The Filipino Language and Its Glorious Past

Buwan ng Wika is an annual occasion to celebrate the core of our nationhood—the Filipino language. Here’s a glimpse back into the glorious history of our mother tongue.


  • Even before colonizers set foot on Philippine shores, no common language was prevalent in the country. Most Filipinos communicated with each other and visiting merchants using only trade languages.


  • In 1951, Spain colonized the country. This marked the beginning of the widespread teaching of Christianity among native people. Spanish priests and friars were encouraged to learn local dialects to gain a stronghold in the land.
  • Despite the King’s mandate to use Spanish as the medium of instruction for religion, Spanish priests remained hesitant of the idea and prevented Filipinos from learning the language. This was rooted from the fear of losing superiority over the priests’ native counterparts.
  • Soon, Filipinos began to rebel against the Spanish occupiers. Upon the insistence of being given equal rights, they established the First Philippine Republic even as Tagalog was yet to be formalized as the national language. Only after the execution of the revolutionary hero, Jose Rizal, whose writings were mainly in Tagalog, that the language started to draw significant attention among the people.
  • In 1937, the vision to finally adopt a national language that would allow Filipinos to express themselves as people of one nation was ignited. President Manuel L. Quezon issued Executive Order 134, proclaiming Tagalog as the basis of the country’s national language.


  • When American occupation began in 1898, the First Philippine Republic was immediately abolished. English became the official language—a solution deemed to unify a country with multiple tongues.
  • Although Spanish was still used in a number of areas in the archipelago, English started to be taught in schools. From then on, Filipinos simply kept on learning English and adapted to the new system.


  • Just hours after the attack in Pearl Harbor, Japan ended America’s grip on the country’s freedom and occupied the Philippines. English remained as the official language, but the new occupiers supported the use of Tagalog as the national language. Substituting English as the academic medium of instruction led to the propagation of the use of Tagalog not only in education but also in mass media.


  • After Filipinos finally gained independence, heated discussions sparked regarding the need to distance the national language from the Tagalog ethnic group. In 1959, the national language was officially called Pilipino.
  • Another argument arose after language experts raised additional conflicting testimonies, which led to the creation of a Committee on National Language during the 1973 Constitutional Convention. The committee recommended to replace Pilipino with Filipino.
  • The recommendation was then settled in Article XIV, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution, stating that the National language of the Philippines is Filipino—the official term we use until today.

The Filipino language continues to flourish, enriched by the numerous influences from other languages. Although a number of borrowed words—mainly Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and English—have been adapted by most people and made them part of their own, the Filipino language has maintained its distinct characteristics, becoming the hallmark of our true national identity. Over the course of its development, challenges on the modernization and intellectualization of the lingua franca impede its propagation in all spheres of society. To help overcome this, Lexcode continues to provide professional Filipino ↔ English translation, a premium service enhanced by a systematic localization process.


Department of Linguistics—Brigham Young University
National Commission for Culture and The Arts