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See also: Tagalog: the Language of the Phillipines


1. Grammar and Spelling
2. Punctuation
3. Measurements and Abbreviations
4. Hyphenation
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 gender).

2. Articles: The definite article is "ang" (meaning "the"). The indefinite articles are "isang" ("one" or "a/an"); "ilang"/"mga" ("some"); "alinman" ("any").

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 n.u.

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
20/02/2004 20/02/2004
February 20 Pebrero 20

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).

2. Abbreviations:

N/a = Di-angkop
No. (nos.) = Num. (mga num.)
e.g. = Hal.
WxLxHxD = WxLxHxD
1st / 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 used.

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 upper case.)

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 equivalents.

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

[ ] = Alt key codes

a A
b B
c C
d D
e E
f F
g G
h H
i I
j J
k K
l L
m M
n N
ñ [0241] Ñ [0209]
ng Ng
o O
p P
q Q
r R
s S
t T
u U
v V
w W
x X
y Y
z Z


Tagalog: the Language of the Phillipines


By McElroy Translation,
Austin, Texas 78701 USA

quotes at mcelroytranslation com


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.

Tagalog, or Filipino language map picture

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 clients.

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 words.

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.

Tagalog: the Language of the PhillipinesAs 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 itself?

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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