Skip to main content

Learning Baybayin: A Writing System From the Philippines

Learn Baybayin the Right Way

Learn Baybayin the Right Way

A Form of Writing

Baybayin is one of the Philippines' ancient scriptures and forms of writing. Baybayin is just one of at least 16 different writing systems that were used in pre-colonial Philippines, a fairly lost era of before the advent of the colonization and occupation eras. The character-based alphabet was used in pre-colonial times and have shown a sudden spike of resurgence in the country's modern era.

Originating from ancient India (India's Vedic period), it is believed to be one of the many writing systems used during pre-colonial Philippines. Many records and artifacts of the script survived up to this day and many more are still being discovered and preserved.

Read on to learn more about this beautiful ancient writing system!

Sneak Peak

  1. What is Baybayin?
  2. Enabling Baybayin in GBoard
  3. Writing and Reading Baybayin
  4. A Brief Look at the Filipino Language
  5. Baybayin or Alibata?
  6. Lesson Summary
  7. Practice and Excercise
Baybayin Guide

Baybayin Guide

1. What is Baybayin?

The word Baybayin translates to "to spell" or "to write" in verb form. It also translates to "coast," "seaside," "syllables” in literal form and "alphabet" in noun form. It is one of the Philippines' archaic and systematic ways of writing used by the Tagalog — a word derived from "taga-ilog," which means people and/or communities who live near bodies of water.

The Tagalog is one of the Philippines' languages and is one the basis of it's a national and standardized language, Filipino. The Tagalog are people of the Philippines found in most parts of Luzon. Hence, the Tagalog language is dominantly spoken in Central Luzon and parts of Northern Luzon and is the primary basis for the country's national language, Filipino, along with other languages found in the Philippines.

Luzon is the largest and most populous island group that sits at the northern end of the Philippines. It’s known for its mountains, beaches, coral reefs, and is home to the national capital of the country called Manila.

"Mahiwaga, pipiliin ka sa araw-araw." Typography and photography of Harley Oñes via Facebook.

"Mahiwaga, pipiliin ka sa araw-araw." Typography and photography of Harley Oñes via Facebook.

Baybayin 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.

An abugida is a writing system between syllabic and alphabetic scripts. They have sequences of consonants and vowels that are written as a unit, each based on the consonant letter. Vowels must be written down as well, but they are secondary. Each syllables are built up of consonants, each of which has an inherent vowel.



plural noun: diacritics

a sign, such as an accent or cedilla, which when written above or below a letter indicates a difference in pronunciation from the same letter when unmarked or differently marked. - Oxford Dictionary

During pre-colonial Philippines, Baybayin was used to write short notes such as poetries and announcements. It wasn't used in any recording of historical events, and not used to writing any kind of numerical system.

It was often carved in bamboo, from bottom to top, using daggers. The direction changes when written on a paper or leaves, which is written from left to right. However, the direction of writing the script depends on the writer. This particular way of writing is one of the reasons why the Spanish tried to modify the script.

GBoard With Filipino Baybayin

GBoard With Filipino Baybayin

2. Baybayin Script for my GBoard

The virtual keyboard app GBoard developed by Google for Android and iOS devices was updated on August 1, 2019, and Baybayin was added to its list of supported languages. Here I describe how to update your keyboard to have Baybayin characters:

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

And presto! Tap on the "Globe" icon of your keyboard and it should change the language from your default to the Baybayin keyboard.

If you're unable to see the characters, be sure to check that you successfully updated your Google keyboard first.

Baybayin characters will look like tiny boxes or unknown icons if you're using your PC, if you're viewing from the web, or if you haven't yet updated your Google keyboard from your phone.

Rules in writing in Baybayin.

Rules in writing in Baybayin.

3. How to Write and Read Words in Baybayin?

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

The Filipino Language Salad Analogy

For a visual summary of the Filipino language, just imagine Austronesian, Spanish, English, Japanese and some other Asian country languages each separated on a cutting board. Then, all languages are scraped with a knife into a huge, bottomless bowl, and mixed like a weird yet flavorful salad.

The Filipino to Baybayin translations below illustrates the pronunciation to character translation as well as the translation to English.

Use Translators and Transliteration to Slowly Introduce Yourself to Baybayin

Writing the characters isn't that as hard as it seems, but reading them can be quite tricky. Don't worry because you don't need to learn all the things about the Filipino language overnight or page-by-page just to have your head wrapped in this writing system. Just type in your words in the Google Translator and translate into Filipino. Start by one word at a time, and then two words, until you get the hang and joy of it.

You can also use physical translators, usually your-language-to-Filipino-language-dictionaries, that can also come in handy in learning the language itself. You can also use other online, software, or application translators to help you.

You just have to remember a specific yet most important rule (a rule which is in books on how to write and read Filipino): Write the words and its letters based on how it is spelled or pronounced.

Kind of confusing? There's more below to detail what this very important rule really mean.

"Araw, gabi. Tayong dalawa." Art and Calligraphy by @harleycrafts via Instagram

"Araw, gabi. Tayong dalawa." Art and Calligraphy by @harleycrafts via Instagram

Writing and Reading Baybayin Characters

In contrast to English, when you write and read Filipino words, you just write and read every letter you see and/or hear. There are no hidden or silent letters or a need for denoting intonations; you just have to write and read as-is. Although each letter and sound has to have the proper emphasis or method of speaking, this doesn't change the fact that it is still, technically, what-it-is when written.

Can I Use my Native Language to Translate into Baybayin?

The answer: of course!

This character-based writing system is not limited to be translated or transliterated if coming from any language or writing system. But there are catches and conditions, of course, and sometimes most are just as borderline cumbersome to even try. Either way, even though Baybayin is usually used for pure Tagalog and Filipino words, majority of foreign words can still work.

One more particular rule, if the above mentioned method doesn't work out, is to have your native language translated into Filipino first. And then the Filipino translation of that word will be transliterated into Baybayin characters. Just be sure that these words are pretty much accurate to the ones being translated and vice-versa.

For example the English word "city."

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:

  • Translate a word to Filipino with the help of Google.
  • Use a your-language-to-Filipino book, dictionary, software, application, etc.

Here, we will use the second rule to sound out the spelling and translate the word to Baybayin characters.

Writing the Characters

All rules above are fundamental in writing Baybayin characters. Any foreign word can be easily translated to Baybayin, well, provided that either the same syllables exist or reformed syllables are made.

For example, the word "city." Say it with your mouth and try to emphasize each syllable:

  • city
  • ci-ty (two syllables)

Now, hear their letters and the way you say them in English. "City" would also sound like "sea-tea" or "see-tee". Just in case it adds more confusion, the Filipino language only has 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" or "si-ti." That simplification makes it easier to write it in Baybayin. You write and read the characters from left to right.

The More Correct Way

The literal translation of the word "city" is lungsod, therefore lungsod should be transliterated into Baybayin.

If written traditionally, it may be ᜎᜓᜐᜓ (lu + so).

You will notice that some letters are dropped, and these are not errors. The traditional, more correct way follows the pre-colonial style rules of writing the Baybayin.

If written in the modernized version, it will be ᜎᜓᜅ᜔ᜐᜓᜇ᜔ (lu + ng + so + d). The added dropped letters are added, since the modernized version is the post-colonial method of writing in Baybayin.

Another Filipino word for "city" is siyudad, which was derived from the Spanish word ciudad. And if written in Baybayin (both methods), it will possibly look like ᜐᜒᜌᜓᜇ (si + yu + da) or ᜐᜒᜌᜓᜇᜇ᜔ (si + yu + da + d).

Of course, there are some words in many other languages that doesn't have their own specific translation into Filipino. So I just used the word "city" as an example of what they may, or could, look like when written in Baybayin.

Syllables are the Key

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.

Ways of Writing Baybayin

There are two ways to write Baybayin characters:

  1. Writing the words Traditionally, which is a more ancient yet acceptable and more correct way of writing Baybayin characters. This usually only includes the alphabet without any modifications or standalone characters, those that were prevalently used during the pre-colonial period.
  2. Writing the words Modernly, which is also acceptable since Baybayin's resurfacing and resurgence in the modern world. This includes the use of modified and reformed alphabets as well as the borrowed ones. The usage of modernizing a traditional script is still highly debatable, though, since there aren't any pushes for its own standardization. Nevertheless, writing words in the modern way is still acceptable since it encompasses the Filipinos' cultural ability for free-form adaptation.

The way on how Baybayin's written is non-standardized unlike the Filipino language when written in Latin/Roman alphabet, so a lot of methods may be of contest against others when used. Either way, it's still the choice of the writer on which method he or she will use since the very original way of writing it is hard to historically trace and the added modern modified letters may or may not even existed in the first place.

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. Each consonant in the Baybayin alphabet retains it default character /a/, i.e ma = ᜋ.

In fact, the English world long can be translated to Baybayin by writing the "lo" part of the word only, hence dropping the "ng." This is a more traditional and ancient way of writing in Baybayin. However, "ng" can be added in the word if the writer choose to write it a modern way.

Ma // ha // ba in Baybayin

Ma // ha // ba in Baybayin

The Kudlit of the Characters

If each consonant in the Baybayin alphabet retains its default character /a/, e.g. ma = ᜋ, but what happens if the consonant changes its next vowel, e.g. me, mi, mo, and mu?

A kudlit (kood-lit), or that small cut, incision, or comma above or below each of the characters, is 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, commas, or even the tiniest of strokes.

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

Single and Repetitive Letters

But one syllable is equal to one character, right? How about long words that sound as if they only have one syllable just like the word long above?

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 and spell a Filipino word on how it is sounded as or spelled; the letters should spell and sound as it is when you say and 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.

The Spanish Cross

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 to cancel its vowel sound, leaving it as a single consonant letter.

The Filipinos never accepted this way of writing because it was too cumbersome, or complicated, 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 it since it makes reading my Baybayin words a little bit easier.

ᜋ - ma

ᜀ - a

ᜇ - de/di or re/ri

Maaari - ᜋᜀᜀᜇᜒ

If you're on a computer or on a phone without an updated Google Keyboard, it is possible that the Baybayin translations in this article will not show up. If you would like to see the translation in Baybayin, Ating Baybayin offers online translations you can see online.

ᜊᜓ - bu

ᜈ᜔ - n

ᜇᜓ - do/du or /ro/ru

ᜃ᜔ - k

Bundok - ᜊᜓᜇᜓ (written traditionally)

Bundok - ᜊᜓᜈ᜔ᜇᜓᜃ᜔ (written with the Spanish dot)

Bituin, or "star" in English. Art/Calligraphy by Nordenx via DeviantArt.

Bituin, or "star" in English. Art/Calligraphy by Nordenx via DeviantArt.

The Usage of Virama

In modern revivals of Baybayin, some prefer to use a different symbol such as an "X" shape; many modern fonts use this option. Others choose to adapt the "pamudpod," a slash-shaped virama from Mangyan writing. Others prefer to not use any virama kudlit altogether, due to its largely colonial origins. Though historical circumstances have made it a colonial artifact in Baybayin, some linguists would argue that a virama would eventually have been crafted by indigenous writers.

Though you may choose not to use it yourself, you will want to at least have some practice recognizing and reading it.

Here is a comparison, showing three different approaches to the virama when writing the word "Pilipinas" (Philippines):

  • Historical Baybayin (no virama): ᜉᜒᜎᜒᜉᜒᜈ
  • Post-Colonial Baybayin (virama kudlit): ᜉᜒᜎᜒᜉᜒᜈᜐ᜔
  • Mangyan-Influenced Baybayin (pamudpod): ᜉᜒᜎᜒᜉᜒᜈᜐ᜴

Mangyan refers to the Philippine ethnic group living in Mindoro Island but some can be found in the island of Tablas and Sibuyan in the province of Romblon as well as in Albay, Negros, and Palawan islands. The word Mangyan generally means man, woman or person without any reference to any nationality.

Baybayin Punctuations

Baybayin won't be a writing system without the existence of punctuations, original and/or reformed/modified.

Baybayin is not only applicable in writing single words, but a whole sentence and even paragraphs using it. In fact, there are a lot of recorded and documented works written in Baybayin, most dating back to the early civilizations that lived in the pre-historic and precolonial eras. These recorded documents are mostly written poems, epics, and songs often carved in objects like wood, clay pots, and clay tablets. Most of these documents are also well restored, researched, and stored in the archives of the University of Santo Tomas found in the Philippines.

Originally, Baybayin only uses one character for its overall use of any punctuation. Baybayin writing makes use of two punctuation marks today:

  • the Philippine single (᜵) which is acting today as a comma, or verse splitter in poetry
  • double punctuation (᜶) which is the main punctuation acting today as a period or end of sentence or a paragraph.

To compensate for the other already existing punctuations, there are some reformed characters for the exclamation mark and question mark. But the most used in writing in Baybayin is the two former characters and adding a dot, cross, or pamudpod or a virama makes it a reformed punctuation character.

Another Baybayin chart for your practice from Omniglot.

Another Baybayin chart for your practice from Omniglot.

Special Characters and Foreign/Reformed Words

The letters D/R has only one character because this follows a Filipino grammatical rule that when there is a letter between two vowels, it becomes another letter. Although, such rules are only exclusive for a few letters such as d and r.

Like the word mangdaraya. Mang-da-ra-ya is "cheater," "to cheat," or "will cheat" depending on the word usage where the Baybayin translation is ᜋᜇᜇᜌ without the Spanish dot and ᜋᜅ᜔ᜇᜇᜌ with the Spanish dot. To change a da/ra character into a de/re, di/ri, do/ru, and du/ru, a kudlit must be placed at the top or at bottom of the character (respectively).

The letter NG has its own character as well since most Filipino words start and end with these letters. It is also considered to be a one alphabet character in the Tagalog/Filipino alphabet.

Such as 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.

The letter Ñ does not exist in the Baybayin alphabet because it was later added to the Filipino alphabet and language that was brought by the Spanish during and after the colonization period. Although, it can be reformed when written in Baybayin. Combining two letters (n + y) such as "ni + ya" or "ni + yo," "in + ya" or "in + yo," depending on the word's pronunciation.

Knowing which Baybayin alphabet that can be transliterated by using foreign letters or words may hugely vary. For example, the letter c. This may sound as k or s in Filipino, depending on the foreign language. It may also sound as a sh or ch, in many other foreign languages, which are reformed letters in the Baybayin alphabet. It can also be an unsound, silent letter in a foreign word.

Writing the characters may be a bit easier for those that knows any Austronesian language (i.e. Filipino, Indonesian, Malaysian) or some of Asia-Pacific languages. But it can be a little bit harder for English, Eastern Asian (except for Japanese), and some European languages because of the intense transliterations, variations, complexities, rules, etc.

This is why how you read and speak the foreign word, and how it is accurately translated into Filipino, is important because some letters may or may not exist in the Filipino tongue and alphabet. The best way to have your own foreign words transliterated into Baybayin is to first translate it into another language or directly into the Filipino language, and then use those Filipino words to be transliterated into Baybayin.

Writing your names into Baybayin.

Writing your names into Baybayin.

Baybayin Translations and Transliterations of Names

Are there rules for names, too? Of course! The same rules apply to when writing names into Baybayin. Naturally, native Filipino names can be easily translated as long as it suffices most of the rules. Although, it can be difficult and hard if the name isn't a pure Filipino name.

Difficulty in transliteration of names into Baybayin differ by a lot of complicated variables that needs to be thought about beforehand. Such examples are those names with letters and intricacies that doesn't exist in the Filipino alphabet, the original source, the race or ethnicity, and even the used language.

Generally in the modern era, Filipino names are a mixture of English first names with Spanish surnames. Some native, original Filipino, surnames are also present and these are the ones that survived through hundreds of years of generations, colonialism, etc. There are also Filipino names that are a mixture of English and Asian (Chinese, Japanese, etc.) surnames that are either easy or hard to translate. The people of the Philippines are very diverse, and so are their languages and names. Some easily translatable Filipino names could be Maria, Ben, Alex, Omar, Jun, Samantha, and more. But there are names that are textually complexed that translating and transliterating would be difficult.

For example, the name 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 also remember that not all names and foreign (non-Filipino) 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 is recommended that you use the Google Translator, first, to translate your native language to Filipino and then write that Filipino word into Baybayin. And if you want to translate a phrase or sentence from your native language to Filipino, it is better if you ask a Filipino to translate that word themselves (because Google translate can/may create unnaturally wrong translations if read out by a native speaker).

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

4. A Brief History of the Filipino Language

Pre-Colonial Era: Theories About Filipino Ancestors

According to several theories, the Filipino ancestors were Malayo-Polynesians and Austronesians from the Eurasian continents who continuously migrated to the country, establishing settlements for trade and to live when there were still "land bridges" that connected the archipelago from the outlying islands. They brought over their Austronesian languages, beliefs, and cultures with them as well. According to theories, 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. The melting of these land bridges didn't stop pre-colonial native, however, to develop seafaring and boats to migrate and travel to other outlying islands. There are more theories about the origins of Filipino ancestors, but this one focuses on the migration with their migration and bringing over their language.

Although, because of a recent discovery of remains of a pre-historic Rhinoceros alongside rock tools and human bones, there are still some theories needed for research since it was predated to be at least 700,000-year-old. Therefore, there is a probability or possibility that there are early Filipino inhabitants in the archipelago way before the oldest recorded discovery, which was 67,000 years ago.

Pre-Colonial Era: Foreign Trading

And then came the age of foreign trade, where the ancient civilizations found in China, Arabian Peninsula, Malaysian and Indonesian archipelago, Indian subcontinent, and other Asian countries traded their goods and commodities with the ancient people of the Philippines. They brought with them goods and commodities along with their respective languages, beliefs, religions, culture, and way of life during the pre-colonial era. Foreign trade with the pre-historic peoples of Borneo, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and Thailand also played an integral part in building the language of what mostly the Filipinos 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.

Colonial Era: Religion and Language

In the 16th Century, Spain claimed the Philippines for its own. The Spanish that were successful in occupying and colonizing the country came from then colonized Mexico and North America.

Many friars and priests were sent by the crown to teach Christian Catholicism to the native people. At first, the friars were encouraged to learn the local languages and dialects as a means of communications, along with the Spanish language. Majority of the population gained influences from the Spanish colonial period, such as food, names, religion, and especially language. During the Spanish Era (1521-1898), the Filipinos already had their own languages but borrowed and adapted a lot of words, phrases and common sentences from the Spanish language (who wouldn't in 333 years?) that are still used today. During the American era (1898-1946) and the Japanese era (1941-1945) Filipinos still kept the integrity of the Filipino language by having it distinguished from the two even as it adapted around the use of the new languages.

The Americans were eager to teach English during their era (and its effectiveness is still prevalent today), yet they also imposed rules of not speaking or using native languages. When the Japanese occupied the country, they tried to abolish and criminalize English during their time. They also wanted the Japanese language to be learned instead and aggressively advocated to have the population revert to their original native languages.

Post-Colonial Era: Shaping a National Identity

The scars of hundreds of years of colonial and war time effects affected the whole nation by nearly losing its own identity, having general amnesia of their roots, not knowing who they once were, and losing knowledge of their past to help them in the future. It was a tumultuous time, especially when the country is still divided not only by their languages but also by the ideals that proliferated through course of time. And, oddly enough, most of these are still prevalent today. Though, despite the bumpy ride, many intended to unify a broken, bruised, and bleeding country by creating reforms and resolutions. Some of these actions were the creation of a national, standardized, and official languages.

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

One misconception about Filipino is that it equates to Tagalog. Filipino is the standardized, national language derived from Tagalog. Nevertheless, Filipino is also derived from the various languages found in the Philippines, especially from the major regional, indigenous, and ethnic languages. Almost everyone in the Philippines can speak Filipino, but everyone also has their own second, third, even fourth language.

According to a 2015 consensus, there are 120 to 187 known languages where:

175 are indigenous

41 are institutional

13 are in trouble

8 are non-indigenous

73 are developing

11 are dying

8 are major dialects

43 are vigorous

4 are extinct

Imagine the salad analogy. Tagalog is one of its part or piece, while Filipino is the whole salad itself. More of its pieces include languages from the island groups of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. It may sound confusing, but the people back in the day made sure to do this in able to avoid potential insurgencies, insurrections, outcries that may result in pockets of regional, and, in worst case, nationwide civil war. I'm saying this because the Filipino language is crafted after the events of WWII, and tensions between the multiple regions found in the Philippines, as well as the use of regional languages as the basis of the national language, were growing. So, to make sure that everyone in the Philippines is contributing to the crafting of the national language, the commission is born and the name Filipino is crafted to define both the language of Philippines and its people.

Different writing scripts from regions of the Philippines.

Different writing scripts from regions of the Philippines.

5. Baybayin or Alibata?

Most scholars and experts in Southeast Asian writing systems and several Baybayin practitioners are familiar with the distinction between the two terms: Baybayin vs Alibata.

The first distinction from the two is the script family they belong to or descended from. Baybayin belongs to the brahmic script family while alibata, sometimes referred as alifbata, belongs to the abjad script family.

This is present because of the foreign trade of commerce and influence that happened during the pre-colonial Philippines, where Indians and Arabians were some of the first to trade with native Filipinos.


A brahmic script comprises abugida writing systems. They are used throughout the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia and parts of East Asia, including Japan in the form of Siddhaṃ (Sanskrit text used in Japanese Buddhism).

An abjad is a type of writing system in which each symbol or glyph stands for a consonant, in effect leaving it to readers to infer or otherwise supply an appropriate vowel. Such example of abjad scripts or writing systems are the Arabic, Phoenician, Aramaic, and Hebrew.

The older and more correct term, "Baybayin," has been mentioned in several publications dating back to just right after the Spanish colonization began and throughout the 17-18th centuries as the word that the native population used to refer to their writing system that was dominant in most of the northern part of Luzon.

However, we still see & hear a lot of new Filipino script enthusiasts using the misnomer (improper name) "Alibata" particularly from folks in the Philippines where Alibata is mentioned briefly in Filipino history and language subjects. "Alibata" was coined by Paul Verzosa in 1921.

While, those who are internet savvy are familiar with Paul Morrow's work and quite particularly this entry from his "Ang Baybayin" site about Paul Verzosa's reasoning for the term Alibata:

"In 1921 I returned from the United States to give public lectures on Tagalog philology, calligraphy, and linguistics. I introduced the word alibata, which found its way into newsprints and often mentioned by many authors in their writings. I coined this word in 1914 in the New York Public Library, Manuscript Research Division, basing it on the Maguindanao (Moro) arrangement of letters of the alphabet after the Arabic: alif, ba, ta, “f” having been eliminated for euphony's sake."

To which Paul Morrow added:

"Verzosa's reasoning for creating this word was unfounded because no evidence of the baybayin was ever found in that part of the Philippines and it has absolutely no relationship to the Arabic language. Furthermore, no ancient script native to Southeast Asia followed the Arabic arrangement of letters, and regardless of Verzosa's connection to the word alibata, its absence from all historical records indicates that it is a totally modern creation."

In short, the most proper term for the writing system should be Baybayin, not Alibata. Even most Filipino subject teachers, students, and scholars emphasizes this important distinction.

6. Summary of the Lesson About Baybayin

A simplified Baybayin Guide.

A simplified Baybayin Guide.

6.1: Memorize the characters.

Learning Baybayin will be easier if you memorize the characters. Characters without commas, cuts are any consonant + the vowel "a." Add commas above of the characters if it's consonant + "e/i" (like "be" and "bi") and add commas below the characters if it's consonant + "o/u" (like "bo" and "bu"). Add a Spanish modified cross or a long line below the characters if it is a lone character (like "b"). The vowels have their own characters, though. Punctuations on Baybayin sentences are also important.

Know the simple rules for writing and reading in Baybayin.

Know the simple rules for writing and reading in Baybayin.

6.2: Stick to the rules.

Preferably the traditional rule where lone consonants are dropped. But if you like your word to be easily read, then you can also stick to the modern rule where the Spanish modified characters are present.

"Philippines" written in Baybayin characters.

"Philippines" written in Baybayin characters.

6.3: Slowly introduce yourself.

Try to write them yourself by using your own language, or by translating your language to Filipino first before writing it in Baybayin. Writing them should be pretty easy, but reading them could be a little of a challenge.

Some letters, syllables, words and letters does not exist in the Baybayin alphabet. Although, there are reformed ones you can use or make.

Some letters, syllables, words and letters does not exist in the Baybayin alphabet. Although, there are reformed ones you can use or make.

6.4: The reforms.

Some letters, syllables, and words do not exist within Baybayin's alphabet. You could try to use the reformed ones, or create your own, depending on the word.

Try to read the following Baybayin characters.

Try to read the following Baybayin characters.

7. Learn and Practice

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. You can either read them (the one above) or write them on a piece of paper (the one below):

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

The practice reading material above is translated and transliterated into:

Para as bayan (for the country)

Ako ay maglilingkod (I will serve)

Tahanang mahal (beloved home)

When written in an English sentence: "I will serve the country, my beloved home."

You can use me as a resource for this subject or have extensive knowledge about the subject yourself. You can also let me help you better understand this subject by commenting on what this article may be lacking (like more examples or more rules). And if you have any inquiries, questions, and corrections for the article, please don't hesitate to communicate with me.

Further Reading


  1. Baybayin for Cultural Identity, Promotion for Economic Gain and Preservation.
  2. Christopher Ray Miller's answer to Is Baybayin really a writing system in the entire pre-hispanic Philippines in Qoura.
  3. Morrow, Paul. Baybayin, Styles & Their Sources
  4. Morrow, Paul. Baybayin, The Ancient Script of the Philippines
  5. Philippine Indigenous Writing Systems in the Modern World by Norman de los Santos
  6. Calatagan Pot inscriptions
  7. Vocabulario de Lengua Tagala was the first dictionary of the Tagalog language in the Philippines. It was written by the Franciscan friar Pedro de Buenaventura and published in Pila, Laguna in 1613.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How does one translate Carmel into Baybayin?

Answer: Names can be a bit hard to translate in Baybayin, but I'll try my best.

The name "Carmel" has two syllables, and there is no "C" in the Baybayin alphabet. Although, the letter "C" is often interchanged with the letter "K" during pronunciation especially in the Filipino language. So, "Carmel" can also be "Karmel."

By writing it traditionally, the name would translate into ᜃᜋᜒ with the lone letters "R" and "L" getting dropped. It can also be written into ᜃᜇᜋᜒᜎ or "Karamela" in an impromptu way. Writing the name traditionally would result in ᜃᜇ᜔ᜋᜒᜎ᜔ (Karmel) having lone characters with Spanish dots.

Question: How does one translate JOAN into baybayin?

Answer: Depending on the pronunciation of the name, it could be translated into two. As you can see, Baybayin doesn't have any "J" letters in it, but there is a Filipino pronunciation for words with "J". Jack, as an example, the "Ja", more like /zha/, sound is "diya" like the Filipino word "Diyamante" for Diamond but the pronunciation for /zha/ is a bit hardened. "an" could be pronounced as /ahn/ or /wahn/. So, my translation for Joan would be ᜇᜒᜌᜓᜀᜈ᜔ (Di - yo - a - n) or ᜇᜒᜌᜓᜏᜈ᜔ (Di - yo - wa - n), both are written with the Spanish dot, by the way. Writing them traditionally would have to drop ending letter ᜈ᜔ or "n".

Question: Do you have a Baybayin font or a source?

Answer: Hello there! You can try updating your google android keyboard and check and modify its languages to add it to the keyboard. You can also download several Baybayin font applications in your phone's AppStore.

Question: How do you write 'ng' and 'nang' in "kumain NG ulam" and "NANG kumain"?

Answer: The "na" + "nga" characters are used when you write these words traditionally. But, you can also use the modernized version of the character (the one with the Spanish cross or dot). Therefore, the (modern) translation above is:

"Kumain ng ulam" —> ᜃᜓᜋᜁᜈ᜔ ᜈᜅ᜔ ᜂᜎᜋ᜔

"Nang kumain" —> ᜈᜅ᜔ ᜃᜓᜋᜁᜈ᜔

If you want to change the translation to a more correct and traditional way, you have to drop all characters with the Spanish dot and change it into the traditional one.

Question: How do you translate "indio" into Baybayin? Do you write is as "indyo" instead?

Answer: According to researches from the web and books, "Indio" was once a racial slur for Filipinos who were below the caste system, or the natives, during the Spanish Colonization. The word itself is already like that, "Indio," hence there's no need for it to be changed into "Indyo" unless the word itself is translated to Filipino first.

Translating the word "Indio" is "I" character plus "de/di" character plus "o/u" character in a traditional way (dropping the lone letter "n"). Retaining the letter "n" character in the translation is the modern way of its translation.

© 2019 Darius Razzle Paciente


Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on September 03, 2020:

No problem, Allieen!

Allieen on August 27, 2020:

Thanks for sharing this interesting article!

Opol on August 19, 2020:

Ang sulat baybayin po ay meyron din po bang numero (numbers)?

Maraming salamat

Darya on June 07, 2020:

Anyone have any information about this hand written?

allen on May 16, 2020:

thanks for this

im learning siamese alphabet

but i think i should also learn my native baybayin also

and i get confuse with the original baybayin from modern baybayin

but its okay i will focus first to the original baybayin

Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on May 13, 2020:

That's good to know, Vance! Wishing you and your project the best of luck.

Vance Ortiz on May 10, 2020:

This is a good help for me as I am trying to design a uniform featuring Baybayin script as a design.

Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on April 17, 2020:

Hello there Mark!

If you have a Google GBoard Keyboard installed in your phone, you can have it updated and modified to have the Baybayin fonts. And then you can download Microsoft Office Word application for you to practice. But I think it doesn't work in there yet (because I haven't tested it before)

Nevertheless, you can try searching for Baybayin mobile applications (there are several in the appstore) and they're definitely free. Or you can try it your phone's notes, or save them in Facebook as draft.

Mark on April 13, 2020:

hi do you have a baybayin font? or a source? i want to practice baybayin in microsoft word. thanks on March 09, 2020:

i need learne baybayin alibata to use for translate of my name in alibata and more...

Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on February 21, 2020:

Hello B. Azotea!

This article is just the tip of the iceberg. Although, you won't be seeing this kind of writing system all over the Philippines because it's still a bill being proposed in the National Congress. The majority of Filipinos use Roman alphabets, and each Filipino person is versatile in learning a new the language. Filipino and English are the two major languages to be found in the country, and regions within the country have their second or third language (like Ilonggo, Bisaya, Ilocano, Chavacano, etc.) which are all incorporated in the crafting of the Filipino Language.

You need not to be afraid of learning it, though, since the Filipino language — as well as the culture — is relatively easy to learn and easy to find. There are multiple videos in YouTube to help you with it, and there are also multiple articles and researches published in the internet to help you with your studying of the Philippines.

I, myself, am planning to make a comprehensive and easy to digest Filipino language article in the future as soon as I plan out how to deliver it appropriately, accurately, and easily.

For now, enjoy reading and learning the language and the culture via multiple facets in the internet to help you understand what the Philippines and Filipino is all about. Thanks!

B. Azotea on February 21, 2020:

Would like to learn the language. My grandfather was from the Philippines and I've always wanted to learn more about him and the culture.

Do you have an idea of the easiest way to go about this?

Darius Razzle Paciente (author) from Metro Manila, The Philippines on September 01, 2019:

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

Alexander James Guckenberger from Maryland, United States of America on September 01, 2019:

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!