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.


Nonoy 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.

Day Translations Team 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...
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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.

Dean Ariosa 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.

Dean Ariosa said...

Walang ano man foine maganda dalaga. Ingat. You're welcome take care.

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James Andrew 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.

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