Cebuano language

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Bisaya, Sinugboanon, Sinibuano, Binisayang Sugboanon
Native to Philippines
Region entire Central Visayas and Negros Oriental, parts of Eastern Visayas, northeastern parts of Negros Occidental, southern parts of Masbate, most parts of Mindanao
Ethnicity Cebuano people
Native speakers
21 million (2007)[1]
2nd-most-spoken language in the Philippines[2]
Standard Cebuano (Cebu province dialect)
Urban Cebuano (Metro Cebu dialect)
Negrense Cebuano
Leyteño (Kana)
Mindanao Cebuano
Davaoeño Cebuano
Latin (Cebuano alphabet)
Cebuano Braille
Official status
Official language in
Regional language in the Philippines
Regulated by Visayan Academy of Arts and Letters
Language codes
ISO 639-2 ceb
ISO 639-3 ceb
Glottolog cebu1242[3]
Cebuano-speaking area in the Philippines
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Cebuano, referred by most of its speakers as Bisaya or Binisaya (English: Visayan), is an Austronesian language spoken in the Philippines by about 20 million people, mostly in Central Visayas, most of whom belong to the Bisaya ethnic group. It is the most widely spoken of the languages within the so-named Bisayan subgroup and is closely related to other Filipino languages.

It has the largest native language-speaking population of the Philippines despite not being taught formally in schools and universities.[4] It is the lingua franca of the Central Visayas and parts of Eastern Visayas regions and most parts of Mindanao. The name Cebuano is derived from the island of Cebu, which is the urheimat or origin of the language.[5][6] Cebuano is the prime language in Western Leyte, noticeably in Ormoc and other municipalities surrounding the city, though most of the residents in the area name the Cebuano language by their own demonyms such as "Ormocanon" in Ormoc and "Albuerahanon" in Albuera. Cebuano is given the ISO 639-2 three letter code ceb, but has no ISO 639-1 two-letter code.


Cebuano/Binisaya is spoken in Cebu, the nearby 167 surrounding islands and islets, Bohol, Negros Oriental, western parts of Leyte, southern Masbate, northeasternmost portion of Negros Occidental, Biliran, small parts of Samar and most parts of Mindanao.[5] Furthermore, a "large portion of the urban population of Zamboanga, Davao, and Cotabato is Cebuano speaking.".[5] Some dialects of Cebuano/Binisaya have different names for the language. Ethnic groups of Cebuano speakers from Cebu is called "Cebuano", Cebuano speaker from Bohol is refer to as "Boholano/Bol-anon" (Bohol Cebuano), while Cebuano speakers in Leyte identify their dialect as Kana (Leyte Cebuano or Leyteño). Speakers in Mindanao and Luzon refer to the language simply as Binisaya or Bisaya.


The Cebuano or its ancestor language has been spoken since Proto-Austronesian era (ca. 6000 years ago) in the Sugbu (Cebu) heartland.[6] The language "has spread from its base in Cebu" to nearby islands[6] and also western Negros, Bohol, parts of Leyte and south to Mindanao.[5]

Cebuano was first documented by Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian explorer who was part of Ferdinand Magellan's 1521 expedition.[7] Spanish missionaries started to write in the language during the early 18th century, and as a result, Cebuano contains many words of Spanish origin.

While there is evidence of a pre-Spanish writing system for the language, its use appears to have been sporadic. Spaniards recorded the Visayan script[8] which was called Kudlit-kabadlit by the natives.[9] The colonists erroneously called the ancient Filipino script "Tagalog letters", regardless of the language for which it was used. This script died out by the 17th century as it was replaced by the Latin alphabet.

The language was heavily influenced by the Spanish language during the period of colonialism from 1521 to 1898. With the arrival of Spanish colonials, for example, a Latin-based writing system was introduced alongside a number of Spanish loanwords.[10] The Spaniards also increased the amount of vowels from 3 to 5.


In common/everyday parlance, Bisaya is the term used to refer to Cebuano. Whenever a person or a language is called Bisaya, it is a common notion or it would immediately refer to Cebuano despite the fact that there are many languages in the Visayas which in general are called Visayan or Binisaya. Bisaya, therefore, is a generic word. It is used like the word Filipino; Cebuanos are Filipino, Tagalogs are Filipino, Ilocanos are Filipino, but not all Filipinos are Cebuano, not all Filipinos are Tagalog, not all Filipinos are Ilocano. Similarly, not all Bisaya are Cebuano, not all Bisaya are Ilonggo, not all Bisaya are Waray, but the Cebuanos, Ilonggos, Warays are Bisaya.[11]

Cebuano applies to all speakers of vernaculars mutually intelligible with the vernaculars of Cebu, regardless of origin or location, as well as to the language they speak. This garnered objections. For example, generations of Cebuano speakers in northern Mindanao (Dipolog, Dapitan, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, coastal areas of Butuan) say that their ancestry traces back to Cebuano speakers native to their place and not from immigrants or settlers from the Visayas. Furthermore, they refer to themselves as Bisaya and not Cebuano and their language Binisaya. Many are surprised to learn that what they are speaking is really Cebuano.[11]


Main article: Abakada

Cebuano has 21 phonemes. There are 16 consonants: p, t, k, ʔ (the glottal stop), b, d, g, m, n, ng, s, h, w, l, r and y. There are five vowels: i, e, a, o and u.


Below is the vowel system of Cebuano:[citation needed]

Table of vowel phonemes of Standard Cebuano
Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid ɛ o
Open a

During the precolonial and Spanish period, Cebuano had three vowel phonemes: /a/, /i/ and /u/. This was later expanded to five vowels with the introduction of Spanish entries. The vowels o and u are still mostly allophones, however, with u always being used when it is the beginning of a syllable and o always used when it ends a syllable. But there are some exceptions, like kamatuoran (truth) and hangtúd (until). "E" originally appeared only in a few words, such as "babaye" (girl/woman), "dayeg" (praise, compliment), "parayeg" (loving), and "pangadye" (prayer), and only in last syllables, as "E" was mostly an allophone of "I" in final syllables. Under the influence of Spanish, more words with e have been added with the introduction of loanwords.


For Cebuano consonants, all the stops[clarification needed] are unaspirated. The velar nasal occurs in all positions including at the beginning of a word.[citation needed]

Below is a chart of Cebuano consonants.:[citation needed]

Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m ŋ
Stop p b k g ʔ
Fricative h
j w
Flap ɾ̪


Stress accent is phonemic, so that dápit means "place", while dapit means "invite". Consonants [d] and [ɾ] were once allophones, but cannot interchange. Thus kabungturan (uplands) [from bungtód, mountain] is correct but not *kabungtudan, and tagadihá (from there) [from dihá, there] is correct but not *tagarihá.[12]


Cebuano is a member of the Borneo–Philippine languages. Early trade contact resulted in a large number of older loan words from other languages in Cebuano, like Sanskrit (e.g. sangka, "fight" and bahandi, "wealth", from Sanskrit sanka and bhānda respectively), and Arabic (e.g. salámat, "thanks"; hukom or hukm, "judge").[13]

It has also been influenced by thousands of words from Spanish, such as kurus [cruz] (cross), swerte [suerte] ("luck"), gwapa [guapa], ("beautiful"), merkado [mercado] ("market") and brilyante [brillante] ("brilliant"). It has several hundred loan words from English as well, which are altered to conform to the limited phonemic inventory of Cebuano: brislit (bracelet), hayskul (high school), syápin (shopping) and dráyber (driver).


A few common phrases in Cebuano include:[citation needed]

  • Who are they? - Kinsa sila?
  • How are you? - Kumusta ka(sing.)?, Kumusta kamo(pl.)? (Unsa may imong(sing.) kahimtang?, Unsa may inyong(pl.) kahimtamg?
  • Good morning - Maayong buntag
  • Good afternoon - Maayong hapon
  • Good evening - Maayong gabii
  • Good bye - Ayoayo (formal), Adios (rare), Babay (informal, corruption of "Goodbye"), Amping ("Take care"), Hangtud sa sunod ("Until next time")
  • Thank you - Salamat nimo(sing.), salamat ninyo(pl.)
  • Where are you from? - Taga diin ka(sing.)?, taga diin mo(pl.)?
  • How do you say... in Cebuano? - Unsaun pagsulti sa ... sa Sinugbuanon/Binisaya?
  • How do I get to ...? - Unsaon naku pag-adto sa...?
  • Do you understand? - Nakasabut ka(sing.)?, Nakasabut mo(pl.)?
  • How is the weather? - Kumusta ang panahon?
  • What is that? - Unsa kana?
  • What time is it? - Unsa nang orasa?/Unsang orasa na?
  • Stop it - Hunonga kana
  • Don't - Ayaw
  • Yes - Oo
  • No - Dili ("no", used for future tense), Wala ("nothing, the absence of", used for past and progressive tenses)[14]
  • Okay - Sige, Patek
  • Great - Ngilngig, Kuyaw
  • Oh! (Interjection) - Hala!, Sus! (shortened form of Hesus!, roughly equivalent to English interjections "Sheesh", "Christ!", and "Jesus!"),[15][16]


Cebuano can vary significantly depending on where it is spoken, particularly in the preference of vowel allophones or consonants. Words like kalayo ("fire") can become kalajo or kajo in some regions. "Hard" forms of vowels (called Gahì) are also preferred in some areas. For example, /o/ or /ɛ/ sounds in some areas can become /u/ or /i/ sounds in others.

Urban Cebuano dialect spoken by people in Metro Cebu has the distinction in shortening phrases and words. Examples of which are Wala'y problema ("no problem") becomes way blema and ayaw sige og pinamaayo diha ("don't act as if you know everything") becomes ay sig pinamaay diha. They also possess the distinction of using the tag question ’sa? ("right?") instead of ’no?. Another distinction is the use of the word suol ("relapse") instead of the standard tukar.

Colloquialisms can also be used to determine the regional origin of the speaker. Cebuano-speaking people from Cagayan de Oro, for example, say "chada" or tsada/patsada (roughly translated to the English colloquialism "awesome"), while Cebuanos from Cebu say nindot or anindot.[citation needed]

Increasing usage of spoken English (being the primary language of commerce and education in the Philippines) has led to the introduction of new pronunciations and spellings of old Cebuano words. /dʒ/ now routinely replace /dj/ sounds, /tʃ/ for /ts/, etc. Code-switching forms of English and Bisaya (Bislish) are also common among the educated younger generations.[citation needed]

There are five main dialectal groups within Cebuano aside from the Standard Cebuano (Cebu province dialect) and Urban Cebuano (Metro Cebu dialect). They are as follows:[citation needed]

Boholano and Southern Kana[edit]

The Boholano dialect of Bohol shares many similarities with the southern form of the standard Cebuano dialect; while the Southern Kana of southern Leyte and in Southern Leyte is closest to the Mindanao Cebuano dialect at the southern area and northern Cebu dialect at the northern boundaries. Both North and South Kana are subgroups of Leyteño dialect. Both of these dialects are spoken in western and central Leyte and in the southern province, but the Boholano is more concentrated in Maasin City.

Speakers of these two dialects can be distinguished by their distinctive modification of /j/ into /dʒ/. Like the Mindanao dialects, they are notable for their usage of a vocabulary containing archaic longer words like kalatkat ("climb") instead of katkat.

Southern Kana can be further distinguished from Boholano by slight vocabulary differences, such as arang ("very") for northern kana hastang and standard dialect kaayo.[citation needed]

In South Kana, there are some words that are influences from Waray-waray and used in everyday conversations. For example, luto in place of kan-on (rice), suoy in place of suka (vinegar), kaunan in place of kan-anan (dining room), tamsi in place of langgam (bird, but in Hiligaynon tamsi means snake), and bungto in place of lungsod (town or municipality).[citation needed]

Northern Kana[edit]

North Kana (found in the northern part of Leyte), is closest to the variety of the language spoken in northern part of Leyte, and shows significant influence from Waray-Waray, quite notably in its pace which speakers from Cebu find very fast, and its more mellow tone (compared to the urban Cebu City dialect, which Kana speakers find "rough"). A distinguishing feature of this dialect is the reduction of /A/ prominent, but an often unnoticed feature of this dialect is the labialisation of /n/ and /ŋ/ into /m/, when these phonemes come before /p/ /b/ and /m/, velarisation of /m/ and /n/ into /ŋ/ before /k/ /g/ and /ŋ/, and the dentalisation of /ŋ/ and /m/ into /n/ before /t/, /d/ and /n/ and sometimes, before vowels and other consonants as well.

The Northern Kana dialect generally contains less /l/ sounds than standard Cebuano. In between vowels /l/ is removed, and depending on what vowel chain follows, it may create a long vowel or have /y/ or /w/ take its place. (Elision)

For example: balud ("wave") becomes baōd or bawod; balay ("house") becomes bāy; ulo ("head") becomes ū or o. Aside from /l/ elision, /l/ may also change to either the alveolar flap /ɽ/ or the velar flap /ɾ/.[citation needed]

There may be slight vocabulary differences and shortened words like the use of āga for buntag (morning), ika for ikaw ("you"), and or mana for mga (plural subject marker). The prefixes hing- and ning- are also used in place of the standard ming-/mi- in Cebuano.[citation needed]

Some words also hold different meanings, like how the word "ramāw"/"lamāw" refers to the meat of young coconut suspended in either coconut juice or sugared milk in N. Kana; while in Standard Cebuano, "lamāw" means "rice leftovers", which is "bahāw" in S. Kana and Mindanao Cebuano.

Aside from that, there are also very rare alternate shortenings of phrases, such as saze instead of sas for asa si.[citation needed]

Sample Kana words and prefixes and their equivalents in standard Cebuano:[citation needed] (Some of these words may have originated in Waray-Waray and have their Waray-Waray equivalents included.[citation needed])

Sugbu Kana Waray English
Kan-on Luto Lutô Rice
Kini Kiri Ini This
Kana Kara' Iton That
Dinhi/Diri Ari Didi/Ngadi/Aadi/Dinhi Here
Diha/Dinha Ara/Dira Dida/Ngada/Aada There
Bas/Balas Bas/Balas/Baras Baras Soil/Sand
Alsa Arsa Alsa To lift
Bulsa Bursa Bulsa Pocket

Mindanao Cebuano[edit]

The Cebuano dialect in Mindanao is a unique blending of several dialects and other languages like Waray-waray, Hiligaynon, and Tagalog. It is distinctive in retaining /l/ sounds and longer word forms, long since considered archaic in northern Cebuano dialects. For example: bulan instead of buwan ("moon" or "month"), hulam instead of huwam ("borrow"), dula instead of duwa ("play"), dalunggan instead of dunggan (ear), halang instead of hang ("spicy") and the occasional lamang instead of lang or ra ("only").

In some instances, bulig can be heard or read in some signs, prayers, and public speeches thus it is used in place of tabang. Both of these words means "help". Although the former is Hiligaynon and Waray-waray, it is also in Cebuano vocabulary, but the latter is more frequent.

Davaoeño Cebuano[edit]

Not to be confused with Chavacano language.

The Cebuano dialectal variant in Davao is also known as Davaoeño, not the Davao variant of Chavacano. Like the Luzon Cebuano dialect, it contains some Tagalog vocabulary, though to a lesser extent. Its grammar is somewhat in between the original Cebuano language and the Luzon Cebuano dialect.

For example: Ninaug ko sa dyip sa kanto, tapos miuli ko sa among balay ("I got off the jeepney at the street corner, and then I went home") instead of Ninaug ko sa dyip sa kanto, dayon miuli ko sa among balay. The words tapos and dayon mean "then"; the former is Tagalog, and the latter Cebuano. It also sometimes add some Bagobo and Mansakan vocabulary, like: Madayaw nga adlaw, amigo, kamusta ka? ("Good day, friend, how are you?", literally "Good morning/afternoon") rather than "Maayo nga adlaw, amigo, kamusta ka?" The words madayaw and maayo mean "good"; the former is Bagobo, and the latter Cebuano.

Negrense Cebuano[edit]

The Cebuano dialect in Negros is somewhat similar to the Standard Cebuano (spoken by majority of the provincial areas of Cebu) and Mindanao Cebuano. It is distinctive in retaining /l/ sounds and longer word forms as well. It is the primary dialectal language of the entire province of Negros Oriental, as well as the northeastern parts of Negros Occidental (while the majority of the province speaks Hiligaynon/Ilonggo). Examples of Negrense Cebuano's distinction from other dialects is the usage of the word maot instead of bati ("ugly") and kabalo/kahibalo instead of kabaw/kahibaw ("know"). Some Hiligaynon influences can also be found in Negrense Cebuano.

Other dialects[edit]

Luzon Cebuano[edit]

There is no specific Luzon dialect, as speakers of Cebuano in Luzon come from many different regions in Central Visayas and Mindanao. Cebuano-speaking people from Luzon in the Visayas can be easily recognized primarily by their vocabulary which incorporates Tagalog words. Their accents and some aspects of grammar can also sometimes exhibit Tagalog influence. The dialect is sometimes colloquially known as "Tagbis" (a portmanteau of Tagalog and Binisaya).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mikael Parkvall, "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), in Nationalencyklopedin
  2. ^ Philippine Census, 2000. Table 11. Household Population by Ethnicity, Sex and Region: 2000
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Cebuano". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Dittmar, & Klaus J. Mattheier (2006). Sociolinguistics: an international handbook of the science of language and society. Volume 3. Walter de Gruyter. p. 2018. ISBN 978-3-11-018418-1. 
  5. ^ a b c d
  6. ^ a b c "John Woff, "Cebuano" in Facts About the World's Languages: An Encyclopedia of the World's Major Languages, Past and Present (New York: H. W. Wilson, 2001).
  7. ^ "Cebuano language, alphabet and pronunciation". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Cebuano - Language Information & Resources". Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  11. ^ a b Taken verbatim from the work of Divine Angeli P. Endriga entitled The Dialectology of Cebuano: Bohol, Cebu and Davao (University of Asia and the Pacific)
  12. ^ Diacritical marks are omitted formally, and only for distinction purposes.
  13. ^ Jose G. Kuizon (1964). "The Sanskrit Loan-words in the Cebuano-Bisayan Language". Asian Folklore Studies 23 (1): 111–158. doi:10.2307/1177640. 
  14. ^ "Wala / Dili". Learn Cebuano: Cebuano-Visayan Language Lessons. Retrieved June 18, 2011. 
  15. ^ "Sus". Tagalog Lang. Retrieved June 18, 2011. 
  16. ^ "sus". Tagalog Dictionary. Retrieved June 18, 2011. 

External links[edit]