Cebuano language

Bisayâ, Sugbuanon, Sinugbuanong Binisayâ, Bisayang Sebwano, Sinibwano
Pronunciation /sɛbwɑːnɒ/
Native to Philippines
Region entire Central Visayas and eastern Negros Island Region, western parts of Eastern Visayas, southern portion of Masbate and most parts of Mindanao
Ethnicity Cebuano people
Native speakers
21 million (2007)[1]
2nd most-spoken language in the Philippines, after Tagalog[2]
    • Standard Cebuano (Cebu province dialect)
    • Urban Cebuano (Metro Cebu dialect)
    • Negrense Cebuano (Negros Oriental dialect)
    • Leyteño Cebuano (Kana)
    • Mindanao Cebuano (includes 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

The Cebuano language, often colloquially referred to by most of its speakers simply as Bisaya ("Visayan"; not to be confused with other Visayan languages), is an Austronesian regional language spoken in the Philippines by about 20 million people, mostly in Central Visayas, eastern Negros Island Region, western parts of Eastern Visayas and most parts of Mindanao, most of whom belong to the Visayan ethnic group.[4] It is the most widely spoken of the languages within the so-named Visayan language family 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 until 2012.[5] It is the lingua franca of the Central Visayas, eastern Negros Island Region (especially Negros Oriental), western parts of Eastern Visayas and most parts of Mindanao. The name Cebuano is derived from the island of Cebu, which is the urheimat or origin of the language.[6][7] Cebuano is also 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.[8] Cebuano is given the ISO 639-2 three-letter code ceb, but has no ISO 639-1 two-letter code.


Cebuano is spoken on the island of Cebu and its 167 surrounding islands and islets, Bohol and Siquijor, eastern Negros Island Region (entire Negros Oriental and northeastern Negros Occidental), southern Masbate, western portion of Leyte, western Biliran, small parts of Samar and most parts of Mindanao, the second largest island of the Philippines.[6] Furthermore, "a large portion of the urban population of Zamboanga, Davao and Cotabato is Cebuano speaking".[6] Some dialects of Cebuano have different names for the language. Ethnic groups of Cebuano speakers from Cebu are mainly called "Cebuano", Cebuano speakers from Bohol are "Boholano/Bol-anon", 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.[8]


In common/everyday parlance, Bisaya is the layman's term used to refer to Cebuano. Whenever a person or a language is called Bisaya, it is a common wrong notion that 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 and Ilocanos are Filipino, but not all Filipinos are Cebuano, not all Filipinos are Tagalog and not all Filipinos are Ilocano. Similarly, not all Bisaya are Cebuano, not all Bisaya are Ilonggo, not all Bisaya are Waray, but all the Cebuanos, Ilonggos and Warays are Bisaya.[9]

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 Occidental and Misamis Oriental, 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 ethnically refer to themselves as Bisaya and not Cebuano, and their language as Binisaya. Many are surprised to learn that the correct term of what they are speaking is really Cebuano.[9]


Cebuano, or its ancestor language, has been spoken since the Proto-Austronesian era (c. 6000 years ago) in the Sugbu (Cebu) heartland.[7] The language "has spread from its base in Cebu" to nearby islands[7] and also Bohol, eastern Negros, western and southern parts of Leyte and most parts of Mindanao, especially the northern, southern, and eastern parts of the large island.[6]

Cebuano was first documented by Antonio Pigafetta, an Italian explorer who was part of Ferdinand Magellan's 1521 expedition.[10] 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[11] which was called Kudlit-kabadlit by the natives.[12] 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.[13] The Spaniards also increased the amount of vowels from 3 to 5.

Phonology and orthography

Main article: Abakada


Below is the vowel system of Cebuano with their corresponding orthography in parentheses:[14][15][16]

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

Sometimes, a may also be pronounced as the open-mid back unrounded vowel /ʌ/ (as in English "gut"); e or i as the near-close near-front unrounded vowel /ɪ/ (as in English "bit"); and o or u as the open-mid back rounded vowel /ɔ/ (as in English "thought") or the near-close near-back rounded vowel /ʊ/ (as in English "hook").[14]

During the precolonial and Spanish period, Cebuano had only three vowel phonemes: /a/, /i/ and /u/. This was later expanded to five vowels with the introduction of Spanish. As a consequence, the vowels o and u, as well as e and i, are still mostly allophones. They can be freely switched with each other without losing their meaning (free variation); though it may sound strange to a native listener, depending on their dialect. The vowel a has no variations, though it can be pronounced subtly differently, as either /a/ or /ʌ/ (and very rarely as /ɔ/ immediately after the consonant /w/). Loanwords, however, are usually more conservative in their orthography and pronunciation (e.g. dyip, "jeepney" from English "jeep", will never be written or spoken as dyep).[14][17]


For Cebuano consonants, all the stops are unaspirated. The velar nasal /ŋ/ occurs in all positions, including at the beginning of a word (e.g. ngano, "why"). The glottal stop /ʔ/ is most commonly encountered in between two vowels, but can also appear in all positions.[14] Like in Tagalog, glottal stops are usually not indicated in writing. When indicated, it is commonly written as a hyphen or an apostrophe if the glottal stop occurs in the middle of the word (e.g. to-o or to'o, "right"). More formally, when it occurs at the end of the word, it is indicated by a circumflex accent if both a stress and a glottal stop occurs at the final vowel (e.g. basâ, "wet"); or a grave accent if the glottal stop occurs at the final vowel, but the stress occurs at the penultimate syllable (e.g. batà, "child").[18][19][20]

Below is a chart of Cebuano consonants with their corresponding orthography in parentheses:[14][15][16][21]

Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Nasal m (m)  (n) ŋ (ng)
Stop p (p)b (b)  (t) (d) k (k)g (g) ʔ (see text)
Fricative  (s) h (h)
Affricate t͡ʃ (ch/ty/ts)d͡ʒ (j/dy)
j (y) w (w)
Flap ɾ̪ (r)

In certain dialects, /l/ (l) may be interchanged with /w/ (w) in between vowels and vice versa depending on the following conditions:[14]

A final l can also be replaced with w in certain areas in Bohol (e.g. tambal, "medicine", becomes tambaw). In very rare cases in Cebu, l may also be replaced with y in between the vowels a and e or i (e.g. tingali, "maybe", becomes tingayi).[14]

In some parts of Bohol and Southern Leyte, /j/ (y) is also often replaced with d͡ʒ (j or dy) when it is in the beginning of a syllable (e.g. kalayo, "fire", becomes kalajo). It can also happen even if the y is at the final position of the syllable and the word, but only if it is moved to the initial position by the addition of the affix -a. For example, baboy ("pig") can not become baboj, but baboya can become baboja.[14]

All of the above substitutions are considered allophonic and do not change the meaning of the word.[14]

In rarer instances, the consonant d might also be replaced with r when it is in between two vowels (e.g. Boholano ido for standard Cebuano iro, "dog"), but d and r are not considered allophones,[14] though they may have been in the past.[22]


Stress accent is phonemic, so that dápit means "place", while dapit means "invite".


Cebuano is a member of the Borneo–Philippine languages. Early trade contact resulted in a large number of older loan words from other languages being embedded 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").[23]

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). However, today, it's more common for Cebuanos to spell out those words in their original English form rather than with spelling that might conform to Cebuano standards.


A few common phrases in Cebuano include:


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") and people from Davao City say "atchup" which also translated to the same English context; meanwhile Cebuanos from Cebu on the other hand say nindot or, sometimes, anindot. However, this word is also commonly used in the same context in other Cebuano-speaking regions, in effect making this word not only limited in use to Cebu.

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.

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

Boholano Cebuano

The Boholano dialect of Bohol shares many similarities with the southern form of the standard Cebuano dialect. It is also spoken in some parts of Siquijor. Boholano, especially as spoken in central Bohol, can be distinguished from other Cebuano variants by a few phonetic changes:

Leyteño Cebuano

Southern Kana

Southern Kana is a dialect of southern Leyte and in Southern Leyte; it 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/, as in the words ayaw (don't) is turned into ajaw; dayon (come in) - dajun; bayad(pay) -bajad. 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.

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).

Northern Kana

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/.

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.

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.

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

Sugbu Kana Waray English
Kan-on Luto Lutô Cooked rice
Kini Kiri/kini Ini This
Kana Kara'/kana Iton That
Dinhi/Diri ari/dinhi/diri Didi/Ngadi/Aadi/Dinhi Here
Diha/Dinha Dira/diha/dinha Dida/Ngada/Aada There
Bas/Balas Bas/Balas Baras Soil/Sand
Alsa Arsa Alsa To lift
Bulsa Bursa Bulsa Pocket

Mindanao Cebuano

The Cebuano dialect in Mindanao is a unique blending of other Visayan languages specifically Waray-Waray and Hiligaynon. The variant originated from Cagayan de Oro City, the major entry point of Waray migrants from Leyte and Samar and Hiligaynon land prospectors from Iloilo and Negros Occidental during the promotion of settlement in the highlands of Central Mindanao in 1930s. Since then, a number of Hiligaynon and Waray speakers decided to stay in the city and develop their businesses and livelihood and their interaction with the Cebuano-speaking Kagay-anons resulted to registry of some Waray-Waray and Hiligaynon words. It has spread in Lanao del Norte, especially in Iligan, and in Agusan del Norte and Bukidnon down to North Cotabato, where Hiligaynons and Maguindanaons are substantially concentrated. In recent times, with the implementation of the national language and influx of Tagalog tourists and settlers, a handful of Tagalog words have been incorporated.

It is distinctive in retaining /l/ sounds and longer word forms, long since considered archaic in Cebuano and its dialects yet an influence from Waray and Hiligaynon (which still retain /l/ words). For example: bulan instead of buwan ("moon" or "month"), hulam instead of huwam ("borrow"), dula instead of duwa ("play"), dalunggan instead of dunggan (ear), and halang instead of hang ("spicy"). The occasional lamang instead of lang or ra ("only") is heard among the speakers.

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 standard Cebuano vocabulary, but the latter is more frequent.

Other Waray-Waray and Hiligaynon words incorporated or reintroduced in the variant include:

Davaoeño Cebuano

A branch of Mindanao Cebuano in Davao is also known as Davaoeño, not the Davao variant of Chavacano which is called "Castellano Abakay". Like the Cebuano-speakers of Luzon (Luzon Cebuano dialect), it contains some Tagalog vocabulary to a greater extent. Its grammar is somewhat in between the original Cebuano language and the Luzon Cebuano dialect. However, speakers from Davao City nowadays exhibits stronger Tagalog influence in their speech by substituting most Cebuano words with Tagalog ones. One characteristic is the practice of saying átâ, derived from Tagalog yáta to denote uncertainty of a speaker's any aforementioned statements. For instance, "To-a man átâ sa balay si Manuel" instead of "To-a man tingali sa balay si Manuel". However, the word átâ exists in Cebuano though it means " squid ink" (átâ sa nukos).

Other examples include: Nibabâ 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 Nináug ko sa dyip sa kanto, dayon miuli ko sa among balay. The words babâ and náug mean "to disembark" or "to go down", while 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

The Cebuano dialect in Negros is somewhat similar to the Standard Cebuano (spoken by the majority of the provincial areas of Cebu), with distinct Hiligaynon influences. 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 and some parts of Siquijor, as well as northeastern parts of Negros Occidental to a lesser extent (while the majority of the province and its bordered areas speaks Hiligaynon/Ilonggo). Examples of Negrense Cebuano's distinction from other Cebuano dialects is the usage of the word maot instead of bati ("ugly") and kabalo/kahibalo or kaantigo instead of kabawo/kahibawo ("know").

Other dialects

Luzon Cebuano

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 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 "Bisalog" (a portmanteau of Tagalog and Binisaya).

See also


  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. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Cebuano". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. Lewis, M. Paul (2009). "Cebuano". Ethnologue. Retrieved July 23, 2011.
  5. 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.
  6. 1 2 3 4
  7. 1 2 3 "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).
  8. 1 2 John Kingsley Pangan, Church of the Far East (Makati: St. Pauls), 19.
  9. 1 2 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)
  10. "Cebuano language, alphabet and pronunciation". Retrieved 2015-05-22.
  13. "Cebuano - Language Information & Resources". Retrieved 2015-05-22.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "The Dialectology of Cebuano: Phonology". 10 February 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  15. 1 2 "Cebuano Phonetics and Orthography" (PDF). Dila. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  16. 1 2 Irene Thompson (11 July 2013). "Cebuano". About World Languages. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  17. Patrick O. Steinkrüger (2008). "Hispanisation processes in the Philippines". In Thomas Stolz; Dik Bakker; Rosa Salas Palomo. Hispanisation: The Impact of Spanish on the Lexicon and Grammar of the Indigenous Languages of Austronesia and the Americas. Walter de Gruyter. pp. 203236. ISBN 9783110207231.
  18. Paul Morrow (March 16, 2011). "The basics of Filipino pronunciation: Part 2 of 3 • accent marks". Pilipino Express. Retrieved July 18, 2012.
  19. Ricardo M.D. Nolasco. Grammar notes on the national language (PDF).
  20. Joan Schoellner & Beverly D. Heinle, ed. (2007). Tagalog Reading Booklet (PDF). Simon & Schister's Pimsleur. pp. 5–6.
  21. Abigail A. Bollas (2013). Comparative Analysis on the Phonology of Tagalog, Cebuano, and Itawis. University of the Philippines - Diliman.
  22. Eugene Verstraelen (1961). "Some further remarks about the L-feature". Philippine Studies. 9 (1): 7277.
  23. Jose G. Kuizon (1964). "The Sanskrit Loan-words in the Cebuano-Bisayan Language". Asian Folklore Studies. 23 (1): 111158. doi:10.2307/1177640.
  24. "Wala / Dili". Learn Cebuano: Cebuano-Visayan Language Lessons. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  25. "Sus". Tagalog Lang. Retrieved June 18, 2011.
  26. "sus". Tagalog Dictionary. Retrieved June 18, 2011.

External links

Cebuano edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikivoyage has a phrasebook for Cebuano.
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