History of Communication in the Philippines in Light of Its Cultural Diversity

The Austronesian Language


Popular studies believe that the African pygmy population had migrated to the Philippine Islands, 30,000 years ahead of the Austronesian-speaking aboriginals of Taiwan (formerly Formosa and now Republic of China). However, there are no records of the African pigmy tribes’ medium of communication. Thus, the language trail begins with the Taiwanese aborigines who came to the Philippines more than 6,000 years ago.

A reference to the Austronesian speech denotes links to the groups of ethnic languages that were spoken by aboriginal tribes found in Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia and Polynesia. Of these groups, those that founded new colonies in the nearby islands that would later become known as the Philippines were the indigenous tribes from Taiwan and Malaysia. Other scholarly studies later disclosed that some Filipinos also shared similar gene-markers with the Indonesians and Indian races.

The most predominant Austronesian language to have surfaced was the Tagalog dialect, which was of Malayo-Polynesian ethnicity. Accordingly, Tagalog was originally uttered as “taga-ilog”, as this made reference to the tribal colonies residing near the river. Taga means “native of”, while ilog means “river”.

The Emergence and Prominence of the Tagalog Dialect

384px-Tagalog Nation

Most of the linguists who conducted studies about the development of communication in the Philippines have surmised that the original ancestors of the indigenous Taiwanese and Malaysian tribes inhabited the northeastern Mindanao and the eastern Visayan regions. Said islands are the closest to Taiwan, while linguists noted a large similarity between the Tagalog dialect and the early Bikol, Waray-Waray and Cebuano vernaculars.

Examples of shared Austronesian words include:

Anak/Anak – Child

Balik/Balik – To return

Bansa/Bangsa – Country

Ako/Aku – I or me

Ikaw/Kau – You

Kami/Kami – We

Mura/Murah – Cheap

Tulong/Tolong – Help

Halaman/Halaman – Plant

Lalaki/Lelaki – Male or Man

Babae/ Ba-I – Female or Woman

Utak/Otak – Brain

Accordingly, most of the taga-ilog tribes later founded new settlements, called “barangays”, in the central and southern parts of Luzon Island. Specifically, these included Aurora (now Quezon), Bataan, Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Rizal and the Bicol region, as well as on the islands of Lubang, Marinduque and some parts of Mindoro. The Taiwan aboriginals were basically into farming and occasionally engaged in hunting and fishing activities.

Nonetheless, in certain parts of Luzon, (Pampanga, Tarlac, Pangasinan,Nueva Ecija. etc.), other aboriginals maintained their communication by using their unique Austronesian ethnic speeches. However, these areas were said to be sparsely inhabited and had begun to flourish only during the arrival of the Spanish colonists.

The spreading-out of the ”taga-ilog” settlers to the largest island of the Philippine archipelago explains why the Tagalog dialect became the most widely used of all the ethnic languages brought over by the different settlers coming from Southeast Asia.

The Arrival of the Spanish Conquistadores – 1521


Although the Spanish occupation was met with strong resistance in most parts of the Mindanao region, Spanish rule flourished for more than 400 years in the Visayan and Luzon regions. It was during those four centuries that the ethnic Austronesian languages took on new forms, including the Tagalog vernacular. The scholarly Spanish priests made no attempt to teach the Spanish language to the natives but instead incorporated certain Spanish words into the Tagalog vernacular. Some examples include:

Apelyido – Apellido: Meaning surname; this was introduced by the Spanish colonizers, in which the natives were required to choose a Spanish surname for each family, instead of being identified by tribal affiliation.

Kabisa – Cabeza : The Spanish term cabeza means head or to lead. It was adopted in the Tagalog dialect to mean put into one’s head or to keep it in mind.

Laba – Lavar: To wash clothes, lavar being an action to perform is conjugated into lava if used in the first person. ( i.e. I wash, We wash)

Kanta – Cantar: To sing, cantar is likewise a root action word to be conjugated as canta if used in the first person. (i.e. I sing, We sing)

Barat – Barato : The Spanish word barato meant cheap but was adopted in the Tagalog vernacular as barat, which refers to a stingy buyer who keeps on haggling in order to lower the price.

In 1898, the United States and the Spanish government signed the Treaty of Paris to end their feud over territorial claims. This included the exchange of the Spanish hold over the Philippine Islands in the amount of $20 million. However, in order to gain the support of the Filipino people and allow for a peaceful transition of power, it was made to appear that the Americans aided the Filipino revolutionary army in defeating and driving away the Spaniards out of the Philippine territories.

The American Occupation

398px-Propaganda poster depicts the Philippine resistance movement

The advent of the American occupation signaled the Westernization of the Philippine natives. The American governance and its introduction of the English language allowed the Filipino natives to experience a formal system of education.

The Tagalog vernacular likewise evolved, since another set of root words was incorporated. Some examples include:

Ingles – English

Kabinet – Cabinet

Pisikal – Physical

Musika – Music

Alpabeto – Alphabet

Biskwit – Biscuit

Keyk – Cake

Tsokoleyt – Chocolate

However, things took a different turn when the Japanese waged its war against the U.S. and the former became successful in taking control of the Philippines. Nevertheless, the Philippines eventually gained total independence from both the U.S. and Japan after the World War II events.

Now a country on its own, the Philippine leaders met with difficulties in introducing the American educational system on a nationwide scale, because of the divergence of oral communication in the Philippines. In order to address the problem, the Tagalog dialect was incorporated as part of the educational curriculum.

Divergence of Language as a Barrier to Nationwide Competency


After experiencing a brief period of independence from foreign rule, the country went under a 20-year dictatorship under then-President Marcos. As the Philippines struggled as a third world developing country, the educational system stagnated since it was given less focus and attention.

Although Tagalog is being taught as part of the curriculum, the public school teachers throughout the nation resorted to the use of their region’s vernacular as a means to teach basic reading, writing and mathematical skills.

It was only after the restoration of the democratic form of government that the significance of communication in the Philippines was thoroughly reviewed in order to pave the way for a better educational system. This became of critical importance, inasmuch as the educational institutions were producing high school and college graduates that fell short in terms of competencies in science, technology and English proficiency.

In 2004, the Tagalog dialect was renamed as Filipino; hence, the latter was established as the official name of the Philippine national language. The objective was to associate the Tagalog syntax and grammar with the Filipino identity and nationality, which was in line with the country’s aim to gain international recognition.

Thereafter, a student of Ateneo de Manila University named Martin Gomez, presented and registered the Filipino national language with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) registry of languages. On September 21, 2004, Filipino was added to the said registry under the ISO 639-2 code fil. [11].

In 2006, the 13th Congress passed House Bill No. 4701, which reads as follows:

  • English, Filipino or the regional/native language may be used as the MOI (method of instruction) in all subjects from preschool until Grade II
  • English and Filipino shall be taught as separate subjects in all levels in the elementary and secondary
  • In all academic subjects in the elementary grades from Grade III to Grade VI and in all levels in the secondary, the MOI shall be in English

Learning English as a second medium for communication became a matter of considerable importance, in view of the following:

(1) Advancements in science and computer technology are imparted through and supported by materials written in English.

(2) In order to cope with the globalization trend, the country needs to increase the national competency level in science and technology, which requires interacting with multi-cultural units and in accordance with international rules.

(3) Increased competition coming from neighboring Asian countries has scaled down the Filipino workers’ opportunities for overseas employment.

(4) Increasing demand for outsourced workers via business process outsourcing units and the Internet’s online facilities.

Understanding the Significance of the Events

The history of communication in the Philippines shows how the divergence of language allowed a foreign country to take advantage of a nation for more than four hundred years. As the nation became unified by instituting Filipino (Tagalog) as a national language to be learned by all, the country was able to develop a semblance of unity in addressing the internal problems besetting the nation. Today, in light of the current thrust for global recognition, the enhancement of the nation’s proficiency in English as a second language, has greatly improved its reputation as a cross-culturally competent third world developing country.

Reference Materials


The Austronesian languages of South East Asia and Madagascar. London: Routledge, 2005 –The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar: Typological characteristics —https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:q2BVyC6ZSwsJ:homepage.ntu.edu.tw/~gilntu/data/Himmelmann-2005b.pdf+austronesian+languages+of+asia+and+madagascar&hl=en&gl=ph

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