2. The sounds and spelling of Agutaynen

The Agutaynen language has 20 distinct sounds: 16 consonant sounds and 4 vowel sounds.

The consonants are written with 15 different letters (p, t, k, b, d, g, m, n, ng, s, l, r, w, y, h) and

with the hyphen “-”. These 16 symbols are organized in Table 1 according to how and where they are pronounced in the mouth.

Table 1. Letters representing Agutaynen consonant sounds

p t k

b d g

m n ng




w y h, -

The “h” sound occurs only in a few words that are borrowed from other languages. The hyphen represents a GLOTTAL STOP—the brief absence of sound that sometimes happens in the middle of a word before another consonant, as in ma-kal ‘snake’ or da-tal ‘floor’. Since the hyphen sound only occurs in the middle of words, it does not head a section of its own in the

dictionary. A hyphen can also be used as an aid for the reader, to separate similar or identical parts of a word that would otherwise be extra long, as in balay-balay ‘little house’ or

mamagbaragat-bagatan ‘they will meet together with each other’.

The four vowel sounds of Agutaynen are symbolized by the letters a, e, i, and o, as shown

in Table 2. The “i” and “a” represent much the same vowels as those spelled with the same letters

in Filipino or Spanish.

Table 2. Letters representing Agutaynen vowel sounds

i e o


The Agutaynen “o” represents a sound somewhere between the “u” and “o” of standard

Filipino. Since Agutaynen does not distinguish between the i/e or u/o sounds heard in Filipino,

it is not necessary to write these distinctions in Agutaynen. Agutaynen does, however, have a

distinctive fourth sound of its own, symbolized by the letter “e.” Linguists call this a high central

vowel, and symbolize it with the letter “i” with a bar through it, as in “ɨ”. This sound occurs in

many Agutaynen words, such as letem ‘hunger’ and elen ‘full’.


An Agutaynen syllable consists of a vowel with a possible preceding and/or following

consonant. Consonant clusters are generally not allowed inside a syllable apart from in a few

borrowed words such as trabaho ‘work’ or traidor ‘dishonest person’. It is not the purpose of this

overview to give a detailed analysis of sound patterns in the Agutaynen language. However, a

few specific examples of possible sound sequences and how sounds affect one another are given

in appendix 1.

The 19 regular letters of the Agutaynen alphabet come in the following order in the

dictionary: a, b, d, e, g, h, i, k, l, m, n, ng, o, p, r, s, t, w, y. Additional letters may also be used

for writing borrowed words or proper nouns in Agutaynen, such as the “F” in “Filipino”, the “Q”

in the surname “Quimay”, or the “u” in “Agutaya”. Agutaynen uses standard punctuation

markers found in Filipino and English writing, including the parentheses, comma, period,

semicolon, colon, question mark, exclamation mark, and quotation marks (, . ; : ? ! “ ”). In

addition to these, there is a special symbol that can be used to indicate that two identical vowels

(a, e, i, o, u) occur together. For example, mal ‘expensive’ or teb ‘high tide’ may also be written as

māl or tēb to show that their vowel sounds are longer than usual. Sometimes this symbol for a

long vowel will help to distinguish different meanings of similar words, as in maboat ‘can be

done’ and māboat ‘long’ or tolok ‘torch’ and tolōk crow of a rooster’.

There are special rules for writing short pronouns consisting of a single o or a. (See table 5

in section 3.2.8 for the complete set of Agutaynen pronouns.) If the preceding word ends in the

same letter as the pronoun, its presence is hidden unless indicated by the symbol for the long

vowel, as in magkantā ‘you will sing’ or manorō ‘I will fetch water’. If the preceding word ends in

a different vowel from the pronoun, the pronoun is simply joined to that word, as in magkantao ‘I

will sing’ or manoroa ‘you will fetch water’. If the preceding word ends in a consonant, the

pronoun may either be written as part of that word or separate from it. For instance, tomabido

and tomabid do are both acceptable ways of writing ‘I will come along’. Note that when the

pronoun is separated off, it copies the final consonant of the preceding word. Thus, -o becomes

do after tomabid. Likewise, it becomes lo after a word ending in l (magadal lo ‘I will study’), no

after a word ending in n (agle-men no ‘I am hungry’), and so on. In some cases, choosing a

particular way of writing the pronoun can help to clarify the meaning. For instance, tomabida

can only mean ‘you will come along’. But the da in tomabid da has two possible meanings in

isolation: ‘you’ or ‘already’. So tomabid da might mean either ‘you will come along’ or ‘he will

come along already’. It is usually clear from the context which particular meaning is intended.