An Ilocano Orthography for MTB-MLE

By Sherma E. Benosa

1.0 Introduction

Ilocano, the third most widely spoken language in the Philippines, plays an important role in the everyday lives of its speakers, especially those in Ilocano-speaking provinces. It is widely used in mass media, in governance, at home, and everywhere, except in school. That is, until recently.

For decades, Ilocano did not play an official role in education. In many cases, its use was even prohibited. But with the change in the country’s system of education from bilingual to mother-tongue-based multilingual education (MTB-MLE)1, Ilocano — and all the other major Philippine languages — will now play an important role in education.

This shift in the educational system requires a hard look at the various Philippine languages. One of the main concerns in the implementation of MTB-MLE is the supposed lack of intellectualization of Philippine languages (e.g., lack of local equivalents for technical terms, lack or absence of efficient orthography, etc).

This paper deals with the question of orthography. While it is a fact that less dominant Philippine languages still do not have their own orthography, Ilocano has a relatively long writing history. Before the coming of the Spaniards, a syllabary was already in use. This system was later replaced by the Hispanic orthography introduced by the Spaniards, from which present orthographies evolved.

This paper takes a close look at the present Ilocano orthography (represented by the Bannawag2 orthography), evaluates it against the linguistic and extralinguistic factors that interplay in orthography development, and suggests refinements to make the present orthography easier to teach to very young learners.

1.1 Factors in designing orthography

Orthography is a complex issue. Whereas it must represent the phonological, prosodic, grammatical, and semantic nuances of the language for which it is developed, extralinguistic factors — political, psycholinguistic, historical, sociolinguistic, pedagogical, etc. — also need to be taken into consideration. These factors can be as important as, and at times may even take precedence over, the linguistic considerations.

Some of the manifold questions that need to be adequately addressed in designing or reforming orthography include the following:

Psycholinguistic: Does the orthography facilitate reading and writing in the language? Are the important elements of the language adequately given symbols?

Pedagogical: Is the orthography easy to teach to young and even non-native students?

Political: Does the choice of orthography give one group advantage over another?

Sociolinguistics: Who will use the orthography? Must sounds from all the dialects of a language be given symbols?

Technological: Are special characters required to print the orthography? Can the technology available to the speech community print all the symbols used?

Historical: Does the language already have an existing orthography? Is it practical to reform the existing orthography, or is it better to use the existing orthography?

Orthography decisions — e.g., what type of orthography to adopt, which symbol to use to represent a linguistic feature, whether to orthographically represent a linguistic feature or not, etc. — require a thorough evaluation of these interplaying factors.

2.0 Phonological Features of Ilocano

Linguistic factors (particularly, the phonology and morphology of a language) play a major role in orthography development. Outlined below are the phonological features of Ilocano.

2.1 Vowels (Rubino, 1998)

Front Central Back

Unround Round





Ilocano has four phonemic sounds: a, i, u/o, and e/ə. Speakers do not distinguish between u and o.

A sequence of vowels is pronounced with an intervening glottal stop (?), except in these sequences: i + V1 (where V1 is any vowel except i) and u/o + V2 (where V2 is any vowel except o/u) . In the first sequence, a glide /j/ (orthographically represented by y) occurs. In the second sequence, a glide w occurs.

Orthographically vowel-initial words are also pronounced with the initial glottal stop.

2.1.1 The e and ə sounds. Based on the e/ə use, Ilocano may be divided into two dialects: the front medial dialect (e) and the high back unrounded (ə) dialect. Rubino (1997) calls the former “Southern dialect” (referring to La Union where he got his “Southern” data) and the latter, “Northern dialect” (referring to Vigan and parts of Ilocos Norte). Because using a geographic label can be misleading in the long run, this paper opts to label these dialects according to how they pronounce the e sound.

The high back unrounded dialect (ə-dialect) distinguishes two allophones of /e/: the high back vowel [ə] which is used with native words such as wən ‘yes’ and kən ‘also’; and the medial front vowel [e], which is used in borrowed words such as palengke ‘market’ and ehemplo ‘example.’

The front medial dialect (e-dialect), on the other hand, uses the medial front vowel for both native and borrowed words. It does not have the high back unrounded vowel (ə).

2.2 Consonants

Bilabial Dental/Alveolar Alveopalatal Velar Glottal

Stops p t… č (ti + V) k ? (-)

……………………….b d dj (di + V).. g

Fricatives s š (si + V)

Nasal m n…. ñ (ni + V) ng

Lateral…. l

Trill/Flap r

Glides w


Ilocano does not have a glottal fricative /h/ sound, except in the word haan ‘no,’ a variant of saan. Words beginning in h are borrowed e.g. hurado ‘board of judges, hues ‘judge,’ himno ‘hymn.’

2.2.1 The Glottal Stop. Symbolized in this paper as ?, the glottal stop occurs in word initial and medial positions. It intervenes between two vowels, serving as the onset of the second vowel, as in siit ‘thorn’ (pronounced /si?it/) and rabii ‘night,’ (pronounced /rabi?i/). Exceptions: in vowel sequences i + V1 (where V1 is any vowel except i) and u/o + V2 (where V2 is any vowel except o/u). (see 2.1 vowels and 2.2.2, palatalization).

Orthographically vowel-initial words are also pronounced with the initial glottal stop; hence, aso ‘dog’ is pronounced /?aso/; and ubet ‘buttocks,’ /?ubet/.

In some dialects, the glottal stop can occur as an allophone or variant of /t/ in word final position.


met = /me?/ ‘also’

mayat = /maya?/ ‘willing; to agree’


It also appears as an allophone of /k/ in word final position (i.e., where k is part of the enclitic pronoun).


kunak = /kuna?/ ‘I said; I thought’

kaniak = /kania?/ ‘mine; me (oblique)’


In some dialects, the glottal stop can occur in syllable coda position (not as a weakened version of k or t), as in sa?wen ‘to say’ and ga?wen ‘to draw food out of a pot.’ In other dialects, these words are pronounced saw?en and gaw?en, respectively.

2.2.2 Palatalization. The symbols č, dj, š, and ñ are the palatalized t, d, s and n, respectively. Palatalization happens when these consonants are followed by the glide j and any vowel except i. The consonants b, k, l, p, and r also palatalize in the same environment.


Orthographic representations

/čan/ tian ‘stomach’

/djaya/ diaya ‘offer’

/šak/ siak ‘I, me’

/aña/ ania ‘what’

/bjag/ biag ‘life’

/kjad kiad ‘to stand or walk with the stomach …………………………………………………………………………………….protruding’

/ljad/ liad ‘bent or inclined backward’

/pja/ pia ‘wellbeing’

/rjaw/ riaw ‘shout, scream’

2.3 Stress. Stress is contrastive in Ilocano. In some words, a shift in stress can cause a shift in meaning.


bádang ‘to help; to aid; to assist’

badáng ‘a kind of bolo which is pointless and shorter’

bági ‘share’

bagí ‘body; structure’

bára ‘heat; warmth’

bará ‘lungs’


Rubino (1997) gives a detailed account of stress in Ilocano. Following is an outline of Rubino’s discussion:

Each root carries an underlying stress either in penultimate or antepenultimate position. In affixation, stress may move one syllable either to the left or to the right. It may also remain where it is, depending on the environments.

2.3.1 Movement to the Right

With suffixation, the stress in stems ending with a consonant or a vowel a shifts one syllable to the right except when the stressed vowel of the root is preceded by two different consonants, a consonant and a glide, or a consonant followed by a glottal stop.

Examples (stress shift)

ka- + láwa + -en = kalawáen ‘to widen’

in- + ínut + -en = in-inúten ‘to do intermittently’


…………Examples (no shift)

paltíng + -en = paltíngen ‘to cut, sever at stem’

rabsút + -en = rabsúten ‘to snatch’


The stress also shifts one syllable to the right with suffixation if the stressed vowel is preceded by a geminate consonant. Exceptions to this rule occur with some roots that start with the vowel i.

Examples (Stress shift)

ikkát + -en.. = ikkatén ‘remove’

annád + -an = annadán ‘beware of’


Examples (Exceptions)

nag + istáy + -an. = nagistayán ‘almost’

pa- + imbág + -an = pagimbagan. ‘interest, benefit’


For stems that end in a vowel except a, the suffix bears the stress.

punnó + -en = punnuén ‘fill’

ka- + ási + -en = kaasián ‘to have pity on’


2.3.2 Movement to the Left

Movement of stress one syllable to the left is limited to this instance: when kinship terms that refer to relatives are preceded by a personal article (ni, kada, da):


amá = ni Áma

iná. = ni Ína

2.4 Syllable structure. In Ilocano, a syllable is composed of an onset, a vowel and an optional coda [CV(C)]. Phonetically, no utterance in Ilocano begins with a vowel. The orthographically vowel-initial words are pronounced with an initial glottal stop (Rubino, 1997).


Orthographic Phonetic
Representation Transcription

balasang /

arbis /?ar.bis/

naulpit /na.?ul.pit/


Ilocano content words (noun, verbs, adjectives) are di- or polysyllabic. Only function words (conjunctions, prepositions, etc. such as met ‘also,’ sa ‘perhaps, maybe,’ ti ‘of’) can be monosyllabic. Some utterances that begin with palatalized sounds such as /bjag/ ‘life,’ /kjad/ ‘‘to stand or walk with the stomach protruding,’ /ljad/ ‘bent or inclined backward’ — all of which are content words — seem to be exceptions (see 2.2.2, palatalization). But are these words truly monosyllabic in their underlying structure?

There are three possible ways to look at syllables or words that begin with palatalized consonants such as /bjag/, /kjad/, and /ljad/: 1) the onset is a double consonant (CCVC), where the second C is a glide; 2) the word actually consists of two syllables, where the second syllable begins with a glide (i.e., /bi.jag/), hence the syllable pattern CV.CVC; or 3) the underlying structure of the onset is actually palatal (i.e, the onset did not palatalize because it is palatal to begin with), thus the syllable structure is CVC where the onset is a palatal.

The first analysis violates the CV(C) syllable structure of Ilocano. The third analysis, on the other hand, complicates the sound system of Ilocano. If this analysis were valid, then the consonant inventory of Ilocano must include the palatal consonants, should they be found to be phonemic or distinct from their non-palatal counterparts. But then there are very few words that contain palatal sounds.

That leaves us with the second analysis as the most viable; it does not violate the syllable structure, nor does it complicate the sound inventory of the language. Moreover, it also affirms that there is no monosyllabic content word in Ilocano.

2.5 Gemination. Ilocano is a geminate language. All consonants, except the glottal stop (?) may be geminated. Many Ilocano words are inherently geminate, eg. duayya ‘lullaby,’ balla ‘crazy,’ and innem ‘six’.

Encliticization and affixation (both inflectional and derivative) may likewise produce geminated words.


ayan + na ayanna ‘Where is he/she/it?; where he/she/it’

lalaki + plural.. lallaki ‘men; boys’

kan + past tense kinnan ‘ate’

3.0 Overview of Ilocano Orthography

There are two conventions in the Ilocano writing system, the Hispanic system and the modern orthography. The former contains the idiosyncrasies of the Spanish writing system whereas the latter follows the abakada system. The modern orthography is represented in this paper by the orthography used by Bannawag, henceforth called Bannawag orthography or Bannawag writing system.

3.1 The Bannawag Orthography

The Bannawag writing system uses 15 native consonant sounds (b, d, g, h, k, l, m, n, ng, p, r, s, t, w, and y) and 5 vowel sounds (a, e, i, o, and u) and reserves the letters c, f, j, q, v, x, and z for proper names and un-respelled foreign words. It is a shallow orthography3 with restrictions. This means that there is nearly a one-to-one correspondence between sound and orthographic symbol, except some special sounds.

Palatalized Sounds. Alveopalatal sounds (dj, č, ñ, š) are represented using di- and trigraphs. The voiceless alveopalatal stop č is represented by the sequence ti + V4 in native words like tian ‘stomach’ and tianggi ‘a small store’; or by the digraph ts as in tsuper ‘driver’, tsinelas ‘slippers’ and tsapa ‘badge.’ The voiced alveopalatal stop dj is represented by the trigraph di + V such as in diaya ‘offer’ and diar ‘bearing, countenance’ and by dy as in dyip ‘jeep’, dyok ‘joke’. The ts and the dy seem to be more widely used with borrowed words.

The fricative š is represented by si + V, for both native and non-native words, as in siak ‘I’, siam ‘nine,’ siempre ‘of course,’ sien ‘one hundred’. The palatalized nj is represented by ni + V for native sounds, and ñ (enye) for proper, non-native words, particularly those of Spanish origin, e.g., ania ‘what’, kaniaw ‘tribal feast among mountain peoples,’ and Avendaño ‘a Spanish surname.’ The palatalized lj is represented by li + V for native words, and ll for proper, non-native words, as in agliem ‘to crack, to fissure,’ liad ‘bent or inclined backward,’ and Llanes ‘a Spanish surname.’

Other palatalized consonants follow the Ci5 + V spelling, e.g., ariek ‘to be tickled,’ biang ‘self; oneself,’ kiet ‘bent, drawn,’ and piek ‘chick.’

The e and ə sounds. The Bannawag system does not differentiate the front medial vowel /e/ and the high medial unrounded vowel /ə/. Both are represented using the letter e.

Re-spelling. In the Bannawag system, foreign words may or may not be respelled. Respelled non-native sounds (z, f, v, etc) are represented by the native sounds that share some characteristics with it. Hence, z is represented by s; v by b, and f by p.


Foreign word Respelled form

vaso baso ‘glass’

familia pamilia ‘family’

zipper siper ‘zipper’


In foreign words with competing forms (i.e., English form versus Spanish form) the Spanish form is preferred, and is spelled using the abakada system, if there is no native equivalent of the word. In the example below, the Spanish equivalent is preferred over the English equivalent. Most often, however, the native word is preferred.


English Spanish Ilocano

Association Asosacion gunglo


The glottal stop. Bannawag does not symbolize the glottal stop in word-initial and word final positions, except in conversations in literary articles (for characterization purposes) where the final glottal stop is symbolized by (´).


kimat kima’ ‘lightning’

met me’ ‘also’

kaniak kania’ ‘mine, to me’


In word medial position, the glottal stop is represented by a hyphen (-).


ay-ayam ‘game, toy’

ayek-ek ‘laugh, laughter, giggle’


The Glides. When preceded by a consonant and followed by a vowel, the glide j (orthographically represented by y) becomes i, whereas the glide w becomes u.


kanjak = kaniak

duwa = dua

The u and o sounds. Ilocano does not distinguish between u and o. However, the Bannawag orthography has a rule with regards to u and o, as outlined below by Laconsay (1993):

Whenever u and o appear together in a stem, u comes before o except in borrowed words, as in komusta (Sp), kosina (Sp) ‘kitchen,e etc. Whenever these letters are found in just one stem, o always comes last and only once, as in supusop, puyupoy. When a syllable is reduplicated to form a stem, u comes first, as in purpor, bukbok, kutkot. When the stem itself is reduplicated, no change in spelling is made, as in killokillo, budobudo.

When an o-ending word is added with a suffix, the o becomes u.


luto + -en. lutuen ‘to cook’

ammo + -en ammuen ‘to know; to find out’

punno + -en. punnuen ‘to fill to the brim’


However, if an enclitic6 pronoun is attached, the o remains unchanged.


luto + na lutona ‘his/her cooking’

ammo + da ammoda ‘they know; their knowledge’

pinunno + mi. pinunnomi ‘we filled (it) to the brim’


3.2 Hispanic Spelling

The Hispanic system has more consonants than the modern system. In addition to the 20 letters, the Spanish-based Ilocano orthography also uses v, z, f, ll, ñ, q and c.


susic ‘argument’

Jehova ‘Jehovah’

Quen ‘and’


Two vowels may represent one sound. The ue sequence represents the sound /e or ə/ while ui represents /i/, as in quen ‘and’ and daguiti ‘they; the (pl)’

The g and c each represents two sounds. Before i and e, c represents the /s/ sound, whereas g represents the /h/ sound. In other environments, they represent the sounds k and g, respectively.


anac ‘child’

acero ‘steel’

Geronimo Geronimo


The letter j is also used to represent the sound /h/, as in Judas ‘Judas,’ espejo ‘mirror.’

The Hispanic spelling is no longer used, except in proper names and in the Ilocano Bible, which still utilizes some aspects of the Hispanic orthography. But even in the later editions of the Ilocano Bible, many of the idiosyncrasies of the Spanish-based orthography have been discarded. The q has been replaced with k, and the ue and ui sequences have been changed to e and i, respectively.


quet => ket (a particle with no English equivalent)

kuen => ken ‘and’

daguiti => dagiti ‘the/these’


3.3 Ordinary People’s Spelling

Ilocano spelling by ordinary Ilocanos (neither Ilocano writers nor language scholars, and unexposed to the written form of the language) tend to follow the orthography of Tagalog. This kind of orthography is characterized by the use of y or w in consonant-glide clusters (instead of y becoming i, and w becoming u).


anya ‘what’

tyan ‘stomach’


Pronouns also tend to be written separate from the preceding word, except in instances when the pronoun consists of only one sound, as in -m in kaniam ‘yours’ and -k in pammatik ‘my belief’).


tatang ko ‘my father’

ubrak ‘my work’

irugitayon. ‘we will start (already)’


The letter u is widely used, even in word final position.


ubra ‘work’

isu…. ‘him’, ‘her’

4.0 Recommendations

A good orthography efficiently represents the linguistic features of a language, satisfactorily addresses relevant extralinguistic concerns, and is able to accommodate the changes taking place in the phonological system of that language. It is simple and practical and easy to teach to young learners and non-native speakers.

With that in mind, this paper recommends that the present orthography used by Bannawag be adopted for MLE, but with refinements. The present orthography has existed for decades, used by most Ilocano writers, and is backed by volumes of book publications and Bannawag, itself the most widely read paper in the vernacular.

Suggested refinements are minimal. Except for some inconsistencies, the Bannawag system is efficient. And because some of the inconsistencies require drastic changes, this paper chooses to refine only those that will not radically change the present orthography and to uphold historical spelling over linguistic factors following Seifart’s words of caution (2006):

“With respect to orthography reform, it cannot be stressed enough that reforming an established orthography may have an enormous sociopolitical impact, in particular if a substantial number of speakers are already acquainted with that orthography and if printed materials that use this orthography already exist. Thus, it may be better to live with an inconsistent orthography — even if inappropriate from a linguistic or psycholinguistic perspective — unless the speech community is really determined to change it.”

4.1 Borrowed words. Ilocano is inundated with foreign words, mainly from Spanish and English. This paper recommends that:

1) Foreign words will be allowed to enter the language wholly (i.e., without respelling). Technical words, words with cultural load and cannot be adequately translated, and even ordinary words (especially those with very complicated spelling) may be allowed into Ilocano in their original form.







This paper welcomes re-spelling (changing the original spelling of foreign words to fit the orthographic conventions and sound system of the host language) but at the same time cautions against excessive re-spelling. Too much re-spelled words in a construction is generally regarded as unaesthetic. Moreover, re-spelling of some words (i.e., words whose original spelling looks very different from their possible re-spelled forms) may add burden to learning. For example, children (and even adults) may take longer time to recognize asosyeysyon, kosyent, rendevu and sayamis as the re-spelled versions of the words association, quotient, rendezvous, and Siamese, respectively. It may also sow confusion as learners will inevitably be taught two spellings for every foreign word: the original spelling and the indigenized spelling.

2) Borrowed words with non-native sounds that have been respelled and assimilated into the language should remain in their respelled forms.


jeep => dyip

coup de etat => kudeta

vaso => baso

familia/family. => pamilia


Some writers/language enthusiasts seem to be espousing the re-entry of Hispanic letters into Ilocano, and reverting respelled Spanish words back to their original spelling, e.g., vaso, familia. While the reasoning seems sound, the re-spelled forms of these words have been fully integrated and assimilated into the Ilocano language to the point that it is no longer advisable to write these words in their original spelling (except perhaps in special cases, such as etymology lessons, characterization in fiction writing, etc.).

Reverting back to the original spelling of Hispanic words whose re-spelled versions have been fully integrated in Ilocano will disrupt the already established Ilocanized spelling. Moreover, the Hispanic spelling does not correspond to the sound system of Ilocano. Ilocanos do not actually pronounce these Spanish sounds (particularly f and v). As early as 1908, the American linguist Carlos Everett Conant has noted that most Philippine languages do not have the sounds f and v and that most Philippine languages, Ilocano included, automatically change f to p, and v to b. To this day, Ilocanos still call the drinking glass ‘baso’ (not vaso), and their family their ‘pamilia’ (not familia). And finally, some Hispanic orthographic symbols compete with indigenous spelling (see section on palatalized words below).

3. Allow moderate re-spelling.

There are words that lend themselves to re-spelling and still be easily recognized. As such, while this paper cautions against excessive re-spelling (that is, re-spelling every single foreign word), it does not completely say ‘no’ to it. Relatively new words continue to be Ilocanized perfectly well: kompyuter/kompiuter8 ‘computer,’ selpon ‘cellphone,’ etc.

4.1.1 Affixation and encliticization in borrowed words. Words borrowed into the language wholly, when affixed or enclitic pronouns, must be isolated from the affixes/enclitics by a hyphen to avoid confusion.

……….Examples (Affixation)

nag-mall ‘went malling’

ag-Starbucks ‘will have coffee/pastries at Starbucks,’

nagpa-spa ‘had spa’

Nag-Starbucks-kami ‘We went to Starbucks’

laptop-ko ‘my laptop’


Exceptions may include words that follow the syllable pattern and spelling system of Ilocano or have been widely re-spelled and whose lack of hyphen does not cause confusion.


aginternet ‘will use the internet’

agkompiuter/agkompiuter ‘will use the computer’

agpadoktor ‘to go to the doctor for a check-up’


In an internet forum, Ilocano writer Roy V. Aragon expressed concern that the use of hyphen may signal the reader to break the syllable between the affix and the borrowed word, e.g., read ag-Starbucks as /ag-?istarbaks/ and not /agistarbaks/ (notice the break between the affix and the borrowed word in the first pronunciation). While this is a valid concern, the other option, which is to remove the hyphen, may be more confusing: nagStarbuckskami, nagmall, nagpaspa, etc.

Other options are 1) Ilocanize the words; 2) use instead the indigenous equivalents of the words; 3) simply rephrase the utterance e.g., instead of saying Nag-Starbucks-kami, write instead Napankami idiay Starbucks ‘We went to Starbucks.’ The third option seems the best way to treat the problem, and should be done where possible. However, there are some words that may not be Ilocanized (e.g., Starbucks) and there are instances that one needs to capture exactly how something was said (e.g. quoting a source/interviewee directly, characterization, etc.) in which case, rephrasing, re-spelling and Ilocanizing words are out of the question. Hence, a rule about how to deal with affixed words is necessary. Indigenous Words. This paper likewise emphasizes the re-introduction and use of indigenous words for concepts which Ilocano has words for. One of the most important rules in borrowing foreign words is: “Don’t borrow.” Whereas many Ilocano speakers now tend to use foreign words for concepts which have Ilocano equivalents, this paper believes that the MTB-MLE can help curb this practice by reintroducing these words in everyday Ilocano lessons. This, in effect, re-intellectualizes the language.

4.2 Palatalized Sounds. As outlined in section 2.1, Bannawag spells the palatalized sounds č and dj as dy or di + V, and ts or ti + V, respectively. The ts and dy seem to be reserved for foreign words whereas the Ci + V formula is for indigenous words, although there is at least one exception: tiempo ‘time.’

The other palatalized sounds are orthographically represented more consistently: Ci + V both for both native and non-native words.

There are two special palatalized sounds: nj and lj. Both sounds have Spanish counterparts and thus have Hispanic orthographic representations: ñ and ll, respectively. Their native orthographic counterpart is Ci + V. This paper recommends that ñ and ll be reserved for proper, non-native words. As discussed in 2.4, Ilocano is a geminate language. If the palatal ll will be used for all palatalized lj (i.e., including the indigenous sounds), it will compete with the geminate ll. The ll in words such as kelleng, belleng, alla are read as geminates, not palatals, (i.e., kel.leng, bel.leng, and ?, respectively, and not kel.jeng, bel.jeng, or al.ja). Using ll to represent palatalized lj sounds may cause confusion and add burden to learners. To illustrate further, if /?aljaw/ (presently orthographically represented as aliaw)‘fright, horror’ were written as allaw, then ullaw ‘kite’ might be mistakenly read as /?ul.jaw/.

nj and dj are the only palatalized sounds that can be orthographically represented using a single symbol instead of a di- or trigraph — ñ and j, respectively (where the orthographic j is different from the phonetic symbol j which corresponds to the sound orthographically represented by y). The use of these symbols would result in a one-to-one correspondence between sound and orthographic representation, e.g., aña ‘what,’ and ijay, ‘there’ (conventionally spelled ania and idiay, respectively).

Some extra-linguistic factors, however, would not admit such spelling. One is sociolinguistics. The symbols are associated with jejemonand text spelling which are not accepted in formal writing. Another is historical. The conventional spelling of these sounds has always been Ci + V for non-indigenous words. The letter ñ has been used historically to represent the palatalized nj in proper names. This is one instance where extralinguistic factors take precedence over linguistic factors. Hence, this paper recommends the use of Ci + V for native words for both sounds, and ñ for palatal non-native words.

To sum up, it is recommended that palatals be spelled using the trigraph Ci + V, except proper foreign words containing the special palatals nj and lj which will be represented by the symbols ñ and ll, respectively. Other exemptions are the sounds č and dj which will have the ts and dy di-graphs for Ilocanized borrowed words, and Ci + V for indigenous words.

It is worth mentioning however, that in a pilot testing of an MA thesis(M. Alzate, personal communication), Grade 1 pupils were not able to correctly read tian ‘stomach’. Instead of recognizing the i+ V sequence as a glide, the pupils read the word as /ti?an/ instead of /tyan/. What the students did, technically, is insert a glottal stop between the vowels.8

This shows that teachers must therefore be able to teach that the i + V sequence signals the presence of the glide j such as in biag /bjag/ ‘life’. Understanding the underlying syllable structure of these sounds can help. In 2.3, this paper analyzed the structure of syllables containing palatalized sounds as CV.CV(C). Hence, biag is of the syllable pattern CV.CVC (/bi.jag/). Bannawag does not orthographically the j, (biag instead of biyag). Reasons for not orthographically representing the glide in palatalized sounds include: 1) to economize space; 2) because its removal does not affect the pronunciation (J.S.P. Hidalgo, Jr., personal communication); and 3) because Ilocano does not pronounce such words like biag as /bi.jag/ (where both syllables are clearly articulated) but /byag/ (R. Duque, personal communication).

From the linguistic viewpoint, not orthographically representing the glide in palatalized words is a sound decision because Ilocano has words such as bayag /ba.yag/ ‘to be long in coming,’ bayaw /ba.yaw/ ‘brother-in-law’ whose syllables are clearly articulated. Orthographically representing the glide in palatalized words may confuse the readers when to clearly articulate syllables and when not to in glide-containing words.

4.3 The u + V27 sequence. A sequence of u + V2 creates the glide w. The analysis for such sequence is parallel to palatalization; that is, a seemingly monosyllabic word that contains u+ V2 sequence is actually di-syllabic in its underlying structure, e.g. /dwa/ ‘two’ and /bwa/ ‘betelnut’ are of the syllable structure CV.CV (du.wa and bu.wa, respectively). They are orthographically written as dua and bua, respectively. The reasoning is parallel to that adopted for palatalized sounds. (See 4.4 for further discussion).

4.4 The u / o rule. As outlined in 2.1, the Bannawag orthography follows the rule that whenever both u and o are found in just one stem, o always comes last and only once.

Following this rule, the tendency of words that end in rounded back vowels is to end in o, not u, such as aso ‘dog’, ammo ‘know’, and luto, ‘cook’. The use of o in word final position is to signal word ending, as well as to represent the very slight lowering of the round back vowel in utterance final position.

However, despite this rule, there are also words — although very few — that end in u, as in isu ‘he, she it,’ and adu ‘many.’ As there is no justification for this difference (since the round back vowels are not phonemic in Ilocano), this paper recommends consistency of symbol), i.e., using o. Hence, adu and isu will become ado and iso, respectively. Precedence of historical orthography (over consistency) may not be invoked here because the affected words are too few to disrupt the present orthography.

Another rule with regards u and o is this: when an o-ending word is added with a suffix (-an, -en, -an, etc), o is changed to u.


ammo. ‘know’ + -en => ammuen ‘to know, to find out’

pakaammo ‘notice’ + -an => pakaammuan ‘to notify’

sango ‘front’ + -en => sanguen ‘to face’


Exception 1: Exceptions to this rule are sacred words such as santo ‘saint,’ sagrado ‘sacred’ and words for tao ‘man.’ When attached with a suffix, the o is not changed to u.


tao ‘man’ + sang-, -an sangkataoan ‘mankind’ (not sangkatawan)

sagrado ‘sacred’ + na-, -an nasagradoan ‘sacred’ (not nasagraduan)

santo ‘saint’ + na-, -an nasantoan ‘saintly’ (not nasantuan)


Other exceptions are words such as gao ‘to draw out food from the pot’ and sao ‘word,’ which, when added with a suffix, o becomes w.


sao + -en sawen ‘to say’ (not saoen)

gao + -en gawen ‘to draw out food from the pot’ (not gaoen)

There are two possible explanations for this. There is a glottal stop between the vowels in sao and gao, hence, phonetically, they have the structure /sa?o/ and /ga?o/. Because the glottal stop is not orthographically represented, when sao and gao are added with a suffix, such as -en, the resulting word will have three vowel sequences, where the middle vowel carries the sound glide w. Aesthetic-wise, this is not a good orthography. And so, it becomes necessary to orthographically represent the w sound.

A small problem occurs in some words in exception 1 i.e., sangkataoan which contains a sequence of three vowels.

Explanation 2

Another explanation is that when sao and gao are added with a suffix –en, a glottal stop epenthesizes in the resulting words. Sawen ken gawen are actually pronounced /ga?wen or gaw?en/ and /sa?wen or saw?en/ respectively (the difference is pronunciation is dialectal). This difference in phonetic structure necessitates the orthographic representation of the glide w.

Another rule is that when the o-ending words are added with the enclitic pronoun, no change occurs (i.e., o does not become u).


ammo + na => ammona ‘He/she knows.

sango + mi => sangomi ‘In front of us’


This paper recommends simplification of the symbols used for the word final rounded back vowel, by consistently using (o). This simplifies orthographic rules for affixation and encliticization and facilitates learning of students.

4.4.1. U and o in Spanish loan words. This paper recommends that the Hispanic exceptions to the u/o rule be removed, and completely Ilocanize the very few affected words. Hence, kosina becomes kusina, komusta becomes kumusta. This will make the u/o spelling more consistent without causing disruption in the Ilocano orthography because these exceptions are very few, and not many are aware of Bannawag exception rule anyway.

4.5 Stress. Although stress is phonemic in Ilocano, this paper does not recommend orthographically representing stress as is done in the Spanish orthography. Putting stress in orthography may only hamper learning, especially for the very young.



1The change in the educational system is through the Department of Education (DepEd) Order No. 74 series of 2009.

2Bannawag is a weekly Ilocano magazine which has been in circulation for over 75 years. The most widely-read Ilocano paper, Bannawag used the Hispanic orthography until the spelling reform (abakada) introduced by Lope K. Santos in the 1970s. The abakada system was later refined by editors of the weekly, until Bannawag developed a spelling system that is slightly different from Tagalog (P/Filipino). Although there are slight variations to the Bannawag spelling used in other Ilocano papers and used/or espoused by a few Ilocano writers, the Bannawag system is the most established, most widely used, and, to this writer, the most logical, despite the few inconsistencies which this present paper aims to tackle.

3A shallow orthography “approximates a correspondence between an orthographic representation and the surface realization of linguistic forms to the extent that they may specify the phonetic realization of these forms as they are pronounced in a given context” (Seifart, 2006).

4V is any vowel except i

5C is Consonant

6An enclitic is an independent morpheme that attaches itself to another word.

7V2 is any Vowel except u or o

8The pupils were not taught any lessons in Ilocano, and were not exposed to the written form of the language prior to testing.



Aragon, Roy V. Comment in FaceBook.

Conant, Carlos Everett. (1908). “F” and “V” in Philippine languages. Bureau of Science, Division of Ethnology Publications,:135-41. (Reprinted in Galang, 1958: 69-178.)

Laconsay, Gregorio. (1993). Iluko-English-Tagalog Dictionary. Quezon City: Phoenix Publishing House.

Rubino, Carl. (1998). Ilocano-English, English-Ilocano Dictionary and Phrasebook. New York: Hippocrene Books.

Seifart, Frank. (2006). Orthography Development” in Essentials of Language Documentation. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter

6 thoughts on “An Ilocano Orthography for MTB-MLE

  1. Wow! Itanco laeng naammuan a casta cacomplicado gayam ti agsurat wenno agisuro iti Ilocano. (Is this sentence correct?) If it is ever taught, needless to say, (again) teachers must be fully proficient in such guidelines, and comfortably know how to teach their intents. In other words, the teachers must be correctly “catechized” themselves. I think that Ilocano should not only be taught in Hawaii but more so in the North; rather than displacing our language with Tagalog aka P/Filipino.
    “Abacada” since only the 70s? My lelang back in the 40s read, “Ice cream for sale here.” = “I-se cre-am for sa-le he-re.” And she taught me in my Caton, “ba, be, bi, bo, bu.”

    Some other nagging concerns:
    “Political: Does the choice of orthography give one group advantage over another?”

    Yes!, in the case of P/Filipino it does. And Tagalog of the purists are surreptitiously creeping in P/Filipino books. For just one good example, what is “pakli” in P/Filipino but a braggadocio.

    The “Northern/Southern dialects” basis only as defined, couldn’t be a representative sample of the spoken Ilocano.

    Bannawag is just one organized reference.

    The old Ilocano alphabet and its flexibility: A, B, C, CH,D ,E, F, G, H, I, J, K, LL, M, N, Ñ, NG, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y ken Z.

  2. Hi! Ita ta masapulen nga iyadal tayo ti ortograpiya ti Iloko kadagiti estudyante tayo iti kolehiyo, masapul garud ta sagtunggal maysa koma kadagiti maseknan ket ipasnekna ti agadal ti Iloko tapnu napinpintas met laeng panangiyadal tayo kasta met kadagiti dadduma pay a leksiyon wennu topiko nga Iloko ti mausar. Kas maestra iti kolehiyo, maragsakannak unay a makaammo nga adda ipabpablaak ti Bannawag maipapan iti Ortograpiya ti Iloko. Makatulong unay daytoy.
    Agyamanak met kenni Mam Sherma iti panangsuratna maipapan iti daytoy.

  3. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article writer for your weblog. You

    have some really great posts and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take

    some of the load off, I’d love to write some material for your blog in

    exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an email
    if interested. Thanks!

  4. Thanks for another magnificent article. Where else could

    anyone get that type of info in such an ideal way of writing?
    I’ve a

    presentation next week, and I am on the look for such info.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s