Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Difference Between Language and Dialect: The Philippines’ Illustration

In linguistic perspective, there really is no clear-cut distinction between language and dialect. Most experts say the terms “dialect” and “language” are very much influenced politically and socially. Institutions decide on which language is declared national, while society based on regional affiliations also claims dialect variation as languages in their own right.

In the Philippine’s case, Filipino is the national language. However, a lot of people in different regions within the country also think that their “dialects” are different languages as well.

To simplify our understanding, a golden rule is established. One is a language when another person who speaks a different language does not understand the person who speaks it. Language is then understood as a medium of communication used at macro level across a country with dialects under it that may come in different variations.

In the Philippines, for example, languages and dialects diversely spread out across the 7,100 plus islands. To illustrate our definition above, everyone in the country can speak and understand Filipino but somebody who speaks Filipino does not understand somebody who speaks Cebuano or Hiligaynon, which are other major languages in the country from a different region. On the other hand, people who speak various dialects, coming from these major languages, can understand each other.

The table below clearly shows the different languages in the Philippines translated into simple English words to their corresponding local major language:

Courtesy of
 With this understanding, it proves that language identifies a country while dialect recognizes locality.


Bloggerman said...

To me I think language represents a country, while dialect is used in a particular region of a certain country. Like Tagalog is a language and bisaya or waray are Filipino dialects.

TLJ said...

Indeed. In the Philippines, your concept on dialect vs. language is socially accurate but culturally diffused bearing in mind the 7k plus islands :-) Thank you for your comment Nonoy, keep 'em coming!

Unknown said...

"One is a language when another person who speaks a different language does not understand the person who speaks it."

- Cebuano and Filipino are languages.
- Filipino and English are languages.
* They are unintelligible.

- Cebuano from Bohol and Cebuano from Davao are dialect of the language CEBUANO. Bohol and Davao can understand because they belong to the same language. Thus, cebuano from bohol and cebuano from davao are dialects of the same language.

- British and AMerican are dialects of the same language, English.
- Tagalog (Filipino) from Batangas is a dialect of the same language Filipino.

- Ibanag is a language.

Unknown said...


Please use Cebuano instead of Bisaya.
Cebuano is a language and can never be a dialect. Dialects of Cebuano include:
1. Cebuano from Cebu
2. Cebuano from Bohol
3. Cebuano from Davao and other provinces in Mindanao.
4. etc. as long as the dialects are intelligible.

- they differ in variations (i.e. vocabulary and deletion of letters)

Cebuano from Cebu: Kalayo (fire)
Cebuano from Bohol: Kayo (fire)
** still intelligble

Cebuano from Cebu: Balay (house)
Cebuano from Bohol: Bay (house)

** still intelligible

Dine Racoma said...

Thank you for your insightful comments.

Yes, you are right. Cebuano is a language, part of the many regional languages in the Philippine archipelago. It is likewise part of the Austronesian language that is spoken in Central Visayas in the Philippines. Despite not being formally taught in schools at any level, it has the largest number of native language speakers.

According to Ethnologue, Filipino and English are the national languages in the Philippines and among the 171 distinct languages in the country, 13 are indigenous languages, including Tagalog, Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, Ilokano, Kapampangan, Bikol, Albay Bikol, Maranao, Kinaray-a, Pangasinan, Tausug and Maguindanao, which have more than one million native speakers.

It is sad to note that in the Philippines, the other languages aside from Filipino have been referred to as dialects because of the inaccuracy of the vocabulary that was used in literature when the country was under the Americans during 1898 up to 1946.

tabulyogang said...

Thank you so much for this information. I have always been confused of the difference between a language and a dialect, especially here in the Philippines. But this definition clears things for me: language identifies a country while dialect recognizes locality. So thanks!

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...



according to the article:

"...Cebuano or Hiligaynon, which are other major languages in the country from a different region. On the other hand, people who speak various dialects, coming from these major languages, can understand each other."

Filipino is our National language (declared in the Constitution along with English), but Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Bicolano, Ilocano etc. are OTHER LANGUAGES that are not declared as official.


Examples of Dialects:

Language: Bicolano
Dialects: Central Bicolano (Naga City, etc), Albay Bikol (Legaspi City, etc), Masbateño

Language: Cebuano
Dialects: Boholano, Mindanao Cebuano (also called Bisaya), Leyteño

Language: Tagalog
Dialects: Batangas, Bataan, Bulacan

& et cetera

tabulyogang said...

@Finn Scrumptious:
What i said was in the last part of the article.

(Kung makapagsalita ka naman kala mo kung sinong matalino.)

BisDak said...

Mura'g sakto raman sad ang mga gipanulat sa artikulo. Pero nagduha-duha lang jud ko. Cebuano ang tawag sa lengwahe pero ang mga taga-bohol ug mindanao kay di man matawag nga Cebunao unya basin malain sila kay ngano ang gigamit nila nga oulong kay nakapangalan sa usa ka isla (Cebu) nga dili nila gipuy-an. Unya kung mugamit sad ko sa pangalan nga Binisaya (kani pud sad jud akong gamitong nga pangalan sa akong sinulti-an) kay basin mag- alboroto sad ang ubang taga Bisayas nga wala nag-gamit sa pinulungang Cebuano (ehemplo ani ang mga waray. Makasabot sad ko ani. Unta naay makaklaro ani. Salamat.

Unknown said...

I agree but I know that being Filipino, Tagalog is the ínternational language, while others like Cebuano, Ilocano, Bisaya, & Waray which I speak, in Tagalog, kunti lang/a little of each because my Fraternal grandparents are from Cebu, my Maternal grandparents are From Tarlac, & Lehyte, & moother born in Mindinao, spreading Visaya are dialects in other provinces/towns/locations.

Unknown said...

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Andrew James said...

Looks like a clear definition to me! There is really a big difference between a language and dialect! One question, since Tagalog, is mostly known by many is it considered a language or can you consider it as a language?

Bebe Nazaret said...

Hi! I'm an AB-English student and in our Linguistics class, it is said that Tagalog is our primary language (national language) and English is our secondary language in order to cope and to be understood internationally and the rest like Hiligaynon, Kinaray-a, Cebuano, etc. are what we called dialects. :)

Unknown said...

mutual intelligibility two languages where speakers can understand each other are considered dialects of the same language, whereas two languages where the speakers cannot understand each other are, indeed, separate languages.Prove to me then how tagalog is mutually intelligible to the visayan languages.

Ernie said...

I believe we have 8 major languages where tagalog is one of them any variations of each major languages are called dialects. Take the bicolano language for example there are a lot of variations per province in the bicol region.

Unknown said...

There really is NO such thing as Filipino language. Filipino Languages (with "s") - YES. The so called Filipino is Tagalog, pure, plain and simple, which according to the beginning of this blog, was politically imposed. Segue: There are more Cebuano native speakers than Tagalog.
The same could be said of Spanish --- which actually is Castilian language. We used call it "Kastila." Spain has multitude of languages just like ours too.

chinoy1996 said...

I've understood what you've said, even though I'm Tagalog. I don't know that Bisaya and Tagalog have many similar words in their vocabularies, maybe because both came from one language family, which is Central Philippine/ Malayo-Polynesian/Austronesian. You're correct, the language itself shouldn't be called Cebuano, because we don't have any direct evidence that the language originated from the Island of Cebu.That's why I'm advocating that it should be called Visayan-Central, because it is a Visayan tongue used in the Central Philippines.

chinoy1996 said...

The situation of linguistics in the Philippines is a bit complicated, so allow me to explain how I've understood it. Austronesian is our mother language, because it is the language spoken by all of our ancestors, may they be Bicolano, Ilocano, Igorot, Kapampangan, Lumad, Moro or Tagalog. When the Austronesian language evolved, it bred many languages, such as Balinese, Batak, Javanese, Madurese,Minangkabau, Minahasa, etc that become Indonesian languages; Bisaya(not the Philippine one), Dayak, Dusun, Kadazan, Iban, Melayu which became Malaysian languages; and Bicolano, Ilocano, Kapampangan, Tagalog, Visayan, etc, which became Philippine languages. As time goes by, these micro-languages evolved, and dialects surfaced.

Like Cebuano for example, there are slight differences on how it is spoken in Bohol, Negros, Cebu, Siquijor, Western Leyte, Northern Mindanao, etc. Tagalog have many dialects as well, like Bulaqueño, Batangueño, Tanay-Paete, Mindoreño, etc. Ilocano also has several dialects, like the Cordilleran, North Ilocos, Pangasinan Iloko, Cagayan Valley Iloko, etc. Bicolano has the same varieties, like Coastal Bikol, Pandan Bikol, Miraya Bikol, Bisakol, etc.

That means Proto-Philippine Austronesian is our macro-language, Bicol, Iluko, Visayan, Tagalog, etc are Philippine Macro Languages, and Batangueño, Bulaqueño, Davaoeño Cebuano, Boholano, Cordillera Iluko, Miraya Bicol, Coastal Bicol are micro languages or dialects.

It also means Malaysians and Info esians are genetically related with us, Filipinos. Because their ancestors also spoke the ancient Austronesian tongue.

Unknown said...

What! Laguages is representing a country? A lot og country is using english as thier national language so i dont agreed with u

Leaf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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