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The Languages Spoken in the Philippines

Posted by Chloe G. on February 26, 2024.

The Philippines stands out as one of the most linguistically diverse nations globally. Hence, it’s about time we delved into some language inquiries concerning this captivating region. Curious about the primary languages spoken in the Philippines? And if you’re wondering about all the languages spoken in the Philippines, you know the drill – read this post.

The Languages Spoken in the Philippines: Official languages  

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There are various languages spoken in the Philippines. In line with many nations, the Philippines boasts a diverse linguistic landscape. Instead of simply inquiring about the primary language spoken, it’s more fitting to explore the multitude of languages spoken there and their prevalence among the populace. I’ll address these queries and more below, but first, let’s clarify some key points.

Contrary to the expectation of a single official language, the Philippines has two: Filipino and English. Filipino holds broader usage across the nation as a lingua franca, while English serves official government functions, significantly impacting the daily lives of many Filipinos.

For further insights into the languages of the Philippines, keep reading. Alternatively, if your curiosity extends to Asian languages in general, feel free to click the link provided below.


Is Spanish spoken in the Philippines?

Since 1565, the Philippines has been governed by Spanish colonial rule for 300 years, during which Spanish served as the official language. Following the guidelines of the 1935 Constitution, Spanish was reinstated as an official language alongside English, albeit it was later downgraded to an “optional and voluntary language” in 1987.

Even though only around 0.5 percent of the Philippines’ 100 million inhabitants speak Spanish, the country still holds the highest concentration of Spanish speakers in Asia.

Nevertheless, remnants of Spanish influence persist within the Philippines, evident in the incorporation of approximately 4,000 Spanish-derived “loan words” constituting around a third of the Filipino language. This linguistic heritage is unmistakable from the onset, as seen in the word “hello” (kumusta), derived from the Spanish phrase “how are you?” (cómo está).


The Languages Spoken in the Philippines

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Filipino and English hold the status of being the Philippines’ official languages. Filipino, rooted in Tagalog, serves as a native language, while English gained official recognition due to the country’s colonization by the United States from 1898 to 1946.

Filipino predominates in schools and media, acting as the lingua franca uniting the diverse linguistic communities across the nation. English finds extensive use in government affairs, newspapers, and publications.

Filipino (Tagalog)

Tagalog, a member of the Central Philippine branch within the Austronesian language family, forms the basis for Filipino, the national language of the Philippines. closely related languages include Cebuano, Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), and various Bisayan (Visayan) languages. Central Luzon and parts of Mindanao are home to approximately 14 million native Tagalog speakers, constituting the country’s second-largest language and cultural community.

Another 25 million individuals communicate in Filipino, a language rooted in Tagalog. Its usage is expanding in literature, radio, press, government, and education. Tagalog grammar is renowned for its intricate verbal system, encompassing three forms of passive phrases.

Are Filipino and Tagalog interchangeable? While Filipino bears similarities to Tagalog, they are not entirely synonymous. Filipino represents a modernized iteration of Tagalog, incorporating elements from other Philippine languages as well as Spanish, English, Chinese, and Malay. Nonetheless, they remain mutually intelligible, and the terms are often used interchangeably.

In 1937, Tagalog was designated as the national language of the Philippines by Congress, reflecting its widespread usage in Manila at the time. However, this decision sparked controversy among Cebuanos, who represented a larger portion of the population than Tagalogs.

During President Ferdinand Marcos’s dictatorship, the 1973 Constitution saw Tagalog rebranded as Filipino, prompting Congress to initiate the development of a revised language version. In 1987, Filipino attained official language status.

Marcos’s initiative to forge a “new civilization” encompassed the evolution of Tagalog into Filipino. This process involved integrating linguistic features from other languages, replacing perceived “aesthetically unpleasing” Tagalog terms with more euphonious alternatives. Additionally, the alphabet underwent modifications to include the letters c, f, j, x, and z, while certain word spellings were adjusted to better reflect pronunciation.


Since the era of American colonization in the Philippines, English has held sway as the predominant medium of instruction in educational institutions. Over time, the teaching of English has undergone enhancements, driven by the recognition among Filipinos of its indispensable role in engaging with Westerners for commercial and tourism endeavors.

The Philippines boasts a global reputation for English proficiency, with a majority of its populace possessing varying degrees of fluency in the language. English has maintained its status as one of the country’s official languages, with over 14 million Filipinos proficient in it. It serves as the primary medium of instruction in education and remains integral to trade and legal proceedings.

Proficiency in the English language stands as a valuable asset for the nation, contributing significantly to its economic growth. Notably, this proficiency played a pivotal role in propelling the Philippines to surpass India as the premier destination for call centers worldwide in 2012. Furthermore, the availability of locally-based English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, offering high-quality education at relatively affordable rates, has spurred an increase in the number of foreign learners seeking to enhance their English proficiency.


The Languages Spoken in the Philippines: Other major languages  

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Cebuano (Bisaya)

Cebuano, alternatively known as Bisaya or Sugbuhanon, constitutes a member of the Western, or Indonesian, branch within the Austronesian language family. Approximately 18.5 million individuals in the Philippines converse in the Bisaya language, with its speakers dispersed across eastern Cebu, Negros, western Leyte, the Camotes Islands, Bohol, and the northern and western coasts of Mindanao.

Cebuano exhibits notable similarities with the Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) and Waray-Waray languages, often categorized alongside them as a Visayan (Bisayan) dialect. Despite its widespread usage, Cebuano seldom serves as a literary language; however, it finds application in newspapers and cinema.


Ilocano, frequently spelled as Ilokano or Ilokan and also referred to as Iloco, ranks as the third most commonly spoken native language in the Philippines. Originating from the Ilocos region, a coastal plain in northwestern Luzon, the Ilocano people settled there following the Spanish arrival in the 16th century. With population growth, they migrated to neighboring provinces, the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, and even Hawaii.

Closely associated with languages spoken in northern Luzon, Ilocano falls within the Austronesian language family. The total number of Ilocano speakers amounts to approximately 10 million. Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, and La Union, the three largest Ilocano provinces, stand among the Philippines’ most densely populated areas.

Hiligaynon (Ilonggo)

Hiligaynon, also recognized as Ilonggo, Binisaya, or Inilonggo, is spoken by an estimated 9.1 million individuals in the Philippines, primarily concentrated in Western Visayas and Soccsksargen. The majority of Hiligaynon speakers belong to the Hiligaynon ethnic group.

Belonging to the Bisayan language family, Hiligaynon shares a more distant relation with other Philippine languages. Following Cebuano, Hiligaynon stands as the second most spoken language in the Visayas region.

Hiligaynon is predominantly prevalent in Western Visayas, encompassing Iloilo, Guimaras, Negros Occidental, and Capiz, as well as in certain provinces of Soccsksargen such as South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, and North Cotabato.


Immigrant languages in the Philippines

Immigrant communities have left their mark on the linguistic landscape of the Philippines. Significant immigrant languages in the country include Sindhi (with 20,000 speakers), Japanese (2,900), Indonesian (2,580), Hindi (2,420), and German (960). Additionally, languages such as Arabic, Malay, Vietnamese, Korean, Tamil, and various forms of Chinese have also made their presence felt.


Endangered languages in the Philippines

The Philippines harbors a rich array of languages facing a perilous decline, outpacing efforts to adequately document them. Ethnologue’s language database reports a stark increase in endangered Philippine languages, rising from 13 in 2016 to 28 currently. Eleven languages teeter on the brink of extinction, with some already lost forever.

Even prominent Philippine languages like Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Bikol, and Ilokano are dwindling, with varying rates of decline. Medium-sized languages such as Ibanag, Itawis, and Sambal share this ominous trajectory. The dwindling number of speakers, along with decreasing frequency and contexts of language use, further exacerbate this trend.

While local languages still find a place in family gatherings, sari-sari stores, and barangay halls, their presence in public domains like parks, banks, restaurants, and schools has markedly diminished. Reports suggest that passengers converse in their native tongues until the bus nears the urban center, whereupon they switch to Tagalog.



The Philippines stands as an incredibly diverse nation, a diversity reflected in its multitude of languages. Yet, the unofficial and indigenous languages face a looming threat of extinction unless proactive measures are taken to safeguard them. Government intervention through legislation to confer official status upon more languages and ensure comprehensive documentation could greatly benefit the preservation efforts.

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