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Baybayin or The Tagalog script
Type Abugida - originated from Kavi script
Languages Ilokano, Kapampangan, Pangasinan, Tagalog, Bikol languages, Visayan languages, other languages of the Philippines
Time period ~1300-1900s


Baybayin is a system of writing that was used in the Philippines from before the arrival of the Spaniards up to the second century of Spanish colonization. It is composed of seventeen basic characters - three vowels and fourteen consonants - that each stand for a syllable. Baybayin is part of the Malayo-Polynesian languages that proliferate among the different islands of the Pacific and of Southeast Asia.

The term baybayin came from the Tagalog word that signifies an alphabet or written language. However, the baybayin is more of a syllabary than an alphabet.

The term alibata is also used to refer to this writing system. The word was invented by Paul Versoza, a member of the National Language Institute, in the 20th century.



When the Spaniards began colonizing the Philippine islands, they found that the people were already using a form of writing. The Spanish missionaries initially used this form of writing in their efforts to evangelize the natives; however, the Filipinos gradually discarded it in favor of the alphabet.

The Filipinos started to write on paper during the Spanish Era, and even signed relevant documents using baybayin symbols. The church also initially used this writing system to make the Filipinos conversion to Christianity smoother, utilizing baybayin symbols in several religious books, including the Doctrina Christiana. Spanish missionaries also turned to baybayin to learn more about the language in their assigned localities.

However, the baybayin writing system had some shortcomings. It did not have symbols for some of the sounds in the Spanish language. It lacked distinction between vowel sounds and it lacked representation for some consonant sounds, as well. Due to this, more and more Filipinos began favoring the new Spanish-imposed alphabet.

Learning the new alphabet also provided the colonial Filipinos with more social fluidity, as most business transactions during that time were finalized through contracts that did not use baybayin script. Those who learned the new alphabet also stood better chances of getting relatively prestigious jobs in offices facilitated by Spaniards.

Baybayin, along with other pre-colonial art forms and practices, were altogether abandoned due to the very strong Spanish influence on Filipinos of that time, which hindered the Filipinos from maintaining certain parts of their heritage and traditions.

Writing Method and Usage

The baybayin is a syllabic writing system, where every symbol represents a syllable. The whole system is comprised of the different representations of the most basic sounds. The basic symbols comprise seventeen characters, three of which are vowels and fourteen are consonants; however, the number increases to forty-five symbols once modifying marks called the kudlit are incorporated. Kudlit include dots, ticks, and other marks that modify the vowel sounds in a syllable.

All the fourteen consonants are pronounced with the vowel sound "a". Adding a kudlit above the symbol changes the inflection of the vowel to an "i" or an "e" sound; thus, changing the meaning as well. Adding a kudlit below the symbol changes the vowel sound to an "o" or a "u".

The three vowel symbols - a, e/i and o/u - are placed at the beginning of the words or the syllables. The baybayin does not distinguish between "i" and "e" sounds, and between "u" and "o" sounds.

Baybayin also uses one symbol for "da" and "ra" sounds, wherein the pronunciation depends on where it is placed in a word. When it is placed between two vowel sounds, it automatically takes the form of a "ra". Otherwise, it is pronounced as a "da".

If a word ends with a consonant, the consonant sound is dropped in writing, because the writing system does not have a consonant sound that isn't followed by a vowel sound. Symbols are also written in a continuous flow and are not spaced. Punctuation takes the form of one or two vertical lines which are commonly used to end sentences; however, they may also be used to separate words.

Old Writings

In 1989, an 8x12-inch copper plate was found in Lumban, Laguna. The relic was later called the Laguna Copperplate Inscription and found to be the oldest known written document in the Philippines. It bore different symbols that were believed to have roots in a number of Old Malay, Old Java, Old Balinese, and Old Tagalog.

Another example of pre-Hispanic writing is the Calatagan Pot, which is estimated to be over a thousand years old. However, its authenticity has not been proven.