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also: Tagalog: the Language of the Phillipines
Grammar and Spelling
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
5. Miscellaneous Peculiarities
6. Geographic Distribution
7. Character Set
Section One - Grammar and Spelling
1. Gender: There are three genders for Tagalog - masculine, feminine and neuter.
However, Tagalog does not distinguish gender
in referent words, such as pronouns. For
example, "she" and "he" in English is equivalent
to "siya" in Tagalog, which means "that
person" (no specific gender). Likewise,
"hers" and "his" in English is equivalent
to "kanya" in Tagalog, which means
"belonging to that person" (again, no specific
2. Articles: The definite article is "ang" (meaning "the"). The indefinite articles are "isang" ("one" or "a/an"); "ilang"/"mga" ("some");
3. Plural: The plural word is preceeded by "mga" i.e. "mga apple" means "apples".
4. Forms of address: The use of "po" and "opo" is a common way to denote respect and/or acknowledge seniority of the one being spoken
to, and these words are generously interspersed
within speech and writing.
Section Two - Punctuation
1. Full stops: These are used in a similar way to English.
2. Speech marks: These are also used similarly to English. Thus, the following sentences
would keep the same punctuation as in English:
1. "Give me more work!", shouted Chloe.
2. "Would anyone like some tea?" asked George.
3. "I'm bored - can I go home now?", Michala said.
3. Colons, semi-colons, ellipsis: These punctuation marks, along with apostrophes, question and exclamation
marks, are also used as in English.
4. Brackets: Again, brackets are used just like in English, and punctuation/capitalization
for enclosed texts is used just as English
would punctuate/capitalize ordinary (i.e.
non-enclosed) sentences or phrases.
Section Three - Measurements and Abbreviations
1. Measurements: The metric system is the default system for measurements, although
the use of English measurement units may
also be encountered, in the same way and
frequency as used by English users. We also
have translations for "non-standard" units
of measurements such as "a palm's length",
a "breadth" or a "stride".
To denote decimals, a period is used, while to separate thousands,
a comma is used.
Time is represented as follows:
10.30 am / noon / 4.30 pm / midnight =
10:30 n.u./ 12:00 n.h. / 4:30 n.h. / 12
Please note that "n.u." means "ng umaga" ("of the morning"), "n.h."
means "ng hapon ("of the afternoon") and "n.g.", which was not used in
the examples, means "ng gabi" ("of the evening"). However, am/pm (antemeridian/
post-meridian) is also widely used.
Dates are written as follows:
|20 February 2004
||20 Pebrero 2004
|20th February 2004
||Ika-20 ng Pebrero 2004
There should be a space between a figure and a measurement, except
for % and °C - these can be written with
or without a space.
Currency symbols are written as in English, e.g. £230 / 230
pounds sterling / €45 / 45 euro / $98 billion / 98 billion Dollars and P5,000
or P43.17 milyon (P = Philippine Peso).
N/a = Di-angkop
No. (nos.) = Num. (mga num.)
e.g. = Hal.
WxLxHxD = WxLxHxD
2nd / 3rd / 4th = Ika-1 / Ika-2 / Ika-3 / Ika-4
Mr. / Mrs. = G./Gng.
Messrs. = G.
Miss = Bb.
Dear Sir / Madam = Mahal na Ginoo/Binibini/Ginang
m (for metre) = m
cm (for centimetre) = cm.
lb (for pound weight) = lb
g (for gram) = g
km (for kilometre) = km
yr (for year) = taon
k (for 1000) = k
EMEA (Europe, Middle-East & Asia) = EGSA
Days of the week: Mon, Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat, Sun = Lun, Mar,
Mi, Hu, Bi, Sa, Li
Months: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec
= En, Peb, Mar, Abr, Ma, Hun, Hul, Ago,
Set, Okt, Nob, Dis
Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter (not normally abbreviated
in English) = Tag-sibol, Tag-init, Tag-lagas,
Tag-yelo (although there are only two seasons
in the Philippines, Summercalled "Tag-init"
and Rainy Season - called "Tag-ulan").
Section Four - Hyphenation
Hyphens are used in many ways, not only in word segmentation. As
seen above in the translations provided
for the weather seasons, the hyphen is used
in (e.g. "Tag-ulan") to denote that it is
the "season of raining" ("ulan" means rain).
Another use of the hyphen is to denote someone
or something that does a task or function,
for example: "taga-buhat" means "carrier"
where "buhat" means "to carry". Another
use of the hyphen is to denote the English
word "should" or "ought" before a verb,
for example: "mag-ingat" means "take caution"
where "ingat" means "caution". Another use
of the hyphen is to denote the continuing
occurrence of a present-tense verb or action,
for example: "tumatakbo-takbo" means "running
continuously" or "running intermittently",
where "takbo" means "to run".
As for word segmentation (breaking down words when words are split
over lines), the general rule is to segment
words using the between consonants when
there are two adjacent consonants, when
available, for example: "pumun-ta" or "pag-kain".
However, when there are no adjacent consonants
(i.e. vowels and consonants are alternating
in succession), then segment the word after
the vowel, for example: "pa-pel" or "benti-lador".
When there are two adjacent vowels, segment
the words between the vowels, just as what
is done with adjacent consonants.
There are some suffixes and prefixes that are commonly joined to
words using hyphens, such as: "mag-" (meaning:
"should" or "ought"), "tag-" (an indicator
of condition), "pang-"(an indicator of function),
"kasing-" (an indicator of equivalence)
and "tig-" (an indicator of individual rations
or division of whole).
There are no particular characters or character combinations which
cannot be separated by a hyphen.
The shorter N (-) rather than the longer M (—) dash is more commonly
Section Five - Miscellaneous Peculiarities
Place names are not spelt differently in Tagalog.
Surnames are normally given after the first name, and written with
the first letter capitalised (although they
could also be all in upper case when the
rest of the name is also written all in
Tagalog uses bold and italics similarly to English.
Section Six - Geographic Distribution
Filipino is the national language of the Philippines. This national
language is based on Tagalog, which originated
in Manila and its neighbouring provinces.
There is practically no difference between
the words and functionality of the "Filipino"
language and the "Tagalog" language, and
as such, one is often called the other.
Tagalog/Filipino is the mandatory medium
of instruction for schools in the Philippines,
although many subjects are taught solely
in English, such as mathematics and the
sciences, because there are quite a lot
of English terms that still do not have
genuine and universally-accepted Tagalog/Filipino
Philippine citizens are quite fluent in English, and approximately
80% of the population could hold a good
conversation in English. The prevalence
of English is such that it English words
are commonly interspersed with Tagalog words
in daily speech, and this has given rise
to an unofficial mixed English- Tagalog
language called "Taglish".
While Tagalog is understood by practically all Philippine citizens,
almost each of the 80 or so provinces in
the Philippines have their own dialect.
The major dialects (based on the number
of people speaking them) are Cebuano/Visayan
(the ambivalence is same as in Tagalog/Filipino;
the Cebuano dialect of the Cebu province
was used as basis for the Visayan official
dialect of the Visayas region of provinces);
Ilocano; Bicolano; Kapampangan; Hiligaynon;
Pangasinense and Waray.
Section Seven - Character Set
|| Ñ 
the Language of the Phillipines
By McElroy Translation,
Austin, Texas 78701 USA
quotes at mcelroytranslation
McElroy is continuing this series
of interviews that highlight some of the characteristics
of languages used in doing business globally. This
month, we look at Tagalog, in an interview conducted
with McElroy translator Ilse Wong. Tagalog, or Filipino
as it is officially named is native to the Philippines
and is spoken in the many Philippino communities worldwide.
Map courtesy of Wikipedia
What are some pitfalls specific to Tagalog
to avoid that a client should be aware of when translating
into this language?
The greatest pitfall with English-Tagalog
translations involves the mistaken notion entertained by
many clients that there is a Tagalog term for every English
word or concept. Some clients may even insist that a Tagalog
translation contain only "pure Tagalog" words.
What’s worse, when some clients see a proper Tagalog
translation that incorporates English terms, they may even
think that the translator has not done his/her job.
There are also language purists who believe
that mixing Tagalog and English (in the blend often called
"Taglish") is lazy and "unpatriotic."
That point is debatable, but in any case, in the real world,
Tagalog speakers in the Philippines or in other countries
do indeed incorporate English words into their everyday
speech and written materials. After all, English is one
of the official languages of the Philippines, is taught
in schools, and pervades even popular journalism, mass media,
and advertising. A proper, professional translation should
reflect this reality rather than the wished-for ideal of
some academics or the misled expectations of non-Tagalog-speaking
The bottom line: To a Tagalog speaker, many
words or concepts are more readily understood in English,
even if there may be awkward, "coined," or obscure
"pure Tagalog" terms for these. Such words or
concepts may be specialized or technical terms from various
fields or disciplines, or they may simply be terms that
people have gotten used to hearing or reading as English
For example, some clients insist on using
Tagalog words for names of positions that are easily understandable
in fact, more understandable in English. Tagalog speakers
would have no problem with the term "Special Accounts
Manager," for example whereas they might actually have
to think twice before they can understand the "pure"
Tagalog version (e.g., "Tagapamahala para sa mga Espesyal
na Akawnt"). Likewise, telling a Tagalog speaker that
he or she needs an "appendectomy" is much clearer
than trying to describe the operation in Tagalog words.
Then, too, there are English terms for concepts
that are not native to Filipino culture for example, the
four seasons. The Philippines has only two seasons summer
("tag-init") and the rainy season ("tag-ulan").
The Philippines does not have winter, fall, or spring and
therefore has no commonly used words for these seasons.
When Filipinos (for example, those living in North America)
refer to these seasons, they simply use the English terms.
Yet some clients still want these season names translated!
Sure, one can coin a term like "taglagas" (literally,
"falling off") to approximate "fall"
but it’s very likely that 99 out of 100 Tagalog speakers
would understand "Fall 2007 edition" much better
than "Edisyon ng Taglagas 2007"!
What are characteristics of Tagalog
that are unique or different from English and/or other languages?
As mentioned previously, everyday Tagalog
is characterized by the inclusion of many English terms.
The trick is to determine when to use actual Tagalog words
and when to simply stick with the English terms.
Another characteristic of Tagalog that may
make it different from other languages (especially widely
spoken languages such as English, French, German, Spanish,
etc.) is that there is a great deal of flexibility in terms
of factors such as word choice, word formation, and spelling.
There is a good deal of subjectivity when it comes to Tagalog.
Take the term for "work," for
example, which is "trabaho" in Tagalog. To express
the idea of "working," one translator may form
the word as follows: "nagtatrabaho." Another translator,
though, may spell this differently: "nagtratrabaho."
There is no hard and fast rule to determine which version
is "correct." Both are acceptable.
Because the rules of Tagalog usage are not
always clear, and because Tagalog itself is a comparatively
obscure language to those who are not from the Philippines,
many clients do not have a firm basis for determining who
is qualified to do a Tagalog translation.
The profession of translating,
as it is practiced with other languages, requires that the
translator have some actual training or education for this
particular job. When it comes to Tagalog, however, it sometimes
seems that anybody who speaks both English and Tagalog will
do. This is hardly the approach people would take with other
languages! I cannot imagine, for example, that a client
who needs a German document translated into English would
settle for a "translator" who just happens to
speak both languages!
How do these characteristics make it
important to use properly qualified, professional translators?
The Tagalog translator really needs to be
more than a "mere" translator of words; he or
she needs to be a bilingual communicator. In other words,
the professional Tagalog translator must ensure that the
translation communicates the intent of the source English
to the intended audience, and must tailor the translation
to suit this readership.
mentioned above, there is a tendency among clients
to rely on Tagalog “translators” who are
simply bilingual but are not actually trained or do
not have sufficient experience as translators’
or even as communicators. Precisely because there
are often no hard and fast rules in Tagalog, a client
needs a professional communicator who knows how to
properly address a Tagalog-speaking audience.
Do you know examples where translation
or localization mistakes have occurred with Tagalog, such
as problems with text expansion, date/time formats, counting
errors, character encoding, etc., or mistakes with the translation
Most of the time, problematic Tagalog translations
come off as “merely” unprofessional or awkward-sounding.
But in the worst cases, there can also be misunderstandings
and inaccuracies due to a faulty Tagalog translation.
Particularly when the Tagalog translator
is not really a trained translator, but is simply a bilingual
speaker hastily recruited for want of a trained Tagalog
translator, the lack of training and of a communications
orientation can lead to serious mistakes. Often, these errors
are due to the fact that the “translator” did
not himself/herself understand the meaning of parts of the
source document! The “translator” then simply
provides a word-for-word translation of the source text—resulting
in a totally mistaken and often incomprehensible translation.
Relate an example or two where you found
a website page or form difficult to use because it was poorly
localized. How might a business lose money, prestige, or
incur legal risk due to this bad translation?
Obviously if a Tagalog reader has difficulty
understanding a translation, anything may happen. The reader
can simply give up and stop reading. Or he may read the
material but come away with the wrong idea of the product
or the information because of the poor translation. Or he
may be able to glean the correct information, but form a
very low opinion of the company because of the poor translation.
If possible, provide one example of a
particular phrase or concept that only a properly qualified,
professional translator would be able to correctly communicate.
One example is as follows: An English text
mentioned that something should not be done “just
before or right after heart surgery.”
The apparently untrained translator provided
a Tagalog version that, when back-translated, meant “moments
before the heart surgery or when it’s done.”
This obviously does not communicate the meaning of the original
English, and may even be misleading, particularly the “when
it’s done” part, which does not at all capture
the meaning of “right after.”
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