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About Hiligaynon (Ilongo) Language

Hiligaynon (sometimes also known as "Ilonggo") is an Austronesian language spoken in Western Visayas in the Philippines. Hiligaynon is concentrated in the provinces of Iloilo and Negros Occidental. It is also spoken in the other provinces of the Panay Island group, such as Capiz, Antique, Aklan, Guimaras, and many parts of Mindanao like Koronadal City, South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and many parts of North Cotabato (It is spoken as a second language by Karay-a in Antique, Aklanon and Malaynon in Aklan, Cebuano in Siquijor[citation needed], and Capiznon in Capiz.). There are approximately 7,000,000 people in and outside the Philippines who are native speakers of Hiligaynon, and an additional 4,000,000 who are capable of speaking it with a substantial degree of proficiency.

It is a member of the Visayan language family.

The language is referred to as "Ilonggo" in Iloilo and in Negros Occidental. More precisely, "Ilonggo" is an ethnolinguistic group referring to the inhabitants of Iloilo and the culture associated with native Hiligaynon speakers. The distinction between the terms, Ilonggo and Hiligaynon, is unclear. The disagreement of where what name is correct extends to Philippine language specialists and native laymen.

Writing system

The core alphabet consists of 20 letters used for expressing consonants and vowels in Hiligaynon, each of which comes in an upper case and lower case variety.

Additional symbols

It should be noted that the apostrophe(') and dash(-) also appear in Hiligaynon writing, and might be considered letters. In addition, some English letters may be used in borrowed words.


Hiligaynon has three types of case markers: absolutive, ergative, and oblique. These types in turn are divided into personal, that have to do with names of people and impersonal, that deal with everything else, and further into singular and plural types, though the plural impersonal case markers are just the singular impersonal case markers + mga, a particle used to denote plurality in Hiligaynon.


Hiligaynon has sixteen consonants: /p t k b d ɡ m n ŋ s h w l ɾ j/. There are three main vowels: /a/, /ɛ ~ i/, and /o ~ ʊ/. [i] and [ɛ] (both spelled i) are allophones, with [i] in the beginning and middle and sometimes final syllables and [ɛ] in final syllables. The vowels [ʊ] and [o] are also allophones, with [ʊ] always being used when it is the beginning of a syllable, and [o] always used when it ends a syllable. Consonants [d] and [ɾ] were once allophones but cannot interchange as in other Philippine languages: patawaron (to forgive) [from patawad, forgiveness] but not patawadon, and tagadiín (from where) [from diín, where] but not tagariín.

Loan words

Hiligaynon has a large number of words that derive from Spanish words including nouns (e.g., santo from santo, saint), adjectives (e.g., berde from verde, green), prepositions (e.g., antes from antes, before), and conjunctions (e.g., pero from pero, but). Moreover, Spanish provides the Ilonggo base for items introduced by Spain, e.g., barko (barco, ship), sapatos (zapatos, shoes), kutsilyo (cuchillo, knife), kutsara (cuchara, spoon), tenedor (fork), plato (plate), kamiseta (camiseta, shirt), and kambiyo (cambio, change).

Opinion of a Native Speaker

Filipinos from other regions have a general impression of the Ilonggos as “malambing”, meaning sweet or affectionate. It can be attributed to our language. We speak with a sing-song intonation that could sound very sweet to the ears of a non-Hiligaynon speaker.

Natives are often torn whether to refer to our language as Hiligaynon or Ilonggo. Most non-Ilonggos and even the Ilonggos would refer to the language as Ilonggo. I’m neither a historian nor an expert in linguistics but through various articles I came across, Ilonggo is what you call the people that inhabit or whose ethnic origin is Western Visayas. Hiligaynon is the lingua franca of the people of Western Visayas for there exist other languages such as Kinaray-a of Antique, Capiz and the hinterlands of Iloilo and Akeanon of Aklan.

In Negros Occidental, Hiligaynon is widely spoken by the majority especially in the west coast while in the east coast facing Cebu people speaks Cebuano. Seldom can you hear Kinaray-a except perhaps from those who are Kinaray-a speakers living in Negros Occidental.

Ilonggo historian Henry Funtecha has some interesting insights on why Hiligaynon is the dominant language of the province. Rich families from the lowland of Iloilo migrated to Negros during the boom of the sugar industry. They became hacienderos and became prominent families. They brought with them sugarcane farm workers (sacada) from Antique and the hinterland towns of Iloilo where Kinaray-a was widely spoken. Imagine if you were a sacada during those times and your amo (boss) is speaking in Hiligaynon, you would probably be speaking the language of your employer too.

If you want to learn Hiligaynon, just download the Hiligaynon (Ilonggo) Language Packet being used by the US Peace Corps. Learning to converse in Hiligaynon is easy but learning the intonation is not. But if you want to learn Hiligaynon you have to start somewhere.

The language pack cotains phrases for daily communication needs. Even for Ilonggos this tutorial can come in handy if you want to review your Hiligaynon. Sometimes when we use English in our daily conversations we tend to forget correct usage of our own language.

Spanish verbs used in Hiligaynon often remain unconjugated (have the verb endings -ar, -er or -ir) which in Filipino would be conjugated in the 'tú' form, e.g., komparar, mandar, pasar, tener, disponer, mantener, and asistir.


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