Learn Baybayin: A Writing System From the Philippines

Updated on September 15, 2019
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I'm fond with studying history of my country and other countries.

Table of Contents

  1. What is Baybayin?
  2. Enabling it in your GBoard
  3. Writing and Reading Baybayin
  4. The Filipino Language
  5. Short Quiz
  6. Resources


I've just discovered that Baybayin characters look like tiny boxes when using the web. It's best to open up and read about this hub using your mobile phone with an updated Google Gboard keyboard for you to see the Baybayin characters in most of the portions.

What is Baybayin?

Baybayin scripture sample from Bayani Art
Baybayin scripture sample from Bayani Art | Source

Baybayin is one of the Philippine's ancient scripture and forms of writing. The word literally translates to "to spell", "to write", or "to go to the shore/coast" in verb while "coast," "seaside," and "alphabet" in noun. It is one of the Philippine's archaeic, traditional, and systematic ways of writing, primarily used by the Tagalog, a word derived from "taga-ilog", which means people and/or communities who lives near bodies of water.

The complete Baybayin Alphabet
The complete Baybayin Alphabet | Source

It is one of a number of individual writing systems used in Southeast Asia, nearly all of which are abugidas, or alphasyllabary, where any consonant is pronounced with the inherent vowel a following it— diacritics being used to express other vowels. Many of these writing systems descended from ancient alphabets used in India over 2000 years ago.

How to enable Baybayin in my GBoard?

GBoard with Filipino Baybayin
GBoard with Filipino Baybayin

The virtual keyboard app GBoard developed by Google for Android and iOS devices was updated on August 1, 2019 and added it in its list of supported languages.

  1. Look for your keyboard settings.
  2. Click on "Languages"
  3. Click "Add Keyboard"
  4. Look for "Filipino (Baybayin)"
  5. Customize it if you want to
  6. Click "Done" and you're all set!

And presto! Tap on the "Globe" icon of your keyboard and it should change it's language from what you are currently using (default) to the Baybayin Keyboard. If it's not in there, check your application stores ans update your Google keyboard first.

How do you write and read in Baybayin?

ᜉᜀᜈᜓ ᜅ ᜊ ᜋᜄ᜔ᜐᜓᜎᜆ᜔ ᜀᜆ᜔ ᜋᜄ᜔ᜊᜐ ᜐ ᜊᜌ᜔ᜊᜒᜌᜒᜈᜓ?

(Paano nga ba magsulat at magbasa sa Baybayin?)

Baybayin Guide
Baybayin Guide | Source

The modern English Alphabet has 21 consonants and five vowels. The Filipino Alphabet has 16 consonants and five vowels. The Baybayin has 14 consonants and three vowels.

First you need to have little research, just a little background or knowledge with how Filipinos compose their words. Just imagine Spanish and English and Japanese and all other Asian country languages on each small plates and then they all got put inside a huge, bottomless bowl, and mixed like a vegetable salad.

Writing the characters isn't that as hard as it seems, but reading them is the tricky part. But don't worry, you don't need to learn the Filipino language overnight, page-by-page, just to get it. Just type in your words in the Google Translator and translate in to Filipino, start by one word at a time, and then two words, until you get the hang and joy of it.

Now you just have to remember my personal rule (a rule which actually exists in books):

Write or spell it on how you read the word, not by what its spelling really is

Contrast to English, when you write and read Filipino words, you just write and read every letter see and/or hear. There's no hidden or silent letters or a need for denoting intonations; you just have to write it and read it as it is. Every letter and sound has to have its emphasis, though, especially when you're speaking it. Let's say the English word "city", for example. The Baybayin doesn't have any characters to correspond to the letters "ci". There are characters for "t" and "y", but it would just make the four-letter English word longer in Baybayin. So, there are two options:

  1. Translate the English word to Filipino
  2. Use the above rule

In this case, we're going to use the rule above because it serves as a fundamental in writing Baybayin characters.

First, say the word "city" with your mouth:

  • city
  • ci-ty

Now, hear their letters and the way you say them. "City" would also sound like "seatea" or "seetee". Just in case it adds more confusion, the Filipino language only have five vowel sounds:

  • a (like the "a" sound in mark)
  • e (the "e" sound in bet)
  • i (ee or ea in bee or tea)
  • o (the "o" sound in octal)
  • u (the "u" sound in Uber)

So, if we simplify "city" to a word that we can write it in Baybayin, it will possibly be "siti", and that would at least make it easier for you to write it in Baybayin.

City - "siti" - ᜐᜒᜆᜒ

Always remember that one syllable is equal to one character. In our modern alphabet, each letter is a basic sound or phoneme, either a vowel or a consonant. We combine these letters to make syllables, and combine the syllables to make words. In a syllabic writing system, such as the Baybayin, each letter is already a syllable. It may be a combination of sounds or just a vowel, but usually it cannot be reduced to a single consonant.

Let's say for example the word mahaba or long in English. Long is one syllable, while mahaba is three. Since there are three syllables, there should be three characters. Consonant characters + a retains its form.

ᜋ - Ma

ᜑ - Ha

ᜊ - Ba

Mahaba - ᜋᜑᜊ

The English word long can actually be translated to Baybayin and it will look like this:

Long - ᜎᜅ᜔

But didn't you say that one syllable is equal to one character? Yes, and there's a really good explanation why there's two characters for the words like long, but first:

The kudlit of per letter or that small cut or incision above or below the characters are placed depending on which vowel alphabet it takes: "upper cuts" for consonant + i/e and "lower cuts" for consonant + o/u. These cuts or incisions can be dots or commas.

Let's say the word lugi or loss of revenue in English. The word has two syllables, so there should be two characters.

ᜎᜓ - can be lo/lu

ᜄᜒ - can be ge/gi

Lugi - ᜎᜓᜄᜒ

Okay, so we have tackled words with consonants + vowels in them, but what about lone and/or repetitive consonants and vowels? As I've said before, you speak a Filipino word on how it is spelled, which means all letters should sound when you read it.

Let say the words maaari for please and bundok for mountain. You read the first word as "ma-a-a-ri", while the second word is "bun-dok." Repetitive vowels are considered as one syllable per vowel sound and can be written with their equivalent character, while lone and repetitive consonants, traditionally, have no syllable count since the syllable count only counts those with "consonant + vowel" characters in them and therefore isn't included when being written before, that is why a Spanish kudlit was introduced.

To solve the problem of writing these consonants, a Spanish Friar named Francisco Lopez invented a new kind of kudlit in 1620. It was shaped like a cross and it was meant to be placed below a baybayin consonant letter in order to cancel its vowel sound, leaving it as a single consonant letter.

Remember the English word long from above? This rule covers that.

ᜋ - ma

ᜀ - a

ᜇ - de/re/di/ri

Maaari - ᜋᜀᜀᜇᜒ

ᜊᜓ - bu

ᜈ᜔ - n

ᜇᜓ - do/du/ro/ru

ᜃ᜔ - k

Bundok - ᜊᜓᜇᜓ (written traditionally)

Bundok - ᜊᜓᜈ᜔ᜇᜓᜃ᜔ (written with the Spanish dot)

As you can see, D/R only has one character. This follows a Filipino grammatical rule that when there is a letter between two vowels, it becomes another letter, but it is only exclusive for a number for letters such as d and r. The letter "NG" has its own character as well since most Filipino words starts with these letters and it is also considered be one alphabet character in the Filipino alphabet.

Like the word mandaraya (from the word daya or cheat, manda is added as a prefix making it an adjective or adverb), man-da-ra-ya, or cheater which is Baybayin is ᜋᜇᜇᜌ without the Spanish dot and ᜋᜈ᜔ᜇᜇᜌ with the Spanish dot. And the word ngayon, nga-yon, that means now or in the present where when written in Baybayin is ᜅᜌᜓ traditionally and ᜅᜌᜓᜈ᜔ with the Spanish dot.

Filipinos never accepted this way of writing because it was too cumbersome and they were perfectly comfortable reading the old way. However, it is popular today among people who have rediscovered the baybayin but are not aware of the origin of the Spanish kudlit. Personally, I'd prefer since it makes reading my Baybayin words a little bit easy to read.

But how about names? Are there rules, too? Of course! The same rules apply to when writing your names into Baybayin.

Let's say for example Michael (may-kel). When you read it out, it only has two syllables. Remember that each syllable is equal to the characters it should be written, so:

ᜋ - ma

ᜌ᜔ - y

ᜃᜒ - ke/ki

ᜎ᜔ - l

Michael - ᜋᜃᜒ (traditional)

Michael - ᜋᜌ᜔ᜃᜒᜎ᜔ (with Spanish dot)

But not all names and foreign words are easily convertible to Baybayin since it lacks most of the Roman Alphabet letters that we use today, such as the sounds /dza/ (diya) or /cha/ (tsa) or /sha/(siya). So it's better to use a Google Translator first to translate your foreign language to Filipino, and then write that Filipino word into Baybayin.

Filipino: a brief, brief History

A map of the Philippines with it's most spoken languages in color code
A map of the Philippines with it's most spoken languages in color code | Source

In before, our ancestors were Malayo-Polynesians from the islands of Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia who continuously migrated over the country for trade and for living during when there were still "land bridges" that connected the archipelago from the outlying islands. They brought over their Austronesian languages with as well. It was tens of thousands of years ago where the "land bridges" got severed or melted that the inhabitants stayed in the archipelago, built their communities with leaders, beliefs, religions, and own languages and writing systems.

And then came the age of foreign trading, where the Chinese, Arab, Indonesians, Malaysians, Indians, and other Asian countries traded their goods and commodities with the Philippines, along with their languages, beliefs, religion, and way of life as well during the pre-colonial era. Foreign trade with the Borneo, Japan, and Thailand also played an integral part in building the language of what we know today. They have taken and adapted words from all of these languages to make them part of the Filipino language. They have, however, still maintained their languages, and maintained separations from one language to another.

In the 16th Century, Spain claimed the Philippines for its own. Many friars and priests were sent by the crown to teach Christianity to the native people. At first, the friars were encouraged to learn the local dialects to teach the people in their languages. This they did, gaining a strong influence over the Filipino people. During the Spanish Era (1521-1898), the Filipinos already have their language, but burrowed and adapted a lot of words, phrases and common sentences from the Spanish Language (who wouldn't in 333 years?) that are still existing in the present. During the American era (1898-1946) and Japanese era (1941-1945) as well, but still kept the integrity of the Filipino language by having it distinguished from the two even if it adapts to the new languages. The Americans were eager to teach English during their era (and its effectiveness is still prevalent today) while when the Japanese occupied the country, they tried to abolish and criminalize English during their time (which never worked) and would have Japanese language, or even forced, to be learned instead, or have yourself revert to speaking Filipino again.

Filipino, defined by the Commission on the Filipino Language, the official regulating body of the Filipino Language and the official government institution tasked with developing, preserving, and promoting the various local Philippine Languages, is defined as the national language of the Philippines. Filipino is also designated, along with English, as an official language of the country and as a standardized variety of the Tagalog language, an Austronesian regional language that is widely spoken in the Philippines.

Today, the Philippines, with three major islands (the Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao) has over 180 languages with 8 major dialects within the country.

Would you like to learn the Filipino language?

I'm planning on making hubs about learning the Filipino language. Just a disclaimer, though, I'm only going to teach the fundamentals of the language because there are plentiful of resources online to learn the language and I won't guarantee you that you'll master the language through me. Although, I won't be that scholarly-type-professor-in-the-college that uses a lot of deep words and fill you out with lots of information once I teach it. It's going to be as detailed and as simple as I can offer to teach the language myself since I, myself, am going to read a lot of resources about it, too, just to be accurate and precise and correct to what I am going to teach about. Let's be realistic, from a native speaker: you won't learn the whole language overnight, but you will learn the significances and importances while learning this language or if you ever take it as a course online or not.

Now if you're excited about that, let me introduce you to the surface of the language. The Filipino language is not that hard for foreigners to learn, but it is one of the trickiest. Spelling? Don't mind that. Speaking? Don't mind that, as well, because the number one rule in the language, as well as in Baybayin, is that you read and spell it as it is. It's not a necessity for you to master the Baybayin, as well. Most Filipinos are good, even better, with English, but it's a plus point if you converse with them using Filipino.

What actually makes it tricky is the conjugation and the usage of the verb words, as well as few grammatical rules that even I need to make a bit of research on, because one mistake or two mistakes of placement of affixes could change the whole meaning of the word, but we'll still, or try to, understand you anyway. But basically, constructing Filipino sentences is almost the same as constructing English sentences. There's just more or fewer rules and laws that I would be glad to teach, and I'm planning, and still tentative, to make it into three hubs, each with rising difficulties:

  1. Filipino Language - Basic
  2. Filipino Language - Intermediate
  3. Filipino Language - Advanced

Practice, Practice, Practice

Practice! Practice! Practice!
Practice! Practice! Practice! | Source

Let's take a short Quiz!

view quiz statistics

It's a new, fun, and joyful writing system you could learn in just hours. With that, I'll leave you with some Filipino words to practice on:

  1. Talon (jump, falls)
  2. Humawak (to hold)
  3. Aanihin (to gather)
  4. Pagmamahal (loving)
  5. Iniipon (saving)

If you guys have any questions about the topic or words that you want to translate to Baybayin, freely drop by the comment section!

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Darius Razzle Paciente


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      • davrowpot profile imageAUTHOR

        Darius Razzle Paciente 

        13 days ago from Taguig City, NCR, Philippines

        No problem! Just ask away and I'll teach and answer it the simplest and best way I can.

      • Guckenberger profile image

        Alexander James Guckenberger 

        13 days ago from Maryland, United States of America

        This is a subject that has fascinated me for a while. Thank you for the detailed explanations. I may have questions for you in the future!


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