choose a language or topic »|Sunday, February 17, 2019
You are here: Home » Austronesian » Ilocano
  • Follow Us!


Naimbag nga isasangpet – Welcome

Ilocano, also known as Ilokano and Iloko, is a member of the Malayo-Polynesian branch of the Austronesian language family. It is the third largest language of the Philippines, after Tagalog and English. The name Ilocano come from i– ‘from’ +looc ‘bay’ + –ano Spanish ‘native of,’ thus ‘people of the bay’.

Philippines map


Ilocano is spoken as a first language by some 7 million people, primarily in Northern LuzonLa Union and Ilocos provinces, Cagayan ValleyBabuyanMindoro, and Mindanao. It is also spoken as a second language by possibly another 2 million speakers in the northern areas of Luzon as a lingua franca in trade, commerce, and everyday communication. Many ethnic groups from the northern regions of the country are more proficient in Ilocano than in Tagalog, the national language. Nevertheless, at present, Ilocano remains a regional language with no official status. Its use in education is limited to the early elementary grades.

Ilocanos became the first Filippino ethnic group to emigrate in large numbers to North America, settling in sizable communities in Hawai’i, California, the Pacific Northwest, and Alaska.  It is taught in some schools in Hawai’i and California.


Ilocano has two main mutually intelligible dialects: Northern and Southern. The differences between the two dialects are primarily phonological.


Sound system

Like other Malayo-Polynesian languages, Ilocano has a fairly simple sound system. All syllables begin with at least one consonant and typically end in a vowel. Ilocano allows consonant clusters, mostly at the beginning of syllables. Clusters at the end of syllables are found only in loanwords.

Northern Ilocano has five vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. Southern Ilocano has a sixth vowel /ɯ/. Vowels have a long form and a short form. Long vowels occur under certain phonological conditions.

Unrounded Rounded
  • /ε/ = e in bed
  • /ɯ/ has no equivalent in English; it is pronounced like /u/ but without lip rounding.


locano has twenty consonant phonemes. All consonants except /f/ and /h/] may be geminated (doubled). Some consonants, e.g., /f/, appear only in loanwords.

Stops voiceless
x voiced
xxxx ….xxx
Tap or trill
  • /ʔ/ = sound between the vowels in oh-oh
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /j/ = y in yet


Stress can fall on any syllable of a word. Addition of a suffix moves the position of the stress one syllable to the right.


The grammar of Ilocano is fairly typical of other Malayo-Polynesian languages such as Tagalog and Cebuano. Grammatical relations are expressed by prefixationinfixationsuffixationcircumfixationencliticization, and reduplication. There are a number of prefixes and infixes, but only two suffixes.

The main features of Ilocano noun morphology are given below:

  • Ilocano is an Ergative-Absolutive language. This means that the subjects of intransitive verbs and direct objects of transitive verbs are both marked with the absolutive case, as opposed to subjects of transitive verbs marked with the ergative case.
  • Only some nouns borrowed from Spanish are marked for gender, e.g., doktór (masculine) and doktóra (feminine).
  • Nouns are divided into personal and common. Personal nouns take the personal article ni, and common nouns take the article ti.
  • Plural can be expressed in two ways: (1) by plural form of the article, e.g., ti baláy ‘the house’ and dagití baláy ‘the houses’; (2) by various types of reduplication, e.g., ima ‘hand’, and imima ‘hands’.



  • Personal pronouns are marked for person (1st, 2nd, 3rd), number (singular, plural), and respect, e.g., siká informal ‘you’, sikayó formal ‘you’.
  • There is an inclusive and an exclusive 1st person plural. The inclusive form includes the addressee, while the exclusive form does not, e.g., you and Iwe not youwe and you.
  • There is no gender distinction in the 3rd person singular, i.e., between he and she.
  • There are three demonstrative pronouns: proximal, medial, and distal. Proximal is equivalent to the English this, medial is equivalent to the English that, and distal is equivalent to the English yonder.



Ilocano verbs are morphologically complex and use a variety of affixes to mark focus, tense, aspect, and mood. The affixes consist of a variety of prefixessuffixesinfixes, and circumfixes. Reduplication is also quite common.

  • Almost all verbs are formed by adding a verbalizing affix to a root, e.g., golp ‘golf’, aggolp ‘to play golf’.
  • An interesting feature of Ilocano verbs, as in other in Malayo-Polynesian languages, is its focus (or trigger) system. This means that the role of the noun is reflected in the verb. There are several foci, such as actor (intransitive) and goal (transitive).


Word order
Ilocano is a verb-initial language. The order of other constituents that follow the verb is relatively free, but there is a general preference for the subject to precede the object. Numbers and other quantifiers generally precede nouns, whereas demonstratives, adjectives and possessive pronouns may either precede or follow the noun they modify.


Ilocano lexicon is Austronesian in origin but the language also contains borrowings from Spanish and EnglishSpanish loanwords reflect over 300 years of Spanish domination, while English loanwords result from half-century of American hegemony over the Philippines. In addition, Ilocano has loanwords from Min Nan ChineseMalaySanskritArabicTamilPersian, and other Austronesian languages. Most Sanskrit loanwords pertain to religious and intellectual concepts.

Good day! Naimbag nga aldaw!
How are you? Kumusta ka (informal), kumusta kayon (formal)?
Good bye! Dita kan (informal), dita kayon (formal)!
Thanks! Agya manak!
I’m sorry! Dispensar!
Yes Wen
No Saan, haan
Man, male Lalaki
Woman, female Babai


Ilocano has a native and a Spanish-based set of numerals. Ilocanos tend to use native numerals for numbers 1-9, and Spanish numerals for 10 and up.

Below are the numerals 1-10 in native and Spanish-based Ilocano.



Ilocano literature can be traced back at least to the early 17th century.There is a large number of religious documents, poems, riddles, proverbs, epic stories, songs, and other literary works. Today, there is a sizable body of Ilocano literature, including periodicals and newspapers.

Although it is commonly believed that each province in the Philippines had its own ancient alphabet, Spanish writers of the 16th century reported that the practice of writing was found only in the Manila area at the time of first contact. Writing spread to the other islands later, in the middle of the 16th century. The Spaniards usually called this ancient script “Tagalog letters”, regardless of the language for which it was used.

The so-called “Tagalog letters” were actually a syllabic script called Baybayin, which was used until the 17th century when it was gradually replaced by the Latin alphabet that is still in use today. The word baybayin (from baybay ‘spell’ in Tagalog) means ‘alphabet’. The Baybayin alphabet, probably developed from the Javanese script, in turn adapted from the Pallava script, the latter itself derived from the Brahmi script of ancient India. There is evidence that Baybayin was used for writing in the Visayas. It was mainly used for letters, poetry, and incantations. Today, the Baybayin alphabet is used mainly for decorative purposes, although there are attempts to revive its use.

Baybayin is a syllabic alphabet, written from left to right in horizontal lines, in which each consonant has an inherent vowel /a/. Other vowels are represented either by separate letters, or by diacritics over the consonant. For instance, a dot over the consonant changes the vowel from /a/ to /i/ or /e/, while a dot under the consonant changes it to /o/ or /u/. A plus sign under the consonant indicates that the vowel is mute, as in the example below from Wikipedia.


Today, Ilocano is written with a 20-letter Latin alphabet that includes 5 vowels and 15 consonants. They are given below in their traditional order.

A a
B b
K k
D d
E e
G g
H h
I i
L l
M m
N n
Ng ng
O o
P p
R r
S s
T t
U u
W w
Y y


Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Ilocano.

Artikulo 1
Amin nga tao nga sibibiag ket naiyanak a siwawayawaya ken addaan iti agpapada nga dayaw ken kalintegan. Naikkanda ti panagikalintegan ken konsensya a nasken ti panagtitinnulong iti meysa ken meysa iti espiritu nga nainkak-absatan
Article 1
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Ilokano?
Since Ilocano is related to Tagalog, a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English, it is reasonable to assume that it belongs to the same category.

12 Responses to Ilocano

  1. Jacob Favila

    Here’s the approved Ilocano Ortography:

  2. Joe Maza

    I see “Philippino”. It should be “Filipino”.

    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for catching the error. We will fix it.

  3. Chelsea Guray

    Thank you for your this brief but complete outline linguistic description of Ilocano. I will cite this reference in my fieldwork studies.

  4. Isi

    I want to talk to ilocano and to tech how to understanding talk languange

    • Irene Thompson

      Please explain what you are trying to ask/state?

  5. Allen

    Hi there! Thanks for the information about Ilocano language. Can I ask for some resources (paper/research works..etc) where the idea came from? Thanks 🙂

  6. Jack E. Bagbaga

    Hello..I think the formal ilocano term for goodbye is not dita kayun? I think it should be ” agpakadaak pay” or ” umuna ak pay” or ” apan akun, agbati kayo pay” and I think there is some error on the numbers? 7 should be pito..not pilo..thanks..

    • Irene Thompson

      I am getting several versions of “goodbye” from several sources. Which of the ones above are the most commonly used?

  7. Gasat Tolentino

    Goodbye in Spanish is Adios, translates to God be with you. In Ilocos Norte goodbye is Dios ti kumuyog which means God stay with you, and response of the person leaving is Dios ti agbati which means God stay with you.

  8. Pamela Reyes

    how do you translate the Filipino words “talino” and “husay” in Ilocano, Kapampangan, Pangasinense, Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Waray?


Add a Comment