The Cebuano language, also known as Sebuano or Sugbuhanon, is one of the most important languages in the Republic of the Philippines, along with Tagalog and Filipino. The name “Cebuano” is derived from the island of Cebu, home to one of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.
Classification of the Cebuano Language
The Cebuano language is classified as a member of the Western or Indonesian subgroup of the Austronesian family of languages. The Austronesian language family, formerly known as the Malayo-Polynesian family, is one of the world’s largest language groups. Some linguists have classified Cebuano as a dialect of a Visayan or Bisayan language, along with the Iligaynon and Waray languages, to which it is closely related.
Cebuano is only one of the estimated 70 to 75 indigenous languages that can be found throughout the islands of the Philippines. These Philippine languages can be divided into two main categories: Central, also known as Mesophilippine; and northern, also known as Cordilleran. A number of smaller linguistic groups exist in addition to these two. Cebuano is one of the most important languages within the Central (Mesophilippine) category, alongside Tagalog and Filipino.
The Cebuano People
The term “Cebuano” can be used to refer to the Cebuano ethnic group found in the Philippines, as well as to their native language. The Cebuano people are believed to have originated in the area of modern-day Cebu. This area and the Cebuano people who inhabited it over the centuries came under a variety of influences over time.
One such important influence was the introduction of Islam to the Philippines thanks to contact with Muslim traders from Malaysia and Indonesia around the 13th century. New influences came to Cebu and other areas of the Philippines with the introduction of American and Spanish forces in the 16th century, an event that ushered in a period of colonial influence lasting well into the 20th century.
Development of the Written Cebuano Language: Pre-Spanish Period
Cebuano-language literature has evolved through a number of phases. Two early phases of note are the pre-Spanish and Spanish, which mark the transition from the pre-colonial to colonial Philippines. While there is evidence of a pre-Spanish writing system for the Cebuano language, its use appears to be sporadic.
Pre-Spanish Cebuano literature therefore refers largely to the oral traditions of the Cebuano peoples that existed before the period of Spanish colonialism in the Philippines. Many of these oral traditions were recorded by Spanish missionaries and later by the Cebuano peoples themselves, and a good deal of this traditional oral literature has been preserved to this day.
Spanish Language Influence on Cebuano
Like Tagalog, the Cebuano language was heavily influenced by the Spanish language during the period of colonialism. With the arrival of Spanish colonials, for example, a Latin-based writing system was introduced to the Cebuano language. Also, a significant number of Spanish loanwords were introduced to the Cebuano language during this time. Literally thousands of Spanish loanwords can be found in the Cebuano language today.
Another repercussion of this foreign linguistic influence was the addition of additional vowels to the Cebuano alphabet, which had originally included only three vowels. This was expanded to five vowels thanks to the introduction of Spanish words to the language.
Cebuano in the Philippines Today
Cebuano is spoken by an estimated 14.5 million people in the Philippines, or approximately 25 percent of the population. Although native Cebuano speakers make up one of the most significant linguistic and cultural groups in the Philippines, the official language of the country is Filipino, a standardized version of the native Tagalog language.
Most linguists agree that Filipino is technically the same language as Tagalog, as the two are virtually identical. However the Philippine constitution asserts that Filipino is the country’s national language, in order to disassociate it from the Tagalog ethnic group which dominates much of the Philippines. An estimated 14 million native Tagalog speakers can be found in the Philippines, making Tagalog one of the dominant languages in the country.
Modern Cebuano Language and Dialects
The majority of native Cebuano language speakers in the modern Philippines are distributed in the areas of eastern Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Mindanao, and the Camotes Islands. A variety of Cebuano dialects can be found throughout these areas, and a number of labels have been given to the diverse dialects of the Cebuano language. Cebuano speakers in Bohol refer to their language as “Bol-anon,” for example, while those in Leyte usually call their dialect “Kana.”
Today Cebuano is used far more frequently as a spoken language than it is a literary language. However, a variety of Cebuano-language media, from newspapers to movies, can be found in the Philippines today, helping to ensure the language will remain relevant among the great mélange of languages to be found in the Philippines.
Development of Literary Cebuano
Early Cebuano-language literature was based largely on old Cebuano oral traditions. With the arrival of the Spanish in the Philippines, the influence of Roman Catholic Spanish missionaries resulted in the emergence of a religious theme in Cebuano literature.
A later period of Cebuano literature, known as the American period, is highlighted by the writer Vincente Sotto, who is credited with writing the first literary short story in the Cebuano language. Sotto was an invaluable figure in the development of Cebuano literature, writing both short stories and plays, and heading the “Ang Suga” newspaper that served as an outlet for Cebuano writers in the early 20th century.
The pre-war period of Cebuano literature is often seen as a sort of golden age, producing a number of well-known writers who contributed greatly to a growing body of Cebuano-language literature. Since this time, the body of Cebuano language writers has continued to grow, and a number of publishing houses can be found in Cebu today.
Cebuano Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: Sugbuhanon, Sugbuanon, Visayan, Bisayan, Binisaya, Sebuano
Language Family: Austronesian, Malayo-Polynesian, Meso Philippine, Central Philippine, Bisayan, Cebuan
Spoken by Approximately 20,044,000 people
Spoken In: United States
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