August 3, 2020
Being an island country with a long history of colonization, the Philippines is very diverse in regard to languages and culture. There’s probably no wonder that in this country, around 85 million people speak over 170 languages, depending on classification. Although there are only 13 major languages with over 1 million speakers, the rest of them are still widely in use and are spread across about 7,000 islands.
Yet, the reason for such linguistic diversity lies in about 400-years history of colonization. In addition, the islands have attracted the attention of traders from Southeastern Asia and the Middle East, so the influences are many. But is there something that can be called the Philippines language at all? And how did the Filipino people manage to maintain so many languages throughout history? Let’s take a closer look at this wondrous country and find out.
The people of the Philippines have kept the number of languages they speak throughout the history of this island country, with some languages being added or developed primarily due to colonization. Although the colonization process that took place in the country was quite rough, people still held to their roots and accumulated the languages with time. For example, the Spanish colonizers who first arrived at the Philippines in 1521 forced the locals to abandon their languages, most of which were limited to local tribes, and accept Spanish as their official language. While many people obeyed this kind of rule, they still refused to let go of their heritage and kept their native languages along with Spanish.
The many languages that accumulated in the Philippines long before the rule of Spaniards were saved by people largely because the majority of the population at the time held on to their languages and culture extremely tightly. This largely explains the influence of the Spanish language on nearly every regional language spoken in the Philippines. Even though there are more than 150 of them, some Spanish roots can be traced in some words predominantly used for food and some domestic items.
After the country fell under American rule in 1898, English has been implemented in local education and political life. Although this was not forced, unlike Spanish, the locals still maintained the Filipino dialects and languages, keeping them in wide use. Finally, after the country gained its independence in 1946, the local languages started to have been recognized as the official ones.
Yet, due to the fact that the local and regional languages in the Philippines languages are many, the governments needed a reasonable solution that would be universal for the whole country and not threaten the regional specifics. The solution came only by the end of the 20th century, with the Filipino language being developed and recognized as the official language of the country. Still, the influences of the languages of colonizers remain and are evident today.
Between 1565 and 1898, the official language of the Philippines was Spanish, with the corresponding colonies being active in the region. As the United States took the lead from Spain at the very end of the 19th century, English was announced the language of education, thus, becoming the official language of the country. Yet, after about 50 years, the Philippines declared independence, so the need to recognize the national language as the official one has raised.
First, just before the declaration of Filipino independence, Tagalog was declared the official language of the country, along with English. Yet, the problem with Tagalog was that it was not widely used throughout the whole country, so the idea of creating a kind of unifying language was pushed through. As a result, in 1987, after another amendment to the Filipino Constitution, Filipino was recognized as the official language of the Philippines, along with English. Filipino language has derived from several most used languages throughout the country, including Tagalog, and was developed to unify the nation. Some other influences on this language come from Spanish, English, and Arabic. Yet, what about the regional languages that are spoken by people throughout the country, but are not recognized officially by the government?
While there are only basically three widely spoken languages in the country, what about the rest? There are over 150 languages other than Filipino, English, and Spanish, so how are they distributed? In fact, aside from the two official languages and one historical, there are 13 most widespread regional languages, all of which have more than 1 million native speakers. Those languages are:
That totals in 72 million of the speakers of the major languages, meaning that the other 155 languages are divided between about 13 million people. So, on average, each minor regional language has about 80,000 speakers. That is very impressive as usually, regional languages in other multilingual countries (like Papua New Guinea) account for only a few thousands of people. Yet, it is hard to imagine how many dialects in the Philippines are there! The variations of each minor regional language might account for thousands in total making the Philippines language one of the most diverse countries in regards to the multiplicity of local languages and dialects. But that’s not all, aside from lots of regional languages, the people of the Philippines speak numerous languages that came from different other countries as well.
Considering that the country had quite a dynamic and colorful history, the Philippines has had a large number of linguistic influences throughout the centuries. Not only the colonization, but many other factors have influenced people from other countries to come across the Philippines and leave something here to stay. A number of traders, craftsmen, and travelers came to the Philippines in search of opportunities or experiences throughout history. While some of them did find what they were looking for and then left, others would settle and integrate with the local people to create a rather unique cultural and linguistic blend.
Among the languages that are still spoken in other parts of the world and the Philippines, you can find Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, and Malay, aside from English and Spanish, both of which were languages of the Filipino colonizers. Unlike English and Spanish, the other languages listed came to the Philippines through the traders, commoners, and travelers. However, English and Spanish have managed to influence the language in the Philippines the most, with Filipino being based on them, aside from Tagalog. The influence of Arabic and Spanish in particular is perhaps most evident on the constitutional level as the Constitution of the Philippines encourages integrating one of those languages in the educational system, along with other regional languages.
The main treasure that the Philippines has is the languages and their diversity across the country. There’s perhaps no other country that not only holds such a vast number of languages and dialects but also accounts for a large number of speakers per each language. Indeed, while some countries in Africa and Southern America account for hundreds of regional and tribal languages in most cases, those are unique per each tribe and in some cases, may be even threatened by extinction, with only a few dozens of speakers left. The Philippines, on the other hand, manages to remain one of the most linguistically diverse countries with every region confidently holding onto its roots regarding the language.
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