Bisayan languages

The Bisayan languages or the Visayan languages[2] are a subgroup of the Austronesian languages spoken in the Philippines. They are most closely related to Tagalog and the Bikol languages, all of which are part of the Central Philippine languages. Most Bisayan languages are spoken in the whole Visayas section of the country, but they are also spoken in the southern part of the Bicol Region (particularly in Masbate), islands south of Luzon, such as those that make up Romblon, most of the areas of Mindanao and the province of Sulu located southwest of Mindanao. Some residents of Metro Manila also speak one of the Bisayan languages.

Visayas, most parts of Mindanao, Masbate, and Mimaropa in the Philippines, Sabah in Malaysia and immigrant communities
Linguistic classificationAustronesian
  • Asi
    Central Bisayan
    West Bisayan
    South Bisayan
Geographic extent of Bisayan languages based on Ethnologue and the National Statistics Office 2000 Census of Population and Housing


Central Bisayan


West Bisayan



South Bisayan


Other legend

  Widespread/L2 use of Cebuano
  Widespread/L2 use of Hiligaynon

Over 30 languages constitute the Bisayan language family. The Bisayan language with the most speakers is Cebuano, spoken by 20 million people as a native language in Central Visayas, parts of Eastern Visayas, and most of Mindanao. Two other well-known and widespread Bisayan languages are Hiligaynon (Ilonggo), spoken by 10 million in most of Western Visayas and SOCCSKSARGEN; and Waray-Waray, spoken by 3 million in Eastern Visayas. Prior to colonization, the script and calligraphy of most of the Visayan peoples was the badlit, distinct from the Tagalog baybayin.


Native speakers of most Bisayan languages, especially Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Waray, not only refer to their language by their local name, but also by Bisaya or Binisaya, meaning Bisayan language. This is misleading or may lead to confusion as different languages may be called Bisaya by their respective speakers despite their languages being mutually unintelligible. However, languages that are classified within the Bisayan language family but spoken natively in places outside of the Visayas do not use the self-reference Bisaya or Binisaya. To speakers of Cuyonon, Surigaonon, Butuanon and Tausug, the term Visayan usually refers to either Cebuano or Hiligaynon.

There have been no proven accounts to verify the origins of Bisaya. However, there is an ethnic group in Malaysia and Brunei who call themselves with the same name. However, these ethnic groups in the Philippines must not be confused with those in Borneo.

Internal classification

David Zorc gives the following internal classification for the Bisayan languages (Zorc 1977:32).[3] The five primary branches are South, Cebuan, Central, Banton, and West. However, Zorc notes that the Bisayan language family is more like a dialect continuum rather than a set of readily distinguishable languages. The South Bisayan languages are considered to have diverged first, followed by Cebuan and then the rest of the three branches. Also, in the Visayas section, the province of Romblon has the most linguistic diversity, as languages from three primary Bisayan branches are spoken there aside from the indigenous Romblomanon and Banton.

Notably, Baybayanon and Porohanon have Warayan substrata, indicating a more widespread distribution of Waray before Cebuano speakers started to expand considerably starting from the mid-1800s.[4]

A total of 36 varieties are listed below. Individual languages are marked by italics.

The auxiliary language of Eskayan is grammatically Bisayan, but has essentially no Bisayan (or Philippine) vocabulary.

Magahat and Karolanos, both spoken in Negros, are unclassified within Bisayan.[5]

Ethnologue classification

Ethnologue classifies the 25 Bisayan languages into five subgroups:

Language familyNo. of LanguagesLanguages
Central Bisayan1Bantayanon
Peripheral5Ati, Capiznon, Hiligaynon, Masbateño, Porohanon
Warayan3Baybayanon, Kabalian, Northern Sorsoganon
Gubat1Southern Sorsoganon
South Bisayan2Surigaonon, Tandaganon
Butuan-Tausug2Butuanon, Tausug
West Bisayan1Caluyanon
Aklan2Aklanon, Malaynon
Cuyan2Cuyonon, Ratagnon

Names and locations

Zorc (1977: 14-15) lists the following names and locations of Bisayan languages. The recently documented languages Karolanos, Magahat, and Kabalian are not listed in Zorc (1977).

SubgroupLanguageOther namesLocation(s)
BantonBantonBanton Island, Romblon
BantonSibaleBantonSibale (Maestre de Campo) Island, Romblon
BantonOdionganonCorcuera Island dialectOdiongan area, Tablas Island, Romblon
WesternAlcantaranonAlcantara, Tablas Island, Romblon
WesternDispoholnonSan Andres (Despujols), Tablas Island
WesternLooknonInunhanLook and Santa Fe, Tablas Island
WesternDatagnonRatagnun, LatagnunIlin Island and Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro
WesternSanta TeresaBarrio Santa Teresa of Magsaysay, Occidental Mindoro
WesternBulalakawnonBulalacao (San Pedro), southern Oriental Mindoro
WesternSemiraraSemirara Island Group
WesternCuyononCuyunoCuyo Island, except Agutaya; coastal area around Puerto Princesa, Palawan; Culion and Busuanga Islands
WesternAklanonAkeanon, Aklano, AklanAklan and northern Capiz, Panay Island
WesternPandanPandan area, Antique, including the Buruanga, Aklan area of Panay
WesternKinaray-aAntiqueño, Hinaray-a, Sulud, Panayanomost of Antique, Panay Island; most inland areas of Iloilo and Capiz; southern Guimaras Island off of Iloilo
WesternGimarasGuimaras Island, Iloilo
CentralRomblomanonRomblon and Sibuyan Island; San Agustin area, Tablas Island
CentralBantayanBantayan Island
CentralCapiznonCapiz and northeastern Iloilo, Panay Island
CentralHiligaynonIlonggomost of Iloilo, Panay Island; western Guimaras and Negros Occidental
CentralKawayanCauayan, Negros Occidental
CentralMasbateMasbateMasbate and Ticao Island
CentralCamotesCamotes Island, between Cebu and Leyte
CentralNorthern SamarSamareño, Waray-Waraynorthern Samar
CentralSamar-LeyteSamareño, Waray-Waray, Sinamarcentral Samar; northern half of Leyte
CentralWaraySamareño, Waray-Waray, Binisayâsouthern Samar Island, Eastern Samar
CentralSorsogonSorsogonon, Bikolnorthern Sorsogon, Bikol
CentralGubatSorsogononsouthern Sorsogon, Bikol (including Gubat)
CebuanCebuanoSugbuanon, Sugbuhanon, Cebuan, SebuanoCebu Island; Negros Oriental; eastern Visayas and the coastal areas of northern and eastern Mindanao
CebuanBoholanoBol-anonBohol Island
CebuanLeyteKanâ, Leyteñocentral western Leyte; immigrants to Dinagat Island
SouthernButuanonButuan City, Agusan del Norte area
SouthernSurigaononJaun BisayâSurigao del Norte
SouthernJaun-JaunSiargaononSiargao Island, Surigao del Norte
SouthernKantilanCantilan and Madrid, Surigao del Sur
SouthernNaturalisTandag and Tago, Surigao del Sur
SouthernTausugMoro, Taw SugJolo Island; southern and western Palawan


David Zorc's reconstruction of Proto-Bisayan had 15 consonants and 4 vowels (Zorc 1977:201).[3] Vowel length, primary stress (penultimate and ultimate), and secondary stress (pre-penultimate) are also reconstructed by Zorc.

Proto-Bisayan Consonants
Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive Voiceless p t k ʔ
Voiced b d ɡ
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative s h
Lateral l
Approximant w j
Proto-Bisayan Vowels
Height Front Central Back
Close i /i/ u /u/
Mid ə /ə/
Open a /a/

See also


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Bisayan". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Adelaar, Alexander (2005). "The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar: a historical perspective". In Adelaar, Alexander; Himmelamnn, Nikolaus (eds.). The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar. London: Routledge. pp. 1–42., page 16.
  3. Zorc, David Paul (1977). The Bisayan Dialects of the Philippines: Subgrouping and Reconstruction. Canberra, Australia: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University. doi:10.15144/PL-C44. ISBN 0858831570.
  4. Lobel, Jason (2009). Concise Encyclopedia of Languages of the World. Oxford: Elsevier. pp. 914–917.
  5. Lobel, Jason William. 2013. Philippine and North Bornean languages: issues in description, subgrouping, and reconstruction. Ph.D. dissertation. Manoa: University of Hawai'i at Manoa.
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