English to Tagalog Problems and Solutions

English to Tagalog problems in translation carefully consider the linguistic category, whether it is semantic, syntactic or pragmatic, when deciding on an interpretation or equivalent. 

What is a semantic problem? 

A semantic problem is when you search for exact equivalents or interpretations of words or phrases. Matching vocabulary is fun and exciting when translations are available but what happens in translation is mostly approximations. When a word or phrase do not have an exact equivalent in Tagalog or in English, the solution is to search for that terminal meaning in an expression which will have the same cultural register. Meaning of words (codes, symbols, language) aren't simply always what they appear to be - they need to be interpreted according to their immediate context, displaced context, or transferred context. But even after understanding the exact context, and after exhausting the cultural implications, the terminal meaning may still be inaccessible.

Common Conversation

Question: Ano sa palagay mo?

("What do you think?")

Answer: Ikaw....

("Up you you," or "You do the thinking yourself", or "You decide.")

The semantic solutions given here are literal as long as the word "You" (Ikaw) is present. But what is lost in the English to Tagalog problem solution is the performance aspect of the expression, or the emotive aspect of the speech act. This one is actually a pragmatic problem and well, it is difficult to solve. 

Common Conversation

Question: Paano ka na?

("So what will happen to you?")

Answer: Bahala na....

("Fate will Decide" or "It's up to Fate")

Both English to Tagalog equivalents above are lame approximations. Again, all the emotive aspects are lost. Clearly, when it comes to semantic problems, you may find equivalents but those won't always be enough to put the exact meaning across. 

Common Conversation

Question: Bakit mo ginawa yon?

("Why did you do that?")

Answer: Wala lang...

("Nothing", or "It doesn't matter" or "Who cares?")

Clearly, every implication in "Wala lang" is completely lost in translation. Again, the pragmatic aspect must be considered in searching for an equivalent here. The semantic field of "wala lang" is completely not apparent and thus, a semantic solution is not enough. Notes and references may become necessary to explain some decisions.


First, find the exact equivalent. If absent, the nearest exact equivalent. If still absent, the borrowed equivalent. If still absent, the cultural equivalent. And so on. This is routine and standard operations. Translation is always challenging because no transfer is ever simple. Always in translation, solving English to Tagalog problems is the rule rather than the exception.