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.
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.
1. South (spoken on the eastern coast of Mindanao)
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.
Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Visayan". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
^ 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.