Now the disclaimer part: the opinions expressed in this post is purely my own.
Here is the thing that makes the topic hot: experts say (by experts, I mean politicians, lawmakers, linguists, among others) that the Philippines has a language called Filipino, which is apparently the national language, and that it is different from Tagalog, which is predominantly spoken in the southern part of the island of Luzon. Filipino is supposed to be spoken nationwide, while Tagalog is not.
Now, some on the other hand, say that Tagalog and Filipino are one and the same. I happen to believe this way as well.
From a linguistic point of view, what many call Filipino, is simply Tagalog. The ideal is that Filipino should incorporate aspects of the many different languages that are present in the Philippines, but if one looks at the grammatical structure of the language, it is all based from Tagalog. The conjugation of Filipino fits perfectly in the Tagalog paradigm.
Now why do some people insist that Filipino and Tagalog are different?
Well, it comes from the fact that by saying Tagalog is the national language, it seems to favor one ethnic group over the rest. Why Tagalog and not Cebuano? After all, if one were to look at number of speakers, there are more Cebuano speakers than Tagalog. According to Ethnologue, there are about 20 million Cebuano speakers, compared to a mere 14 million Tagalog speakers. If numbers were the base of the decision, Cebuano would be winning.
A reason for favoring the distinction of Tagalog and Filipino is that by saying that they are different, they give an impression of inclusion. By saying that Filipino is the national language, it says that there is an encompassing language that is common to all. The Tagalog ethnic group isn't favored, or so it seems.
However, if Tagalog is different from Filipino, then, it should be the case that people will learn it for the first time, through school or otherwise. If one speaks Cebuano, the first time one learns "Filipino" is through school, by way of the subject called "Filipino". The students have a clear and obvious realization that this is a different language from what until then they are used to speaking.
However, is it the same for the Tagalog students? When they learn "Filipino" in school, do they think that it is a different language, complete with different inflections, different paradigms, different syntactic rules? I believe no. Rather, they are learning something about a language that they already know how to speak, albeit in a different name.
So, it seems that the fact of the matter is, people are just fooling themselves, into thinking that the Philippines indeed has a national language that encompasses everyone, which is ethnic-group neutral, when in reality, it is just Tagalog, but in a different form.
I guess that shows how politics can cloud objective reasoning. Instead of adhering to the scientific stance that these two languages are not different but are rather the same, people would opt to stand by the viewpoint that they are different, just in order to be politically correct.
Finally, Tagalog and Cebuano and other languages out there that are present in the Philippines are not dialects. I have noticed that plenty of people use the term "dialect" to refer to a system of communication that seems to be not a language, or rather, a vernacular, a lingua franca, something that is not standardized.
But this is the wrong definition. A language is a system of communication, everybody knows that. So Japanese is a language, and English is a language. A dialect on the other hand is a variety of language. Thus, every language has a number of dialects, or versions of it. So Japanese has two major ones, one from Tokyo and one from Osaka. English has American English, British English, Australian English, among others.
Now, the distinction between language and dialect can be seen using this test. If you pit an American and a British together, even if they speak different varieties of language, they still understand each other, because they are simply speaking different dialects. However, if you pit a Tagalog and a Cebuano together, they will not understand each other, because they are speaking different languages, not dialects. Tagalog and Cebuano are not varieties of some higher order language. They in itself are different languages, because they do not have mutual intelligibility. Dialects are not some non-standardized form of a language, instead, they refer to varieties of a given language.
Obviously, this is a topic that has several political overtones. No wonder I stayed away from it and instead, became an experimental linguist.