Your Complete Guide On 170+ Filipino Dialects: How Did Filipino Evolve?

Ling Learn Languages
12 min readSep 18, 2022


Original blog post:

Which following dialects do you know? Hiligaynon, Cebuano, Tagalog, and Tausug. These are just some of the existing native languages in the Philippines. Today, at least 170 Filipino dialects are spoken in different regions. Let’s take a closer look at how the Filipino language evolved from these dialects.

Ever wonder why Tagalog is the most used indigenous language spoken in the Philippines, but the national language is called Filipino? It’s easy to say that the Philippines has numerous languages due to its shape and geographical structure. As an archipelago, you’ll even find sub-languages and sub-dialects on what is already a large umbrella of jargon and vocabulary.

The Filipino language came from a long timeline of cultural, religious, and political changes. Every historical period influenced a shift in vernaculars and loanwords up to the official language and alphabet of the Philippines. Despite the diversified changes, almost all languages spoken in the Philippines have a vast number of native speakers.

At least eight major languages are spoken in the Philippines, found in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. If you want to learn at least one of them (Tagalog), we recommend you start your journey by reading more about the Philippine languages’ history.

History Of Filipino Languages

Why are there so many languages and dialects in the Philippines? Are they all closely related? There are many Filipino dialects, and you’ll be surprised that most of them are not just a dialect but are major languages of their own.

Filipino is the official language of the Philippines. It is the native language of 82 million people locally and worldwide. We’ll have to dive deeper into the history of existing Philippine languages and clarify misconceptions about the differences between a dialect and a language.

Philippine Languages Timeline In Summary

Pre-Colonial Period

Languages present were Baybayin (the native language of the pre-colonial Filipinos), Chinese and Arabic (due to trade), and other Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian language families.

Spanish Period (1521–1896)

Spanish colonized the Philippines and removed all previous cultures and languages through Christian indoctrination. Spanish became the national language, but only the illustrados (educated) could learn it. Other ethnic groups in the Philippines and regional languages immerged.

American Period (1898–1935)

English became the official language of the Philippines. It was introduced in public schools, government offices, and even for the common folk.

Philippine Commonwealth Period (1898–1935)

The Philippines had a transitional government ruled by the Filipinos after the American and Spanish occupation. In 1937: Tagalog became the official language of the Philippines, spearheaded by Manuel L. Quezon.

Japanese Period (1941–1944)

Japanese invaded the Philippines. The Japanese language was introduced but wasn’t widely spoken. The Japanese encouraged the spread of the Tagalog language in schools and work and still was the national language of the Philippines.

After World War II (1947–1973)

Pilipino became the national language of the Philippines. Public education highlighted the importance of using Pilipino in schools and government offices.

From P To F: How Pilipino Became Filipino (1976 Until Present)

The letter P from Pilipino was changed to F by the Philippine Government. Filipino is now the official national language of the Philippines, derived from the Tagalog language. It is the most widely spoken language among the younger Filipino generation.

Modern Times Mean A Change In Business Language (2003)

English was strengthened as a medium of teaching in the Philippines alongside Pilipino. It is also known as the business language since English is a widely spoken language in Southeast Asia.

Are Filipino Languages And Filipino Dialects Different?

Filipino languages came from the Austronesian language family and the Malayo-Polynesian language family. As a result, 184 living languages (data from Ethnologue) originate from the Philippines with fluent native speakers.

The majority of Filipinos understand Tagalog as that’s the most spoken language in the Philippines. However, Tagalog is famous in the northern part of the country (Luzon). If you try speaking Tagalog to Filipinos in Visayas or Mindanao, most of them won’t understand specific vocabulary.

Although some Filipino dialects and languages are mutually understandable, the language families that the dialects and languages came from are different.

A dialect is a form of language specific to a region or a social group. Most Filipinos often refer to regional languages of the Philippines as different dialects. However, to consider linguistic accuracy, Tagalog is a dialect in the Philippines, while Filipino is the official language of the Philippines.

Major Languages Spoken In The Philippines

Which major native languages are present in the Philippines today? There are 170+ regional dialects and languages spoken in the Philippines, with two official languages and eight major indigenous languages.

Which among these languages do you know? Find out more about the major languages spoken in the Philippines with our complete list:

Filipino Language

The Filipino language is the national language of the Philippines, with 28 million native speakers. It is known as a standardized version of Tagalog that comes from the Austronesian language families.

As it is the national language of the Philippines, Filipino is widely spoken in commercialized cities, public and private schools, and government offices. Arabic, Spanish, Sanskrit, Japanese, Tamil, and Hokkien are present in both Filipino and Tagalog languages as loan words.

Like its Austronesian language families, the Filipino language follows the Subject-Verb-Object and the Verb-Subject-Object word orders. Filipino became the official language of the Philippines in 1937 through President Manuel L. Quezon and was enriched further through the 1987 Philippine constitution.


Most of us already know that English is one of the lingua franca worldwide. As English was the language of the Americans during the American colonial rule, Filipino today has a vast amount of American English borrowed words. The Filipino — American History expands not just in political ties but also in its lexicon.

Did you know? The jeepney was a borrowed term from the American military car unit “Jeepney,” which was famous as a cheap passenger vehicle in Manila.

On the other hand, Boondock is a borrowed word by the Americans from the Tagalog word “bundok,” which has the same meaning in English, mountain. Boondock and “bundok” is also a term used for a rural, remote, or isolated part of a country with thick vegetation, a small number of people, and little technology.

English is one of the native languages of the Philippines due to the number of speakers that can speak advanced to almost fluent English. Being a second language in the Philippines means that Filipinos interchangeably use English. Along with Tagalog, Visayan, Cebuano, and other indigenous languages, including English, to construct their sentences.


The Tagalog language is one of the predominant languages in the Philippines, with a massive catalog of Tagalog business vocabulary. At least 34.3 million people speak the Tagalog language worldwide.

So what’s the difference between Filipino and Tagalog? Tagalog is a local language of people living in Metro Manila and its neighboring cities. As such, two Tagalog branches also exist, Tagalog Tayabas and Tagalog Manila. These two dialects are from the same branch with different tonation and inflation.

Even a mixture of the languages Tagalog and English, called Taglish, is spoken by the younger generation. Majority of native speakers that practice Taglish are also in the National Capital Region and nearby towns and municipalities.

Philippine Hokkien (Lán-nâng-ōe)

Not to be confused with Chinese Hokkien, Philippine Hokkien is also a widely spoken language by the Filipino Chinese community today. The Philippine Hokkien is mutually comprehensible with its Quanzhou Hokkien variants.

However, many of its lexica use colloquialisms and word contractions. You’ll find many Filipino and Tagalog loan words that came from Philippine Hokkien, like bimpo (面布 bīn po, meaning face towel) or susi (鎖匙 só sî, meaning key).

Filipino Sign Language

Even though Filipino Sign Language (also known as FSL or Wikang Pasenyas ng mga Pilipino) is quite new, there are 121,000 deaf Filipinos that use FSL to communicate.

The Filipino Sign Language was signed into law by then-president Rodrigo Duterte last October 30, 2018, through the Filipino Sign language Act. It is now the national sign language of the Filipino deaf.


Among the Visayan languages, Cebuano is the most famous mother tongue. The name Cebuano came from the city of Cebu, where many speakers came from. It has at least 27.5 million native speakers, ranking up from 22 million last 2010.

It is the lingua franca in Central Visayas, Negros Oriental, and Southern Visayas. You’ll also find Cebuano speakers in places like Davao Region, Bohol, Surigao, Cotabato, Siquijor, and even Metro Manila.


Another language with a large number of speakers, Ilocano, holds third place among the major languages in the Philippines, with 8.1 million speakers. Ilocano is the second language of many Filipino communities in Hawaii and California.

Majority of the people in northern Luzon have Ilocano as their lingua franca. Moreover, Ilocano dialects (Northern and Southern Ilocano) are mutually intelligible with each other. Ilocano uses five vowel phenomes and twenty consonant phenomes.


At least 1.2 million use Tausug as their native language in the province of Sulu and eastern Sabah, Malaysia. It comes from the Tausūg people with close relations to the Butuanon language. Tau means person, and Sūg’ means the island of Sulu.

For the Tausugs, the language is called Bahasa Sug, which has variations in accents and a revised alphabet. It also has many Arabic loan words from the spread of the Islam religion in the Sulu area and Zamboanga peninsula.


Often referred to as Ilonggo, Hiligaynon is the fourth major native language in the Philippines and the second most widely spoken in the Visayas region. It has two distinct varieties: Kari and Kawayan from the island of Biliran.

Over 9.1 million speakers are present in Western Visayas, Antique, Aklan, and North Cotabato, among other regions. It has three case markers, written in the Latin script, and has variants of a traditional and extensive vocabulary and modern lexicons in Metro Iloilo.


The Maranao language is a major language spoken in Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, with 1.4 million speakers. Maranao follows the Malayo-Polynesian group of languages with closely related dialects such as Ilanun and Maguindanaon.

The language has its history from Arabic letters but is now in the Latin alphabet. It has aspirated “hard consonants” and a distinct downstep accent.


Pangasinense is a prominent language in the province of Pangasinan and northern Tarlac. Some communities in Benguet, southwest La Union, Nueva Vizcaya, and Nueva Ecija as well as Zambales speak the Pangasinense language.

Many believe that Pangasinense came from Southern China through Taiwan as part of the Austronesian group of languages. It is the eighth major language in the Philippines, with 1.8 million speakers. Pangasinense follows the Malayo-Polynesian languages with the Verb-Subject-Object word order.


Also known as Waray-Waray or Samaran/Samareño, Waray is a large ethnolinguistic group in the Philippines. Most native Waray speakers are from Eastern Visayas, particularly Eastern Leyte, Samar, and Biliran islands. It is the fifth most spoken language in the Philippines, with 3.6 million Waray speakers and counting.


The language of the Kapampangan ethnic group, which is spoken throughout the whole province of Pampanga and southern Tarlac, which is located in the central plains of Luzon, is known as Kapampangan.

Along with the bordering Pampanga provinces of Bulacan, Nueva Ecija, and Zambales, Kapampangan is also spoken in northern Bataan. In the southern region of Central Luzon, a few Aeta clans also speak Kapampangan as a second language.

How Many Filipino Dialects Are There?

Looking at the beautiful 7,641 islands of the Philippines, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the languages and dialects in the Philippines may be similar in number. In fact, there are 170+ dialects (and counting) in the Philippines. From among the major languages,

You’ll be happy to know that many Filipinos are bilingual or multilingual. Some who have Tagalog or English as their primary language have their local dialects as their second language.

So, if you’re also interested in speaking not only Tagalog but also other dialects in the Philippines, you should give these dialects a try.

We’ve listed five dialects spoken in different regions of the Philippines for you to get a glimpse of these beautiful languages.


Kalamian languages come from a Malayo-Polynesian group of languages comprising Calamian Tagbanwa and Agutaynen. The Kalamian languages are present in the region of northern Palawan, with over 12–15,000 native speakers. Notable indigenous scripts are still used but mostly are for poetry.


The T’boli language is a member of the Western Malayo-Polynesian sub-branch of the Austronesian family, just like the other indigenous languages of Mindanao (such as Maguindanaon and Maranao). One hundred thousand Filipinos claimed Tagabili or T’boli as their mother tongue. T’boli respects their elders by using formal words in sentences and strictly adhering to the grammar rules for respect when constructing sentences.


The Manobo group of languages is a major language in Northern Mindanao, Central Mindanao (presently called Soccsksargen), and the Caraga regions. The dialects in Manobo consist of Northern, Central (East, West, South), and Southern groups.

You can also find people communicating in the Manobo dialects on Davao Oriental and Occidental, Palawan, and Sultan Kudarat coasts.


The Spanish influenced not just many Filipinos’ culture, food, and traditions. Chavacano or Chabacano is a Spanish-based creole with 607,200 native speakers in Zamboanga and Cavite.

Although much vocabulary is present in Spanish, its grammar structure is similar to various Philippine languages.


The Sama Group of dialects is a large cluster of the Sama dialect with seven main categories. Also collectively known as the Sinama languages, the language has mutual intelligibility with variant word orders and case markings.

The Sama-Bajaw, in particular, is a dialect of the group of the Sama-Bajau. They settle in between Borneo and Mindanao (Sulu Archipelago). Two hundred sixty thousand native speakers practice this dialect in the Philippines and some parts of Sabah, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

Endangered Languages In The Philippines

Data doesn’t lie, right? And with the importance of keeping indigenous languages, many Filipino dialects and languages in the Philippines are at risk of extinction.

According to UNESCO, there are at least fifteen languages classified as endangered. They are classified into these categories: Safe, Vulnerable, Definitely Endangered, Severely Endangered, Critically Endangered, and Extinct.

Here is the list of endangered and extinct languages as of this writing:

  • Vulnerable languages: Central Cagayan Agta, Dupaninan Agta
  • Definitely endangered: Bataan Agta, Mt. Iraya Agta, Batak
  • Severely Endangered: Faire Atta, Northern Alta, Camarines Norte Agta
  • Critically Endangered: Alabat Island Agta, Isarog Agta, Southern Ayta (Sorsogon Ayta)
  • Extinct languages in the Philippines: Dicamay Agta (Dumagat, Dicamay Dumagat), Arta, Katabaga, Ata

It’s important that the native language spoken in your country is nurtured. There are many volunteer groups that continue to update online databases about these endangered languages.

Ling knows the value of having an online resource that’s easy to use anywhere. With the Ling App, you’ll master less-spoken languages in the world, such as Albanian, Bengali, Thai, Serbian, and Lithuanian.

Other Languages Spoken In The Philippines

Apart from the Spanish and Chinese (Hokkien) languages, foreign languages also have a huge population in the Philippines.

Some of these are major immigrant languages due to the Philippines government adopting war-torn victims from various countries. Other languages also came from tourism and interest in learning the local languages in the Philippines.

Interesting right? Take a look at four other foreign languages in the Philippines that you might want to start learning with the Ling App too.


Korean languages started with the Hallyu Wave, and most Filipinos love watching Korean dramas and listening to K-pop. However, Korean is another immigrant language due to business people and other Korean families wanting to learn English in the Philippines. 150,000 Korean families live in the Philippines, with some youth using Taglish as their communication medium.


Approximately 25,000 speakers speak Sindhi, which came from pre-partition India and is found in some modern-day Bangladesh and Pakistan communities. The Sindhi language is a language of the business people that usually reside in the commercial areas of Makati, Quezon City, Pasig, and Taguig.


The Japanese language also significantly impacted the Philippines during its colonial rule. But did you know that the Japanese also shared their culture and language during the pre-colonial years? Through trade and exploration, a few loanwords of Japanese exist in the Philippines.

Although the Philippines declared independence from the Japanese, there were a few loan words that you can find in Tagalog, such as dahan-dahan ( だんだん dandan, meaning gradually), haba (幅 haba, width), and more.

The youth embraces the Japanese language in the modern-day Philippines through the influence of anime, manga, fashion, food, language, and technology.

Want To Explore More Words In Tagalog? Master It With Ling App!

Traveling is also a great way to explore culture, tradition, and foreign languages. Most signs are in their native language, depending on which country you visit.

In the Philippines, keeping a list of vocabulary, you can use for asking directions or even riding that colorful jeepney is essential.

Then again, you can try to ask where to go using Taglish since it’s the unofficial language of the Philippines. But not everyone is a cool millennial like you!

Can’t express yourself well in Taglish? Learn how to improve Tagalog pronunciation with Ling. In the Ling app, you’ll train yourself to remember Tagalog with real conversations curated by native Tagalog speakers. Learn your first Tagalog lesson anytime you want and make connections with native Tagalog speakers.



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