For a very small country in Southeast Asia with over 85 million people, it is surprising to know that the Philippines has 120 to 175 languages with native speakers. Though this is not as incredible as Papua New Guinea with over 800 languages and only 5 million people, it is still interesting to note that most of these languages have native speakers that count by the thousands. In some other countries, there are lots of languages but with only a handful of native speakers left. In the Philippines, most of these languages are still widely spoken and are very much alive.
There are around 120 to 175 languages in the Philippines depending on how they are classified. The official languages based on the current constitution are English and Filipino. There are 13 languages with at least 1 million speakers all over the country. Some of these languages include Cebuano, Hiligayno, Ilokano, Kapampangan, Kinaray-a, and Waray Waray. Most of the languages spoken were derived from Malayo-Polynesian roots. However, there are also some Filipinos who can speak languages derived from Spanish, Arabic, and Chinese.
A Historical Perspective
Throughout the 19th and 20th century, the lingua franca in the Philippines was Spanish as it has been under their colony. In fact, Filipinos were forced to abandon their language and use Spanish as means of communication, be it in the government or in schools. When the country fell under the Americans, English became the lingua franca.
Textbooks used in schools were all translated to English and even in government transactions, English became widely used. A few years after Philippines gained independence, Tagalog was declared as its official language under the leadership of then President Manuel L. Quezon. However, despite the fact that the Philippines has been through several colonizers, many places have retained the use of their native language as influenced by the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages.
The Official Language
The selection of Tagalog as the official language in 1939 had become somewhat controversial as it was only widely spoken in the country’s capital. Down south, there were other languages spoken with more native speakers. This paved the way for the official language to be changed to Filipino in 1973 alongside English under the presidency of Ferdinand Marcos. This was further enhanced in the development of the 1987 Constitution. The term “Filipino” means that it is based on the existing language and other languages. This is why some words spoken by Cebuanos and Ilokanos for instance have already been adopted as official Filipino words.
How More than a Hundred Languages Survived
Despite the fact that Philippines has gone through several colonizers and it has changed its Constitution a few times especially in regards to the use of official language, still many languages have native speakers. Those who were highly influenced by Spanish settlers in Zamboanga still retained the use of Chavacano (derived from Spanish) as the lingua franca. Several tribes in the Philippines like the Mangyan, T’boli and Ivatan still use their language and not influenced by any other languages. Those who were influenced by the Moslems in the southern part of the country still practice their rich language. In fact, even if many conquerors tried to influence them, they held on to their roots. However, it is important to note that some can also speak Arabic beyond just liturgical use. Trade and commerce in the past have also become the reason why there are still a lot of Filipinos who can speak foreign languages such as Bahasa Melayu and Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese and even Japanese.
It is indeed great to know that despite such diversity, the country still remain united and its people have a clear understanding of each other.