The Philippines is comprised of over 7,100 islands – so it should be no surprise to learn that different islands have their own language, language groupings as well as dialects. In the case of the Philippines, there are over 170 dialects spoken, varying from region to region, with two – Tagalog and English – considered “official” languages and used in the mode of teaching.
According to CSUN, the Philippines has 8 major dialects: Bikol, Cebuano, Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), Ilocano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Tagalog, and Waray.
So a simple “I love you” would be “mahal kita” in Tagalog. But head north from Manila to Pampanga, and you’ll need to say “kaluguran daka” if you wanted to woo a local. Head even further north to Ilocos, and you’d have to learn how to say it thus, “Ay-ayatenka.”
But let’s say you decide to head south, to Cebu, my home town. Then you’ll say, “Gihigugma ko ikaw.” Though should you end up west of Cebu, let’s say Bacolod or Panay, then you’ll need to say, “Palangga ko ikaw.”
I went to a Catholic all-girls school and all classes were taught in English, except for one. Filipino, the subject was like, “Filipino as a Second Language” type of class. In Filipino class, we learned how to speak Tagalog, considered the official Filipino language and we had to learn it like we learned English – subjects, nouns, verbs, sentence construction and tenses.
I sucked at it big time.
Because of the many languages and dialects present in the country, it’s not surprising to have sub-dialects (of sorts) under the major languages and dialects listed above. Unfortunately, smaller dialects are losing out to the larger ones, as Michael Tan wrote in the Philippine Daily Enquirer in 2011.
There is a tendency, among non-Visayans, to think of “Bisaya” as one language when in fact there are at least 16 languages listed by the Summer Institute of Linguistics’ Ethnologue as spoken in the Visayas alone. The largest ones are Cebuano, Ilonggo (or Hiligaynon) and Waray, but besides these three there are several others like Capiznon and Kiniray-a. One language, Karolanos, is spoken only in Kabankalan, Negros Occidental.
Some of these languages have been dwindling, in part because of the larger languages tending to take over—for example younger Kiniray-a shifting to Ilonggo. But even the larger languages like Cebuano have suffered because of the way “Bisaya” in general is always being put down. The tendency for Cebuanos especially is to protest and to refuse to use Tagalog, but in the process, they (the upper and middle classes especially) end up using English.
And just as Tan says, English is the language-to-go if you want to be understood wherever you go in the country. It’s like the default language when you have no idea how to say something. Too bad smaller dialects slowly die away because of it though…