When the Philippines Bible Society (PBS) first released the New Testament translated into Taglish—a mix of Tagalog and English used by urban dwellers in the Philippines—five years ago, Filipino Christians were in an uproar on social media. Many decried it as irreverent or blasphemous to translate the Word of God into a colloquial language more commonly seen on the Internet or heard at the supermarket.

So Anicia del Corro, a PBS translation consultant who spearheaded the project, started holding talks, giving interviews, and writing articles outlining how her team conducted research and painstakingly translated the New Testament from the original Greek. She stressed that the Bible’s target audience was Gen Z and millennials in Metro Manila, a region made up of 16 cities and 13 million people.

In contrast, when PBS launched the entire Bible translated into Taglish earlier this month called Ang Bible Pinoy Version, Del Corro felt relieved that the burden was no longer on her to do the explaining: At a launch party attended by nearly 500 people, pastors and leaders shared their personal experience using and preaching from the Pinoy Version. Jayson Genanda, pastor of Malaya House Church, said that when he leads a Bible study he makes sure to look at the Taglish translation to get the meaning of a passage.

“The users themselves are the ones promoting it,” Del Corro said. “They know people who can’t understand the Word in other translations can use Ang Bible Pinoy Version.” (Ang mean “the” in Tagalog and Pinoy is an informal term referring to the Philippines or Filipinos.)

Ang Bible Pinoy Version, which took 16 years to complete, is the first completed Bible translation in a mixed language, Del Corro said. Mixed languages arise in bilingual populations and are different from creole or pidgin where people speaking different languages create a shared language. It’s also distinct from code-switching, she noted, as Taglish doesn’t just borrow English words but integrates Tagalog grammar into the structure of those words.

Many pastors and churches accustomed to reading the Bible solely in English or in Tagalog frowned upon the informal mixing of languages in the sacred text. Beyond the initial uproar, in 2020, the debate over the translation heated up again when a Catholic bookstore posted an ad for the New Testament translation. “Very liberal word choices can lead to the text not being taken seriously,” wrote one commenter. Others said the Bible loses its “richness and contextual meaning” when translated into Taglish and that the Word shouldn’t conform to the world.

Article continues below

But Del Corro and others believe the translation can bring the Word of God to a new generation of young Filipinos in the language in which they speak, read, pray, and think. Bible sales reflect that interest: in the first year, the Taglish New Testament sold 100,000 copies, the most PBS has ever sold for a new translation. Already, the completed Bible has sold out of its first printing of both the Catholic and Protestant Bibles.

“It’s the way people speak, that’s why it is so close to the individual,” Del Corro said. “They think that it’s too easy, the Bible should be more difficult…But we in the Bible Society, we want to make sure that people understand it.”

Taglish’s colonial roots

The Philippines is home to more than 120 languages, with Filipino–a dialect of Tagalog–as the national language. (Filipino and Tagalog will be used interchangeably in this article).

The evolution of language in the country is largely shaped by colonization. Spain’s 300-year rule resulted in Spanish words sprinkled into the vernacular, Spanish surnames, and a Philippine-Spanish creole. When the United States took over for 50 years from 1898-1946 (with the exception of three years of Japanese rule during World War II), Americans set up the country’s public school system and introduced English. With the import of American culture and democracy, at the time “almost everything American was considered good by Filipinos,” Del Corro wrote.

Even after the Philippines gained independence in 1946, Filipinos continued to use English in the media, education, books, and business settings. “Knowing how to speak English was the mark of an educated, cultured person,” Del Corro said. English joined Tagalog as the official languages of the Philippines. While Tagalog or other regional languages are used at home, English was used at school and at work.

This changed in the ’70s when then-President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law to retain his rule. Upset, people began to push against the status quo and protested in Tagalog. “The language of the expression for freedom was Filipino,” Del Corro said. After Marcos’ dictatorship ended, the use of Filipino continued to grow in everyday life, except in “formal” arenas like church, school, and the government.

Article continues below

Because many of the educated class were still trained in English, the two languages began to mix, creating Taglish. By the turn of the millennium, Del Corro began to notice Taglish take off as the internet and texting tore down the barrier between how language was spoken and how it was written. She began to float the idea of a Taglish translation of the Bible with the PBS.

Today, Taglish is heard on the streets of Manila, seen on billboards, and used by news anchors and characters of TV dramas. It’s the language used online, and ironically it’s also the language that the Pinoy Version’s detractors used to post comments disparaging the translation. At churches in Metro Manila, sermons are commonly in Taglish.

The creation of a Taglish Bible

In 2007, PBS held a workshop to train translators for the Pinoy Version, most of whom were in their 20s. Del Corro outlined what the translation would not include: vulgar or tabloid language and language identified with a particular group, such as the LGBT community. From there, the group discussed and documented how young people spoke. Del Corro found their responses matched her research of the language.

There was also the question of how long a Pinoy Version translation would be useful, especially as the language was changing fast. Would the language have altered so much in the time it took to translate that it would be outdated at its release?

Del Corro proceeded cautiously, finishing the translation of the book of Mark into Taglish in 2008 and then conducting research to see how it would be received. It wasn’t until 2012, after they also translated Galatians, that the PBS Board of Trustees finally green-lit the New Testament translation. The four-person translation team spent about four years translating the text from its original Greek into Taglish. With input from Protestant and Catholic Bible scholars, the translation meets the standards of the United Bible Societies.

Article continues below

“Because it is the Word of God, we want to show our Bible users that we were not taking this lightly,” Del Corro said. “We had to be absolutely sure about its faithfulness to the Greek and Hebrew."

The Pinoy Version is still mostly Tagalog. In some instances, it uses English words or phrases that better convey the emotion or improves the flow of a passage. For instance, in Mark 14: 35-36 during Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Pinoy Version changes the way Jesus addresses God from Ama, a more religious way to address God the Father, to Tatay, a more intimate term. The translators also added the English word “please” to Jesus’s prayer for God to take away the cup of suffering, which expresses pleading that doesn’t have a counterpart in Filipino.

The Old Testament translation, which began at the start of the pandemic, was easier as Del Corro had already laid out the framework and principles for writing and translating into Taglish. They formed four small teams to simultaneously work on different books of the Old Testament along with translation consultants to check up on the work.

One common criticism they have received is the use of the Tagalog word bobo for “fool” in Proverbs 19:1-3. People reacted by saying that “it’s too strong, it’s too hurting if you say the word bobo,” Del Corro said. Yet she counters that the team compared the words available and bobo was the best fit: It was straightforward, still appropriate to be used at the pulpit, and expressed the meaning of the verse well.

As for concerns about the constantly shifting use of Taglish, Del Corro admits that between the time of translating the New and the Old Testament, Taglish terms had changed as different borrowed words became more common. That means some of the same expressions are written differently, yet she believes readability is most important.

“We want to reflect the actual use of the language and [in the] actual use of the language you are not consistent all of the time,” Del Corro said. “When we use language, you shift from one to the other, as long as your audience can understand….we don’t have a problem.”

In about 10 to 15 years, she believes that the translation will need to be updated as the language continues to evolve, compared to about 20 years for other meaning-based translations. For now, PBS is working on a digital version of the translation to make it more accessible.

Article continues below
Taglish in written form

One of the reasons the Pinoy Version is seen as irreverent is because even though the language is commonly used in everyday conversation, people view the written form differently, said Rei Lemuel Crizaldo, coordinator of the World Evangelical Alliance’s Theological Commission.

“We are an oral culture in the Philippines,” he said. “Writing is a totally different universe, the universe of permanence and scholarship and formality. People can agree on different things verbally…but when you start to ask them to sign a document, it’s a totally different conversation.”

Until recently, Filipino literature was written in pure English or pure Tagalog. Only romance paperbacks, which captured how the people speak, used Taglish.

This is a barrier that Crizaldo sought to break down. When Crizaldo decided to pen a book about prayer in the early 2010s, he debated over what language to write in. If he wrote in English, the book could reach a wider circulation, yet his goal was to reach the youth in the Philippines. That brought its own challenges: Millennials like himself could not read straight Tagalog because of their schooling, but Gen Z couldn’t read straight English because “the further you are from the fear of colonization, the lesser handle you have on the language,” Crizaldo said.

So he decided to write in the language of the youth, Taglish, even though it meant the book would be looked down upon by the literary community. Around the same time, his friend, Ronald Molmisa, wrote a groundbreaking book about Christian dating in Taglish called Lovestruck. Lovestruck went on to become a bestseller and now has a total of eight editions.

Article continues below

When Crizaldo’s Connected Ka Ba? (Are You Connected?) launched in 2013, the public’s first response was amusement that a book would be written in Taglish. Pastors questioned if it could be taken seriously or quoted in an academic setting. But when he started hearing from young people, “Oh, Pastor Rei, it sounds like you’re talking to me,” he felt he was on the right path.

His second book, Boring Ba Ang Bible Mo? (Is your Bible Boring?) was also published in Taglish. The bestselling book ended up winning the acclaimed Filipino Reader’s Choice Award in 2015 in the Inspirational/Religious category. Crizaldo said the award showed that Taglish could be taken seriously.

Crizaldo believes that Lovestruck and his bookd helped pave the way for more authors to write Christian books in Taglish and was surprised at the negative backlash against the Pinoy Version of the Bible. “Young people loved it,” he recalled. “But it was the pastors who vehemently reacted that it disrespects the Word of God because the young people are laughing while reading it.”

Today, Del Corro is continuing her crusade to break down barriers to Taglish by writing the first academic book in Taglish about the phenomenon of using a heterogeneous language in Bible translation. She wants to “show that Taglish is already intellectualized, I can express anything as a linguist and a scholar in Taglish.”

Speaking the language of the young people

Over in Quezon City, just north of Manila, Pastor Jorge de Ramos of Capitol City Baptist Church said that when he first read the translation, he found it “fun.” During a Christmas party with his family, he used the Pinoy Version in the reading of the Christmas story and people began to giggle. “It’s not irreverent, but it really departed from the very, very formal-sounding reading of Scripture.”

Today, De Ramos said he uses the translation when preaching from the pulpit. During sermon prep, he starts with the Pinoy Version for his hermeneutics and exegesis, then goes into the Greek and other translations. During the sermon, he’ll put Taglish Bible verses on the screen for the congregation to read together, which he finds much easier for the congregants to grasp.

But he’s found that not everyone is equally receptive. When he asked a former millennial staffer for his thoughts about the Pinoy Version, the young man frowned and said he didn’t like it because he found it irreverent. De Ramos was initially surprised as he was part of the target age group for the translation, but then realized that he was from Batangas, a Tagalog region south of Manila.

Article continues below

Even though they hear broadcasts in Taglish, ethnic Tagalogs take pride in their language and don’t consider Taglish the proper way to speak. “Perhaps conversationally they tolerate the corruption of the beauty of their language, but in literature such as the Bible, they find it not appropriate,” De Ramos said.

De Ramos had to get used to preaching in Taglish himself: His fifth-grade teacher drilled into him the idea that “ if you start your sentence in English, finish it in English. Don’t mix it up with another language. When you start in Filipino, finish in Filipino.” In the early 2000s, he heard famous Manila preacher Ed Lapiz preach in Taglish on the radio for the first time. Initially, it made him feel uncomfortable, but as Taglish became more common, he started to wrestle with whether he should use it from the pulpit.

“I went through a process of adjustment,” De Ramos said. “It’s either me insisting on being a purist or adapting to the way the audience would like to hear it.”

Because Manila is a melting pot of people from different regions with their own languages and has a strong Western influence, some of his congregants weren’t native Tagalog speakers. So “for the sake of the gospel,” De Ramos decided to deliver his sermons in Taglish.

De Ramos admits that the translation has been polarizing with pastors and Christians–even those within the same church–landing on either ends of the spectrum. But for him, what matters is the Word being spread.

“To me, as long as the word of God is proclaimed, and people can understand and grasp it well to the point that they can make crucial decisions about Christ, then I think we've done the job,” he said.