Ilokano language

From Academic Kids

Ilokano (Ilokano)
Spoken in: Philippines
Region: Northern Luzon
Total speakers: 7 million
Ranking: 94
Genetic classification: Austronesian

    Northern Philippine
     Northern Luzon

Official status
Official language of: --
Regulated by: --
Language codes
ISO 639-1--
ISO 639-2ilo
See also: LanguageList of languages

Ilocano, also Iluko and Ilokano, refers to the language and culture associated with the Ilocano people, the third largest ethnic group in the Philippines. The native area of the Ilocano are in northwestern Luzon and is the defining identity for the Ilocos Region.


People and History

Ilocanos are of Malay stock, descendants of Southeast Asian migrants that settled the Philippines in successive waves for centuries. Families and clans came by viray or bilog, meaning boat. The term Ilocano come from i-, meaning "from", and looc, meaning "cove or bay", thus "people of the bay." Ilocanos also refer to themselves as Samtoy, a contraction from the Ilocano phrase sa÷ mi ditoy, meaning "our language here".

Missing image
Ilocano population distribution. Enlarge picture to see percent distribution.

Ilocanos occupy the narrow, barren strip of land in the northwestern tip of Luzon, squeezed in between the inhospitable Cordillera mountain range to the east and the South China Sea to the west. This harsh geography molded a people known for their clannishness, tenacious industry and frugality, traits that were vital to survival. It also induced Ilocanos to become a migratory people, always in search for better opportunities and for land to build a life on. Although their homeland constitutes the provinces of Ilocos Norte, Ilocos Sur and parts of La Union and Abra, their population has spread east and south of their original territorial borders.

Ilocano pioneers flocked to the more fertile Cagayan Valley and the Pangasinan plains during the 18th and 19th centuries and now constitute a majority in many of these areas. In the 20th century, many Ilocano families moved further south to Mindanao. They became the first Filipino ethnic group to immigrate en masse to North America (the so-called Manong generation), forming sizable communities in the American states of Hawaii, California, Washington and Alaska. Ilocano is the native language of most Filipino immigrants in the United States, but Tagalog is used by more Filipino-Americans because it is the national language of the people of the Philippines. According to a mainstream daily newspaper published in Honolulu, Hawaii, Ilocanos make up more than 90% of the Filipino population in the whole State of Hawaii, making Iluko the top language in demand for English as a Second Language ESL teachers.

A large, growing number of Ilocanos can also be found in the Middle East, Hong Kong, Japan, Canada and Europe.

Literature, Culture and the Arts

Pre-colonial Ilocanos of all classes wrote in a syllabic system prior to European arrival. Similar to the Tagalog and Pangasinan scripts, it was the first to designate coda consonants with a diacritic mark - a cross verama, shown in the Doctrina Cristiana of 1621, one of the earliest surviving Ilocano publications.

Ilocano culture revolves around life rituals, festivities and oral history. These were celebrated in songs, dances, poems, riddles, proverbs, literary verbal jousts called bucanegan and epic stories.

Our Father prayer from Doctrina Cristiana, 1621.
Our Father prayer from Doctrina Cristiana, 1621.

The epic story Biag ni Lam-ang (The Life of Lam-ang) is undoubtedly one of the few indigenous stories from the Philippines that survived colonialism, although much of it is now acculturated and shows many foreign elements in the retelling. It reflects values important to traditional Ilocano society; it is a hero’s journey steeped in courage, loyalty, pragmatism, honor, and ancestral and familial bonds.

Ilocano animistic past offers a rich background in folklore, mythology and superstition (see Religion in the Philippines). There are many stories of good and malevolent spirits and beings. Its creation mythology centers around the giants Aran and her husband Angngalo, and Namarsua (the Creator).

Music and dance are often accompanied by its local instruments – percussive drums and gongs, bamboo flutes and versions of the stringed lyre and guitar. Songs of love and rejection are key themes. There is also a tradition of dirges or dung-aw, chanted or wailed in funeral wakes lamenting the passing of the dead.

The colonial and modern era produced prominent artists: painter Juan Luna, poet Leona Florentino and her writer and activist son Isabelo de los Reyes, and writers Carlos Bulosan, F. Sionil Jose, Manuel Arguilla for English and Mauro Pena, Dr. Godofredo Reyes, Juan S.P. Hidalgo, Jr, Constante Casabar and Pelagio Alcantarain Iluko.

Moreover, notable scholars had contributed to the stock of Philippine knowledge, among them the literary historian Dr. Leopoldo Y. Yabes and the oral historian Dr. Marcelino Foronda, Jr..

In the area of food, Ilocano cuisine is simple, using ingredients available from the immediate environment. Grown from the backyard or plucked from a branch or the river, most are cooked into stews and soups. The diet is very healthy with a preponderance of and a preference for fish, seafood and vegetables. Pinakbet (from the Ilocano word "pinakebbet" meaning "shrunk" or "wilted") is a popular stew of eggplant, bittermelon, okra and bugguong or "bagoong" (salted and fermented fish paste). For special occasions, pigs, carabaos and goats are the meats of choice. Rice is the staple and is used in myriad desserts.


Ilocano or Iluko is a Western Austronesian language spoken in Northern Luzon and in various parts of the country and around the world. It comprises its own branch in the Philippine Cordilleran family of languages. A lingua franca of the northern region, it is spoken as a secondary language by other groups such as the Pangasinan, Ibanags, Ivatans and the various ethnic tribes of the Mountain Province and Zambales. It is spoken by about nine million people.

Ilocano has two dialects: Northern "deeper" Ilocano and Southern Ilocano.

The difference between these two dialects are merely regional variations in lexicon and intonation. The southern speech, in addition, uses six vowels instead of the usual a, e, i, o, u sounds that the northern dialect employs (using Spanish orthography). Southern Ilocanos (e.g. those from La Union and Pangasinan) has two distinct sounds for the vowel e, a frontal easy "e" like in "men" for many words in Spanish and English, and an unrounded "uh" sound for native words.

For example, the word for "yes" is wen. Northern speech would pronounce it as wεn which rhymes with "men" while Southern speech would pronounce it as wuhn.

Ilocano employs a predicate-initial structure and uses a highly complex list of affixes (prefixes, suffixes, infixes and enclitics) and reduplications to indicate a wide array of grammatical categories. Learning simple root words and corresponding affixes goes a long way in forming cohesive sentences. Ilocano also has five sets of pronouns.

Example: Root word for bath is digos.

         Agdigos        (to take a bath)
         Agdigdigos     (bathing)
         Agdigdigosak   (I am bathing)
         Agindidigosak  (I am pretending to bathe)
         Nagdigosak     (I bathed)


There are five sets of pronouns in Ilocano. The following table lists what are categorized as independent pronouns. The ones listed in italics are dialectal variants.

Singular Plural
1st Person siak (I) data or sita (you and I)
' dakami or sikami (we, but not you)
' datayo or sitayo (we, and you)
2nd Person sika (you, informal) dakayo or sikayo (you)
dakayo or sikayo (you, formal)
isuda (you, most formal)
3rd Person isu(na) (he, she, it) isuda (they)


Ilocano's vocabulary has a closer affinity to languages from Borneo. Foreign accretion comes largely from Spanish, followed by English and smatterings of Hokkien (Min Nan), Arabic and Sanskrit.

Examples of Borrowing
Word Source Ilocano meaning
arak Arabic (wine) generic alcoholic drink
karma Sanskrit (see Buddhism) spirit
sanglay Hokkien (to deliver goods) to deliver/Chinese merchant
agbuldoser English (bulldozer) to bulldoze
cuarta Spanish (copper coin) money

Common expressions

Yes Wen or Amman
No Saan or Haan
How are you? Kumusta?
Good day Naimbag nga aldaw
Good morning Naimbag a bigat
Good afternoon Naimbag a malem
Good evening Naimbag a rabii
What is your name? Ania ti naganmo? (often contracted to Aniat' naganmo?)
Where's the bathroom? Ayanna ti banio?
I love you Ay-ayatenka or Ipatpategka
Sorry Pakawan or Dispensar
Goodbye Agpakadaakon or Kastan/Kasta pay (Till then) or Sige (Okay) or Innakon (I'm going)

Numbers (Bilang), Days, Months

0 ibbong OR awan OR sero (English zero) OR itlog (Ilocano slang, "egg")
0.25 (1/4) kakapat
0.50 (1/2) kagudua
1 maysa
2 dua
3 tallo
4 uppat
5 lima
6 innem
7 pito
8 walo
9 siam
10 sangapulo
11 sangapulo-ket-maysa
20 duapulo
50 limapulo
100 sangagasut
1000 sangaribu
1000000 sangariwriw
1000000000 sangabilion (English, billion)

Days and months are in Spanish:

Days of the Week
Monday lunes
Tuesday martes
Wednesday miercoles
Thursday hueves
Friday viernes
Saturday sabado
Sunday domingo
January enero    July hulio
February pebrero August agosto
March marso September septiembre
April abril October octobre
May mayo November nobiembre
June hunio December desiembre
Units of time
second kanito OR segundo
minute daras OR minuto
day aldaw
week lawas OR domingo
month bulan
year tawen

To mention time, Ilocanos use a mixture of Spanish and Ilocano:

1:00 a.m. A la una ti bigat (One in the morning)
2:30 p.m. A las dos-imedia ti malem (in Spanish, Son las dos y media de la tarde or "half past two in the afternoon")

More Ilocano words

  • lalaki = male
  • baba'i = female
  • ub'bing = children

Noted Personalities

Noted Ilokano Personality:

PEDRO BUKANEG - The blind man who wrote the famous Ilokano Epic "Biag ni Lam-Ang"

External links

  • Dr. Carl Rubino's website ( - a linguist's site specializing in Ilocano and other Northern Philippine languages. Dr. Rubino (born Carl Konvalinka) has two books of dictionary/grammar currently published.
  • ( - the most popular Ilocano site on the Web conceptualized by Dr. Edward Fontanilla Barroga and Arlene Barroga Balboa, and founded by Andel "Andy" Barroga. It features Iluko/Iloko articles, recipes, jokes, song lyrics and streaming audio files, literary works (novels, short stories, poems), pen pals and photos, online dictionary, comprehensive list of Internet Ilokanos, and the most active "dap-ayan" (huge forum) for Ilocanos
  • ( - a website by Dr. Aurelio "Ariel" Agcaoili, poet, fictionist, critic and Philippine public university academician
  • ( Ilokano writer Roy V. Aragon's website featuring original works in Iluko
  • ( An Ilocano community website operated by a Filipino-Canadian featuring a forum, photo gallery, essays, news articles, song lyrics, classic and modern Ilocano songs, and an online Ilocano dictionary.
  • Ethnologue report for Ilocano ( - somewhat outdated yet informative
  • ( Link to Yloco, an Iluko language development website dedicated to the concerns of the Ilocano

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