Are Filipinos Hispanic?

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The short answer as to whether or not Filipinos are Hispanic is, “No, they are not.” Reason being is that in order to be considered an Hispanic one must be of Spanish speaking country descent and dialect. And while the history of the Philippines has an enormous amount of Spanish influence on their vocabulary, Filipinos do NOT speak Spanish.

Someone new to the language might argue otherwise because so many words match between the two, but as you continue to learn this beautiful Tagalog (Filipino) language, you will soon discover that it is quite different from Spanish.

Spanish Influence in the Philippines

As I mentioned, Filipinos do have a lot of Spanish flavor ingrained in their language and culture. That’s because way back in the 1500’s, Ferdinand Magellan conquered the Philippine islands for the Spanish empire. Soon after, the Spanish controlled the archipelago until the year 1898.

That’s over 300 years of Spaniard rule in the Philippines! It’s no wonder that a lot of Filipino words used today came from Spain. Below you’ll find a sampling of words that illustrate this point.

Similar Filipino (Tagalog) and Spanish Words

Below are five examples of similar Tagalog/Spanish words.

Listen to the Similarities/Differences

Besides similar spelling, in many cases they sound exactly the same too. If you’re looking to master Tagalog (and know a bit of Spanish) then listen carefully to the examples below, see if you can identify any subtle differences and then try practicing your Tagalog (Filipino) aloud.

Nobiyo (Boyfriend or Sweetheart)

^ Tagalog: Nobiyo (Boyfriend or Sweetheart)
^ Spanish: Novio (Boyfriend)

The main difference between the Tagalog Nobiyo is the change of the ‘b’ to the ‘v’ in the word. However, Spanish speaking native frequently and chronically mix up their b’s and v’s because they sound so similar.
Spanish: Novio

Mesa (Table)

^ Tagalog: Mesa (Table)
^ Spanish: Mesa (Table)

I can’t find any difference here.

Libro (Book)

^ Tagalog: Libro (Book)
^ Spanish: Libro (Book)

Try to notice the difference in the emphasis of the syllables. Tagalog puts emphasis on the end (li-BRO) while Spanish puts it at the beginning (LI-bro).

Trabaho (Work)

^ Tagalog: Trabaho (Work)

The pronunciation is exactly the same between the two languages, only difference being the spelling. In Spanish, the letter ‘J’ makes the English ‘H’ sound.

Kalye (Street)

^ Tagalog: Kalye (Street)
^ Spanish: Calle (Street or Road)

Here you may notice the slight pronunciation of the letter ‘L’ sound in Tagalog, which isn’t present in Spanish.

And Those are just a handful of examples of thousands of other Filipino words used today that are of Spanish origin.

But (like I mentioned earlier) don’t let this persuade you to think that Filipino (Tagalog) is Spanish, the Filipino language as a whole does not sound Hispanic at all. Listen to the example below and you’ll hear for yourself. For additional examples of the uniqueness of the Filipino language, see our Christmas Words and Phrases article.

^ Masaya ako kasi magkasama tayo (I’m happy because we’re together)

Comparing the Spanish and Filipino Language

You see, even with hundreds of years of Spanish influence, Filipinos today are not a Spanish-speaking people. Quite far from it, but why?

The simple answer is that while the Filipinos adapted words and traditions from Spain, they also assimilated influences from many other different groups of people throughout their history, all while growing their own culture separate from these various influences.

The Filipinos are naturally adaptive and inventive, they can easily take external ideas (from Spain or any other group of people) and mix it into their own culture to grow what they already inherently and richly have.

So if Filipinos don’t speak Spanish, is there even a case to be made to considered them Hispanic? Maybe… It depends on how you define what it is to be Hispanic.

What it Means to Be Hispanic

If what you mean by “Hispanic” is ‘influenced or colonized by Spain’, then yes, you could make a case for it. But technically speaking, an Hispanic person has a Spanish language background and descends from a Spanish-speaking country.

And as a people whose official national language is not Spanish but Filipino, and whose history is shaped by a rich mix of indigenous, Malay, European, American, and other influences — You’ll be hard-pressed to find any Filipino today that identifies themself as Hispanic.

I guess you can say then that Filipinos are a blend of different cultural forces — both external and internal. A Filipino might call themself “halo-halo.”

What Does “Halo-Halo” Mean?

To recap, Filipinos are NOT Hispanic, but “halo-halo.” This means they are a “mix-mix” of a little bit of everything. If you’re trying to learn a little Filipino (Tagalog) along the way, then listen to the audio below and give saying it a try.

^ Halo-Halo (Mix-mix or Mixture)

Filipinos are not wholly Hispanic, and they’re not American either (although the majority of Filipinos have a degree of English fluency).

So the next time someone asks if Filipino’s are Hispanic you’ll be able to confidently tell them, “No, they are halo-halo… FILIPINO!” And once they give you a confused look, take the opportunity to teach them what halo-halo means and brighten their life with a little Tagalog fun.

The Filipino culture is complex, ever evolving, and truly and distinctly beautiful. Comment below on what you love about your culture.

Marie Gutierrez

Filipino (Tagalog) is my native language, but with more than 15 years experience writing professionally in English, I am uniquely qualified to flex my semicolons to help others learn this magnificent language and let you in on cultural insights that you won't get anywhere else.


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