Eight Major Languages in the Philippines

The many languages and dialects in the Philippines are as diverse and are equally as interesting as its 7,100 plus islands.

The Philippines’ national language is called Filipino. However, there are over a hundred languages all around the country plus a lot more in terms of dialects (language variations). This hub features some of these languages.

Before going into these languages, let me just say that there are some who think that Filipino is the only language in the country and the others are just dialects. However, there are also others who think that the other “dialects” are actually languages in their own rights.

In this hub, I’ve taken on the thinking of the latter mainly due to some things I learned from my English teacher back in college. She said that languages are distinct and separate from each other. You can tell if one is a language if a person speaking it will not be understood by another person who speaks a separate language (for example, somebody from France who speaks only French will not be understood by somebody from Germany who speaks the German language only and vice versa). On the other hand, dialects are variations of a language and, in the Philippines’ case, are spoken in different regions. In contrast to various languages, people speaking in various dialects (that come from the same language) can understand each other. These definitions have stuck to my mind ever since.

With the above definition in mind, the following are the major languages in the Philippines (major meaning there are over one million speakers):

Tagalog – This language is the basis for the national language of the country. The previous requirement to teach and speak this language in schools nationwide resulted to the huge increase in Tagalog-speaking Filipinos. Tagalog is mainly spoken in the capital of Manila, the Greater Manila Area (or GMA) and the neighboring provinces such as Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, Laguna, Cavite and Batangas (with variations in some terms and in the accents). Not only that, one can go to other places around the country and still be universally understood when he or she uses this language because a lot of people around the country speak and understand Tagalog.

Cebuano – This was (and still is) a major contender for the Philippine language with the highest number of native speakers (more than 20% of the entire population of the country). It is mainly spoken in Cebu, one of the most progressive cities in the country. It is also spoken in certain areas in Mindanao, including Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Bukidnon and General Santos City.

Ilokano or Ilocano – this is spoken in the northern part of the Philippines. It is related to other languages around the world such as Indonesian, Malay, Hawaiian, Samoan, Tahitian and Chamorro (of Guam). With the spread of the Ilocano people around the country, the use of this language has spread as well.

Bikolano or Bicolano – this is the language spoken in the Bicol Region, one of the biggest regions in the country. There are said to be 8 varieties to this language, categorized according to the geographical locations. A variation of the Bicolano language, the Bisakol language, provides a link between Bicolano and Visayan languages.

Hiligaynon or Ilonggo – A language known for its sweet intonation, the Hiligaynon language is native to more than 7 million Filipinos. In addition, an additional 4 million Filipinos know how to speak this language with a degree of proficiency. It is spoken in Iloilo, Bacolod, PanayIslands, Capiz, Antique and Aklan. It is also spoken in some parts of Mindanao such as in North and South Cotabato. , known for its melting pot of various regions and languages, also has its own share of Hiligaynon-speaking Filipinos.

Waray – this is another language spoken in the Visayas islands (the middle part of the country). It is spoken in Samar and Leyte and is closely associated with the Waray people who are known for their toughness and strength.

Kapampangan – this is a major language found in the Luzon island or the northern part of the country. It is spoken by people from the Pampanga province, a portion of Tarlac and a portion of Bataan. It is also called Pampangueño.

Pangasinense – the language of the Pangasinan province (with a total population of more than 2 million). Pangasinan is a province in Central Luzon. This language is closely-related to the Ibaloi language, which is spoken in the mountain province of Benguet and in BaguioCity (the summer capital of the Philippines).

To demonstrate how different these languages are, shown below are the translations of selected English words to the respective local languages:

Courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_the_Philippines
Courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_the_Philippines

These are the major languages spoken in the country. There are a lot more such languages such as those spoken in Mindanaolike Chavacano (a language spoken in Zamboanga City and is closely related to the Spanish language); Surigaonon; Tausug (language spoken by a Muslim tribe bearing the same name); Maranao (another Muslim language); and Butuanon. These various languages highlight not only the regionalistic differences of the Philippines but also the uniqueness of each of the regions found within the country. Some of these languages are slowly declining in use or are slowly merging with other languages. A conscious effort to revive these languages may be needed in the long run to ensure their long-term survival.

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Comments 34 comments

dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

This was really fascinating, emievil. I learned a little bit about the many languages of the Philippines from reading "America is in the Heart" (one of my all-time favorites). I've also heard that the Philippines is perhaps the most linguistically diverse nation in the world, per capita. I wouldn't doubt it!


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines Author

dohn, that was fast. I was still doing some editing =). Didn't know about the most linguistically diverse nation in the world but I think I agree with it. I mean with almost 180 languages within a small country (excluding the dialects per language) - we're really bound to have that distinction. =)


milynch43 profile image

milynch43 7 years ago from Philippines

I find it fascinating how many Filipinos can speak three or more languages here. Cebuano, Tagalog, English and sometimes a fourth depending on where in the Philippines they are from.

I struggled with the one.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 7 years ago from London, UK

I can say "hello" in many languages but not in Philipino. I wonder what the general way of saying "hello" is....

Congrats on making the 100th Mark. Well done :)


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Milynch, me too =). Personally, I know Cebuano, Tagalog and English. But my husband speaks 3 local languages and understands Cebuano as well! There is one source I had here in the Internet who knows 5 or more languages here plus a couple more international languages! LOL I admire those people and wish I can be like them. =)

Thanks Lady_E. We say "hello" and "hi" here. A lot of English words are already well entrenched in our local languages. Goodbye is another English word we usually use although our Tagalog equivalent for this one is "paalam".


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is very interesting. I had no idea that there was such a great abundance of languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines. Very informative hub.


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Thanks Peggy.


Belle 7 years ago

Thanks for your info here. It's interesting coz it's reminds me of my past lessons in my M.A degree on Sociolinguistics. I though wanted to just share that I consider Filipino as the main language amongst many varieties. I though prefer to use the word varieties instead of dialects bcoz I don't want to be subjective. chabacano, as someone asked me, is a creole language.They sometimes call it as 'broken spanish', but this is not true. It is a spanish-based though, but not broken Spanish coz neither it is a Spanish language but it is a Creole.


Belle 7 years ago

Lady_E--Hello can be said in Filipino or Tagalog. You can say 'kumusta". This may both mean hello and how are you.


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Hi Belle. Actually, Filipino is more of an "umbrella" language but the others are still languages, strictly speaking. I mean if a Cebuano and a Bicolano talk to each other using their own languages, neither will be able to understand each other and that is, more or less, the meaning of "language" right? But nowadays, I can hear the confusion on which is really the language and which is the dialect. =)

I'm not really sure what "creole" means but I do know chabacano is not "broken spanish". And if you have a chabacano watch a Spanish movie, chances are, he / she can understand the conversation because a lot of words (even the diction) are the same.


christine 7 years ago

A creole is a combination of many languages and these combined form becomes the "mother tongue".it happens when people from different places come together like for example workers on haciendas coming from different places or overseas contract workers coming from different races are trying to communicate with each other in that particular setting.Broken English or what some other people in the Philippines refer to as "carabao" English is not actually a broken English, again its a creole.


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Christine, hmmmm, I didn't know that. I guess Chabacano would fall as a creole then. I asked my husband, who's a Chabacano-speaker, who said Chabacano is 78% Spanish and the rest is like the native language there. Thanks for the heads-up =).


blaise25 profile image

blaise25 7 years ago from close to you...

nice hub emievil!

God bless you.. ;p

Kapampangan here, Blaise25


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Thanks blaise. So you're a Kapampangan huh? I have neighbors here who are Kapampangans and they cook some of the most delicious food around. ;)


blaise25 profile image

blaise25 7 years ago from close to you...

Yes ma'am ;p

I just learned to cook Pinakbet with gata and Adobo and lookin forward to learn more ;p


emievil profile image

emievil 7 years ago from Philippines Author

Wow. Wish I can cook too :).


eupa17 6 years ago

lol..!

Pinakbet s one of our

specialty here in

TARLAC, CAMILING..

haha!!

go SAMAHANG ILOCANO!!


HuRsHH 6 years ago

HELLO! you kmow what.. filipinos are talented and sweet.. we are enjoying here in the philippines.. i hope you can also visit here.. LOL!!! :]


Dianne 6 years ago

The Philippines is the 10th most linguistically diverse country. Papua New Guinea is the first. All languages belong to the same group (Austronesian-Malayo Polynesian-Philippine) except for the Sama-Bajaw languages. Technically speaking, Chavacano is not genetically related to any Philippine language nor to Spanish because it is a creole or a mixed language. It is also interesting to note that there are languages outside the Philippines which are grouped under "Philippine" - these are the Yami languages in Taiwan and Gorontalo-Mongondow, Sangiric and Minahasan languages of Indonesia. :-)


Marcos 5 years ago

The only true "philippine language" is and always be Spanish!!!!


emievil profile image

emievil 5 years ago from Philippines Author

@Marcos

Now where did you hear that? Unless you're in Zamboanga City or within that part of Mindanao, majority of the Filipinos do not speak Spanish. Although we can't deny that we absorbed part of their language and we have similar words, Spanish is not (and I think never will be) a local language except for those places I mentioned above.


Susan Ng profile image

Susan Ng 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

The part you wrote about how to distinguish language from dialect struck me. Like many, I had always thought Tagalog was the only language in the Philippines and that all the others were just dialects. But if what you say is true, then I can answer "four" when asked, "How many languages can you speak?" Hehe. :D


Jentalin simpson 5 years ago

hello to all, yeah i agree to you all that Philippines is very good in every languages spoken all around the world.....shout out loud if you agree...


Ronan Paul 5 years ago

i'm a native zamboangueño chavacano speaker....

i only knows three languages, one is my mother/native beautiful language called Zamboangueño Chavacano, 2nd English and third Tagalo.

well, why i wrote Zamboangueño is my native tounge and not Chavacano alone? simply because that there are several or SIX Dialects in Chavacano Language. one of those is Zamboangueño, then Caviteñ, Ternateño, cotabateñ, Castellano Abakay and Ermiteño (extinct).

Zamboangueño is the most spoken dialect in the philippines with a 550,000 population in zamboanga city alone. considering it is the official language of the city of zamboanga. also the Lingua Franca of Basilan Province, spoken also widely in Zamboanga Sibugay Province, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga del Norte Pronvinces. Zamboangueño is also recognized as minority language in Semporna, Sabbah, Malaysia. lastly, to inlcude these Filipino Disapora.


Cebuana is Me 5 years ago

filipinos are really talented of everything, because God has given us the opportunity to have it all, and especially, filipinos are very flexible in learning some other languages, some says, we, filipinos are "GREAT IMITATORS"


mathew babatunde 5 years ago

am mathew lives in nigeria bt do u realy think the broken english above isn't true its true in nigeria we call it spanan english or broken language it was bcaus of certain ilustration of the tongue how it was pronounced. For the filipinos i hav friend in philipins that realy speak and she teach me litle bt i think its like a dialect to my language. Hope some one can just teach or learn filipino


Elyag 5 years ago

There are 175 languages in the Philippines, 171 are living languages, 4 have no know speaker. to know more check http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=PH


Joel 4 years ago

@Christine, I think Carabao english is a Pidgin language, considering that this still has not conventionalized within a local community of language users yet. A creole language is a Pidgin language that has matured to the point of it being standardized/"nativized" and claimed as L1 language by a community (see http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/messeas/handou...


londorv 4 years ago

I sent a note to my Daughter-in-law's Father in Leyte thanking him for letting our family share his beautiful daughter. His comment to me is "Salamat gihap hin madamo"

This doesn't translate via Tagalog dictionary. Not sure what he said. Can anyone please translate for me. I know the word Salamat means thank you.


cherryl trahano 4 years ago

pls help me to translate the word magandang tanghali in maranao word.. tnx..


Felipe Robles Perales 4 years ago

Espero que se conserve para siempre la lengua chabacana pues sirve de puente lingüístico entre Filipinas, América, España y África hispanohablante. Sería un desastre perder el chabacano en Filipinas. Yo entiendo muy bien lo que dicen los zamboagueños. El gobierno filipino debería hacer todo lo necesario para preservar el idioma.


emievil profile image

emievil 4 years ago from Philippines Author

@Felipe, sorry can't speak or understand Chavacano.


theresa mata 3 years ago

Londorv.meaning of salamat gihap hin madamo"is thank you very much.in tagalog maraming salamat.i dont speak waray but can understand a little bit.cause i come from leyte also but we spoke visaya or cebuano.i can speak ilonggo.tagalog.basic of ilocano.and kapampangan.now im learning to speak thai language also french....;o)


Edge 15 months ago

ahhahaahah madamo gid linguahe mga pinoy hau.ako isa ko ka bisaya akong na ibawhan ra kay ang orijinal na linguahe sa pilipinas kay cebuano kag muslim og tagalog.kabalo ko wa mo kasabot psorrry lang gyud.di paman gud ko kabalo mag enenglish sorry lang og daghang salamt di i kay ganahan mo sa among linguahe.kami pud ganahan sa inyong mga linguahe.same lang ta ninyo haahahah.^_^

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