The Dialectology of Cebuano: Bohol, Cebu and Davao

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The Dialectology of Cebuano: Bohol, Cebu and Davao


Divine Angeli P. Endriga
University of Asia and the Pacific
Pearl Drive, Ortigas, Pasig City;
University of the Philippines-Diliman
Unit 442, Bldg. 4, Guadalupe Bliss Condominiums
Phase I, Cembo, Makati City



This paper is a description of the dialectology of Cebuano spoken in the provinces of Bohol, Cebu and Davao. It notes the similarities and differences between the dialects with regards to phonology (only consonants and vowels are included) and other constructions relevant to the study.
Most of the data were gathered from Cebuano speakers from the respective provinces.
The author hopes that this study will be helpful in writing materials, to decide on a standard orthography etc. It will also help in understanding the nuances of Cebuano, so it can be taught easily and facilitate easier shift from the mother tongue into Filipino and English when students reach the stage of learning them.


Cebuano is the language spoken in the provinces of Cebu, Negros Oriental, Bohol, Southern Leyte and Southern Masbate. It is also the majority language and lingua franca in almost all of Mindanao except in the provinces of Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato and Lanao del Sur. It is used as a trade language in Mindanao.
Cebuano’s linguistic lineage is Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Western Malayo-Polynesian, Meso-Philippine, Central Philippine, Bisayan and Cebuan. It has the ISO 639-2 three letter code ceb.
It is spoken by 25% of the population in 1948, 24% in 1960, 24% in 1975, 24% in 1990, and 21.17% in 1995. The speakers number from 15 to 20 million. The 2000 census is subject to debates because new categories were included, separating Boholano and Binisaya/Bisaya from Cebuano, making them distinct languages. 13% (10,030,667) speak Cebuano, 8% (5,778,435) Binisaya/Bisaya and 2% (1,837,361) Boholano which when taken together would comprise 23% of the population. Cebuano has more native speakers than Tagalog but Tagalog has more speakers, most of them are second-language learners.
Before the Spaniards and other Europeans came to the Visayas, there was no word or place called Cebu and no language was called Cebuano. There was a town named Sugbo and the Spaniards hispanized the name into Cebu and Cebuano to refer to the people and language spoken in Sugbo and adjacent areas.
What could have made the Spaniards name the language and the people as Cebuano? Historically, the province of Cebu had been the center of trade and politics in the Visayas Islands earning it the title ‘The Queen City of the South’. During the Spanish period, the Diocese (now Archdiocese) of Cebu included what are now the Diocese of Dumaguete (Negros Oriental and Siquijor), the Diocese of Maasin (Southern Leyte), and the Dioceses of Tagbilaran and Talibon (Bohol). Cebu was the administrative center or Diocese. The missionaries might have noticed that the vernaculars spoken in Cebu, Southern Leyte, Eastern Leyte, Bohol, Negros Oriental, and Siquijor were mutually intelligible and they grouped them as dialects of one language.
The missionaries caused Cebuano to flourish. It was them who studied the system of the language, wrote it in the Roman alphabet and had them published or preserved. As early as 1521, Cebuano was recorded in word lists (~168) written by Antonio Pigafetta, the chronicler of Ferdinand Magellan’s expedition. It was also studied by the Augustinians and the Jesuits upon their arrival, but the books are written in Spanish. Examples of these grammar books, dictionaries and compilations are Martin de Rada’s (OSA) Bisayan Grammar (circa 1578), Juan Antonio Campion’s (S.J) Bisayan dictionary and collection of sermons, Pedro Oriol’s (S.J) undated manuscript of Vocabulario en Lengua Bisaya, Guillen’s Gramatica Bisaya and Esguerra’s Arte de la Lengua Bisaya. Other works were written by Mateo Sanchez, S.J, Alonso de Mentrida (OSA) and Francisco Encina (OSA). Masses were said in Latin; the readings and gospel were also in Latin but during the sermon, the priests translate them into Cebuano so the natives could understand. This was how the Mass is said when the order of Vatican II was not yet passed. The Bible was not formally translated into Cebuano but the priests interpret and translate them orally for preaching and their evangelizing work.
During the Spanish era, even until now, the Catholic Church has been using the Sialo vernacular (a.k.a. Carcar-Dalaguet version or south-eastern Cebuano) as the standard for
Cebuano translations of religious publications which include the Bible, printed prayers, novenas as well as other materials like that of the lives of the saints and other instructional materials. Some of the earlier materials survive until today and they show that Cebuano has changed considerably from the 17th century up to the present. Following the order of Vatican II, the mass is also said in the vernacular.
From what can be deduced, Cebuano has two meanings. Primarily it applies to the people and language of the Province of Cebu. Dissecting the word morphologically as Cebu added with –ano, it is clearly evident that it is related to Cebu. The suffix –ano would mean ‘of Cebu/ something which is related to Cebu.’ Cebuano is a Spanish word meaning ‘of/from Cebu’, like Cubano (Cuban), Argentino (Argentinian), Mexicano (Mexican) and Colombiano (Colombian).
Secondarily, it applies to all speakers of vernaculars mutually intelligible with the vernaculars of Cebu, regardless of origin or location, as well as to the language they speak.              
The second meaning garnered objections. For example, generations of Cebuano speakers in northern Mindanao (Dipolog, Dapitan, Misamis Oriental, Misamis Occidental, coastal areas of Butuan) say that their ancestry traces back to Cebuano speakers native to their place and not from immigrants or settlers from the Visayas. Furthermore, they refer to themselves as Bisaya and not Cebuano and their language Binisaya. Many are surprised to learn that what they are speaking is really Cebuano. (See next section for the discussion on Cebuano, Bisaya and Binisaya).
The opposition to the second meaning was seen in the 2000 Census. The 2000 Census started new categories like Bisaya/Binisaya which is spoken by 8% of the population. This refers to Cebuano speakers in Mindanao. It also introduced Boholano as separate from Cebuano and is spoken by 2% of the population. Some observers in Dipolog note that there is a language called “Bisaya which is closely related to Cebuano”. This is certainly a result of confusion arising from not understanding that native speakers use Cebuano and Binisaya interchangeably. Dr. Jes Tirol, an expert on Cebuano said that all these are just different dialects of Cebuano because they have the same grammar with the exception of some different lexicon.
To summarize, Cebuano refers primarily to the inhabitants of the Province of Cebu, their descendants, and to the language they speak. It refers to both the people and the language. No one argues with this definition. Secondarily, though there are some who disagree with this, Cebuano applies to all speakers of vernaculars mutually intelligible with the vernaculars of Cebu, regardless of origin or location of the speakers, and their ancestry.



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Davao discussion missing? by docleah (not verified)