Tagalog Rules of Thumb

The national language of the Philippines is called Filipino.

The national language of the Philippines is called Filipino (also spelled “Pilipino”). And Filipino is essentially the primary dialect of the Philippines, Tagalog. Words like saan <translated as where?, with a question mark> or dapat <translated as the equivalent of saying “you must”> are Pilipino words. They should be understandable to all Filipinos since these words are part of the national language.

Filipino vocabulary consists of Tagalog words and adopted words. Adopted words come through commerce. For example: the term (call center) is understood by all Filipinos. The more interesting adopted words come from the vocabulary of resident foreigners. For example: the words (terminal) and (comatose) are understood by almost all Filipinos.

Here’s how I extrapolate. If a person who lives in the bottom 30% of the population understands the word then it means that the word’s meaning is understood and being used today by nearly all Filipinos. I picked up on the word (terminal) in March and (comatose) in June, earlier this month.

"Speech Balloon" "Tagalog Rules of Thumb" "Retired No Way"

Speech Balloon: Tagalog Rules of Thumb

Rules of Thumb for Tagalog

When I first relocated to the States I devised two rules of thumb for myself.

  1. When in doubt, use a long vowel sound.
  2. Chances are that you should put the accent on the first syllable. 

They worked well.

When I returned, I drafted a new one. It’s particularly useful for foreigners who live here and want to make their life a bit more convenient.

Refer to the speech balloon above.

Use short vowel sounds exclusively.

There are no long vowel sounds in Pilipino-slash-Tagalog. All vowels (a, e, i, o, u)  are pronounced with a short-vowel sound-a, short-e, short-i, short-o, and short-u.

  • short a – cat
  • short e – egg
  • short i – fin
  • short o – on
  • short u – bull

This short lesson on short vowel sounds in American English in YouTube may help.

Put the accent on the second syllable.

Filipinos will comprehend more of your Tagalog if you slide the accent to the second syllable. This is especially important for names of places since that’s where you can’t avoid using the use of the local language. This importance extends to the conversations you have with other foreigners. Aren’t many of those conversations related to updating each other on what one did and where?

Think of the name of the primary dialect <Tagalog>. Westerners, Americans and Europeans alike, will say <TAA-guh-log>.

The correct way to say it is to put the accent–the stress–on the second syllable. Say instead <ta-GUH-log>.

The last syllable <log> sounds like the log of a logbook. The last syllable <log> does not sound like the log of a tree.

Vowels are always pronounced.

There are no silent vowels in Tagalog.

Consecutive vowels in a word can be confusing.

Aalis <translates to leave or depart>. Say <a-a-lis>.

This is actually a Tagalog word whose accent is on the first syllable so my second rule of thumb would be incorrect! But the accent here is so slight as to be perfectly understandable even if all three syllables were stressed equally.

Aalis is an infinitive and that means that it is the root form for a cluster of words. For Aalis, I can think of related words like Umaalis and Umalis. Umaalis means in the process of leaving or departing while Umalis is the past tense of Aalis.

Umalis has another translation if the word is used in a certain way. When used to command, as in (Umalis ka na), Umalis becomes an action verb and means to leave in a more empathic way.

Putting it all together

Short repeating syllables can be tricky to pronounce. These three rules of thumb will help.

I learned this example from my sister:

  • Bababa ba?

It’s asking a question. Going down? (Think of an office elevator.)

Mouth four identical syllables of the sound <ba> and put the accent on the second syllable. <ba-BA-ba ba?>

Got questions?

Send me a comment.


2 responses to “Tagalog Rules of Thumb

  1. Pingback: Is the taste of Vitamin C always citrus-y? | Retired? No way!

  2. Pingback: Difficulties in learning the Tagalog language « Moving On

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