About the Cebuano language

lapu lapu

Lapu-Lapu, chieftain of Mactan Island, Cebu and defeater of Ferdinand Magellan

Around the same time I taught myself the Tagalog language, I learned about how the Cebuano language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the Philippines alongside Tagalog. Cebuano is not only spoken on the island of Cebu but also on other islands in the Visayas and Mindanao.

This is a language spoken by 21 million people in the Philippines and among other overseas Filipinos. This is the language of the recently-canonised St. Pedro Calungsod and singers, Max Surban and Pilita Corrales.

Cebuano is mainly taught at home through practise. It is not actually taught in schools since Cebuano is not an official language. There is more than 100 languages spoken in the Philippines but because English and Pilipino (a.k.a Tagalog) are the two official languages of the country, they are the two languages taught in every school no matter what province and no matter what language/dialect people in that province speak.

I took an interest in Cebuano (also known as Binisaya) mainly because on first impressions, it is very close to Tagalog and I already knew some Tagalog.

Lack of resources

Finding learning resources was a problem for me. There are no Cebuano classes or Cebuano language books where I live. There are abundant resources for Tagalog but none for Cebuano. I had to scour the internet for a few learning sources and indeed I did find some in the form of websites and PDFs.

I did visit Cebu once. It was fun and the place was beautiful. I didn’t spend too much time at the beaches which would have been nice. I did get a chance to watch TV in Cebu where they do broadcast TV shows in Cebuano, Tagalog and English. The same way in Barcelona, they broadcast shows in Catalan and Spanish.

I also took the opportunity to get actual Cebuano learning materials to take home and learn from them. Indeed I did. After reading some of those books, I learned even more Cebuano than I did before when I was relying on the internet.

But that’s the problem though. I had to go to Cebu to get actually Cebuano resources because there were none in Melbourne. You might tell me “You were in the Philippines, let alone Cebu where people can also speak English and Tagalog. Why bother with Cebuano?”. The answer is plain and simple. I wanted to learn Cebuano.

The differences between Cebuano and Tagalog

Cebuano should actually be easy for Tagalog-speakers.

Because both Cebuano and Tagalog belong in the same subbranch within the Malayo-Polynesian langauges, people call the two, dialects. But both languages would technically be considered as two separate languages because the two are not mutually intelligible. Meaning that a Tagalog-speaker and a Cebuano-speaker cannot have a conversation if both persons speak in their respective languages.

Despite that, there are a number of words in Cebuano that are very similar, as well as the same as Tagalog (e.g Ako, gusto ko, kumusta, etc). Just like Tagalog, Cebuano has an abundant number of Spanish loanwords.

The two languages also have the same grammatical system. Like Tagalog, Cebuano uses the Verb-Subject-Object format in most cases. Cebuano does however shorten their pronouns for most cases (e.g ako = ko, ikaw = ka).

But just like any other language, there are Cebuano dialects like the Cebu City dialect, provincial Cebu dialect, Boholano, Davaoeño et al. There are also other features in Cebuano that makes it distinctive to Tagalog, but hopefully nothing drastically new for Tagalog-speakers to learn.

If you do get a chance to go to Cebu or Davao, which are both increasingly popular destinations in the Philippines, then learning simple phrases in Cebuano wouldn’t hurt. Especially if it’ll impress the locals.

*(Kon moadto ka sa Sugbo kun Dabaw, maayo nga nag-tuon ka’g gamay sa Sinugboanon. Popular kaayo Sugbo ug Dabaw sa tanan sa Pilipinas.)

There will be another article that fully explores the similarities and differences between the two languages.

*NOTE: Sorry, if what I’ve written is incorrect, I am still in the process of learning Cebuano. But, hey, give me credit for some effort. (Pasaylo-a ko, kon misulat ko’g nasayop nga sulti. Naga-tuon ko’g Sinugboanon.)


7 thoughts on “About the Cebuano language

    • Hi,
      Do you know what happened to the Visayan Academy of Arts and Letters AKA Akademyang Bisaya?
      I agree that many of the original/archaic words in Cebuano/Bisaya, Tagalog and every other language/dialect in the Philippines should be preserved and practised. Many of the younger generation nowadays see these words as “deep” but there is so much heritage within these words. Those words shouldn’t be ignored.

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