The Tagalogs of the Philippines

The Tagalog people are members of the most dominant cultural-linguistic group in the Philippines. Their status comes from their residence in the capital of Manila and the surrounding provinces of Aurora, Bataan, Batangas, Cavite, Bulacan, Laguna, Marinduque, Nueva Ecija, Quezon and Rizal. Off the island of Luzon, there are native Tagalog-speaking people on the islands of Palawan and Mindoro. A majority of Tagalogs are Roman Catholics.

Their language, Tagalog, is spoken as a first language by 22 million Filipinos. It serves as the basis of the Filipino national language. However, it is politically incorrect in the Philippines to say that Tagalog is the national language, as this offends Filipinos who do not speak Tagalog as a first language, particularly highly educated Filipinos who are Cebuano, Ilocano, Bicolano…

According to the 1987 Philippine Constitution, the national language of the Philippines is “Filipino” and not Tagalog. This fact is taught in schools. Educators and academics constantly provide examples of differences in vocabulary and sentence order.  Purists insist that the Tagalog language uses words of native origin, while the  Filipino language freely uses Spanish- and English-derived words. They say if you use the word kusang-loob (voluntary), you’re speaking Tagalog, but if you use the word boluntaryo, you’re speaking Filipino. There are no statistics on how many Tagalog speakers cannot understand the word boluntaryo or do not use it as often or more often than the word kusang-loob.

Famous Filipinos of Tagalog Extraction

national hero Jose Rizal (part Chinese)
first Philippine president Emilio Aguinaldo
revolutionary leaders Apolinario Mabini, Andres Bonifacio, Emilio Jacinto
President Manual Quezon (part Spanish)
President Jose P. Laurel

As is with cultural dominance elsewhere, identifying someone as a Tagalog is not as prevalent as the distinction of being a member of another ethnic group. Very few people in the Philippines say, “Oh, he’s a Tagalog.” or “I’m Tagalog.” They are likely to be identified more by their province: “I’m from Laguna.” But a lot of Filipinos will refer to non-Tagalogs with ethnic distinction, “He’s a Cebuano.” or “He’s Ilocano.”  or “I’m Bicolano.”

It would be strange to ask, “Are you Tagalog?” The proper way to go about it as a foreigner is to ask, Marunong ka bang mag-Tagalog? (“Do you speak Tagalog?”) or Taga-saan ka? Tagalog ba ang salita ninyo doon? (“Where are you from? Is Tagalog the language you folks speak there?”)

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