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Jun 10th
Home Sections Literature and Fourth Estate There's no 'f' in pilipino but there's one in Filipino
There's no 'f' in pilipino but there's one in Filipino PDF Print E-mail
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Sections - Literature and Fourth Estate
Wednesday, 12 September 2007 14:08
One declaration I frequently hear from Filipinos is, "There is no 'F' in the Pilipino language." It aggravates me because it contains two errors. 'F' is present in Alpabetong Filipino and the language is called Filipino, not Pilipino.
What is more troubling is that these errors are not only perpetuated by parents trying to enlighten their children about Filipino culture but also by lecturers in academic settings. These two disparate groups are undoubtedly passing on what they had learned when they went to school in the Philippines. The problem is they haven't kept current with the subject they are trying to teach. This is unfortunate because a careful check for up-to-date information would have brought out these facts very easily.


The Philippine constitution of 1987 specifies that the "national language of the Philippines is Filipino." It doesn't mention Pilipino at all. Naturally, the 1987 constitution supersedes whatever may have been written prior to its coming into effect, including prior definitions such as those found in earlier Tagalog and Filipino dictionaries. The English dictionaries I consulted correctly identified Filipino as the national language of the Philippines among its listed meanings.

For Pilipino(a), a Filipino word, and Filipino(a), a Spanish word, there is an exact equivalent in English. The word is "Filipino." When talking or writing in English, use the English word. It's as simple as that.


Let us trace how the Philippine alphabet has evolved from the Abakada of 1937 to the Alpabetong Filipino (not Alpabetong Pilipino), of 1987. Most Filipinos today are only familiar with the old Abakada, and have lived in a time warp as far as Filipino language is concerned.

The 1937 ABAKADA

This early definition of the alphabet included the 20 letters that old-timers remember well: A, B, K, D, E, G, H, I, L, M, N, NG, O, P, R, S, T, U, W, and Y. The letters were read as a, ba, ka, da, e, ga, ha, i, la, ma, na, nga, o, pa, ra, sa, ta, u, wa, and ya. This was the Philippine alphabet of our parents and our grandparents. The language was then called Wikang Pambansa or National Language. Note that in this alphabetical order K follows B.


To accommodate earlier unofficial practices that allowed certain letters not found in Abakada if the word was of foreign origin, 11 letters were added to the 20 of the Abakada by Department Memo No. 194 from the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (DECS) on July 30, 1976.

The additional letters were: C, CH, F, J, LL, Ñ, Q, RR, V, X, and Z. This brought the total number of letters to 31. However, the Department Memo was not very thorough and failed to specify how the letters were to be read or pronounced and how they were to be used. This ambiguity required a revision to the Memo that resulted in the 1987 Alpabetong Filipino.


This current incarnation of the Philippine alphabet removed CH, LL, and RR that were in the 1976 Alpabetong Filipino. It has 28 letters which are pronounced just like the letters of the English alphabet for the most part, albeit Filipino style.

The current letters are: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, Ñ, NG, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, and Z. They are pronounced as follows: ey, bi, si, di, i, ef, dzi, eyts, ay, dzey, key, el, em, en, enye, endzi, o, pi, kyu, ar, es, ti, yu, vi, dobolyu, eks, way, and zi.

Most Tagalog dictionaries today fail to comply with current rules. One that does is the 1998 Dictionary of the Filipino Language by the Commission on Filipino Language. It has entries under C, F, J, Q, V, X, and Z. You can now say "fandango" and "zarzuela" and still claim you are speaking in Filipino. Even deposed President Estrada can now ride an army jeep, instead of a dyip, as he dreams of returning to Malacañang (not Malakanyang).

(Editor's Notes: Hector Santos is currently working on a compendium of misinformation about Philippine history and culture. He is alarmed at the amount of erroneous information being passed on to young Filipino Americans today because of sloppy scholarship by otherwise well-meaning people. He maintains the web site for the Philippine History Group of Los Angeles, which he cofounded with Victor Nebrida in 1995. The web site's address: and this particular article can be found in

©1999 by Hector Santos

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 12 September 2007 20:15

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