The Modern Filipino Alphabet

Before the Spanish arrived in the Philippines in the 16th century, the people of the islands used a writing script called baybayin. It was the Spaniards who introduced Latin or Western letters to the Philippines.

In the 1930s, the renowned scholar Lope K. Santos developed the abakada which is an alphabet representing the sounds in the Tagalog language. It consists of  twenty letters (five vowels and fifteen consonants).

a, b, k, d, e, g, h, i, l, m, n, ng, o, p, r, s, t, u, w, y

In 1976, the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) of the Philippines issued a revised alphabet which added the letters c, ch, f, j, ll, ñ, q, rr, v, x and z.

The official Filipino alphabet of 28 letters that is currently being taught in Philippine schools was instituted in 1987 during the Aquino presidency. It is called Makabagong Alpabetong Filipino (Modern Filipino Alphabet).

28 letters consisting of:

20 letters of the Tagalog abakada
8 letters from the Spanish alphabet (c, f, j,  ñ, q, v,  x, z)

a, b, c,  d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, ñ, ng, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, Ñ, Ng, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z

In 2001, the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (Commission on the Filipino Language) issued Revisyon ng Alfabeto at Patnubay sa Ispeling ng Wikang Filipino — revised guidelines on the use of c, f, j, ñ, q, v, x, and z. Notice the spelling of “revisyon,” “alfabeto” and “ispeling.”

Every few years or so, the government issues a new set of spelling guidelines for the Filipino language. Usually, it relates as to whether to follow more closely the original Spanish spelling or to transliterate foreign words into a nativization that follows Tagalog orthography. Revisyon or rebisiyon or rebisyon?

It can get very confusing as to what is currently considered standard. Most ordinary Filipinos don’t worry about it all. Because Tagalog is a phonetic language, as long as you get the basic sounds, you can spell words the way you hear them. Anderstan?

Most government documents in the Philippines, particularly forms that citizens have to fill out, are in English anyway. There are more documents in the state of California that have been force-translated into a very awkward version of what purports to be “Tagalog” than there are documents in the Republic of the Philippines that are in Tagalog / the Filipino language. There is more software documentation force-translated overseas by foreign companies into Tagalog than there are scientific documents existing in native Tagalog read or written by Filipinos… Google, Microsoft and Facebook have churned out more Tagalog instructions than there ever were in existence on the islands before the year 2000.

For decades, the easiest way for a foreigner to insult the intelligence of the average Filipino was to tell him you’ll get him an interpreter / translator / translation because you think he can’t communicate in English well enough.

There are two OFFICIAL languages in the Philippines — Filipino (based on Tagalog) and English. Although the Philippine intelligentsia recognize there might be a need to develop the Filipino language such that words for ideas and concepts that originated in the West (especially science and technology) have counterparts available in the vernacular, there really is no sense of urgency because English is already so widely used. Further, the Tagalog language is so flexible that it’s very easy to substitute English words in sentences. We can even turn English nouns into verbs using one syllable without batting an eyelash. Mag-tenis tayo!!