Tagalog today is written in the Latin alphabet. However, in the past, it was written using Baybayin. While this article will cover mostly the Latin alphabet and its history, a brief history on Baybayin will also be covered.
Baybayin, also called Alibata, was the old Tagalog alphabet that is a direct descendant of Kavi, the script used to write Old Javanese. The alphabet contained seventeen letters where three letters (the vowels a,e/i,o/u) were considered double-use. Related scripts include the Hanunóo, Buhid, and Tagbanwa scripts and the script was used in the past to write the Ilocano and Pangasinan languages.
Each letter has a vowel sound. By default, Baybayin letters are consonants ending with the vowel "A". To produce another vowel sound, a special mark (known as a kudlít) was placed either on the top of the letter (for "E" and "I" sounds) or on the bottom (for "O" and "U" sounds). The kudlít does not apply to stand-alone vowels, as they have their own letters.
In the original form, stand-alone consonants (consonants without the vowel sound) could not be formed. This was particularly hard for Spanish friars, who were working on translating books into Tagalog. In 1620, Father Francisco Lopez rectified the problem by inventing his own kudlít in the form of a cross sign ("+") that removed the vowel sound. The kudlít functions exactly the same way the virama functions in the Devanagari script used to write Hindi. This is called TAGALOG SIGN VIRAMA by Unicode.
Baybayin eventually died out as the Latin alphabet introduced by the Spanish gained prominence in writing Tagalog.
The Latin alphabet gained prominence as the Spanish continued their colonization and evangelization of the Philippines. During those times, Tagalog was written in various ways using Spanish orthography, one of the most popular being the Abecedario, using all Spanish letters at the time.
A sample of the Spanish letters is as follows:
After Spanish rule, two alphabet standards were used: the Abakada and the Alpabetong Filipino
Abakada was devised during the American colonial era by Lope K. Santos, a linguist and one of the brainchilds of the national language. He devised an alphabet with twenty letters, directly derived from the letters of Baybayin and pronounced in the same way.
The new alphabet contained the following letters:
At that time, other phonemes that would be included much later in additions of the alphabet did not exist yet. This especially was the focus of languages such as Pilipino, where the emphasis was to use pure Tagalog (which uses the phonemes listed above) before word borrowings even took place.
In 1973, the National Language Institute adopted Abakada and later, in 1976, expanded the alphabet as the need for borrowed words arose. The alphabet then contained 31 letters, using the entire Spanish alphabet and the ng of Tagalog. In practice, however, the digraphs ch, ll and rr were considered as two separate letters.
In 1987, those digraphs were dropped and the alphabet was reduced to today's 28 letters.
Today, Tagalog is written using the Alpabetong Filipino. However, many dictionaries still use Abakada.
The alphabet today uses the following letters:
However, consonants in Abakada are pronounced as they were in Baybayin (Ba, Ka, Da, etc.). The letter "Ñ" is pronounced the same way as it is in Spanish.
Below is a table of the modern Tagalog alphabet. There are two pronunciation columns: one for pronunciation in Abakada and the other for pronunciation in the Alpabetong Filipino. The fourth column is the sound column, to approximate with English. If there are no notes in the notes column, the letter is written and/or is pronounced the same way as its English equivalent.
|a||a||ey||/a/||Becomes [ɐ] in unstressed positions|
|c||si||/k/ or /s/||Substituted by the letters k or s in Abakada, depending on the sound the letter generates. It is only used for words of foreign origin that have not been assimilated into Tagalog or Tagalog words which were written using Spanish orthography.|
|d||da||di||/d/||/ɾ/ and /d/ are sometimes interchangeable|
|e||e||ee||/ɛ/||Sometimes pronounced [i ~ ɪ ~ ɛ]|
|f||ef||/f/||Substituted by the letter p in Abakada. It is only used for words of foreign origin that have not been assimilated into Tagalog or Tagalog words which were written using Spanish orthography.|
|i||i||ay||/i/||/i/ is usually pronounced [ɪ] in unstressed positions|
|j||dzey||/dʒ/ or /h/||Written as the digraph dy or trigraph diy in Abakada when using the /dʒ/ phoneme or as h when using the /h/ phoneme. The sound varies depending on the language. It is only used for words of foreign origin that have not been assimilated into Tagalog or Tagalog words which were written using Spanish orthography.|
|k||ka||keé||/k/||/k/ has a tendency to become [x] between vowels|
|ñ||enyé||/ɲ/, /nʲ/ or /nj/||Written as the digraph ny or trigraph niy in Abakada. It is only used for words of Spanish origin that have not been assimilated into Tagalog or Tagalog words which were written using Spanish orthography.|
|ng||nga||endzi||/ŋ/||pronounced 'ng' as in sing, running, etc. Note that alone, ng is a propositional word and pronounced 'nang'.|
|o||o||o||/o/||/o/ can sometimes be pronounced as [u ~ ʊ], and tends to become [ɔ] in stressed positions|
|q||kyu||/kʷ/||Written as the digraph kw or trigraph kuw in Abakada. It is only used for words of foreign origin that have not been assimilated into Tagalog or Tagalog words which were written using Spanish orthography.|
|r||ra||ar||/ɾ/||/ɾ/ and /d/ are sometimes interchangeable|
|u||u||yu||/u/||When unstressed, /u/ is usually pronounced [ʊ]|
|v||vi||/v/||Substituted by the letter b in standard Tagalog. It is only used for words of foreign origin that have not been assimilated into Tagalog or Tagalog words which were written using Spanish orthography.|
|x||eks||/ks/||Written as the digraph ks in Abakada. It is only used for words of foreign origin that have not been assimilated into Tagalog or Tagalog words which were written using Spanish orthography.|
|z||zi||/z/||Substituted by the letter s in standard Tagalog. It is only used for words of foreign origin that have not been assimilated into Tagalog or Tagalog words which were written using Spanish orthography.|
Diacritics are normally not written in everyday usage, be it in publications or personal correspondence. The teaching of diacritics is inconsistent in Filipino schools and many Filipinos do not know how to use them. However, diacritics are normally used in dictionaries and in textbooks aimed at teaching the languages to foreigners.
There are three kinds of diacritics used in Tagalog: