Visayan languages

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Not to be confused with Brunei Bisaya language.
Bisayan, Bisaya
Visayas and Mindanao
Linguistic classification: Austronesian
Glottolog: bisa1268

The Visayan (or Filipino: Bisayan / Bisaya) languages of the Philippines, along with Tagalog and Bikol, are part of the Central Philippine languages. Most Visayan languages are spoken in the Visayas region but they are also spoken in the Bicol Region (particularly in Masbate), islands south of Luzon such as those that make up Romblon, most of the areas of Mindanao, and the province of Sulu located southwest of Mindanao. Some residents of Metro Manila also speak Visayan.

Over thirty languages constitute the Visayan language family. The Visayan language with the most speakers is Cebuano, spoken by 20 million people as a native language in Central Visayas, parts of Eastern and Western Visayas and most of Mindanao. Two other well-known and widespread Visayan languages are Hiligaynon, spoken by 7 million in most of Western Visayas and Cotabato region, Waray-Waray spoken by 3 million in Eastern Visayas.


Native speakers of Visayan languages, especially Cebuano, Hiligaynon, and Waray-Waray not only refer to their language by their local name, but also by Bisaya or Binisaya, meaning Visayan language. This is misleading or may lead to confusion as different languages may be called Bisaya by their respective speakers despite their languages being mutually unintelligible. However, languages that are classified within the Visayan language family but spoken natively in places outside of the Visayas do not use the self-reference Bisaya or Binisaya. To speakers of Butuanon, Surigaonon, and Masbatenyo, the term Visaya usually refers to Cebuano. Since Tausugs are mostly Muslims, they view the term Bisaya as a religious term referring to Christian Filipinos (mostly referring either to Cebuano or Hiligaynon as they are the neighboring languages).

There have been no proven accounts to verify the origins of Bisaya. However, there is an ethnic group in Malaysia who call themselves of the same name. However, these ethnic groups in the Philippines must not be confused with those in Borneo.

Internal classification

David Zorc gives the following internal classification for the Visayan languages (Zorc 1977:32). The five primary branches are South, Cebuan, Central, Banton, and West. However, Zorc notes that the Visayan language family is more like a dialect continuum rather than a set of readily distinguishable languages. The South Visayan languages are considered to have diverged first, followed by Cebuan and then the rest of the three branches. Also, in the Visayan region, Romblon Province has the most linguistic diversity, as languages from three primary Visayan branches are spoken there.

A total of 36 varieties are listed below. Individual languages are marked by italics.

The auxiliary language of Eskayan is grammatically Visayan, but has essentially no Visayan (or Philippine) vocabulary.

Ethnologue Classification

Ethnologue classifies the 25 Visayan languages into five subgroups:

Language family No. of Languages Languages
Banton 1 Bantoanon
Cebuan 1 Cebuano
Central Visayan 1 Bantayanon
Peripheral 5 Ati, Capiznon, Hiligaynon, Masbatenyo, Porohanon
Romblon 1 Romblomanon
Warayan 3 Baybayanon, Kinabalian, Northern Sorsoganon
Gubat 1 Southern Sorsoganon
Samar-Waray 1 Waray-Waray
South Visayan 2 Surigaonon, Tandaganon
Butuan-Tausug 2 Butuanon, Tausug
West Visayan 2 Aklanon, Caluyanon
Aklan 1 Malaynon
Kinaray-an 1 Kinaray-a
Cuyan 2 Cuyo, Ratagnon
North-Central 1 Inonhan
Total 25


David Zorc's reconstruction of Proto-Visayan had 15 consonants and 4 vowels (Zorc 1977:201). Vowel length, primary stress (penultimate and ultimate), and secondary stress (pre-penultimate) are also reconstructed by Zorc.

Proto-Visayan Consonants
Bilabial Dental Palatal Velar Glottal
Plosive Voiceless p t k ʔ
Voiced b d ɡ
Nasal m n ŋ
Fricative s h
Lateral l
Approximant w j
Proto-Visayan Vowels
Height Front Central Back
Close i /i/ u /u/
Mid ə /ə/
Open a /a/


  1. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Visayan". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  2. ^ Zorc, David Paul. The Bisayan Dialects of the Philippines: Subgrouping and Reconstruction. Canberra, Australia: Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific Studies, Australian National University, 1977.

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