Wika Notes 01b

Tagalog lessons
I dedicate this series to my increasing number of foreign friends who want to learn, are starting to learn, or have acquired some fluency in, Tagalog. It’s also for my fellow Filipinos who want to refresh and deepen their knowledge of the language. Click here for Part 1

Guideline 4. Modern Tagalog recognizes several loan consonants—Ch, Sh, F, J, Ñ, V, X, and Z—although they are often convertible into double consonants and so are not absolutely needed, except in proper names such as names of people and places.

a. Ch can also be pronounced ts. Thus, chinelas (Sp. “slippers”) can be tsinelas.

b. Sh can also be pronounced sy or si. Thus, shomai (Ch. “pork dumplings”) is often rendered as siomay.

c. F is often Filipinized into p. Thus, Filipino can also be pronounced Pilipino.

d. J can also pronounced dy. Thus, jeep (a kind of public utility vehicle) is also sometimes rendered as dyip.

e. Ñ is equivalent to the Tagalog double-consonant ny.  Thus, doña (Sp. “madame”) is equally pronounced as donya.

f. Q is not a distinct loan consonant. Rather, it is a mere loan letter pronounced as k or kw, depending on the word. It is usually retained in the spelling of proper names.

g. V in common loan words is usually Filipinized into b. Thus, verdugo (Sp. “hangman”) is rendered as berdugo, and vida (Sp. “life”) becomes bida (Tag. “male dramatic lead”). But v is retained when pronouncing proper names, such as names of places and people (e.g. Valenzuela, Veronica), although shifting from v to b has minimal effect in understanding.

h. X is usually rendered into ks. Thus, taxi (Eng. “taxicab”) and taksi are exact phonetic equivalents.

i. Z in common loan words is usually Filipinized into s. Thus, zapatos (Sp. “shoes”) become sapatos in Tagalog. Filipinos often make sure to pronounce the distinct z when pronouncing names of people and places (e.g. Zapote, Zobel), although shifting from z to s has minimal effect in understanding.

Guideline 5. Pronunciation of multi-syllables and diphthongs tend to lead to clipping, dropping syllables and vowels. The rate of change differs over time and place.

a. The two-syllable aqu tends to become aw, and eventually turns to o or u.

Take for example the word kaunti (ka.qun.tiq “small in number”). In common speech, the unvoiced glottal stop tends to get dropped and produces a diphthong or sliding vowel, kaunti (kaun.tiq). Among the younger generation, this further shortens to konti (kon.tiq). In the same manner, isaquli (“return [something]”) becomes isauli, and finally isoli.

b. aqi tends to become ay, and eventually turns to e or i.

Example: maghintay ka (“you wait”) tends to be clipped into hintay ka (same meaning), and further tends to be further clipped and joined into the compound word tayka (same meaning), and finally into the new word teka (same meaning). In the same manner, taqinga (“ear”) becomes taynga and finally becomes tenga.

Guideline 6. The division of Tagalog words into syllables are guided by the simple patterns CV and CVC.

a. The two most basic patterns of syllables are:

  • Consonant-vowel (CV), such as pa, na, da, la, ga, sa, si, li, to
  • Consonant-vowel-consonant (CVC), such as pan, sam, kung (ng is counted as one consonant).

b. The vowel-consonant (VC) pattern is actually a CVC pattern, where the first consonant is in fact the unrepresented and unvoiced glottal stop ? or q.

  • In doon (“there”), for example, the real syllabication and pronunciation would be do.qon. This has the pattern CV.CVC.
  • In antok (“sleepiness”), the real syllabication and pronunciation would be qan.tok. This has the pattern CVC.CVC.

c. Majority of Tagalog rootwords are divided into two or three syllables: qa.KO (“me”), TA.qo (“human being”), pa.NA.ta? (“vow, pledge”), da.LA.ga(“maiden”).

d. A significant number of rootwords (mostly connective or workhorse words) have one syllable: qang, nang, sa, si, kung, etc.

f. Some other rootwords have four or even five: sa.pan.TA.ha (“suspicion, gut feel”); qa.li.PA.to (“flying ember”); SAM.pa.la.TA.ya (“faith”).

Take note that here we introduce a new notation: we divide words into syllables with the dot mark. We also use all caps for stressed syllables. In traditional Tagalog writing, accent marks are used. You can see such accent marks in older Tagalog books and magazines. See below:

  • sala or sála “receiving room” – no accent mark, or acute accent on first vowel – SA.la
  • salág “parry” – acute accent – sa.LAG
  • talà “star” – grave accent – TA.laq
  • talâ “note” – circumflex – ta.LAq

Guideline 7. The meaning of most Tagalog words are sensitive to the syllables being stressed. The stressed syllable is either on the last or next-to-last syllable. Changing the stressed syllable can change the meaning of the word. Thus, you should spend enough time studying and mastering Tagalog syllable and stress patterns. This is among the most difficult to learn.


a. Examples:

  • bata (BA.taq “child”) and bata (ba.TAq “endure”)
  • puno (PU.noq “tree”) and puno (pu.NOq “full”)
  • ako (qA.ko “take responsibility”) and ako (qa.KO “me, I”)
  • paso (PA.soq “skin burn”) and paso (pa.SOq “vase”)
  • labi (LA.biq “lip”) and labi (la.BIq “remains”)
  • kaibigan (ka.qi.BIG.gan “friend”) and kaibigan (KA.qi.bi.GAN “lover”)

b. On the other hand, in many cases, the change in stressed syllable changes the sense of the word only slightly, such that even if the stress is placed wrongly, the correct meaning can still be sensed based on context.

  • sikat (SI.kat “brightness, shining, rising”) and sikat (si.KAT, “popular, at the top, brightest”)
  • ayos (qA.yos “put into order, repair”) and ayos (qa.YOS) “in good working order”)
  • luto (LU.toq “to cook, the act of cooking”) and luto (lu.TOq “cooked [as a state]”)
  • galit (GA.lit “anger”) and galit (ga.LIT “angry”)

c. In a few other cases, differences in the stressed syllable don’t change the meaning, and only reflect dialect variations. Examples:

  • Doon (“there”) can be pronounced either as DO.qon or do.qON.
  • Daan (“way”) can be pronounced either as DA.qan or da.qAN.



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