Tagalog occupies an odd place in the Philippines: although its standardised version, Filipino, is one of the 2 national languages (along with English), Tagalog is still the first language for about 25% of the population.
While it is considered as a member of the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of Austronesian languages, it is practically more of a localised East meets West language. Originating in central and southern Luzon – likely in riverside settlements, as Tagalog literally means ‘river dweller’ – the area (and naturally, the language), through trade, geographic closeness, and colonialism, has been heavily influenced by Malay, Chinese, English, and Spanish.
First recorded via the Laguna Copperplate Inscription around 900AD, Tagalog was initially written in Baybayin, which comes from the Brahmic family of scripts in India. The first known work fully written in Tagalog, discussing Christian doctrine, comes from 1593, during the Spanish colonial period. Written in Spanish, Baybayin Tagalog, and a Latinized version of Tagalog, this book and the works that followed it had the dual effect of preserving Baybayin and introducing the Latin script to Tagalog, which would overtake Baybayin in written Tagalog during the 18th century. A Franciscan, named Pedro de San Buenaventura, wrote the first Tagalog dictionary in 1613.
In addition to all of the words that Tagalog has imported, there have also been some exports, such as the word boondocks. The word that we understand to mean ‘a remote, out of the way place’ comes from the Tagalog bundok, meaning ‘mountain,’ representing the fact that the mountainous areas of the Philippines are rather remote and isolated.
Tagalog begins and ends with verbs, which can include prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and circumfixes to indicate focus, tense, aspect, and mood. Additionally, if English is considered to be mostly subject-verb in structure, Tagalog can be considered verb-everything else. Increasing the degree of difficulty for learning, though the subject usually precedes the object, adjectives and possessives can be both before or after their related noun.
And pronouns are hard. While they do exist in the typical, familiar format, it is the application that can cause confusion. In Tagalog, for singular 3rd person, there is no distinction between he and she, meaning that the gender becomes relative to the noun it modifies. Personal pronouns can only refer to humans and there are three demonstrative pronouns, where one is equivalent to the English this, and the other two distinguish between a near and not so near that.
Furthermore, using numbers and dates in Tagalog can be difficult because native speakers use not only Tagalog, but also English and Spanish ones and in many different formats.
And the influence of English goes as far that many Filipinos nowadays communicate in a mixture of Tagalog and English, known as Taglish. Naturally, Taglish is most common among the educated city class. While the influence of the Spanish language, during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, resulted in the creation of a Spanish-based Philippine Creole language, known as Chabacano or Chavacano.
While learning Tagalog could be an interesting experience, translating from and into Tagalog is a real challenge. Our in-house teams of specialised Tagalog translators and Tagalog interpreters and proofreaders have been successfully dealing with this challenges for more than 25 years, producing high quality Tagalog language services ideal for corporate clients from all industry sectors.
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