Many people, Filipinos and Filipino-Americans unfortunately included, are unable to differentiate between the Philippine languages of Tagalog and Filipino. The inter-relationships between these two distinct languages have led to many misunderstandings, including the incorrect assumption that they are mutually interchangeable. This is obviously quite confusing for both speakers and non-speakers alike.
Tagalog is the native language of the Tagalog ethnic group that is based in the provinces of Central and Southern Luzon. Due to the fact that Metro Manila and the capital of the Philippines is located in this region, it was therefore declared to be the Official Language by the first Constitution of the Philippines, which was drafted back in 1897.
Filipino, on the other hand, was proclaimed by the present Constitution to be the Philippine National Language in 1987. Additionally, along with English, it is also the Official Language of Communication and Instruction in the Education System of the Philippines. While it is based in Tagalog, Filipino is an actively evolving language that is constantly “further developed and enriched” through the incorporation of loan words from various “existing Philippine and other languages.” There are actually a multitude of Filipino words that are in fact loan words from other languages. These source languages include former colonist languages like Spanish (cómo está > kumustá = hello) and English (kompyuter = computer), as well as from other non-native languages like Chinese (keh-ya > kuya = big brother), Arabic (selamat > salamat = thank you), Malay (sedap > saráp = delicious), and Sanskrit (cerita > salitâ = speak), among others.
While some people might argue that this is nothing more than a matter of semantics, it is extremely important to learn this distinction. This is so because doing otherwise would be a disservice to the rest of the seven other major languages that, along with Tagalog, are the native tongues of the vast majority (almost 90%) of Pilipinos: Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Waray, Kapampangan, Bicolano, and Pangasinan. After all, in an archipelagic nation that is composed of 7,107 islands, there are 76 to 78 Major Language Groups in the Philippines, out of which evolved more than 500 distinct, regional dialects across the country. Each and every single one of these are equally essential in producing the rich tapestry that makes the country unique.