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kc8ual

A little bit about Cebuano Phonemics

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kc8ual

As many of you may already know, I am currently learning and writing a book on learning to speak the Cebuano language at the same time. Last weekend at the get-together at Mooon Cafe, a couple of excellent points were brought up so I figured I would share some of the information regarding the phonemics of Cebuano that will be included in the book.

 

The Cebuano language is a sub-family of the Bisayan language or Binisayan as it is referred to by many locals. This is further a sub-group of the Malayo-Polynesian ethno-linguistics family which came from Taiwan between 5,000 and 6,000 years ago. While there is evidence that migrants had settled in the country up to 50,000 years ago, the descendants of these migrants make up the wild tribes which can be found throughout the country. 95% of the Filipinos today are descendant from the Autronesian people of Formosa (Today known as Taiwan). Immediately following the start of the migrations, the Austronesians entered the Philippines through Luzon and worked thier way southward until the reached Borneo. The vast majority of Borneo shares the same Malayo-Polynesian language sub-family. From there the migrants split off into two direction, one headed into Malaysia and the other headed towards the South Pacific.

 

The people of the Philippines regularly traded with China and especially India and Malaysia. This allowed the influence of those regions languages to further influence the Philippines sub-group of the Malayo-Polynesian language family spoken in the Philippines. Around 800 AD, after the founding of the Srivijaya Empire in Malaysai that lasted for more then a thousand years, 10 warriors arrived in Cebu after escaping from their Datu in Borneo. The term Datu means chief and they were in charge of their balangay which consisted of 50 to 100 families. Hinudu and Budhissim played a pivotal role in the development of the Cebuano language and its political structure before the arrival of the Spanish which would later be adopted by the Spanish colonizers.

 

Ok, so I talk too much and some people may insist that history is quite boring. On with the little bit on Cebuano Phonemics.

 

Phonemes of Cebuano

 

As most of you may already know, the Cebuano language consists of 3 vowels and 16 consonants.

The three Cebuano vowels are /a, i, u/. The consonants are /p, t, k, b, d, m, n, ŋ, l, r, y, w, h, ʔ, s/.

 

The consonant /ŋ/ is represented as /ng/ and is pronounced the same as in the English words /rang/, /sing/ and /lung/.

 

The consonant /ʔ/ is known as a glottal stop and is sometimes replaced with a /q/. In the English language there are few glottal stops but words like uh-oh and Hawaii use them. In Cebuano, these glottal stops are not as pronounced as is used in uh-oh or Hawaii, but they are found everywhere.

 

The consonants /p, t, k/ are considered to be unaspirated and voiced. This can be seen in the pronunciation of the letters in that when speaking them, and holding your hand to the side of your throat, there will be almost no noticeable vibrations of the tonsils.

 

The consonants /b, d, g, m, ŋ/ are nasals. This means that when speaking them, the tongue restricts the sounds from passing through the mouth by placing it against the soft tissue of the palette and allowing the sounds to escape through the nose.

 

The consonants /b, m/ are bilabials meaning that the sound is articulated through the use of both lips.

 

The consonants /t, d, n/ are dental whose sound is controlled by the use of the tongue in conjunction with the teeth.

 

The consonants /k, g, ŋ/ are dorso-velars and are pronounced in the far back portion of the mouth unless followed by /i/. This is done by using the back part of the tongue and placing it against the roof of the mouth. If they are followed by /i/, the dorsom makes contact with the soft part of the mouth, but slightly further back in comparison to the English phoneme [ki]. When they are followed by an /a/, the sound once again will be articulated further back in comparison to the English phoneme [ka].

 

The consonant /l/ is considered to be an apical-alveolar lateral without velarization in all of its phonemes. This means that the sound is articulated with the tip of the tongue restricting the air passageway.

 

The consonant /r/ is a dorso-alveolar spirant that sounds similar to the English /r/ but without any rounding of the lips in all phonemes.

 

One sound of interest is that of the [ś] sound such as in /śudad/ which consists of two phonemes for one letter. [ś] is pronounced like the /sy/. The Cebuano word /śudad/ meaning "city" is pronounced as [syudad]. The consonant /s/ also features a slight /i/ sound which is paletized before the /s/ even if not spelled with a preceding /i/. Whereas when the /i/ is included in words like /iskawat/ meaning "scout" it is more pronounced and distinguishable. /s/ is considered to be an alveolar sibillant in all of its allophones which is controlled by the tongue in contact with the hard part of the top of the mouth.

 

The consonant /y/ features allophones that are of short duration but are considered to be high-front vowels.

Cebuano vowels which are not nasalized.

 

With regards to the vowels, the vowel /a/ is produced in the front in all of its allophones except those featuring a weak stress. When /a/ is weakly stressed it is slightly higher and more centralized. If /a/ is followed by /y/ then it becomes /ə/ like in the English /says/.

 

The vowel /i/ features a high-frontal sound but without any rounding. The vowel /u/ is a high-back sound which is rounded. The variations between speakers of Cebuano show a number of differences regarding the height of both /i/ and /u/. When /u/ is the final syllable of a word such as /Sugbu/ it is ponounced [o].

 

Syllables in Cebuano

 

The syllables in Cebuano are defined by the onset of stress. In Cebuano, a syllable cannot begin with a vowel and in the event that a vowel is the first letter of a syllable, the consonant is represented by the ʔ (glottal stop). For this reason the smallest syllable in the language is the CV (consonant, vowel); such as in the case of words such as /ako/ or /imo/, a glottal stop must be placed before the vowel to create the CV syllable as in ʔa-ko or ʔi-mo.

 

In the event that the syllable is two letters and begins with a vowel, it should be represented as CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) because a syllable cannot begin with a vowel. As such, like in the previous example, the vowel must have a ʔ (glottal stop) before it; such as in the case of ugma which would become ʔug-ma.

 

When the syllable begins with /hw/, in rapid speech the /h/ is lost leaving only the /w/. When the syllable begins with /sk/, then in rapid speech only the /s/ is pronounced, but is placed on the end of the preceding syllable. Like with above when talking about the letter /s/, if the word begins with /sk/, the syllable /ʔi/ gets added before it.

 

Very seldom other then in names, nicknames and a few other Cebuano words will one find the syllable /Cs/ (consonant, /s/). The use of syllables /wC/ (/w/, consonant) and /yC/ (/y/, consonant) are however commonplace. Unless a word boundary exists though, the use of CC (consonant, consonant) does not exist in Cebuano except for in only a few rare occurrences.

 

Another important aspect surrounds the use of lengths in the language. The use of length in the Cebuano language occurs only in the second to last syllable such as in /hunahuna/ in which the second to last syllable is held slightly. This is one of the important points that was brought up at Moon Cafe in which there are words in Cebuano which are spelled the same but have different meanings based on how they are said. The difference between words like this has to do with the use of length to hold the second to last syllable for a slight bit longer. More about the stressing of these holds later.

 

Stress In The Cebuano Language

 

The use of stress in the Cebuano language is dependent upon loudness and length, not pitch. For the most part, nouns, transients, adjectives as well as most qualifiers and the pronouns that are used as predicates feature either a primary or secondary stress. The remaining words will only feature a primary or secondary stress when preceding a pause.

 

When a syllable features either a primary or secondary stress, it is considered to be stressed and there is only one stressed syllable per word in Cebuano.

 

An open syllable is one which ends in a vowel whereas a closed ends in a consonant. If the second to last syllable of the word is open and short, then the stress is in the final syllable. However, if the second to last syllable is closed or long, then the stress is on the second to last syllable. Remembering the length from before, we can see how the stress for one word of similar spelling may be placed on the last syllable when the second to last syllable is held.

 

The last stressed syllable prior to a terminal or suffix is considered to have primary stress. In the case of short words that contain two to three syllables, the stress is placed at the end of the word when contained between pauses. In the case of vocatives, the stress occurs at the end of the word irregardless of the existence of a pause.

 

I hope someone finds this helpful

 

-Nick

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overthere-really

Nick,

Dr Rubrico wrote that although Binisaya, Bisaya and Visayan are all used interchangably, that Binisaya actually means "in Basaya" similar to Tintagalog means "in Tagalog". Her language course is called "Magbinisaya Kita", she says it means "Let's speak in Bisaya".

I read that a few days ago but of course I just searched her site and can't find it. Doh!

 

 

edited 4 spelin 2x

Edited by overthere-really

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Jay
If the second to last syllable of the word is open and short, then the stress is in the final syllable. However, if the second to last syllable is closed or long, then the stress is on the last syllable.

 

What's the difference between "final" and "last" syllable?

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kc8ual
What's the difference between "final" and "last" syllable?

 

Sorry about that. Thanks for pointing that out. You brought my misstep to my attention which I have changed in the original post now. the first rule places stress on the last syllable while the second rule places it on the second to last syllable (I had them both written as the last syllable my apologies).

 

1) The second to last syllable in the word "patay" is "pa". "pa" may be open (ends in a vowel and not a consonant) but it is long (you hold the syllable a little longer). The first rule has to match both requirements in that the second to last syllable it has to be short and open. Since it is not short then the second rule has to be followed. As a result, the stress gets placed on the "pa" (second to last syllable) and there is no stress placed on the "tay".

 

2) Now let's take the same word and add prefix to make "magpatay". The result is a breakdown of the syllables as "mag-pa-tay". In this case, the "pa" is no longer lengthened. It is still the second to last syllable and as such it is now both short and open making it qualify under the first rule. Now the stress in "magpatay" would be placed on the "tay" (last syllable).

 

3) If we take the original word and add a suffix, we can get "patayan". The breakdown of this word becomes "pa-tay-an". The second to last syllable is now "tay" and the last syllable is "an". "Tay" is not lengthened and the digraph "ay" pronounced "i" qualifies it as being open so the first rule is followed and places the stress on "tay" (second to last syllable and since a suffix has been added tot he word, this particular stress becomes a primary one). In this example, the "pa" is lengthened just as in example 1, but we are only focusing on the last two syllables so it gets ignored when deciding on stress.

 

The bolded syllables represent the stress based on the previous three examples:

 

1) patay

2) magpatay

3) patayan

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Jay

Thanks. This sheds some light on things. The rule of thumb I've been following up until now is that words are never stressed on the syllable I think they should be stressed on. :P

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kc8ual
Thanks. This sheds some light on things. The rule of thumb I've been following up until now is that words are never stressed on the syllable I think they should be stressed on. :P

 

Yes agreed. Now one thing that did catch my attention recently though, while I am not going to go into heavily, is the use of pitches in Cebuano. The general consensus is that there are no pitches in the Cebuano language when in fact there is. There are at least 6 pitches but they differ from the general concepts. Four of these pitches exist in the speaking of a sentence. Just like when you read a storybook aloud to a child, you change the pitch of your voice to make it more interesting. While it is completely possible to communicate without these pitches, I personally think I would pass on sounding like Ben Stein (An American actor known for speaking in monotone; especially in the role of Ferris Beuler's teacher in the film Ferris Beuler's Day Off). The four pitches in sentences refer to the rise and fall of one's pitch on the first syllable of a sentence and at the last three syllables of that same sentence depending on the point that is one is trying to get across.

 

Like I said though, I am not going to go into depth on these pitches right now.

 

However, when it comes to learning the language, pronunciation is the key. The term phonemes refer to the smallest utterance of sound which has some linguistic meaning. This includes the alphabet, but also includes much more which I had forgotten to mention above.

 

Cebuano has a total of 34 phonemes. Knowing all 34 of them as well as how to pronounce them will allow you to speak all of the words of the language.

 

First we have the 16 consonants which were stated above: /p/, /t/, /k/, /ʔ/, /b/, /d/, /g/, /m/, /n/, /ŋ/, /s/, /h/, /w/, /l/, /r/, /y/

 

Next we have a total of 5 vowels. While only 3 were stated above, the remaining two have been incorporated because of the borrowing of words from other languages which is a commonplace in the Cebuano language: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/

 

You have 8 diphthongs /aw/, /ay/, /ey/, /iw/, /oy/, /uy/, /iy/, (missing one?) which consists of a pair of letters that create a pseudo-vowel. They make one sound when combined. Unlike in English where there are many rules governing this, in Cebuano, for the vast majority of words, when you see these diphthongs they will always be pronounced according to the local dialect.

 

Finally you have 5 digraphs which like diphthongs create a single sound, but unlike them, they are considered to be consonants when applying grammatical rules. The digraphs /dy/, /kw/, /ny/, /ks/, /ts/ represent /J/, /Q/, /

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kc8ual

While I am on the topic, if I may make a suggestion that may be very helpful. Most learners of a second language get the most out of immersion but here that can be a bit difficult. Another way which is still undergoing studies as to whether or not it works is cognitive learning. The easiest way to do this is to learn the pronunciations first of course, but then start learning words. The concept is substitution. While substituting the grammar will never work, the substitution of a word or two can.

 

For example, when my wife, daughter and myself go to SM mall and cross over the straights via the old bridge, I tell my daughter, "Look A

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Angie
The bolded syllables represent the stress based on the previous three examples:

 

1) patay

2) magpatay

3) patayan

 

You should not forget that the stress will depend on the meaning of the word. What makes that book difficult to understand is that it is using technical terms known only to people in the pedagogical field. No matter how hard you try and study following those rules, nothing will happen if you don't reach out to the locals and apply the language.

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musicman666

it spelled visayan but then i see its bisayen ? someone says fish and someone else says pish? i tell someone to put the garbage out on tuesday ...they think i said to bury it in the back garden.. go figure? :P

Edited by musicman666

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kc8ual
You should not forget that the stress will depend on the meaning of the word. What makes that book difficult to understand is that it is using technical terms known only to people in the pedagogical field. No matter how hard you try and study following those rules, nothing will happen if you don't reach out to the locals and apply the language.

 

Agreed. This was just for single words not in any form of context. So that someone can read a word out loud and pronounce it right.

 

While it is considered that immersion in a language is the best way to learn a language because of the concept of necessity, unfortunately when a white guy walks up to any Filipino, they immediately speak in English. If a person is able to develop a small amount of vocabulary and is capable of chunking it into a somewhat understandable statement, then the Filipino would speak Cebuano and thus create immersion.

 

A child learns a language as follows:

 

A word. It has no meaning but they repeat it because they hear you say it.

A definition. They learn what that word is through visual stimulation as to its meaning.

A chunk. The child builds up its vocabulary and understanding to the point where they can create an understandable statement.

The grammar. After they are able to speak in chunks, they begin to learn grammar.

 

You could have an advanced vocabulary of Cebuano words and know what they mean, but without practice the vocabulary means nothing. At the same time, without a bit of vocabulary, you cannot really practice conversation so it is a catch-22.

 

The ultimate goal of course would be to have an extremely large vocabulary and once that is done, learn how to put it all together. Vocabulary is actually the easiest part of learning a new language. Pronunciation is one of the hardest; especially when your tongue and mouth have never used some of the phonemes before. /ng/ is an easy one because it exists in English, but /mg/ is a hard one because there is nothing even close to it in English.

 

There is roughly 30,000 root words in Cebuano. There are more then 3,000 affixes in the language. In general conversation, the average person's vocabulary ranges in or around 12,000 words. Learning new vocabulary words in your own language can be done through reading and comprehension. Learning vast amounts of vocabulary for a second language can be done through cognitive approaches such as reading a 1,000 word story that has 100 of the words in Cebuano. Read the story out loud using proper pronunciation on day one, reread on day two and once more a week later and for most people the vocabulary is forever embedded into the long-term memory with the help of repetition and the visual stimulation created through reading the story that matches the Cebuano word to an actual spelling as well as a mental image.

 

None the less, there is a whole lot more on pronunciation, but this was posted to help people begin to understand how to pronounce single words that are not used in any form of context other then becoming another piece of Cebuano vocabulary.

 

-Nick

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musicman666

one thing that is great about the english cebano dictionary is that if i say it like it is spelt...its correct!!! fantastic.... now why cant the french take a leaf out of that book? :P

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Jay

Substitutions: that's what I've been doing, learning just a few words and using them, like saying something's too mahal for my budget, for example. My Filipino friends always smile when I do that, and say, "Ah, you're learning some Cebuano. Good!"

 

Stresses & tones: I've noticed that Karen sometimes stresses the last syllable of a word by prolonging it and using a higher tone in order to add emphasis, even in English. "He is not goIIIING."

Edited by Jay

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Jay
For example, you could simply say, "Honey, please turn off the radyo!" Remember though, in Cebuano the /dy/ is pronounced as a /J/ so you would say it [ray-g-oh].

 

Actually, I think "Please close the radyo" would be more accurate. :any-help: Seriously, though, I forget what it's called but the merger of two consonants into one J sound isn't uncommon, even in American English: "Injun" from "Indian", "Cajun" from "Accadian" ("a Cajun"). I think it comes from imprecise pronunciation and slurring in everyday speech.

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