region where it originated, while Filipino has incorporated words from other Philippine languages and Spanish.

For instance, in Tagalog, the term for “car” is “sasakyan,” while in Filipino, it is “kotse,” derived from the Spanish word “coche.” Similarly, the term for “shirt” in Tagalog is “baro,” while in Filipino, it is “damit,” borrowed from the Visayan language.

One intriguing feature of Tagalog vocabulary is the use of “affixes,” which are attached to the root word to create new words. For instance, the term “ganda” means “beauty,” and by adding the prefix “ka-” to the word, it transforms into “kagandahan,” signifying “beautifulness.”

In contrast, Filipino vocabulary is more standardised and borrows words from various languages, including Spanish and English.

Language evolution

As the national language, Filipino is subject to ongoing development and standardisation, allowing it to adapt and evolve in response to the changing linguistic landscape of the Philippines. On the other hand, Tagalog remains more static, preserving its traditional form and regional identity.

Official status

According to the Philippine constitution, Filipino and English hold the official language status. This designation means that Filipino is used in government, education, and other formal settings, while Tagalog is primarily employed in informal and regional contexts.


The Tagalog Alphabet consists of 20 letters, while the Filipino Alphabet includes 28. The additional letters in the Filipino alphabet are ‘j, c, x, z, and f”, which demonstrates the western influence the language has adopted with time.

Usage and Significance

Tagalog is regarded as the old language still being used in some regions, especially by native Tagalog speakers. At the same time, Filipino is the new language regarded as the Philippine national language used for official documents and as the language of the education system, particularly in public schools. As a rule of thumb, Filipino is the “modernised version” of Tagalog that has naturally evolved over the years to keep the language fluid and alive.

Grammar Differences

While Tagalog and the Filipino language share numerous similarities in terms of grammar, some notable differences exist between the two languages. One significant difference is the use of pronouns. In Tagalog, exclusive and inclusive pronouns differentiate between the speaker and the listener. For instance, the pronoun “tayo” is inclusive, meaning “you and I,” while the pronoun “kami” is exclusive, meaning “they and we, but not you.”

In contrast, Filipino employs a single pronoun “tayo” to indicate “we.” This simplifies the language, making it easier for non-native speakers to learn.

Another difference is the use of formal and informal pronouns. In Tagalog, formal and informal pronouns are utilised depending on the social status of the speaker and the listener. In Filipino, however, formal and informal pronouns are less rigid, and the language generally adopts a more casual tone.

Common Misconceptions

Despite the distinctions between Tagalog and Filipino, a few misconceptions often lead to confusion. Let’s address some of the most common misunderstandings:

Misconception #1: Filipino is just another name for Tagalog

While Filipino is based on Tagalog, they are not interchangeable. As mentioned, Filipino is a standardised and more inclusive language designed to accommodate a broader range of vocabulary and expressions from various Philippine languages and foreign influences.

Misconception #2: Tagalog is an ancient language

Although Tagalog may not hold official status like Filipino, it remains a vibrant and widely spoken regional language. It continues to be used in everyday conversation, literature, and entertainment and is an essential part of the Philippines’ cultural heritage.

Misconception #3: All Filipinos speak Filipino

While Filipino is the national language, the Philippines is home to a diverse range of regional languages. Only some Filipinos speak Filipino as their first language, and some may primarily communicate in their local language or dialect. However, Filipino and English serve as a lingua franca that enables communication among the various linguistic groups in the country.

By dispelling these misconceptions, we can better understand Filipino and Tagalog’s unique characteristics and appreciate their important roles in the Philippines’ cultural and linguistic landscape.

Final thoughts

The differences between Filipino and Tagalog may seem subtle at first glance, but understanding these distinctions helps us appreciate the intricate linguistic and cultural tapestry of the Philippines. As the national language, Filipino serves to unify the nation and accommodate the diverse influences that shape its identity. Tagalog, on the other hand, remains a vital regional language that reflects the history and heritage of the Filipino people.

By unravelling the mystery surrounding these two languages, we gain a deeper insight into the rich cultural heritage of the Philippines and the unique aspects that set Filipino and Tagalog apart.

As we continue to learn and explore the world’s languages, we understand that every language has a story.

Each one, contributing to the beautiful mosaic of human communication and cultural expression.

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