Ilokano language

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Ilokano (variants: Ilocano, Iluko, Iloco, and Iloko) is the third most-spoken language of the Republic of the Philippines.

An Austronesian language, it is related to such languages as Indonesian, Malay, Fijian, Maori (of New Zealand), Hawaiian, Malagasy (of Madagascar), Samoan, Tahitian, Chamorro (of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), Tetum (of East Timor), and Paiwan (of Taiwan).


Ilocanos are descendants of Austronesian-speaking people from southern China via Taiwan. Families and clans arrived by viray or bilog, meaning "boat". The term Ilokano originates from i-, "from", and looc, "cove or bay", thus "people of the bay." Ilokanos also refer to themselves as Samtoy, a contraction from the Ilokano phrase sao mi ditoy, "our language here".


Ilocano comprises its own branch in the Philippine Cordilleran family of languages. It is spoken as a native language by eight million people.

A lingua franca of the northern region, it is spoken as a secondary language by more than two million people who are native speakers of Pangasinan, Ibanag, Ivatan, and other languages in Northern Luzon.

Geographic distribution

Ilocanos occupy the narrow, barren strip of land in the northwestern tip of Luzon, squeezed in between the inhospitable Cordillera mountain range to the east and the South China Sea to the west. This harsh geography molded a people known for their clannishness, tenacious industry and frugality, traits that were vital for survival. It also induced Ilokanos to become a migratory people, always in search for better opportunities and for land to build a life on. Although their homeland constitutes the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur, La Union and Abra, their population has spread east and south of their original territorial borders.

Ilocano pioneers flocked to the more fertile Cagayan Valley, Apayao mountains and the Pangasinan plains during the 18th and 19th centuries and now constitute a majority in many of these areas. In the 20th century, many Ilokano families moved to Metro Manila and further south to Mindanao. They became the first Filipino ethnic group to immigrate en masse to North America (the so-called Manong generation), forming sizable communities in the American states of Hawaii, California, Washington and Alaska. Ilokano is the native language of most of the original Filipino immigrants in the United States, but Tagalog is used by more Filipino-Americans because it is the basis for Filipino, the national language of the people of the Philippines.

A large, growing number of Ilokanos can also be found in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore, Canada and Europe.

Writing system


Pre-colonial Ilocanos of all classes wrote in a syllabic system prior to European arrival. They used a system that is termed as an abugida, or an alphasyllabary. It was similar to the Tagalog and Pangasinan scripts, where each character represented a consonant-vowel, or CV, sequence. The Ilokano version, however, was the first to designate coda consonants with a diacritic mark - a cross or virama - shown in the Doctrina Cristiana of 1621, one of the earliest surviving Ilokano publications. Before the addition of the virama, writers had no way to designate coda consonants. The reader, on the other hand, had to guess whether the vowel was read or not.


In recent times, there have been two systems in use: The "Spanish" system and the "Tagalog" system. In the Spanish system words of Spanish origin kept their spellings. Native words, on the other hand, conformed to the Spanish rules of spelling. Nowadays, only the older generation of Ilocanos use the Spanish system.

The system based on that of Tagalog is more phonetic. Each letter receives one phonetic value, and better reflects the actual pronunciation of the word. The letters ng, however, constitute a digraph and counts as a single letter, following n in alphabetization. As a result, numo humility appears before ngalngal to chew in newer dictionaries. Words of foreign origin, most notably those from Spanish, need to be changed in spelling to better reflect Ilokano phonology. The weekly magazine Bannawag is known to use this system.

Samples of the Two Systems

The following are two versions of the Lord's Prayer. The one on the left is written using the Spanish-based orthography, while the one on the right uses the Tagalog-based system.

Amami, ñga addaca sadi lañgit,
Madaydayao coma ti Naganmo.
Umay cuma ti pagariam.
Maaramid cuma ti pagayatam
Cas sadi lañgit casta met ditoy daga.
Itedmo cadacam ita ti taraonmi iti inaldao.
Quet pacaoanennacami cadaguiti ut-utangmi,
A cas met panamacaoanmi
Cadaguiti nacautang cadacami.
Quet dinacam iyeg iti pannacasulisog,
No di quet isalacannacami iti daques.

Amami, nga addaka sadi langit,
Madaydayaw kuma ti Naganmo.
Umay kuma ti pagariam.
Maaramid kuma ti pagayatam
Kas sadi langit kasta met ditoy daga.
Itedmo kadakam ita ti taraonmi iti inaldaw.
Ket pakawanennakami kadagiti ut-utangmi,
A kas met panamakawanmi
Kadagiti nakautang kadakami.
Ket dinakam iyeg iti pannakasulisog,
No di ket isalakannakami iti dakes.

Ilokano and Education


Ilocano animistic past offers a rich background in folklore, mythology and superstition (see Religion in the Philippines). There are many stories of good and malevolent spirits and beings. Its creation mythology centers on the giants Aran and her husband Angngalo, and Namarsua (the Creator).

The epic story Biag ni Lam-ang (The Life of Lam-ang) is undoubtedly one of the few indigenous stories from the Philippines that survived colonialism, although much of it is now acculturated and shows many foreign elements in the retelling. It reflects values important to traditional Ilokano society; it is a hero’s journey steeped in courage, loyalty, pragmatism, honor, and ancestral and familial bonds.

Ilocano culture revolves around life rituals, festivities and oral history. These were celebrated in songs (kankanta), dances (sala), poems (daniw), riddles (burburtia), proverbs (pagsasao), literary verbal jousts called bucanegan (named after the writer Pedro Bucaneg, and is the equivalent of the Balagtasan of the Tagalogs) and epic stories.




Modern Ilocano has two dialects, which are differentiated only by the way the letter e is pronounced. In the Amianan (Northern) Dialect, there exist only five vowels while the Abagatan (Southern) Dialect employs six.

  • Amianan: /a/, /i/, /u/,/ɛ/,/o/
  • Abagatan: /a/, /i/, /u/,/ɛ/,/o/,/ɯ/

The letter in bold is the graphic (written) representation of the vowel.

Ilokano Vowel Chart
Height Front Central Back
Close i /i/ e /ɯ/, u/o /u/
Mid e /ɛ/ o /o/
Open a /a/

For a better rendition of vowel distribution, please refer to the IPA Vowel Chart.

Unstressed /a/ is pronounced [ɐ] in all positions except final syllables, like madí [mɐˈdi] (cannot be) but ngiwat (mouth) is pronounced [ˈŋiwat].

Although the modern (Tagalog) writing system is largely phonetic, there are some notable conventions.

O/U and I/E
In native morphemes, the close back rounded vowel /u/ is written differently depending on the syllable. If the vowel occurs in the ultima of the morpheme, it is written o; elsewhere, u.

    Root: luto cook
          agluto to cook
          lutuen to cook (something)

Instances such as masapulmonto, You will manage to find it, to need it, are still consistent. Note that masapulmonto is, in fact, three morphemes: masapul (verb base), -mo (pronoun) and -(n)to (future particle). An exception to this rule, however, is laud /la.ʔud/ (west). Also, u in final stressed syllables can be pronounced [o], like [dɐ.ˈnom] for danum (water).

That said, the two vowels are not highly differentiated in native words, due to fact that /o/ was an allophone of /u/ in the history of the language. In words of foreign origin, notably Spanish, they are phonemic.

    uso use
    oso bear

Unlike u and o, i and e are not allophones, but i in final stressed syllables in words ending in consonants can be [ɛ], like ubíng [ʊ.ˈbɛŋ] (child).

The two closed vowels become glides when followed by another vowel. The close back rounded vowel /u/ becomes [w] before another vowel; and the close front unrounded vowel /i/, [j].

kuarta /kwaɾ.ta/ money paria /paɾ.ja/ bitter melon

In addition, dental/alveolar consonants become palatalized before /i/. (See Consonants below).

Unstressed /i/ and /u/ are pronounced [ɪ] and [ʊ] except in final syllables, like pintás (beauty) [pɪn.ˈtas] and buténg (fear) [bʊ.ˈtɛŋ] but bangir (other side) and parabur (grace) are pronounced [ˈba.ŋiɾ] and [pɐ.ˈɾa.buɾ].

Amianan and Abagatan Pronunciation of /e/
The letter e represent two vowels in the Abagatan dialect, /ɛ/ in words of foreign origin and /ɯ/ in native words, and only one in the Amianan dialect, /ɛ/.

Realization of 'e'
Word Gloss Origin Amianan Dialect Abagatan Dialect
keddeng assign Native kɛd.dɛŋ kɯd.dɯŋ
elepante elephant Spanish ʔɛ.lɛ.pan.tɛ ʔɛ.lɛ.pan.tɛ


Diphthongs are combination of a vowel and /i/ or /u/. In the orthography, the secondary vowels (underlying /i/ or /u/) are written with their corresponding glide, y or w, respectively. Of all the possible combinations, only /ai/ or /ei/, /iu/, /ai/ and /ui/ occur. In the orthography, vowels in sequence such as uo and ai, do not coelesce into a diphthong, rather, they are pronounced with an intervening glottal stop, for example, buok hair /bʊ.ʔuk/ and dait sew /da.ʔit/.

Diphthong Orthography Example
/au/ aw kabaw "senile"
/iu/ iw iliw "home sick"
/ai/ ay maysa "one"
/ei/ ey idiey "there" (Regional variant. Standard: "idiay")
/oi/, /ui/ oy, uy baboy "pig"

The diphthong [ei] is a variant of [ai] in native words. Other occurrences are in words of Spanish and English origin. Examples are reyna [ˈɾ] (from Spanish reina, queen) and treyner [ˈtɾei.nɛɾ] (trainer). The diphthongs [oi] and [ui] may be interchanged since [o] is an allophone of [u] in final syllables. Thus, apúy (fire) may be pronounced [ɐ.’poi] and baboy (pig) may be pronounced [‘ba.bui].


Bilabial Dental /
Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops Voiceless p t k (#ØV/ØVØ/C-V)[ʔ]
Voiced b d g
Affricates Voiceless (ts, tiV) [tʃ]
Voiced (diV) [dʒ]
Fricatives s (siV) [ʃ] h
Nasals m n (niV) [nj] ng [ŋ]
Laterals l (liV) [lj]
Flaps r [ɾ]
Trills rr [r]
Semivowels (w, CuV) w (y, CiV) [j]

All consonantal phonemes may be the syllable onset or coda. Exceptions are /h/ and /ʔ/. The phoneme /h/ is loaned and rarely occurs in coda position. Although, the Spanish word, reloj, clock, would come into Ilokano as */re.loh/, the final /h/ is dropped resulting in /re.lo/. However, this word may have entered the Ilokano lexicon at early enough a time that the word was still pronounced /re.loʒ/, with the j pronounced as in French, resulting in /re.los/ in Ilokano. Both, /re.lo/ and /re.los/ occur.

The glottal stop /ʔ/ is not permissible as coda; it can only occur as onset. Even as an oset, the glottal stop disappears in affixation. Take for example the root aramat, use. When prefixed with ag-, the expected form is *ag-aramat /ʔɐg.ʔɐ.ra.mat/. But, the actual form is, in fact, agaramat /ʔɐ.gɐ.ra.mat/; the glottal stop disappears. In a reduplicated form, the glottal stop returns and participates in the template, CVC, agar-aramat /ʔɐ.gar.ʔɐ.ra.mat/.

Stops are pronounced without aspiration. When they occur as coda, they are not released, for example, sungbat [sʊŋ.bat̚] answer, response.

Ilokano is one of the Philippine languages which is excluded from [ɾ]-[d] allophony, as /r/ in many cases is derived from a Proto-Austonesian */G/, compare dugo (Tagalog) and dara (Ilokano) blood.

The language has a trill [r] which was spelled as “rr”, for example, serrek [sɛ.ˈrɛk] to enter. But it is different in proper names of foreign origin, mostly Spanish, like Serrano, which is correctly pronounced as [sɛ.ˈrano]. Some speakers, however, pronounce Serrano as [sɛ.ˈɾano].


Ilokano employs a predicate-initial structure. Verbs and adjectives occur in the first position of the sentence, then the rest of the sentence follows.

Ilokano uses a highly complex list of affixes (prefixes, suffixes, infixes and enclitics) and reduplications to indicate a wide array of grammatical categories. Learning simple root words and corresponding affixes goes a long way in forming cohesive sentences.



Ilokano's vocabulary has a closer affinity to languages from Borneo. Foreign accretion comes largely from Spanish, followed by English and smatterings of Hokkien (Min Nan), Arabic and Sanskrit.

Examples of Borrowing
Word Source Original Meaning Ilokano meaning
arak Arabic drink similar to sake generic alcoholic drink
karma Sanskrit deed (see Buddhism) spirit
sanglay Hokkien to deliver goods to deliver/Chinese merchant
agbuldos English to bulldoze to bulldoze
kuarta Spanish cuarta ("quarter", a kind of copper coin) money
kumusta Spanish greeting: ¿Cómo está? ("How are you?") how are you

Common expressions

English Ilokano
Yes Wen
No Saan or Haan
How are you? Kumusta ka?
Good day Naimbag nga aldaw
Good morning Naimbag a bigat
Good afternoon Naimbag a malem
Good evening Naimbag a rabii
What is your name? Ania ti naganmo? (often contracted to Aniat' naganmo?)
Where's the bathroom? Ayanna ti banio?
I cannot understand Diak matarusan
I love you Ay-ayatenka or Ipatpategka
Sorry Pakawan or Dispensar
Goodbye Agpakadaakon or Kastan/Kasta pay (Till then) or Sige (Okay) or Innakon (I'm going)

Numbers (Bilang), Days (Aldaw), Months (Bulan)

Numbers (Bilang)

Ilokano uses two number systems, one native and the other derived from Spanish.

0 ibbong
awan (lit. none)
sero (English zero)
itlog (slang egg)
0.25 (1/4) kakappat
0.50 (1/2) kagudua
1 maysa uno
2 dua dos
3 tallo tres
4 uppat kuatro
5 lima singko
6 innem sais
7 pito siete
8 walo otso
9 siam nuebe
10 sangapulo (lit. a group of ten) dies
11 sangapulo ket maysa onse
20 duapulo bainte
50 limapulo singkuenta
100 sangagasut (lit. a group of one hundred) sien, siento
1,000 sangaribo (lit. a group of one thousand) mil
10,000 sangalaksa (lit. a group of ten thousand) dies mil
1,000,000 sangariwriw (lit. a group of one million) milion
1,000,000,000 sangabilion (American English, billion) bilion

Ilokano uses a mixture of native and Spanish numbers. Traditionally Ilokano numbers are used for quantities and Spanish numbers for time or days and references. Examples:

Spanish: Mano ti tawenmo? Beintiuno. How old are you? Twenty one.

Luktanyo dagiti Bibliayo iti libro ni Juan kapitulo tres bersikolo diesiseis. Open your Bibles to the book of John chapter three verse sixteen.

Ilokano: Mano a kilo a bagas ti kayatmo? Sangapulo laeng. How many kilos of rice do you want? Ten only.

Adda dua nga ikan kenkuana. He has two fish. (lit. There are two fish with him.)

Days of the week ()

Days of the week are directly borrow from Spanish.

Days of the Week
Monday Lunes
Tuesday Martes
Wednesday Mierkoles
Thursday Huebes
Friday Biernes
Saturday Sabado
Sunday Domingo

Months (Bulan)

Like the days of the week, the names of the months are taken from Spanish.
January Enero    July Hulio
February Pebrero August Agosto
March Marso September Septiembre
April Abril October Oktubre
May Mayo November Nobiembre
June Hunio December Disiembre

Units of time

The names of the units of time are either native or are derived from Spanish. The first entries in the following table are native; the second entries are Spanish derived.

Units of time
second kanito
minute daras
day aldaw
week lawas
dominggo (lit. Sunday)
month bulan
year tawen

To mention time, Ilokanos use a mixture of Spanish and Ilokano:

1:00 a.m. A la una iti bigat (One in the morning)
2:30 p.m. A las dos imedia iti malem (in Spanish, Son las dos y media de la tarde or "half past two in the afternoon")

More Ilokano words

  • ading = younger brother/sister
  • awan = none
  • adda = there is
  • al-alya = ghost/spirit
  • apay = why?
  • apong = grandparent
  • apong baket = grandmother
  • an-nay! = Ouch!
  • aso = dog
  • aysus! = Oh, Jesus/Oh, my God!
  • apong lakay = grandfather
  • babai = female
  • bakla/maing = effeminate male
  • baket = old women / wife
  • balla = crazy
  • bangsit = stink
  • barok = young boy
  • basang = young girl
  • (ag)basa = (to) read
  • basul = fault, wrongdoing
  • bisin = hunger
  • (ag)buya = (to) watch
  • dadael = destroy/ruin
  • digos = bath
  • buto=penis
  • gayyem = friend
  • kaanakan = niece / nephew
  • kabalyo = horse
  • kabsat = sibling
  • kanayon = always
  • kasinsin = cousin
  • katawa = laugh
  • kuddot = pinch
  • inang/nanang = mother
  • laing = intelligence
  • lakay = old men / husband
  • lalaki = male
  • latteg= testicle
  • mabisin = hungry
  • manang = older sister or relative; can also be applied to women a little older than the speaker
  • mangan = eat

  • manong = older brother or relative; can also be applied to men a little older than the speaker
  • mari = female friend/mother
  • naimas = taste/feel good/delicious
  • nana = grandmother
  • nasam-it = sweet
  • naalsem = sour
  • napait = bitter
  • naapgad = salty
  • (na)pintas = beautiful (woman)
  • nataraki = cute (man, slightly impolite connotation, but properly used on an animal, as for a rooster), usually interchanged with 'handsome'
  • nataengan = adult
  • (na)guapo = handsome (man)
  • (na)rago, (na)laad = ugly
  • pari = close male friend
  • papet/pepet/uki = vagina
  • padi = father (priest)
  • (na)peggad = danger(ous)
  • pusa= cat
  • pustaan = bet or wager
  • pimmusay(en)= died
  • riing = wake up
  • rupa = face
  • sala = dance
  • (na)sakit = (it) hurts
  • (ag)sangit = (to) cry
  • (ag)surat = (to) write
  • takrot/tarkok = coward/afraid
  • tata = grandfather
  • tatang = father
  • (ag)takder = (to) stand
  • (ag)tugaw = (to) sit
  • (na)tawid = inherit(ed)
  • tun-bigat = tomorrow.
  • turog = sleep
  • ubing = child
  • ulo = head
  • ubet = butt


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