Ilocos (Philippines)


Ilocano is an Austronesian language spoken by over 10 million people, mainly in the northwest region of the Philippines, Ilocos (see map above). 

Austronesian languages are thought to have their origins in Taiwan. About 300 million people speak Austronesian languages in areas of the world that include Hawaii, New Zealand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar. 

Ilocano has absorbed some linguistic influence from colonization, namely some Spanish words (see Translated Phrases and Proverbs below for some examples). 


In Ilocano, the glottal stop doesn’t ever occur at the end of words.


The Ilocano speaker uses phonemic patterns in their native language to determine which syllable in a word is stressed in their speech. Those phonemic patterns don’t transfer to English.


A sentence in Ilocano can start with a predicate, whereas English sentences tend to start with the subject before the predicate. 

Translated phrases

  • “Dios ti agngina” is a commonly used Ilocano phrase that means “God bless you”.
  • “Dios ti agngina” can be used as a way of saying “Thank you”, and, “Good luck”.

This phrase is an indication of the importance of religion in the lives of Ilocanos.

Also, notice the Spanish influence with the word “Dios” for “God”.

  • “How are you?” is translated as “Kumusta ka?” in Ilocano, similar to “Como estas?” in Spanish.

Also like Spanish, Ilocano has a polite form of address. For example:

  • “Kumusta ka yo?” is a polite form in Ilocano.
  • “Como esta usted?” is a polite form in Spanish. 


  • Di pay nalúto ti pariá simmagpáw ti karabása.

The bittermelon is not yet cooked and the squash jumped in. (Who asked you to join in?)

  • No trabáho, gulpién, no kanén, in-inúten.

If it's work, do it fast. If it's food, eat it little by little.

  • Mabiág ti kalkalsáda, matáy ti koskosína

Captivating in the street, dead in the kitchen.

  • No awán ti ánus, awán ti lámot.

If there is no patience, there will be no food.

  • Ti kamátis, di agbúnga ti manggá.

The tomato plant doesn't grow mangos. (A good person doesn't come from a bad family.) 

Notice how these proverbs make extensive reference to food. This is an indication of the importance of food in Ilocano culture.

Also, notice the influence of Spanish words. Kitchen: cocina-kosina; Work: trabajo-trabaho.

Growing up Ilocano-American

The following information has been taken from the personal account of a 39-year-old Ilocano-American woman who was interviewed in February of 2011. Although it doesn’t represent the experiences of all Ilocano-Americans, it does provide a snapshot of the life experience of one individual who is part of that community, giving us a useful insight into that culture.


The typical Ilocano family household is multi-generational, with grandparents, parents and children living together. Usually both parents work, leaving the grandparents to pick up kids from school and keep the kids at home until the parents return from work.

Respect for elders

Ilocano kids are taught to use special terms of respect to address their elders. Manang is what a child calls an older sister or any woman who is a little older. Manong is what a child calls an older brother or any man who is a little older. Ading is what the manang or manong calls their younger brother or sister. Adults who are the same age as their parents are called, “Auntie” or “Uncle,” and adults who are the same age as their grandparents are called “Lolo” and “Lola” (meaning grandpa and grandma). Many of those adults may not actually be related to the kids. They could be friends or townsmates.


Some regions of America have Ilocano associations of townsmates, who are people that come from the same town in Ilocos. They have elected positions, and they have regular meetings and functions.

Child interaction

When grandparents are taking care of the grandkids at home, it just means that they are a physical presence in the house. The expectation is that they will keep the kids well fed, and that’s what they see as their responsibility. There isn’t necessarily much social interaction between adult figures and children. It could be described as a hands-off style of child-care. The adults are busy cooking and cleaning and working around the house, and the kids are expected to be on their own, watching TV or playing video games or doing whatever they want to do, as long as they’re not causing trouble.

Teaching language

Most Ilocano adults don’t think it’s important for their kids to learn Ilocano, so they talk to their kids in English. English is seen as the important language for their kids’ success. When adults do speak Ilocano to their kids, it’s usually in the form of commands.

Attitude towards school

Ilocanos are respectful towards teachers and specialists. Doing well in school is seen as important. Part of the success of the family is judged by the success of the kids in school. The family doesn’t necessarily think they have a responsibility to be involved with the school because that’s the kids’ responsibility.


Ilocano parents like to have big birthday parties for their kids. But they don't invite the kids' friends from school. The adults just invite all their Ilocano friends and relatives, some of whom have kids of various ages. Also, they combine birthday parties, so in one day, they could be celebrating the birthdays of three different people who have birthdays that week. The party usually lasts all day. People show up whenever.

Food at parties

Every guest to a party brings one or two big dishes, enough to feed many people. The food is not organized like an American-stlye Pot Luck, where every one signs up to bring something. People bring whatever they want, and if there are three of the same dishes at the party, that’s OK, because each person makes the dish in a slightly different way. Then people can compare which version of the same dish they liked the best. The food is laid out on several tables buffet style, and people help themselves throughout the day. There’s always much more food on the tables than every one could possibly eat. At the end of the night, when people go home, they take a sampling of all the different food home with them. It’s expected that the host will not be left with much food, because everything is shared.

Food at mealtime

Mealtime is not seen as a time for the family to sit down together and have conversations while they eat. The kids might be fed first, and then they’re sent away from the table, and then the adults would sit down to eat.

Implications for the SLP

Linguistic Considerations

Regarding phonology, an Ilocano speaker may not use the glottal stops that are commonly used in English at the end of some words (such as with the substitution of a glottal stop for “t” at the end of “not”, for example). The clinician may hear an Ilocano student that seems to be over-emphasizing the consonants at the end of words that are commonly spoken as glottal stops in Standard American English (SAE) speech.

Regarding prosody, an Ilocano speaker may stress syllables of words in English that are not the commonly stressed syllables of words in standard American English speech.

Regarding grammar, an Ilocano speaker may be challenged in learning the rules of standard American English grammar where subject comes before predicate.

Cultural Considerations

The clinician can’t assume that a great deal of extended conversations occur between children and adults in the Ilocano household. When discussing treatment goals with family members, the clinician should keep in mind that parents may not be spending much one-on-one time talking with their children, so it might seem odd for them to hear recommendations that involve strategies for effective communication between children and adults.

Ilocano parents may not be aware of research that indicates that there are advantages to being bilingual. They may be under the impression that the Ilocano language has no value for their children’s success, so there’s no reason for their children to learn it.


References and Resources