Tagalog phonology

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This article deals with current phonology and phonetics and with historical developments of the phonology of the Tagalog language, including variants.

Tagalog has allophones, so it is important here to distinguish phonemes (written in slashes / /) and corresponding allophones (written in brackets [ ]).


Table of consonant phonemes of Tagalog
Bilabial Dental/
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive voiceless p t t͡ʃ k ʔ
voiced b d d͡ʒ ɡ
Fricative s ʃ h
Approximant l j w
Rhotic ɾ
Phoneme Spelling Distribution and quality of allophones
/p/ ⟨p⟩ pulá ('red')
/b/ ⟨b⟩ bugháw ('blue')
/t/ ⟨t⟩ tao ('human') When followed by /j/ may be pronounced [tʃ], particularly by speakers in urban areas.
/d/ ⟨d⟩ diláw ('yellow') When followed by /j/ may be pronounced [dʒ], particularly by speakers in urban areas.
/k/ ⟨k⟩ kamáy ('hand') Intervocalic /k/ tends to become [x], as in bakit ('why') or takot ('fear').[1]: 19 
/ɡ/ ⟨g⟩ gulay ('vegetable')
/ʔ/ ⟨-⟩ mag-uwi ('to return home').
Normally unwritten at the end of a word (galâ, 'roaming') or between vowels (Taal, a town in Batangas)
A glottal stop occurring at the end of a word is often elided when it is in the middle of a sentence, especially by speakers of the Manila Dialect. The preceding vowel then undergoes compensatory lengthening: /hinˈdiʔ + ba/ > /hinˈdiː + ba/ "isn't it?".[1]: 16  It is preserved in some dialects of Tagalog.

In the Palatuldikan (diacrtical system), it is denoted by the pakupyâ or circumflex accent when the final syllable is stressed (e.g. dugô 'blood'), and by the paiwà (grave accent) if unstressed (susì 'key').

/s/ ⟨s⟩ sangá ('branch') When followed by /j/, it is often pronounced [ʃ], particularly by speakers in urban areas.
/ʃ/ ⟨sy⟩ sya (a form of siya, second person pronoun)

⟨sh⟩ shabú ('methamphetamine')

May be pronounced [s], especially by speakers in rural areas.
/h/ ⟨h⟩ hawak ('being held') Sometimes elided in rapid speech.
// ⟨ts⟩ tsokolate ('chocolate'); ⟨ty⟩pangungutyâ ('ridicule') May be pronounced [ts] (but not if spelled ⟨ty⟩), especially by speakers in rural areas.[1]: 24 
// ⟨dy⟩ dyaryo ('newspaper')

⟨j⟩ jaket ('jacket')

/ts/ ⟨zz⟩ pizza; ⟨ts⟩ tatsulok ('triangle') May be pronounced [tʃ], especially by rural speakers and in some urban areas.
/m/ ⟨m⟩ matá ('eye')
/n/ ⟨n⟩ nais ('desire') In names borrowed from Spanish, it may assimilate to [m] before labial consonants (e.g. /m/ in San Miguel, /p/ in San Pedro, and /f/ in Infanta) and to [ŋ] before velar ones (e.g. /g/ and /k/).
/ŋ/ ⟨ng⟩ ngitî ('smile') Assimilates to [m] before /b/ and /p/ (pampasiglâ, 'invigorator') and to [n] before /d t s l/ (pandiwà, 'verb'), some people pronounce /ŋɡ/ as a geminate consonant [ŋŋ], as in Angono.
/l/ ⟨l⟩ larawan ('picture') Depending on the dialect, it may be dental/denti-alveolar or alveolar (light L) within or at the end of a word. It may also be velarized (dark L) if influenced by English phonology.
/ɾ/ ⟨r⟩ saráp ('deliciousness'); kuryente ('electricity') Traditionally an allophone of /d/, the /r/ phoneme may be now pronounced in free variation between the standard alveolar flapped [ɾ], a rolled [r], an approximant [ɹ] and more recently, the retroflex flap [ɽ].

Vowels and semivowels[edit]

Basic Vowel Chart
Front Back
Close i u
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open a
Phoneme Spelling Allophones
/a/ ⟨a⟩ asoge ('mercury') /a/ is raised slightly to [ɐ] in unstressed positions and also occasionally in stressed positions (e.g. Ináng Bayan [iˈnɐŋ ˈbɐjən], 'motherland').

The diphthong /ai/ and the sequence /aʔi/ have a tendency to become [eɪ] or [ɛː] (e.g. tenga from tnga, 'ear'; kelan from kailan, 'when').

The diphthong /au/ and the sequence /aʔu/ occasionally have a tendency to become [oʊ] or [ɔː] (e.g. iso from isau, 'to return').

/ɛ/ ⟨e⟩ in any position (espíritu, 'spirit'; tsinelas, 'slippers') and often ⟨i⟩ in final syllables (e.g., hindî) and with exceptions like mulî (adverbial form of 'again') and English loanwords. /ɛ/ can sometimes be pronounced [i ~ ɪ ~ e], or sometimes diphthongised to [ai].
/i/ ⟨i⟩ ibon ('bird') Unstressed /i/ is usually pronounced [ɪ] (e.g. sigalót, 'discord').

In final syllables, /i/ can be pronounced [ɪ ~ i ~ e ~ ɛ], as [e] and [ɛ] were formerly an allophone of /i/.

/i/ before s-consonant clusters has a tendency to be dropped, as in isports [sports] ('sports') and istasyon [staˈʃon] ('station').

See also /j/ below.

/ɔ/ ⟨o⟩ oyayi ('lullaby') /ɔ/ can sometimes be pronounced [u ~ ʊ ~ ɔ]. [oe ~ ʊɪ ~ ɔɛ] and [u ~ ʊ] were also former allophones, or sometimes diphthongized to [au]. Morphs into [u] before [mb] and [mp] (e.g. Bagumbayan, literally 'new town’, a place now part of Rizal Park; kumpisál, 'Confession').
/u/ ⟨u⟩ utang ('debt') Unstressed /u/ is usually pronounced [ʊ].
Semivowels and/or Semiconsonants
/j/ ⟨y⟩ yugtô ('chapter')
/w/ ⟨w⟩ wakás ('end')

Stress and final glottal stop[edit]

Stress is a distinctive feature in Tagalog. Primary stress occurs on either the final or the penultimate syllable of a word. Vowel lengthening accompanies primary or secondary stress except when stress occurs at the end of a word.

Tagalog words are often distinguished from one another by the position of the stress and/or the presence of a final glottal stop. In formal or academic settings, stress placement and the glottal stop are indicated by a diacritic (tuldík) above the final vowel. The penultimate primary stress position (malumay) is the default stress type and so is left unwritten except in dictionaries. The name of each stress type has its corresponding diacritic in the final vowel.[2]

Phonetic comparison of Tagalog homographs based on stress and final glottal stop
Common spelling Stressed non-ultimate syllable
no diacritic
Stressed ultimate syllable
acute accent (´)
Unstressed ultimate syllable with glottal stop
grave accent (`)
Stressed ultimate syllable with glottal stop
circumflex accent(^)
baka [ˈbaka] baka ('cow') [bɐˈka] baká ('possible')
pito [ˈpito] pito ('whistle') [pɪˈto] pitó ('seven')
bayaran [bɐˈjaran] bayaran ('pay [imperative]') [bɐjɐˈran] bayarán ('for hire')
bata [ˈbata] bata ('bath robe') [bɐˈta] batá ('persevere') [ˈbataʔ] batà ('child')
sala [ˈsala] sala ('living room') [ˈsalaʔ] salà ('sin') [sɐˈlaʔ] salâ ('filtered')
baba [ˈbaba] baba ('father') [baˈba] babá ('piggy back') [ˈbabaʔ] babà ('chin') [bɐˈbaʔ] babâ ('descend [imperative]')
labi [ˈlabɛʔ]/[ˈlabiʔ] labì ('lips') [lɐˈbɛʔ]/[lɐˈbiʔ] labî ('remains')

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Schachter, Paul; Otanes, Fe T. (1972). Tagalog Reference Grammar. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  2. ^ Himmelmann, Nikolaus (2005). "Tagalog" in K. Alexander Adelaar & Nikolaus Himmelmann (eds.) The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar, pp. 350-376, London, Routledge.