Inventory of sounds, their symbols and orthography

Yakan has a fairly simple phonological system. Few consonants and vowels have more than one allophone and only a few morphemes undergo phonologically conditioned alternations. (For a full treatment see Yakan Grammar, 2. Phonology.)

Consonants and vowels

There are 16 consonants and 5 vowels. All consonants except j, h, w, y and (glottal stop, which is symbolized by an apostrophe) can occur as lengthened consonants. They are symbolized by a sequence of two identical consonants. All vowels occur lengthened as well as short. Vowel length is symbolized by a macron over the vowel.

The alphabetical order used in this dictionary is as follows:

ā, a, b, d, ē, e, g, h, ī, i, j, k, ', I, m, n, ng, ō, o, p, r, s, t, ū, u, w, and y.


The glottal stop is written in Yakan wherever it occurs except word initially. If a glottal-initial word is prefixed with a prefix which ends with a consonant, the glottal stop is not written as it is optional (e.g. aka - magaka). But, if it is prefixed by a vowel final prefix, the glottal stop is written (e.g. aka - ta'aka).


The consonant r, an allophone of d, is written intervocalically within roots but not across morpheme boundaries. It is also written in loan words. Other symbols of the Roman alphabet, such as c, f, v, and z, are used in proper names and loan words.

Vowel sequences

Vowel sequences are written with the transition consonant y or w between them, similar to the national language. They are written according to the following rules:

If the vowels /i/ or /e/ are the first in a sequence, a /y/ is inserted (e.g. iya' or leyat).

If the vowels /u/ or /o/ are the first in a sequence, a /w/ is inserted (e.g. kuwat or owak).

If /a/ is followed by /i/ or /e/, the letter /y/ is inserted (e.g. kayit or kayeg (kaleg).

If /a/ is followed by /u/ or /o/, the letter /w/ is inserted (e.g. sawug or kawompang).


Reduplicated words are written with a hyphen for easier reading (e.g. manuk-manuk).

Word stress and shift

Word stress in Yakan is predictable. There are three degrees of stress: primary, secondary and weak stress. A polysyllabic word has one primary stress; if a word has more than three syllables, it also has a secondary stress. Syllables with neither primary nor secondary stress carry weak stress, such as monosyllabic words. Primary stress always occurs on the penultimate syllable of the word. In words with four or five syllables, secondary stress always comes two syllables before the primary stress. Suffixation (always one syllable) causes stress to shift one syllable to the right.


Vowel change

Among Yakan speakers on the eastern part of Basilan Island, a vowel change from a to e in certain phonological environments has been noted. (In all other areas where Yakan is spoken, a is retained. In the following section word stress is marked by the double quote ".)

"labo'     +         -ne               -->      le"bo'ne           'he drops down (s.t.)'

The Complete article is found here:

Yakan Phonology

Behrens, Dietlinde. 2012. Yakan-English Dictionary. Manila. Linguistic Society of the Philippines.


"labo'      +          -ne                          -->           le"bo'ne                 'he drops down (s.t.)'

"asu        +          -in                           -->           e"suhin                  'the dog'


This vowel change spreads leftward in all syllables preceding the stressed one.

mag- + pa- + "labo' + -an                 -->            megpele"bo'an    'to repeatedly drop s.t.'


The change of a to e may even occur across morpheme boundaries within a phrase.


"a'a       "bahi' mi"ya'an                        -->            e'e behi' mi"ya'an 'that old person'

person   old    that


There is an important exception to this vowel change. The vowel a does not become e if the newly

stressed syllable is an open syllable with the vowel a, and the vowels of the syllables preceding the stressed

syllable are also a.


ta-           +          "aka + ku              -->            ta'a"kaku                'I happened to tell'  align columns

maka-     +          "kale                       -->            maka "kale            'to be able to hear'

paka-      +          "tabang + -an       -->            pakata "bangan   'to ask for help'



This exception does not apply if the stressed syllable is a closed syllable.

mag-       +          "ganti'                     -->            meg'"ganti'            'to change'



Two or three-syllable words are often contracted into one syllable, as in:


ga'i                                                          -->            gey                         'not'

la'I                                                           -->            ley                           'there'

kami                                                       -à            kay                          'we' (exclusive)

diyalem                                                  -à            dem                        'in, inside'

harap                                                     -à            hap                         'to, towards'



The words which exhibit this phenomenon do not include verbs, nouns, and adjectives.


Phonologically conditioned alternations

A few morphemes in Yakan undergo phonologically-conditioned alternations which involve nasal

assimilation, consonant deletion, vowel deletion, and consonant insertion.


Nasal assimilation and consonant deletion with the prefix Nao-

The verb affix Nan- has different surface forms, depending on the initial consonant of the verb stem.


Stems beginning with m, n, and ng

The prefix Nan- never occurs with a stem beginning with a nasal.


Stems beginning with g and d

Before stems beginning with g and certain (but not all) stems beginning with d, the final n of Nan obligatorily

assimilates to the same point of articulation as the initial consonant of the stem.


Nan-       +          gasud                     -à            nganggasud         'to yell'

Nan-       +          gagal                      -à            nganggagal          'to worry'

Nan-       +          da'ak                      -à            nganda'ak             'to command'

Nan-       +          dagang                  -à            ngandagang         'to trade'

Nan-       +          delat                       -à            ngandelat              'to lap up'



Before other stems beginning with d, the final n of Nan- is optionally deleted, or obligatorily deleted,

depending on the stem.


Nan-       +          daplas                    -à            ngandaplas          'to climb up a tree'

or ngadaplas

Nan-       +          dekdak                   -à            ngadekdak            'to launder'

Nan-       +          dagtu'                     -à            ngadagtu'              'to pull off’



Stems beginning with I and h


Before stems beginning with I and h, the final n of Nan- is deleted.

Nan-       +          lingan                     -à            ngalingan              'to call'

Nan-       +          hali                         -à            ngahalI                  'to rest'


Stems beginning with any other consonant except glottal stop


Before stems beginning with any other consonant except glottal stop, the vowel and final n of Nan- are

deleted. Following deletion, the initial N of the prefix assimilates to the same point of articulation as the initial

consonant of the stem and the stem consonant is deleted.


Nan-       +          pandi                      -à            mandi                     'to bathe'

Nan-       +          badja'                     -à            madja'                   'to plow'

Nan-       +          tambal                    -à            nambal                  'to treat with medicine'

Nan-       +          sandel                    -à            nandel                   'to trust'

Nan-       +          kesuwa'                 -à            ngesuwa'               'to find'


Stems beginning with glottal stop


Before stems beginning with a glottal stop, the vowel and the final n of Nan- are deleted, and the initial N

of the prefix becomes ng. Since neither a glottal stop nor a vowel has a point of articulation, a velar point of

articulation for N is either assigned in the underlying representation or supplied by a default rule.

Nan-       +          aka                         -à            ngaka                     'to tell'

Nan-       +          isi                            -à            ngisi                       'to fill'

Nan-       +          onot                        -à            ngonot                   'to pull'


In earlier published and unpublished articles on Yakan, the prefix Nan- has been represented as N-. For

this reason, Nan- and its allomorphs are represented henceforth in this study as N-.


Nasal assimilation with the prefix min-


The prefix min- '(so many) times' has two forms: mim- which occurs before bilabial stops and min- which

occurs elsewhere.

min-        +          pitu'                         -à            mimpitu'                'seven times'

min-        +          piy e                      -à            mimpiye                 'how many times'

min-        +          duwe                     -à            minduwe               'two times'

min-        +          ampat                     -à            minampat              'four times'

min-        +          walu'                       -à            minwalu'                'eight times'


Nasal assimilation in measurement phrases


Between numbers and nouns in measurement phrases an assimilative nasal is added. This applies only to

vowel-final and glottal stop-final numbers one to eight, and to the question word piye 'how many'. The added

nasal assimilates according to the following pattern:

V             +          -N                            -à            Vm                          before p, b

V              +          -N                            -à            Vn                           before t, d, s

V or V'    +          -N                     -à            Vng                         before l, k

duwe '2' +          pū'                           -à            'unit of ten'        duwem bahangi

duwe '2' +          bahangi                 -à            'day'                 duwem bahangi

pitu' '7'   +           bahangi                 -à             'day'                pitum bahangi

duwe '2' +          tahun                    -à            'year'                duwen tahun

lime '5'  +          lahatan                 -à            'country’           limeng lahatan

tellu '3'  +           kepak                    -à            'piece'              tellung kepak

pitu' '7'  +           kepak                     -à            'piece'              pitung kepak


The following are representative nouns that follow the above pattern when they occur in measurement


bahangi                 'day'

bulan                      'month'

tahun                      'year'


deppe                    'fathom'

dangew                 'hand span'

pāt                           'hand width'



kepak                     'piece (cut lengthwise)'

pōng                       'piece (cut crosswise)'

būd                         'one fourth'


lahatan                  'country'

pānakan                 'family'

suledan                 'household'


tō                             'string (of fish)’

tumpuk                   'pile'

pange                    'branch'

pū'                           'unit of ten'


The noun kayu' 'piece, item' is an exception to this pattern. When kayu' is preceded by piye 'how many'

or certain numbers ending in a vowel (but not all such numbers), -k, rather than -N is added to the measurement


piye 'how+ kayu'  'piece'            -à         piyek kayu'            'how many pieces'


duwe '2' + kayu'   'piece'              -à         duwek kayu'          'two pieces'

tellu '3'    + kayu'   'piece'        -à         tellu kayu'              'three pieces'

lime '5'    + kayu'   'piece'        -à            lime kayu'              'five pieces'

or limek kayu


Vowel and consonant deletion in number phrases above ten


For phrases indicating numbers above ten, the vowel and glottal stop of pū' 'unit of ten' and the first

consonant of duk 'and' are deleted to form the contraction puk.


duwem pū’ ‘20' + duk 'and'  + tellu '3'-à      'duwempuktellu    '23'


Consonant insertion and vowel deletion with suffixation


If a vowel-final root is suffixed with -in, -an, or -un, h is added before the suffix.


kayu       +              -in                           -à       kayuhin                 'tree' (definite)

pamandi +             -an                          -à       pamandihan         'place for bathing'

pitu         +              -un                          -à       pituhun                  'pass it!'


If the suffix -in is added to vowel-final monosyllabic possessive pronouns, the vowel is deleted.

luma'    + -ku    +     -in                         -à       luma'kun                                'my house'





Works Cited


Behrens, Dietlinde. 2012. Yakan-English Dictionary. Manila. Linguistic Society of the Philippines.