Balagtas Alphabet

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The Balagtás Alphabet is the romanized transcription scheme used in Bornei-Philippines and the Malucos. [1] It was invented by the Luzoñgese poet, Francisco "Balagtás" Baltazar (1788-1862), to write his native language, Tagalog, in the Roman alphabet. [2] The orthographical rules are based on the various systems used by Castilian missionaries to transcribe the languages of Bornei-Filipinas and the Malucos, but Balagtás was the first who regularized the system.


The Alphabet

The letters below are given in their traditional order:

  • a = [ɑ], [a], or [æ].
  • b = [b].
  • c = [k], except before i or e where it = /s/; [ki] or [ke] is written as qui or que respectively.
  • ch = [tʃ].
  • d = [d].
  • e = [e], [ɛ], or [ǝ].
  • f = [p], occurs only in loanwords.
  • g = [g], except before i or e where it = [h]; [gi] or [ge] is written as gui or gue respectively.
  • h = [ʔ]; occurs in word-initial position only in Castilian loanwords. [3]
  • i = [j] between a consonant and a vowel, [iːj] when stressed, otherwise [i].
  • j = [h]; never used in syllable-final position, except in loans.
  • jj = [dʒ].
  • l = [l].
  • ll = [j] or [l.j]; occurs only in loanwords.
  • m = [m].
  • n = [n].
  • ng = [ŋ.g]; occurs only in syllable-breaks.
  • ñ = [ɲ] or [n.j].
  • ñg = [ŋ].
  • o = [o] or [ɔ].
  • p = [p].
  • q = [k]; used only before ue or ui (see letter c above).
  • r = [ɾ].
  • rr = [r]; occurs only in loanwords.
  • s = [s].
  • t = [t].
  • u = [w] before vowels, [uːw] when stressed, otherwise [u].
  • v = [b]; occurs only in loanwords.
  • x = [h]; occurs only in loanwords.
  • y = [j]; used only in the begining of words or between vowels.
  • z = [s]; occurs only in loanwords.


The diphthongs closing on [j] or [w] are:

  • eu = [iw] or [ew].
  • ay = [aj].
  • ei = [ej]
  • ey = [ǝj].
  • ao = [aw].
  • oy = [oj] or [uj].

Writing System

Stress is marked using the same orthographic rules as in Castilian. The default stress is on the final syllable when the word ends in any consonant other than -n or -s and on the penultimate syllable on words that end in a vowel, n or s. Words that do not follow the default stress have an acute accent over the stressed vowel. [4]

Punctuation follows Castilian conventions. Exclamatory and interrogative clauses are preceded by inverted question and exclamation marks, examples: ¿Báquit cayah? (Why is that so?) ¡Abay, siempre! (Well, of course!).

Contractions are written with a comma, e.g. sia ay -> sia,y.

Tagalog Sample

Below is the Tagalog adaptation of the story "The North Wind and the Sun" written in the Balagtás alphabet:

Casalucúyañg nagtatalo añg Tímog na Jañgin at añg Arao cuñg sino sa canilañg dalauá añg más malacás, nañg dumahán añg isañg maglalacbay na nacasuhot nañg mahínit na balábal. Napagcahisajan-nilá na cuñg sino sa canilañg dalauá añg únañg maguiñg matagumpay na mapahalis nañg maglalacbay añg suhot nitoñg balábal, sia añg itutúriñg na más malacás. Sa gayoñg, sinícap nañg Tímog na Jañgin na jumíjip nañg pagcalacás-lacás sa ábot nañg caniañg cacayanán ñgúni,t jábañg pinagcacalacás-lacás nia añg pagjíjip, ay lalo lámañg jiniguit nañg maglalacbay añg caniañg balábal sa caniañg catauán. Sa cajulijan, nañgjinaua rin añg Tímog na Jañgin sa caniañg pagsusumícap. Sumícat naman añg Arao nañg pagcahínit-ínit at ualañg sumandaliñg inalís nañg maglalacbay añg caniañg balábal. Napilitan añg Tímog na Jañgin na aminin na añg Arao siañg más malacás sa canilañg dalauá.

Sound sample can be found here.


[1] The Balagtás alphabet in IB is slightly different than the one once used *here*. The IB version is able to represent the voiced palatal affricate found in Malay.

[2] The Baybayín Script is still used in Filipinas *there*. Unlike *here*, the script reform proposed by Father López in 1620, wherein he introduced the virama (vowel-killer), was widely accepted.

[3] Unlike *here*, the glottal stop is always written with an h in word-medial position in native words. It is never written in word-initial position, except in loanwords. It can be introduced to stems when affixes are attached. E.g., Tagalog auit [ˈʔaːwit] "song" is never written *hauit, but the h appears in macahauit [ˌmakaˈʔaːwit] "be able to sing".

[4] Unlike *here*, the accentuation forms with a syllable-final glottal stop is indicated by an h, e.g., batah [ˈbaːtaʔ] "child", and samáh [saˈmaʔ] "bad".

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