Talking the Talk

Going around anywhere would be a lot more fun if you can speak a bit of the language. Many Boholanos can speak Tagalog and English, but an attempt, even a lame attempt, at speaking Boholano helps in building rapport.

Boholano is a variant of Bisaya/Visayan aka Cebuano. It’s a language shared by many other provinces like Cebu, Davao, Siquijor. There are minor differences in accent and some in vocabulary but if you pick up a Cebuano phrasebook you’re safe.

Technically Ilonggo is also a Visayan language. So is Waray.  But on this side of the Philippines, when they say Visayan they mean Cebuano.

Well okay.  Let’s get out of the classroom and start talking. First off, Filipino languages have only five vowel sounds:
a sounds like the ‘a’ in art. Not the flat ‘a’ in apple or the open ‘a’ in father
e sounds like the ‘e’ in pet.
i sounds like the ‘i’ bit sometimes like a long e like ‘heat’ or ‘leaf’
o sounds like the ‘o’ in in Spanish or Portuguese, like amigo or obregado.  It is approximately the ‘o’ in or. It’s never the ‘o’ in pot or octagon or hold.
u sounds like the ‘u’ in super. Never the ‘u’ in under or ultra.

If you’ve learned Tagalog before hand Cebuano will be a little confusing because e and i as well as o and u are sometimes interchanged.

Alrighty then, time to start talking.
ayo means good or conjugated as kaayo would mean ‘very’. (More on that later). Ayo is a multi purpose greeting or when calling out to someone you don’t see, like a stall with a missing vendor, or while trying to call someone to the door.
– maayong/ayong buntag = good morning
– maayong/ayong palis = good noon (in English they actually greet good noon which may seem strange to English speakers. Maayong palis is not normally used outside Bohol but instead use…
maayong/ayong hapon = good afternoon. Once the sun sets you use…
maayong/ayong gabii = good evening
lakaw na ko (alone)/lakaw na mi (with company) = I’m going/we’re going. It’s their goodbye. Goodbye works too but instead Filipinos say babay (sounds like ba-bai) from bye-bye.

salamat = thank you, daghang salamat = thank you very much
wa’y sapayan = you’re welcome (pronounce as wai sa-pa-yan not sapey-an)
pila = How many or how much?
pila ni/na = How much is this/that?
pila kabuok (say ‘buok’ as bu-ok, don’t blend like buwok)  =  How many pieces?
pila imong hatag = How much will you give? Question of public vehicle drivers when they negotiate prices.
unsa = what
unsa ni/na? = What is this/that? Some times unsa man ni/na? Used as an expression unsa man na is the equivalent of  “What the – ?”
unsa man ang <word> sa Bisaya? = What is <word> in Visayan? Great for learning new words.

unsa ni/na sa Bisaya? = What’s this/that in Visayan? If you have the object near by.

gwapa = beautiful (female)
gwapo = handsome (male). But also used for objects at times.
gwapo kaayo/gwapa kaayo = very handsome/beautiful
kaayo = very much (say ka-a-yo, not keyo)
nindot = nice, or beautiful for objects
asa ang = Where is? Asa ang <object or place>.  Can be spoken as asa man ang (empathic) or asa dapit ang (where is it close to).

E.g. Asa man ang CR? Where is the bathroom? (CR stands for comfort room which means toilet or water closet.)

Asa man ang CR na na’y Wi-Fi?                                  Translation: “Where is the Wi-Fi toilet connected toilet?” (Don’t ask me why there’s Wi-Fi in the toilet.)

–     mahal = expensive
–     barato = inexpensive

Well that’s a start. Any other words or phrases you’d like to know?

Warning: To those who would try to employ these phrases. If you do it too well they might strike up a conversation with you. That could either be a good thing or a bad thing. You decide. 🙂



  1. Bola-non Bisaya – replace Y with J, eliminate the L.

    example: Puti ang tijan ng kabajo sa da-an na ga-gujod sa pajag na jutay. Pajag na jutay, kalesa ang nga-an, tig-labay sa da-an na piskay!

    in cebuano: puti ang tiyan ng kabayo sa dalan na ga-guyod sa payag na jutay. payag na jutay, kalesa ang ngalan, tig labay sa dalan na gwapo!

    (sing to the tune of ‘if you’re happy and you know it.)

    –> translation: white is the belly of the horse that pulls the small house, a small house called kalesa, passing by a pretty road.

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