Tagalog Phonology
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Tagalog Phonology

This article deals with current phonology and phonetics and with historical developments of the phonology of the Tagalog language, including variants.

Tagalog has allophones, so it is important here to distinguish phonemes (written in slashes / /) and corresponding allophones (written in brackets [ ]).


Table of consonant phonemes of Tagalog
Bilabial Dental/
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ? ?
Plosive voiceless p t t k ?
voiced b d d ?
Fricative s ? h
Approximant l j w
Rhotic ?
Phoneme Spelling Distribution and quality of allophones
⟨p⟩ pulá ('red')
⟨b⟩ bugháw ('blue')
⟨t⟩ tao ('human') When followed by /j/ may be pronounced [t?], particularly by speakers in urban areas.
⟨d⟩ diláw ('yellow') When followed by /j/ may be pronounced [d?], particularly by speakers in urban areas. [?] and [d] are in free variation for some speakers if /d/ is at the word-initial and word-final positions and attached by prefixes and suffixes with vowels touching /d/ as they once were allophones, but this is only applied to native words.
⟨k⟩ kamáy ('hand') has a tendency to become [kx] word-initially. Intervocalic /k/ tends to become [x], as in bakit ('why') or takot ('fear').
⟨g⟩ gulay ('vegetable') Intervocalic /?/ tends to become [?], as in sige.
⟨-⟩ mag-uwi ('to return home').
Normally unwritten at the end of a word (galâ, 'roaming') or between vowels (Taal, a town in Batangas)
A glottal stop occurring at the end of a word is often elided when it is in the middle of a sentence, especially by speakers of the Manila Dialect; any vowel it follows is often lengthened. It is preserved in many other dialects of Tagalog. In the Palatuldikan (diacrtical system), it is denoted by the pakupyâ or circumflex accent when the final syllable is stressed (e.g. dugô 'blood'), and by the paiwà (grave accent) if unstressed (susì 'key').
⟨s⟩ sangá ('branch') When followed by /j/, it is often pronounced [?], particularly by speakers in urban areas.
⟨sy⟩ sya (a form of siya, second person pronoun) May be pronounced [s], especially by speakers in rural areas.
⟨h⟩ hawak ('being held') Sometimes elided in rapid speech.
⟨ts⟩ tsokolate ('chocolate'); ⟨ty⟩pangungutyâ ('ridicule') May be pronounced [ts], especially by speakers in rural areas.
⟨dy⟩ dyaryo ('newspaper') May be pronounced [dz], especially by speakers in rural areas. In some speakers in urban areas it is pronounced [?].
⟨zz⟩ pizza; ⟨ts⟩ tatsulok ('triangle') May be pronounced [t?], especially by rural speakers and in some urban areas.
⟨m⟩ matá ('eye')
⟨n⟩ nais ('desire')
⟨ny⟩ anyô ('form'); also ⟨ñ⟩ for Spanish loanwords May be pronounced [ni], especially by rural speakers.
⟨ng⟩ ngitî ('smile') Assimilates to [m] before /b/ and /p/ (pampasiglâ, 'invigorator') and to [n] before /d t s l/ (pandiwà, 'verb'), some people pronounce // as a geminate consonant [], as in Angono.
⟨l⟩ larawan ('picture') Depending on the dialect, it may be dental/denti-alveolar or alveolar (light L) within or at the end of a word. It may also be velarized (dark L) if influenced by English phonology.
⟨r⟩ saráp ('delicious'); kuryente ('electricity') Traditionally an allophone of /d/, the /r/ phoneme may be now pronounced in free variation between the standard alveolar flapped [?], a rolled [r], an approximant [?] and more recently, the retroflex flap [?].

Vowels and semivowels

Phoneme Spelling Allophones
⟨a⟩ asoge ('mercury') /a/ is raised slightly to [?] in unstressed positions and also occasionally in stressed positions (e.g. Ináng Bayan [i'n 'b?j?n], 'motherland').

The diphthong /ai/ and the sequence /a?i/ have a tendency to become [e?] or [?:] (e.g. tenga from tnga, 'ear'; kelan from kailan, 'when').

The diphthong /au/ and the sequence /a?u/ occasionally have a tendency to become [o?] or [?:] (e.g. iso from isau, 'to return something').

⟨e⟩ in any position (espíritu, 'spirit'; tsinelas, 'slippers') and often ⟨i⟩ in final syllables (e.g., hindì) and with exceptions like mulì (adverbial form of 'again') and English loanwords. /?/ can sometimes be pronounced [i ~ ? ~ e], or sometimes diphthongised to [ai].
⟨i⟩ ibon ('bird') Unstressed /i/ is usually pronounced [?] (e.g. sigalót, 'discord').

In final syllables, /i/ can be pronounced [? ~ i ~ e ~ ?], as [e] and [?] were formerly an allophone of /i/.

/i/ before s-consonant clusters has a tendency to be dropped, as in isports [sports] ('sports') and istasyon [sta'?on] ('station').

See also /j/ below.

⟨o⟩ oyayi ('lullaby') /?/ can sometimes be pronounced [u ~ ? ~ ?]. [oe ~ ~ ] and [u ~ ?] were also former allophones, or sometimes diphthongized to [au]. Morphs into [u] before [mb] and [mp] (e.g. Bagumbayan, literally 'new town', a place now part of Rizal Park; kumpisál, 'Confession').
⟨u⟩ utang ('debt') Unstressed /u/ is usually pronounced [?].
Semivowels and/or Semiconsonants
⟨y⟩ yugtô ('chapter')
⟨w⟩ wakás ('end')

Stress and final glottal stop

Stress is a distinctive feature in Tagalog. Primary stress occurs on either the final or the penultimate syllable of a word. Vowel lengthening accompanies primary or secondary stress except when stress occurs at the end of a word.

Tagalog words are often distinguished from one another by the position of the stress and/or the presence of a final glottal stop. In formal or academic settings, stress placement and the glottal stop are indicated by a diacritic (tuldík) above the final vowel. The penultimate primary stress position (malumay) is the default stress type and so is left unwritten except in dictionaries. The name of each stress type has its corresponding diacritic in the final vowel.[1]

Phonetic comparison of Tagalog homographs based on stress and final glottal stop
Common spelling Stressed non-ultimate syllable
no diacritic
Stressed ultimate syllable
acute accent (´)
Unstressed ultimate syllable with glottal stop
grave accent (`)
Stressed ultimate syllable with glottal stop
circumflex accent(^)
baka ['baka] baka ('cow') [b?'ka] baká ('possible')
pito ['pito] pito ('whistle') [p?'to] pitó ('seven')
bayaran [b?'jaran] bayaran ('pay [imperative]') [b?j?'ran] bayarán ('for hire')
bata ['bata] bata ('bath robe') [b?'ta] batá ('persevere') ['bata?] batà ('child')
sala ['sala] sala ('living room') ['sala?] salà ('sin') [s?'la?] salâ ('filtered')
baba ['baba] baba ('father') [ba'ba] babá ('piggy back') ['baba?] babà ('chin') [b?'ba?] babâ ('descend [imperative]')
labi ['lab]/['labi?] labì ('lips') [l?'b]/[l?'bi?] labî ('remains')

See also


  1. ^ Himmelmann, Nikolaus (2005). "Tagalog" in K. Alexander Adelaar & Nikolaus Himmelmann (eds.) The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar, pp. 350-376, London, Routledge.

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