Old Tagalog or Filipino
why this may be an issue

Old Tagalog, ancient Tagalog, deep Tagalog (malalim) all these for words and expressions this generation finds "weird," "uncool," or simply "Greek." In the Philippines, there are more students in public schools than in private schools. Generally,  those who go to public schools may have more exposure to Tagalog and Filipino. But  students in private schools may have more exposure to English than the average public school student, because even at home, they are encouraged to converse in English.  

Most teenagers studying in well-funded institutions are well versed in using streaming applications for watching films, anime and television series, and for playing interactive video games. And today, almost every one is on social media. It follows that many of these web-literate young people don't even require a translation of any English text into any Filipino language. Often, a translation [dubbed] distract more than it helps. Sometimes, subtitles mix Old Tagalog and Filipino, and a sprinkling of Taglish. One may hear awkward tones in this mix because of an inconsistency in vocabulary style.

Old Tagalog or Filipino in Philippine Schools

Curiously, when studying Old Tagalog or Filipino, most students expect their tutors or teachers to be able to translate the language lessons into English. For example, in learning about "Panghalip" a student sometimes learns more easily if told that this means "Pronoun."  

Teachers give in and translate lessons into English whenever necessary. But while they can resort to this informal back translation in teaching grammar and usage concepts, they will find it difficult to translate vocabulary or concepts, say, from Tagalog literature. 

In the subject "Filipino", students are routinely assigned to read and appreciate Filipino classics such as Florante at Laura and Ibong Adarna. Both written at the time of the Spanish occupation and poetry, these texts are challenging requirements. Teens meet their assignments with grudging compliance, after all, outside the classroom they speak a kind of "techno-cono" Taglish, so far removed from the world of these poems.

The rich, old Tagalog in these epics needs to be appreciated, but parents and tutors may have already forgotten Florante at Laura, and their only clue about Ibong Adarna is the old movie starring the late Filipino comedy king, Dolphy.

Old Tagalog or Filipino in Translation

In every stanza quoted below from Florante at Laura, any teenager will identify at least five or more words which he does not understand. Since this classic Filipino epic poetry is required reading in high school not being able to access the meaning of even one stanza because of the difficult vocabulary is truly frustrating. Worse, there's a great chance that students will become bored and detached while reading and reciting this poem.   

Sa loob at labás, ng bayan cong sauî/ caliluha'i siyang nangyayaring harî/ cagalinga't bait ay nalulugamî/ ininís sa hucay nang dusa't pighatî.

Sa loob at labas ng bayan kong sawi/ kaliluhay siyang nangyayaring hari/ kagalinga't bait ay nalulugami/ ininis sa hukay ng dusa't pighati.

Ang magandang asal ay ipinupucólsa láot ng dagat ng cutya't lingatong/ balang magagalíng ay ibinabaón/ at inililibing na ualáng cabaong.

Ang magandang asal ay ipinupukol/ sa laot ng dagat ng kutya't linggatong/ balang magagaling ay ibinabaon/ at inililibing na walang kabaong.

Nguni ay ang lilo't masasamang loób/ sa trono ng puri ay inalulucloc/ at sa balang sucáb na may asal hayop/ mabangong incienso ang isinusuob.

Ngunit ay ang lilo't masasamang loob/ sa trono ng puri ay iniluluklok/ at sa balang sukab na may asal hayop/ mabangong insenso ang isinusuob.

Caliluha't sama ang úlo'i nagtayô/ at ang cabaita'i quimi't nacayucô/ santong catouira'i lugamì at hapô/ ang lúha na lamang ang pinatutulô.

Kaliluha't sama ang ulo'y nagtayo/ at ang kabaita'y kimi't nakayuko/ santong katuwira'y lugami at hapo,/ ang luha na lamang ang pinatutulo.

At ang balang bibíg na binubucalán/ nang sabing magalíng at catutuhanan/ agád binibiác at sinisicangan/ nang cáliz ng lalong dustáng camatayan.

At ang balang bibig na binubukalan/ nang sabing magaling at katotohanan/agad binibiyak at sinisikangan/ nang kalis ng lalong dustang kamatayan.

O tacsíl na pita sa yama't mataás/ o hangad sa puring hanging lumilipas/ icao ang dahilan ng casamáng lahat/ at niyaring nasapit na cahabághabág.

O taksil na pita sa yama't mataas/ o hangad sa puring hanging lumilipas/ ikaw ang dahilan ng kasamaang lahat/ at niyaring nasapit na kahabag-habag.

Many students automatically resort to translating such difficult vocabulary, not into Filipino, but into English. 

Whether to use old Tagalog or Filipino is not an issue in translation. 'Old Tagalog' is rarely favored in translation from English into Tagalog. But whether it will be Old Tagalog or Filipino may be an issue when aiming for consistency in word choices, toward a more natural and pleasant sound. With this goal, it will be difficult to translate the Old Tagalog below into contemporary Filipino without losing the power of these expressions. And for the 'Ingliseros' out there, a greater challenge is translating these powerful Old Tagalog into English.

sawi, kaliluhan, nalulugami, pighati


Please enter the word that you see below.


kutya't linggatong, lilo, sukab, isinusuob

kimi, lugami, sinisikagan, binubukalan

kalis, dusta, pita, nasapit 

Translators always seek to use the language that will cater to a target demographic. But one must not underestimate a native speaker's owido [from-birth acquaintance to the language by ear]. Simply doing the language transfer with an indifferent attitude on the strengths and limitations of the target user will defeat the purpose of translation.