Monday, February 25 marks the 27th anniversary of the morning in 1986 when Corazon Aquino took the oath of office as President of the Republic of the Philippines. Called the “People Power Revolution”, in Tagalog, the day is called Rebolusyon sa EDSA ng 1986.
“Rebolusyon” is a good example of how Filipino spellings of Spanish loanwords often reflect the pronunciation better than the Spanish original. Kinse and kabayo, from Spanish quince (15) and caballo (horse), are similar. Sa in Tagalog is a location marker. EDSA is an acronym for the Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, the 54-kilometer road blocked by two million Filipinos that became the focus of civil resistance to the Marcos regime. Ng is a possessive or genitive marker; i.e., “of”. The gist of the phrase then is “Revolution on EDSA of 1986”.
Offering the world one of the best examples of non-violent political change in the 20th, or any, century, Filipinos are rightly proud to celebrate on February 25. I wanted to remember the day by giving away a copy of our new, best-selling Elementary Tagalog by Jed Domigpe of the University of Washington, Seattle and Nenita Domingo of UCLA.
Tagalog, also called Filipino and sometimes Pilipino, is an Austronesian language. Spanning 9,000 miles from Madagascar to Rapa Nui (Easter Island), the Austronesian family is the most geographically wide-spread of all language groups. Some of Tagalog’s linguistic cousins are Malay/Indonesian and the languages of the Pacific such as Maori and Hawaiian.
Tagalog is the first language of about a quarter of the population of the Philippines. Of the many languages of the Philippines, Tagalog, by dint of being the language of the capital area, made the largest contribution to the language known as Filipino, which is spoken by the great majority of people in the archipelago. Some use “Tagalog” and “Filipino” interchangeably, but the two languages are not identical. Some speakers of the Philippines’ other languages, however, passionately oppose anointing any one language as “the language of the Philippines”.
For English-speakers learning an Asian language, three things ease the way into Tagalog. First, it’s written in very familiar, very consistent Roman script. The only thing that surprised me was the use of ts for Spanish and English ch: Sp. coche > Tg. kotse. En. teacher > Tg. titser. Second, unlike many continental Asian languages, Tagalog is not tonal. Pronunciation is quite simple. Third, its many loanwords from Spanish create an additional bridge into Tagalog from a language most of us have at least some familiarity with.
For the real language fan though, those of us who actually steer clear of any language product that promises to be “quick and easy”, Tagalog has a lot to offer. Tagalog verbs have conjugations, but unlike Indo-European languages as well as Japanese and Korean ones, these “conjugations” are not limited to suffixes. Tagalog verbs can be modified by prefixes, suffixes, or infixes that drop right into the middle of the word. As a Japanese speaker, I don’t feel that learning Japanese, however different it may be from English, stretched me to re-evaluate the framework within which I understand language as much as Tagalog has.
The last reason you might learn Tagalog is that there are nearly 4,000,000 Filipino-Americans in North America who, in my experience, are extremely encouraging of newcomers. If you’d like to win this “state of the art” hardback edition that comes with a free audio CD, click here to email me just put Tagalog in the subject line.