Why "Filipinos" live in the "Philippines."

Answers to your questions about the news.
Feb. 27 2006 3:29 PM

Mind Your P's and F's

How Pilipinos became Filipinos in the Philippines.

Download the MP3 audio version of this story here, or sign up for The Explainer's free daily podcast on iTunes.

On Friday, the president of the Philippines declared a state of emergency to thwart an attempted coup against her regime. Thousands of Filipinos took to the streets in defiance of the emergency order; riot police deployed water cannons to quell the protests. Why aren't people who live in the Philippines called Philippinos? And sometimes they're called Pilipinos—what's the deal with that?

The Philippines have only been called the Philippines (with a "Ph") since the United States bought the country from Spain around the turn of the 20th century, after the Spanish-American War. Under Spanish colonial rule—which extended back to the 16th century—the country had been called "Las Islas Filipinas," after King Felipe II. For Americans, Felipe was Phillip, so LasFilipinas became the Philippines. While the name of the country changed, the name of the nationality did not. Those who lived in the renamed Philippines were still called Filipinos.

Daniel Engber Daniel Engber

Daniel Engber is a columnist for Slate

The term "Pilipino" derives from the convoluted story of how the Philippines got its national language. There was no official, native language under Spanish and American control. Those living on the islands could be divided into as many as 120 different groups, each with its own way of talking. The desire to create a mother tongue increased when the United States pulled out of the country and the Philippines became a commonwealth in the 1930s. A national institute was given the task of making one of the native languages official.

The institute eventually decided on Tagalog. Speakers of the other languages felt marginalized, and the national language was renamed Pilipino in 1959. Although officially based on Tagalog, Pilipino incorporated elements of the country's other native languages. (The question of whether it's too much like Tagalog is still a source of controversy.)

Why "Pilipino" and not "Filipino"? The developers of the mother tongue looked back to the alphabet that was used before the Spaniards took over (and in the early years of Spanish rule). The native script, called "Baybayin," had fewer than two dozen letters and didn't include the sound for "F." Though the letter "F" had been incorporated into the language during the centuries of Spanish influence, the country's post-colonial leadership chose to return to the original alphabet. Foreign words that used "non-native" sounds were respelled to fit the Baybayin-based alphabet. C's became K's, X's turned into SK's, and the letter F became a P. Filipinos who spoke Tagalog became Pilipinos who spoke Pilipino.

The debate over the national language continued for decades. A constitution written in the early 1970s (drawn up as Ferdinand Marcos instituted an eight-year stretch of martial law) promised to create a new national language called "Filipino." The next constitution, from 1987, made the change official, designating Filipino—which uses a larger alphabet and incorporates foreign sounds—as the national language. With the letter "F" restored, presumably those who speak the national language are now, once again, Filipinos.

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Paz Buenaventura Naylor and Adelwisa Agas Weller of the University of Michigan.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 23 2014 6:00 AM Naked and Afraid Prudie offers advice on whether a young boy should sleep in the same room with his nude grandfather.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand with Emma Watson
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.