BOOK REVIEW: English-Tagalog and Tagalog-English Dictionaries

by Rose Churma

The month of August is Buwan ng Wika or National Language Month in the Philippines. This national celebration promotes the diversity of languages in the country as well as raising awareness on the unique features of the national language called – Pilipino or Filipino (whatever is the trending term given by Filipino linguists at this time) which is based on Tagalog.

The companion dictionaries featured in this issue’s book review is devoted to Tagalog, the language spoken in the provinces surrounding Manila and used in the province of Batangas where the author was sent as part of his mission as a Roman Catholic priest.

These two companion dictionaries was compiled by Father Leo James English during his five decades of service in the Philippines as a Redemptorist missionary.

Getting the books to publication took close to 20 years, where the first edition of the English to Tagalog dictionary was released in 1977 while the Tagalog to English dictionary was published in 1986.

In the introduction to the TAGALOG-ENGLISH DICTIONARY, the director of the Institute of National language noted that the term Tagalog is used here since Father Leo James English learned the language as Tagalog, not Pilipino (the term suggested by the institute of National Language back then, to refer the Philippines’ national language), and “he does not engage in the polemics of terms.” At that time that the dictionaries were being compiled, the term Pilipino had not yet gained the linguists’ recognition.

Father Leo James English is an Australian priest who has lived in the Philippines before the start of WWII and was interned by the Japanese occupation forces in Los Banos, where he started compiling the English-Tagalog dictionary.

The first printing of the English-Tagalog dictionary was part of Australia’s technical assistance to the Philippines.

The director of the Institute of National Language, Jose V. Panganiban notes that the dictionaries compiled by Father Leo English “is so far the most adequate, the most scholarly, and the most complete.”

For those seriously contemplating a study of Tagalog, this is a “must-have” – a very comprehensive compilation. The Tagalog to English dictionary, for example, has 16,000 main words and 21,000 derivatives and 30,000 Tagalog sentences translated into English, with a total number of entries at 97,000.

 is a retired architect who now has the time to do the things she always wanted to do: read books, write about them and encourage others to write. Her online bookstore, Kalamansi Books and Things (, promotes Filipiniana books and publications by Filipino-Americans. Email her at

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