About the Ilocano language


UNESCO World Heritage Site – St Augustine Church, Paoay, Ilocos Norte

After teaching myself Tagalog and Cebuano, I thought that maybe learning a third Philippine language wouldn’t hurt. So I thought, Ilocano because it is the third most-widely spoken language in the country.

This language is spoken mainly in the northern Philippines in the northern parts of Luzon. It has received the moniker as the unofficial “National Language of Northern Philippines”. It has been made the official provincial language of the province of La Union alongside Filipino and English. Just like every other Filipino group, Ilocanos can be found everywhere throughout the Philippines including Metro Manila even as far as Mindanao and Palawan. Historically, Ilocanos have mass migrated to Hawaii and California, making them the largest Philippine group not only in Hawaii but throughout the United States.

Just like the other 100-plus languages spoken in the Philippines, Ilocano is never taught in schools and one would learn at home. Only English and Filipino are taught in schools across the country because they are the two official languages.


Lack of resources

Finding learning resources was once again a problem for me. There is always an abundance of Tagalog/Filipino resources but pretty much no resources for Ilocano. I’m also pretty disappointed that there are no textbooks for Ilocano even in the Philippines. Usually in bookstores, they would only have Ilocano dictionaries or bibles but no textbooks or phrasebooks.

I was able to find an Ilocano textbook in Melbourne, Australia called Let’s Speak Ilocano by Percy Espiritu, however it was not published in the Philippines but in Hawaii. That book was my main resource for learning the language. I also had to scour the internet for other learning sources in the form of websites and PDFs.

What also makes learning Ilocano challenging is that I have no relative I can practise speaking with.

I even had the fortune of visiting both Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. I visited many places and the place has beautiful sceneries and cool weather. I did not get a chance to check out the TV shows broadcasted in Ilocano. More importantly though, I also used the opportunity to practise my Ilocano with the locals. I couldn’t speak it as well as I do with Tagalog but any effort is satisfactory.


Ilocano compared to other Philippine languages

Personally, I think a Tagalog-speaker will have an easier time learning Cebuano rather than Ilocano. That is because both Tagalog and Cebuano are more similar to each other in grammar and vocabulary compared to Ilocano. Within the Austronesian language family, Tagalog and Cebuano are both part of the Central Philippine language branch, which includes Bikol and other Visayan languages while Ilocano is part of the Northern Luzon branch which also includes Pangasinan.

I won’t go into too much detail about the language, but here are some examples of how Ilocano is different to Tagalog and Cebuano in their basic words and phrases:

Tagalog Cebuano Ilocano
Good afternoon Magandang hapon Maayong hapon Naimbag a malem
Good evening Magandang gabi Maayong gab-i Naimbag a rabii
Thank you Salamat Salamat Agyamanak
I ako ako siak, ~ak
you ikaw ikaw sika, ~ka
he/she siya siya isuna
we kami, tayo kami, kita dakami, datayo
subject particle ang ang ti
object particle ng ug iti

Unsurprisingly, just like majority of Philippine languages, Ilocano has an abundant number of Spanish loanwords. There are however some words in Ilocano that are similar to either Tagalog, Cebuano or another Philippine language.

But just like any other language, there are Ilocano dialects since Ilocanos are widespread. Ilocano spoken in Ilocos Norte may be different to a variety spoken in either Baguio or Isabela.

If you do get a chance to go to Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur or La Union, which are becoming popular destinations in the Philippines, learning simple phrases in Ilocano wouldn’t hurt. Especially if it’ll impress the locals.

*(No mapanka idiay La Union wenno Ilocos Norte, naimbag ngarod no agkunaka iti bassit laeng nga ilokano. Nagpipintas idiay.)

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 Ilocano. But, hey, give me credit for some effort. (Dispensar, uray no saan a kusto ti pansuratko. Agad-adalak pay laeng nga agsao iti ilokano.)


2 thoughts on “About the Ilocano language

  1. Mayat daytoy nga website! Agsao ak ti Ilokano ngamin nagian ak idiay Ilokos Sur dua nga tawen. Birokenak ti gayem nga makitongtong wenno Skype. Haan ak nga kayat nga malipatan ti sao ngarud. Agsao ak met ti Kankana-ey.

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