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The Phonology of Ilocano Dialect in Comparison to Tagalog

Kevin M. Martinez

Ilocano and Tagalog are both members of the Western-Malayo-Polynesian set of


Austronesian languages whereas Ilocano is spoken by about 9 million people in the northwest of
Luzon Island in the Philippines serving as the lingua franca of the region. Ilocano is assumed to
be a member of the Cordilleran subgroup and occupy a direct daughter position on its own within
the family. Ilocano shares some lexical similarities with its neighboring languages due to
borrowing rather than genetic relationship. (Yamamoto, 2017) Ilocano is spoken not just by
Ilocano people, but also by those not ethnically Ilocano, such as Itneg and Pangasinan. (Nagasaka
2009). Two major dialects of Ilocano are commonly recognized among speakers and researchers.
A difference between the dialects is the phonetic realization of /e/: it is pronounced as [e] in the
northern dialects and as [ɯ] in the southern dialects in Ilocos Sur, La Union and Pangasinan.

On the other hand, Tagalog is the national language of the Philippines, where it is the
primary or secondary language for over 90 percent of the population. Among the large number of
regional dialects spoken throughout the thousands of islands that make up the Philippines, Tagalog
is the official national dialect that is spoken in and around the capital of Manila. It serves as a
lingua franca that unites numerous ethnic groups and dialects throughout the country. (Schacter,
2009) The most common core root words in Tagalog can be traced back to a group of Malayo-
Polynesian roots. Loan words have been sourced from a wide variety of languages, including
Sanskrit, Dravidian, Arabic, Chinese, Spanish, and English. (Fonacier, 2010).

Vowels
Ilocano has four native vowel phonemes. They are listed in Table 1. In addition, there is
the loan phoneme /o/, which is found only in loan words. The high back /u/ is lowered to [o] in
word-final syllables and is distinguished in the orthography, e.g. agsao /agsau/ ‘to speak’, tayo
/taju/ ‘1PL.ABS’.

Table 1. Ilocano Vowels


FRONT CENTRAL BACK
HIGH i u
MID e
LOW a

There are five vowel phonemes in modern Tagalog:


Table 2. Tagalog Vowels
FRONT CENTRAL BACK
HIGH i u
MID e o
LOW a

The two front vowels (/i/, /e/) and the two back vowels (/u/, /o/) were previously considered
allophones of single phonemes, but extensive foreign Phonology of Tagalog 2 contact and
borrowings have led to an expansion of the vowel inventory. (Schachter, 2009)
Consonants
The consonant inventory of Ilocano is shown in Table 3. The inventory of Ilocano does
not include any cross-linguistically uncommon consonants. It only shows a two-way contrast,
voiced and voiceless, between stops.

Table 3. Ilocano Consonants


BILABIAL APICO- APICO- LAMINO- DORSO- GLOTTAL
DENTAL ALVEOLAR PALATAL VELAR
VOICELESS p t k ʔ
STOP
VOICED b d g
STOP
FRICATIVE s h
NASAL m n ŋ
TAP ɾ
LATERAL l
SEMI- j w
VOWEL
Note that /t/ is realized as an apico-dental stop [t̪ ] and its voiced counterpart /d/ is as an
apico-alveolar stop. Consonant gemination occurs word-medially and as a result of derivation.
Every consonant except for the glottal stop can appear geminate.

There are a total of 16 consonants that are found in native Tagalog words:
Table 4. Tagalog Consonants
LABIAL DENTAL ALVEOLAR PALATAL VELAR GLOTTAL
VOICELESS p t k ʔ
STOP
VOICED b d g
STOP
FRICATIVE s h
NASAL m n ŋ
TAP r
LATERAL l
GLIDE w y

Tagalog has used the Roman alphabet for several centuries, following Spanish
colonization. One major influence on the phonology of modern Tagalog is the pervasiveness of
the English language in the Philippines, where it is widely taught as a second language across all
levels of education. English is widely written and understood throughout the Philippines; however,
it takes on a distinctly Filipino dialect with frequent Tagalog code-switching, known as Taglish.
All 26 letters used in the English language are used in modern written Tagalog, but seven of these
letters are typically limited to foreign names and other lexical borrowings (c, f, j, q, v, x, z). The
orthography of Tagalog is relatively shallow, with a strong correlation between the pronunciation
and the spelling. However, it does not reflect stress or vowel length. (Schachter, 2009)
Diphthongs
There are six are six diphthongs found in Tagalog:

Table 5. Tagalog Diphthongs


FRONT CENTRAL BACK
HIGH iw uy
MID ey oy
LOW ay aw
All diphthongs in Tagalog consist of vowel that precedes a /w/ or /y/ in the same syllable
(/Vw/, /Vy/).
/ˈgi liw/ ‘sweetheart
/ˈsi siw/ ‘baby chicken’

However, when a /w/ or /y/ occurs intervocalically (/VwV/, /VyV/), it marks the beginning
of a new syllable with the following vowel, rather than forming a diphthong with the preceding
vowel. (Guevara, 2015)
/ˈbu wan/ ‘moon’
/i ni ˈwi sik/ ‘was sprinkled’

Previous studies (Constantino 1971; Rubino 1997) recognized diphthongs in Ilocano with
a difference in number. Constantino (1971: 5–6) recognizes 13 diphthongs, aj, aw, uj, ej, iw, ja,
wa, ji, wi, je, we, ju and jo, and Rubino (1997: 17–18) recognizes 5 diphthongs, aw, iw, aj, ej and
uj. Their analyses, however, lack discussion and evidence, so other possibilities should be
considered. There are at least three options to analyze such sequences as (a) diphthongs, (b) a
sequence of a consonant and vowel, or (c) a sequence of two separate syllable nuclei. But as of
now there is no concrete discussion with regards to Ilocano diphthongs because the sequences
listed in the literature are a sequence of a consonant and vowel.

Syllable Structure
Syllable structures found in Ilocano are CV, C1C2V, CVC and C1C2VC4. Syllables
consist of at least one onset, which is either simple or complex, and one nucleus. Although all
consonants except for the glottal stop appear in C1 of a complex onset, only /j/ and /w/ appear in
C25, e.g. dwa ‘two’, ɾwaɾ ‘outside’, dwiɾ ‘to totter’, ta.ljaw ‘to look back’, gje.ra ‘war’, ŋjaw ‘to
meow’ pjek ‘chick’.
Similar to other Austronesian languages (Blust 2013: 234), indigenous word roots in
Ilocano are predominantly disyllabic. There are a small number of monosyllabic words, most of
which are words of closed classes such as pronouns and case markers. Many roots that consist of
more than two syllables include ideophones and loan words. (Yamamoto 2016).

monosyllabic words: [ka] ‘2SG.ABS’


[kan] ‘to eat’
[lwa] ‘tear’
[nwaŋ] ‘water buffalo’
disyllabic words: [naː.ma] ‘hope’
[daː.mag] ‘news’
[lam.ʔek] ‘chill’
[ka.njak] ‘1SG.OBL’
three-syllable words: [led.da.ʔaŋ] ‘sorrow’
[sa.gaː.na] ‘preparation’
[bal.la.siw] ‘cross’
[ma.ɾuŋ.gaj] ‘horseradish tree’
four-syllable words: [be.lja.doː.na] ‘belladonna’(from Spanish)
[da.na.ruː.doɾ] ‘sound of an engine’
[gwa.joŋ.gwa.joŋ6] ‘to sway one’s hands’
[kal.ka.lek.ket] ‘crispy’
five-syllable words:
[ʔa.ɾi.mu.kaː.mok] ‘slight drizzle’

Tagalog allows four open syllable structures, as well as eight possible closed syllable
structures. The most commonly found structure consists of (C) V (C). A single V is the smallest,
while the maximum can be either CCVCC or CSVVS-VC. (Guevara, 2015)

Open Syllables
V /ʔe/ ‘an expression’
CV /mó/ ‘your’
CCV /psə/ (expression of contempt)
S-VV /yí/ ‘a nickname’

Closed Syllables
VC /ʔaŋ/ ‘the’
CVC /pák/ (sound of an explosion)
CVCC /kómiks/ ‘comics’
CCVCC /tramp/ ‘trump’
CCVC /trák/ ‘truck’
VS-V /ʔúy/ (expression of surprise)
CVS-V /hóy/ ‘hey’
CS-VVC /tyák/ ‘certain’

The most frequent syllable patterns of CV and CVC are found in final and non-final
syllables, with CV: only occurring in non-final syllables. A wide range of CC clusters may occur
when following a CVC syllable in a disyllabic word. (Guevara, 2015)

Ilocano stress placement is post lexical. If the penultimate syllable contains a long vowel,
it is always assigned stress. In cases where the penultimate syllable is monomoraic, the final
syllable is stressed. In Ilocano, three distinct phonological word layers are necessary to describe
such processes. Importantly, most of the processes have to do with making syllable structures well-
formed. While, the phonology of Tagalog has continued to evolve in response to outside influences
and internal changes. The sound system maintains a strong connection to its Austronesian roots,
despite the intensity and duration of occupation by Spanish- and English-speaking forces.

Nevertheless, any of this information written may change as time progresses. As R.H.
Robins has said, “linguistics as a branch of scholarship cannot afford to remain unaltered for any
length of time.” Language is dynamic so the thinking of language scholars must also be equally
dynamic.

References:

https://open.library.ubc.ca/media/download/pdf/831/1.0104590/1. Retrieved May 7, 2019

https://s3.amazonaws.com/academia.edu.documents/47700970/Phonological_Analysis_of_Tagal
og.pdf?AWSAccessKeyId=AKIAIWOWYYGZ2Y53UL3A&Expires=1557281458&Signature=
pQdtm%2BwW4LVcxe0biItK7B5oEoY%3D&response-content-
disposition=attachment%3B%20filename%3DPhonological_Analysis_of_Tagalog.pdf.Retrieved
May 7, 2019

https://doi.org/10.14989/230686. Retrieved May 7, 2019