The Tagalog Language from Roots to Destiny 
Jessica Klakring
Linguistics 450
Investigation #1

Ang hindi maronong lumingon sa pinang galingan ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.

(He who does not look back to his roots will not reach his destination.)

-Tagalog Proverb

The Beginnings

As early as 250,000 years ago, people from the Malayan Archipelago began trickling into what is now known as the Philippine Islands. Coming during the Ice Age, they are believed to have crossed on a land bridge that no longer exists. These people were followed 15,000 years ago by a Mongoloid people from Southeast Asia who also crossed on the land bridge. These groups possibly formed the basis for most of the approximately 100 different languages spoken today in the Philippines, although there is no archeological evidence of these people. Spanning from 7000 BC to 2000 BC larger groups of people began migrating from China and Vietnam. The largest migration took place in the Third Century BC, when people from the Malay Peninsula and the Indonesian Archipelago began pouring onto this group of beautiful, tropical islands. These immigrants, speakers from the Austronesian Language Family, surely cemented the basis for the various Philippine languages, of which Tagalog is extremely important (Encarta). 

The following diagram shows the Austronesian Language Family. Austronesian Language Family Formosa (Taiwan) Malayo-Polynesian Western Malayo-Polynesian Eastern Malayo-Polynesian Malay (Malay Archipelago) Javanese Melanesian Languages Micronesian Languages (Java) (Fiji, Solomon Islands) (Marshall Islands, Guam, Nauru) Malagasay (Madagascar) Polynesian Languages Balinese Chamic Languages (Malaysia, (Vietnam, Cambodia) Indonesia) Tahitian Maori (Tahiti) (New Zealand) Philippine Languages (Philippines- Hawaiian includes Tagalog) Sanskrit tärä, >star=

( ) --some of the places these languages are spoken
This diagram shows us how widely the Austronesian Language Family has expanded.  Spreading its branches westward to Madagascar and as far east as the Hawaiian Islands and the Easter Islands, from Taiwan in the North down to New Zealand in the South, this language group is one of the world=s largest both in number of languages included (700) and in geographic spread (Encarta).

The Sanskrit Impact

One of the first non-Austronesian languages to have a major impact on the Tagalog language was Sanskrit. Two routes by which Sanskrit could have impacted Tagalog, as well as the other languages spoken in the Philippines, are through direct trade, and through indirect culture movements traveling from India through the Malaysian Peninsula and on into the Philippines. 

Beginning in the Fifth Century AD, trade in Southeast Asia erupted, and the interaction between the countries in this region of the world was boosted immensely. Traders sailed all over the Indian Ocean and the South China Sea to barter their goods. As a side-effect of this interaction, the languages interacted as well. One of these languages was Sanskrit, a language of India. As the traders mingled, words were borrowed and loaned throughout the region.

The second way in which Sanskrit impacted Tagalog was through culture movements which slowly worked their way down through the Archipelago and into the island groups. The spread of Hindu was a major culture movement. With it, Hindu brought many new customs into these countries. New words had to be borrowed and created to allow for the new customs and traditions (Francisco, 1-5).

Because if the manner in which the syntax of Tagalog is constructed, the grammatical structure of the language was fully preserved. Morphologically, Tagalog is constructed of roots of one or two syllables, to which affixes (there are more than 20) are attached. With the addition of these affixes, the roots are changed into verbs, nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and countless other derivations. This format is what saved Tagalog from being more drastically altered. It allowed new roots to be borrowed into the language, and then be altered using Tagalog affixes. Thus, one borrowed root word could be changed into countless words coming from the same borrowed root, but using affixes from Tagalog (Aspillera, viii).

As words entered Tagalog from Sanskrit, they were often altered phonetically or semantically. Phonetic alterations included change in vowel length, change in vowel quality, changes in consonants, loss of aspiration, and haplology. The following is a list of phonetic alterations in Tagalog words borrowed from Sanskrit (Francisco, 71-109):

Vowel length: Tagalog pána < Sanskrit bäna, 'arrow' (¨ shows length)
Vowel Quality: Tagalog kati < Sanskrit koti, 'ten millions'
Consonantal Changes: Tagalog dalága < Sanskrit därika, 'young girl'

Loss of Aspiration: Tagalog dalá < Sanskrit dhära, 'bear a burden'

Haplology: Tagalog sakáli < Sanskrit sahakala, 'perhaps'

Semantic alterations included narrowing, widening, synecdoche, amelioration, and pejoration. The following is a list of semantic alterations found in Tagalog words borrowed from Sanskrit (Francisco, 109-120):

Narrowing: Tagalog tála, 'the morning star, Venus' <Sanskrit tärä, 'star' 
Widening: Tagalog mása, 'time, epoch, season' < Sanskrit mäsa, 'month'
Synecdoche: Tagalog búti, 'beauty' < Sanskrit bhüti, 'adornment'
Amelioration: Tagalog bathálà, 'Supreme God' < Sanskrit bhattära, 'noble lord'
Pejoration: Tagalog bandahalí, 'housekeeper' < Sanskrit bhandära, 'treasurer'

These examples give a colorful display of the many ways in which Tagalog has been influenced by Sanskrit.

The Spanish Impact

The next group of people to have a major affect on the Tagalog language was the Spanish. Beginning in the second half of the 16th Century, catholic friars from Spain began pouring into the Philippines. The Augustinians were the first to come, arriving in 1565. They established the first permanent European residence in the Philippines. They were followed by the Franciscans in 1577, the Jesuits in 1583, and the Dominicans in 1595 (Wolf). With them, the catholic friars brought the Spanish language. All of the friars learned to speak Tagalog, but a great number of Spanish words naturally drifted into the Tagalog language including mainly religious, governmental, social, legal, and abstract terms (Aspillera, viii). One example can be seen in the Tagalog greeting, kumusta ka, which bears great resemblance to the Spanish cómo está

When the Catholics settled in the islands, they began translating Christian works into Tagalog. The first book printed in the Philippines, the Doctrina Christiana, was written in the Spanish language and the Tagalog language, using the traditional Tagalog characters as well as the Roman alphabet (Wolf). Because of the Spanish impact, not only the language changed, but the writing system as well. After the Spaniards came, the Tagalog language was written using the Roman alphabet as opposed to the traditional Tagalog alphabet. 

The English Impact

The Spanish remained in control in the Philippines until December 10, 1898 when the islands were ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. This prominently introduced English into Tagalog (English mariners, including Sir Francis Drake, had come to the Philippines late in the 16th Century, but were unable to overthrow the Spanish). The US continued to control the Philippines until, in 1946, the Republic of the Philippines was established (Encarta). Even though this ended US rule in the Philippines, interactions continued to take place, and English words continue to trickle into the Tagalog lexicon. 

In just the few centuries from when the trade in Southeast Asia began flourishing, and Sanskrit started to seep into the Tagalog lexicon until today, the language has undergone innumerable changes. The Sanskrit influence expanded the vocabulary immensely. The Spanish impact also added to the vocabulary and, in addition, changed the orthography. The English effect can additionally be seen in the lexicon. Indeed, all school children in the Philippines today learn to speak English, and the majority of middle-aged people speak some English as well. Very educated people may even speak English with each other at times because it is a more prestigious language (Interview). Tagalog has not yet reached its final destination, it is still changing daily, but as we look back on its roots, we can observe the patterns of change, and then look toward the future, to its final destination.

As a sample of the language and the numerous changes it has undergone over the centuries, a copy of the Lord's Prayer as it was written in the Doctrina Christiana (first in Tagalog characters and then in Roman letters), and how it is found today in the King James Bible follow. (For those looking at this through the internet, I am sorry that you cannot see the Tagalog characters.)

Doctrina Christiana:

Ang ama namin ma namin nasa langitca y pasamba mo ang ngala mo, mouisaamin ang pagcahari mo. y pasonor mo ang loob mo. dito salupa para sa langit, bigya mo cami ngaion nangamin caca nin. para nang sa arao arao. atpa cavalin mo ang amin casalana. ya iang vinavalan bahala nami sa loob ang casala nan nang nagcasasala sa amin. Houag mo caming cevan nang dicami matalo nang tocso. Datapo uat yadia mo cami sa dilan ma sama. Amen. Jesus. 

King James Version (as found in MacKinlay):

Ama namin nanasalangit ka; sambahin ang pangalan mo: dumating ang kaharian mo. Gawin ang iyong kalooban, kung paano sa langit, ay gayon din naman sa lupa. Ibigay mo sa amin ngayon ang aming kanin sa arao-arao. At ipatawad mo sa amin ang aming manga utang, gaya naman namin na nagpatauad sa manga may utang sa amin. At houag mo kaming dalhin sa tukso, kungdi iligtas mo kami sa masama: Sapagka't iyo ang kaharian at ang kapangyarihan at ang kaloualhatian, magpakailan man. Siya naua.

English King James Version (Matthew 6:9-13):

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen


Aspillera, Paraluman S. (1956). Basic tagalog. Manila, Manila Times Publishing Co.

Encarta. (1997). Microsoft Encarta 97 Encyclopedia. CD-ROM.

Francisco, Juan R. (1964). Indian influences in the Philippines with special reference to language and literature. Quezon City, University of the Philippines, Diliman.

MacKinlay, W.E.W. (1905). A handbook and grammar of the Tagalog language. Washington, Government Printing Office.

Wolf, Edwin 2nd. (1593). Doctrina christiana. Washington, Library of Congress (facsimile copy).

Interview with Steve Cook (January 2000).


Instructor | Textbook & Materials | Course Objectives | Major Learning Activities | Course Requirements & Grading Scheme | Resources | Language Reports | Home

1998-1999 © Dr. Cynthia L. Hallen
Department of Linguistics
Brigham Young University
Last Updated: Monday, September 6, 1999