Archive for May 1st, 2012

Cuyonon, a member of the West Visayan group of Central Philippine languages, is the principal language spoken by the 29,142 inhabitants of the island of Cuyo (according to the Philippine census of 2000). Apart from the 1982 edition of the Cuyonon New Testament, only minor and
ephemeral works have been published in Cuyonon, and onlytwo scholarly articles have been devoted to its study.


There was a time when the kimona and patadiong were the garments of choice for women’s ordinary attire, as seen in the clothing of the woman

on the right.

Pamonpon I’ Ang Kinalkag Nga Paray

Collecting the unhusked rice after drying in the sun
and before milling.

Difficult to reach until recently and only 57 square kilometers in size, Cuyo has received few immigrants over the twentieth century. It is the home of a  remarkably pristine lowland Filipino culture, with religious and agricultural practices that are dying elsewhere; its language, though still spoken in households on Cuyo, is feeling pressure from Tagalog (the basis of Filipino, the national language) and from English through the medium of schools and television.

Early in the twentieth century, pushed by overpopulation, Cuyonon speakers began to migrate in large numbers from Cuyo to the large, sparsely settled island of Palawan. By mid-century they dominated much of the island, including the provincial capital, Puerto Princesa, which is 289 kilometers southwest of Cuyo. This migration made Cuyonon a regional language more widely used in Palawan than in Cuyo itself.

More recently, however, the fortunes of Cuyonon have been dramatically reversed. Attracted by economic opportunities unusual in the Philippines, non-Cuyonon speakers have flooded into Palawan, reducing the approximately 100,000 persons claiming Cuyonon ancestry to 15-20 per cent of the population.

Television, the schools, rapid economic development, and frequent marriages between speakers of different languages have favored the use of Tagalog and English, and eroded the use of Cuyonon to an astounding degree among those of Cuyonon ancestry.

The anthropologist James Eder estimates that children speak Cuyonon in as few as 10 per cent of Cuyonon households in Palawan (personal communication)—an ominous observation that is confirmed by CLCP data collectors. Even those who try to speak Cuyonon incorporate so much Tagalog unconsciously (and English more consciously) into their speech that they are inventing creoles that can hardly be called Cuyonon at all.

Insofar as Cuyonon is to be valued as the repository of a formerly isolated, rural, Hispano-Philippine culture, massive culture loss is imminent. Cuyonon will not die out tomorrow, at least in its home-base on Cuyo. Yet its survival as a distinctive language is in question for the coming decades. As David Crystal has observed of African regions where creoles are rapidly growing, “manylocal languages are felt to be endangered—even though they are currently spoken by several hundred thousand people.”

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Dear Cuyonon speaker and writer:

The sounds in the Cuyonon language can, for the most part, be written quite simply, and (in contrast to the English language!) in ways that are easy to read.  Here is a start at describing this system.  We recognize that there will be areas we have not addressed, and so we solicit your questions and comments.    

Remember that we are writing our own language, Cuyonon, not Tagalog, or English, or Hiligaynon, or Spanish.  So we must think in terms of the Cuyonon language itself, and not utilize patterns we have seen in other languages unless they fit the structure and sound system of Cuyonon.

Dr. and Mrs. Colin Tweddell (at right) and Cuyonon informants. Dr. Tweddell was the first linguist to study Cuyonon. He collected texts by interviewing native speakers and compiled an extensive Cuyonon vocabulary. He quickly established rapport with the Cuyonons by learning to speak the language in a matter of months.  He was thorough and dedicated, paving the way for subsequent, more extensive studies of the language.


The Cuyonon alphabet has 20 letters:
a, b, d, e, g, h, i, k, l, m, n, ng, o, p, r, s, t, w, y
and (glottal stop written as an apostrophe).
Please note that ng is a single sound.

Consonants – Here are the 16 consonants, with examples:

b   – baboy, babai, boawi, lobiok, koyab, boi
d   – doto, kadkad, doadoa, Dios, dadi
g   – gosto, dagat, goapo, bagiaw, libag
h   – irihis, kahil, bihon, sotanghon
k   – kawayan, bakawan, koago, bakia, apok
l    –  lalaki, balay, loaw-loaw, lieg, kodal
m  –  maslit, aromasit, malam, amianan, ilam
n   –  nana, ana, nanay, noibi, ponios, dan
ng –  ngirit, boringisen, bong  
ng is one sound and equals one consonant)
p   –   paray, apat, teptep, poas, mapiet, akep
r   –    rabotrabot, rokrok, tanggar, riabriab, barot, piar
s   –   sarok, boslit, ta’bas, soay, siansi, baras
t   –    todlo, litson, litsi, toak, tian, paret, toad
w  –    way-way, bo’wa, kawil, karabaw
y  –     yaya, ayamo, patay
‘  –      
(glottal stop – see notes below)
– be’ras, be’na, te’me

Vowels – Here are the 4 vowels, with examples:

a –   mal, abaga
e –   beken, em, petpet, beleg, e’en
i –    sit, bitbit, siki
o –   kotkot, onod, bok, oto

Vowel clusters – There are also clusters of vowels
– that is, two vowels found together.

aa –       (this is only found in affixed forms
-affix is defined later) – nagaadal
ae –       kaen, baeg, bael, laem
ai –        babai, bait
ao –       laod, bao, daon, kaoy, baog
–       (only in affixed forms) – karakean, te’mea
ia –        siak, biak, bagiaw, liaibi
ie –        piet, lieg
io –        tio, limpio, liolio
oa –       boat, loa, boawi
oi –        dispois, noibi, koilio, doindi

When a root word starting with a vowel, for example, ayad, is given a prefix ending in the same vowel, such as ma-, ka-, pa-, the first and second vowels are written as in maayad, kaayadan, paayaden, and in many other words as in kaapon, (yesterday, as opposed to kapon, which is “capon” in English,
referring to a castrated rooster).  In speech, the two identical vowels (aa) are pronounced as one long vowel.


Types of Cuyonon Words

As in all languages, we find in Cuyonon action words (verbs), object and instrument words (nouns), actor words (nouns, pronouns,), descriptives (adjectives, adverbs), etc.  Verbs tend to be made up of root words (for example, balik) and affixes that precede the verb (prefixes), follow the verb (suffixes), or are inserted within it (infixes).

For example, nagabalik has the prefix naga-; balikan has the suffix –an; and baralik has the infix –ar-.   Many nouns are made up the same way. For example, pagbaraliken has the prefix pag-, the infix –ar-, and the suffix –en. The affixes are always attached to the root word, not written separately.

Sometimes, too, the root is reduplicated, as in nagabalik-balik or agabalik-balik.

How do I know which to use – an O or a W? an I
or a

The choice between O and W, and between I and Y, depends on where they occur in a word. W and Y are called semi-vowels, because sometimes they serve as consonants: (e.g., wala, to the left, left-handed; yaya, nanny).

Moreover, at the “edges” of syllables these sounds also act like consonants and are therefore also spelled with W and Y – e.g., karabaw, bakaw, tatay, engey.

In the middle of syllables the sounds are vowels and are therefore spelled with O and I – e.g., rokrok, bitbit.

There are also many Cuyonon words in which the O or I sound follows a consonant, and is then followed by another vowel.  In these cases they are neither on the “edges” of syllables nor are they in the middle.  These are called “off-glides” because they “slide” off the first consonant, and they are spelled with O (as in boi, boin) and with I (as in sipilio, siansi).

To understand why O and I should be used in these situations, form the future of the verbs boat and siak: you will see that Cuyonons duplicate the first consonant and the first vowel and boat becomes boboaten, and siak becomes sisiaken. If we were to use the W or Y, the future forms would be bwabwaten  and syasyaken, which are not Cuyonon words.

Glottal stop (‘)

This is a catch in the throat common in Cuyonon, causing a short break in the flow of speech.  Cuyonon speakers are often unaware of the glottal stop but they must become aware if they want to write their language accurately. It can appear in the beginning of words that start with a vowel, in the middle of words, and at the end of words after a vowel or a combination of vowels. When the glottal stop is indicated by a written symbol, that symbol is the apostrophe ().

In isolation (that is, not in a phrase or sentence), the glottal stop before the initial vowel is pronounced, but in the middle of a phrase it often is not. For example, the initial glottal stop is pronounced when the word ambeng is used alone, but in the phrase ang ambeng digi sa balay the glottal stop is frequently dropped.
Therefore, the initial glottal stop is never written.

In the middle of words, the glottal stop usually occurs after a vowel and before a consonant or another vowel. For example, be’ras, e’en. Sometimes the glottal stop substitutes for t or d in the middle of a word or phrase. For instance, itlog becomes i’log, betken becomes be’ken, tolad i’ dia becomes tola’ dia, or even toa’ dia.In this in-between position the glottal stop must be written; e.g.,te’me, kira’bot.

At the end of words, glottal stops frequently occur; e.g., bai’, great-grandmother. Note, however, that when the ligature ng is added to such words, as in the phrase baing Maria, the glottal stop disappears. It also disappears in the first half of a reduplication, as when bata’, child becomes bata-bata’, doll.

Thus, as with glottal stops at the beginning of words, glottal stops at the
end of words appear and disappear. Therefore we never write glottal stops
at the end of words. (However, for purposes of illustration we have written
such stops in the previous and following paragraphs.)

Note, too, that Y and W never precede a final glottal stop but are replaced
by I and O respectively. If, however, there is no final glottal stop, W and Y
are used. Thus, sipilio’, bao’, baw, bariawbariaw; babai’, boi’, engey,
(Remember that these glottal stops would not normally be written.)

However, there is another important use of the glottal stop which must be
discussed separately, as follows.

Glottal stop (‘) in the i’ ang construction.

It is hard to explain this without getting into the grammar of Cuyonon a bit,
but to simplify what we mean here, we are referring to the combination – i’
. This is roughly the equivalent of ng in Tagalog, but unlike ng it
appears in different forms.

As a speaker of Cuyonon you will observe that there are three variations of
this construction:

To indicate the agent of an action when the agent is not in focus.
Ingbabakal i’ ang bata ang sapatos. (Ang sapatos is in focus
and i’ ang bata is not.)

To indicate the object of an action when the object is not in focus. Here,
i’ appears without ang. Nagbakal ang malam i’ sapatos. (i’ sapatos
is not in focus.)

To indicate possession. Ang balay i’ ang manggaden mabael.

Sometimes i’ ang is contracted. The i is dropped and the glottal stop is
saved and attached to the following ang, which is written as ‘ang; for
example, when indicating possession, ang pangamoyo ‘ang Gino. (Note
that we might have said, ang pangamoyo i’ ang Gino: the i was left out,
but the glottal stop is retained.)

The ang  is also absent in certain circumstances. We have already noted
this above, for example, in reference to an object not in focus. The ang is
also absent before an infinitive or gerund (that is, a verb used as a noun);
for example, Ang manga tao agimpisa ren i’ karaen, or Akatapos sanda
ren i’ saraot.

In summary, this combination of particles is spelled i’ ang.  While in some
circumstances i or ang is absent, the glottal stop is never dropped and
must be written as an apostrophe.

Manga – This word should be spelled out (not spelled mga as in Tagalog).

Writing verb tenses:

Root beginning with consonant                            Root beginning with vowel

Infinitive –          magbakal                                   magadal

Imperative –      pagbakal                                        pagadal

Completed –      nagbakal or agbakal                 nagadal or agadal

Continuous –    nagabakal or agabakal              nagaadal  or agaadal

Anticipated –    magabakal or mabakal               magaadal or maadal

Words with final vowels

Many Cuyonon words end in a vowel followed by a glottal stop, such as:
bata’, ara’, tio’.
We don’t write the glottal stop.

Some words, however, end in vowels without the glottal stop in both spoken
and written form.  Here are some examples:

Question words     kano, inoro, ano, samaoro, marasano, sino
Demonstratives     digi, didi, daya, doto, dotia, dia, dato, etc.
Conjunctions –         aimoro, piro
Links –                     ka, (apat ka. . . ), ra
Pronouns –              ako, tana, kita, sanda, kami, ko, mo, na, kanimo
Markers –                sa, ni, si
Prepositions –         sa
Possessives –         ana, imo, indo, anda
Words borrowed from other languages –  Paragua, radio, goapo,
noibi, poira
Other words –         o, doro, kono, dadi

Proper names

These tend to retain their Spanish or English spelling, including the
Spanish and English pronunciation of the letter e which in Cuyonon, of
course, has a different sound.  Examples:

Angel, Felipe, Carmen, Padilla, Peter, Maria, De la Torre, Gomez, Smith


Various constructions  – Sometimes it is hard to
know whether a construction is one word, two
words, or three words.  The following are examples:

1.  Ka as a link following a two-syllable word, such
as apat, the ka will stand alone.  The word saka is
a contraction of isara ka, and should be spelled as
one word:
apat ka tao
saka  tao
saka bilog
sitinta ka manga mimbro
sampolo mi darwa ka manga bata

2. Ka as an intensifier. This is written as a separate
dorong ka tinlo
ang ka postora

3.  Ka- as a prefix in combination with the –an suffix
must be written as one word:

4.  Mara-: We attach this to the following root:

5.  Ni or i  should be written as they are spoken.
The ni or i  is written separately:
ang istoria ni lola
ang istoria i lola

6.  Taga:  separate the word taga from the
following word, except when it is part of the name of
taga digi
taga bokid
taga o’bong
taga Canipo
tagalongon –
poisonous crab (one word)

7.  Masig-:  this is a prefix, as follows:

8.  Manig-:  this should be attached:

9.  Tag-:  attach tag-  to the following word, unless
followed by a modifier:
tag saka sintabos
tag saka bilog

10.  Pari-, para- reflexive prefixes (something one
does to or for oneself) must be attached to the verb:

Duplication: when to use a hyphen
or no hyphen:

When an unduplicated syllable or syllables can
stand alone as a word, then a hyphen is used in the
duplicated form

For example: panaw, to walk,” compared to
“to pace back and forth”;
gorang, “to sit, older, mature,” compared to
gorang-gorang, “elders, parents.”

When the unduplicated syllable or syllables cannot
stand alone as a word, the duplicated form should
not have a hyphen.

For example, bitbit, “to carry something in one’s
hand,” because there is no word bit; and
“a kind of seaweed,” because there
is no word bariaw.

11.  Months, days of the week: there are no native words but
these Spanish loan words must be written according to Cuyonon
Iniro                           Lonis
Pibriro                       Martis
Marso                        Mirkolis
Abril                          Hoibis
Mayo                          Birnis
Honio                         Sabado
Holio                          Dominggo

12.  Numbers  (Spanish loan words in Cuyonon spelling):
ono                             onsi
dos                              dosi
tris                              trisi
koatro                         katorsi
singko                         kinsi
sais                             disisais
syiti                         `  disisyiti
otso                            disiotso
noibi                           disinoibi
dyis                             bainti

trainta                        traintay ono
koarinta                     koarintay ono
singkointa                  singkointay ono
sisinta                         sisintay ono
sitinta                         sitintay ono
otsinta                        otsintay ono
nobinta                      nobintay ono

sinto                           dos syintos
mil                              milion

13. Numbers (Cuyonon):

sampolo ig isara
sampolo ig darwa
sampolo ig tatlo
sampolo ig apat
sampolo ig lima
sampolo ig anem
sampolo ig pito
sampolo ig walo
sampolo ig siam
darwampolo ig isara
tatlompolo ig isara
apat nga/ka polo
apat nga/ka polo ig isara
limampolo ig isara
anem ka  polo
anem ka  polo ig isara
pitompolo ig isara
walompolo ig isara
siam ka  polo
siam ka polo  ig isara
sanggatos ig/mi isara
darwa ka gatos
tatlo ka gatos
apat ka gatos
lima ka gatos
anem ka gatos
pito ka gatos
walo ka gatos
siam ka gatos
saka ribo
saka ribo ig/mi isara
saka milion

(Note: ig, mi, and asta all mean “and” and can all be used in


Cuyonon Language and Culture
Project, Inc.
12 Yellow Yellow Circle
Middletown, CT 06457 USA



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