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Eskayan language

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Eskayan language

Created by Mariano Datahan
Attributed to Pinay, ancestor of the Eskaya clan
Date ca. 1920–1940
Setting and usage Song, prayer, teaching, reproduction of traditional literature. Intended to establish a distinct indigenous culture on the island of Bohol in the Philippines.
Users 550  (2012)[1]
Eskayan script (syllabary)
Sources Encryption of Cebuano, with lexical influence from Spanish and English
Language codes
ISO 639-3 esy

Eskayan is an artificial auxiliary language of the Eskaya clan of Bohol, an island province of the Philippines. It is grammatically Boholano, the native language of Bohol, with a substituted lexicon.[2][3] While Eskayan has no mother-tongue speakers, it is taught by volunteers in at least three cultural schools in the southeast interior of the province.

Eskayan has a number of idiosyncrasies that have attracted wide interest. One of its most immediately remarkable features is its unique writing system of over 1,000 syllabic characters, said to be modeled on parts of the human body,[4] and its non-Philippine lexicon.

The earliest attested document in Eskayan provisionally dates from 1908, and was on display at the Bohol Museum until September 2006.


According to speakers, the Eskaya language and script were creations of Pinay, the ancestor of the Eskaya clan, who was inspired by human anatomy.[5][3] Pinay’s language was "rediscovered" in the early 20th century by Mariano Datahan (born Mariano Sumatra, ca. 1875–1949), a Messianic rebel soldier who transmitted it to his followers. Datahan had founded a utopian community in southeast Bohol in the aftermath of the Philippine–American War, in order to resist imperial claims and establish an indigenous nation in Bohol, and the Eskayan language and script were seen as the embodiment of this incipient national culture.[6]

Indigenous auxiliary languages with accompanying creation myths are attested elsewhere in the world. One notable case is the Damin ceremonial language of the Gulf of Carpentaria which is said to have been the creation of the ancestor Kalthad; another is the auxiliary Pandanus language spoken in Medan region of Papua New Guinea.


Eskayan is a "sophisticated encryption" of the Cebuano language.[3] It shows no lexical similarity to any of the indigenous languages of the Philippines, apart from a very few Cebuano words. Grammatically, however, it is Cebuano.[7][8] Most of the words were invented, though with inspiration from Spanish and English vocabulary and phonotactics.[6] Some Spanish words had their meanings changed, such as astro 'sun' (from 'star') and tre 'two' (from 'three').

Writing system

The Eskayan script has both alphabetic and syllabic components. A basic 'alphabet' of 46 characters accounts for most of the common sounds and syllables used in Eskayan while a broader subset totalling over 1000 is used to represent the remaining syllables. The unusual diversity of consonant and vowel clusters accounts for this relatively large number of composite characters, which even includes superfluous symbols.[9] The symbols are said to be based on parts of the human anatomy, though many are clearly based on the cursive roman alphabet.

Romanised orthography

A romanised form of Eskayan is used in the cultural schools for the purpose of exposition. Although not strictly standardised, this orthography has elements in common with the Spanish system once used for transliterating Cebuano. E.g., the letters ‘i’ and ‘e’ are interchangeable symbols representing the sound /ɪ/; the ‘ll’ combination is pronounced /lj/ and the letter ‘c’ will be pronounced /s/ when it precedes a frontal vowel as per Spanish. A notable innovation in Eskayan romanised orthography is the letter combination ‘chd’ which represents the sound /d͡ʒ/.[5]

Phonology and phonotactics

Eskayan shares all the same phonemes as Boholano-Visayan (the particular variety of Cebuano spoken on Bohol) and even includes the distinctive Boholano voiced palatal affricate /d͡ʒ/ that appears in Visayan words such as maayo [maʔad͡ʒo] (‘good’). With the exception of this phoneme, Eskayan shares the same basic phonology as Cebuano-Visayan, Tagalog and many other Philippine languages. The phonotactics of Eskayan, on the other hand, are quite different from those of Boholano-Visayan and Philippine languages generally. This can be seen in Eskayan words such as bosdipir [bosdɪpɪr] (‘eel’), guinposlan [ɡɪnposlan] (‘face’), ilcdo [ɪlkdo] (‘knee’) and estrapirado [ɪstrapɪrado] (‘flower’) that contain consonant sequences like /sd/, /np/, /sl/, /lkd/ and /str/ which do not feature in Philippine languages. Furthermore, a significant number of Eskayan words have phonemic sequences that are common in Spanish or in Spanish loans into Boholano-Visayan but appear rarely, if ever, in non-borrowed words.[5]

Case system

Eskayan conforms to the same syntactic and morphological structure as Cebuano. As such, Eskayan nouns are uninflected but may be marked for case with one of several preceding case markers.

The table below shows the basic case system of Eskayan, with Cebuano equivalents in brackets.[10]

Personal name marker Non-personal name marker
nominative ye or e (si) Specific (article) esto (ang)
possessive kon (ni) Oblique specific ya (sa)
dative puy (kang) Oblique non-specific chda (ug)

Kon and esto parallel Spanish con 'with' and esto 'that', approximate Spanish glosses for Cebuano ni and ang.

Eskayan and Cebuano texts, which are always written face-to-face in the bilingual Eskayan books, generally have a one-to-one correspondence. For example:

Eskayan Yi Omanad aripirna huntun kun Jomabad.
Cebuano Si Omanad sundalu ubus ni Jomabad.
Gloss SPEC (name) soldier under GEN (name)
Omanad was a soldier under the command of Jomabad.


Eskayan personal pronouns are also marked by case. In the table below, the Cebuano equivalents are indicated in brackets. (These pronouns are drawn from a limited corpus; omissions are indicated by [] and uncertainties with an asterisk.)
  Absolutive Genitive₁
1st person singular naren (ako, ko) damo (akong) tompoy (nako, ko) tompoy (kanako, nako)
2nd person singular samo (ikaw, ka) gona (imong) nistro (nimo, mo) nistro (kanimo, nimo)
3rd person singular atcil (siya) chdel (iyang) kon chdil (niya) mininos* (kaniya, niya)
1st person plural inclusive arhitika (kita, ta) chdaro (atong) [] (nato) [] (kanato, nato)
1st person plural exclusive kim (kami, mi) gramyu (among) [] (namo) [] (kanamo, namo)
2nd person plural chdicto (kamo, mo) [] (inyong) [] (ninyo) [] (kaninyo, ninyo)
3rd person plural [] (sila) persiyan (ilang) [] (nila) [] (kanila, nila)


Cebuano influences

Despite its structural equivalence to Eskayan, Cebuano has had a very limited lexical influence on the language. In a comparison of core Swadesh vocabulary, there are eight identifiable cognates.[5]
English Eskayan Cebuano
at ya sa
that cano ka'na
we (inclusive/exclusive) arhitika/kim kita/kami
who kinya kinsa
four pat upat
six nom un'um
eight wal walo'
nine sem siam

Eskayan words have a one-to-one correspondence with Cebuano, so that when two words are homophones in Cebuano, they are homophones in Eskayan as well. However, the verbal morphology is quite different: Cebuano has twenty-four verbal affixes which indicate grammatical aspect and other feature, whereas Eskayan has just five (muy-, dil-, pur-, yu-, yi-), each of which can substitute for any of the Cebuano affixes. This often makes Eskayan grammar ambiguous, and dependent on the parallel Cebuano text. In addition, some Eskayan verbs are equivalent to specific inflections of Cebuano verbs despite not having any morphology. For example, Eskayan imprus 'was taken on', which is basic root, translates Cebuano gipuslan, where gi- indicates that the action is completed and performed on the grammatical agent. This is likely because the prototype for many Eskayan words was an early English–Spanish–Visayan trilingual, with the Visayan (Cebuano) glosses crossed out and replaced with Eskayan.[3]

Spanish influences

Although the Eskayan lexicon bears a marked Spanish influence,[11] the loan-patterns are hard to map.[5] Some Spanish words appear to have been directly borrowed into Eskayan with virtually no semantic or phonetic alterations. E.g., the Eskayan word merido, meaning ‘husband’, is evidently loaned from the Spanish marido, also meaning ‘husband’. Others retain only a few of the semantic properties of the original. E.g., the word astro means ‘sun’ in Eskayan but ‘star’ in Spanish. In some interesting cases Eskayan lexical items appear to be borrowed but are assigned new meanings entirely. E.g., the Eskayan memorya (‘sky’) does not coincide semantically with the Spanish memoria (‘memory’). One of the most intriguing examples of such an ‘interrupted loan’ is that of the Eskayan tre (‘two’) seemingly derived from the Spanish tres (‘three’). Here the semantic property of ‘number’ was retained but the actual quantity it represented was reassigned.[5]


Boholano English

Samnat yo bantelar,
Datong con Bathala,
Ya abeya cloper meboy secwes
Nemte ya chdid loning
Ya moy beresa gui
Samnat eclabolto
Gona yonoy dokerkedo
Bentod ya hondog yel moy sebar
Chda a chdiam yel keman pay

Edlac esto mesesabla
Lo-ya bac Lobor,
Chdire esto ebetangke chda loreker
Parong esto topete
Ya droser, ya secwes
Do-o moy sam
Tewergoyo asado chda carna
Ya lacyo booy.

Yuta kong minahal,
Hatag ni Bathala;
Sa adlaw'g gabi-i,
Taknang tanan
Dinasig sa kinaiyahan
Sa mga bayaning yutawhan
Imong kalinaw gi-ampingan
Lungsod sa bungtod nga matunhay
Ug matam-is nga kinampay

Puti ang kabaybayunan
Walog sa suba binisbisan
Bahandi sa dagat ug kapatagan
Gugma ang tuburan
Sa kagawasan sa tanan
Panalanginan ka
Ihalad ko lawas ug kalag
Sa mutya kong Bohol.

This is the land I love,
The land God gave to me,
Caressed by the sun,Bathed by the sea,
And kissed by the cool breeze
Night and day.
Here's where the early heroes lived,
Here's where they wrought peace and here they bled,
Here rise the marvelous cone-shaped hills,
Here's sweet kinampay grows.

Blessed with white sandy beaches,
Rivers that water valleys,
Seas teem with fishes and cows graze on the plains,
In ev'ry home love reigns,
God keep my homeland always free,
Let her forever be,
I pledge my strength, my heart and soul,
To my dear home, Bohol.

Theories and controversies

In the 1980s and 1990s, the Eskaya community attracted the interest of local mystics who promoted the notion that their language was of exotic origin.[14] Today, the few linguists who have examined Eskayan generally concur that it is structurally Cebuano but lexically innovative, suggesting that Eskayan is an auxiliary language or a highly sophisticated form of disguised speech encoded from Cebuano.


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Milan Ted D Torralba ‘The morphology of the Eskaya language’ A term paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements in LNG 704 (Morphology & Syntax) The Pontifical and Royal University of Santo Tomas. October 1991.
  3. ^ a b c d Kelly, Piers. 2012. "Your word against mine: How a rebel language and script of the Philippines was created, suppressed, recovered and contested." The Australian Journal of Anthropology 23 (3):357-378[2]
  4. ^ Hector Santos.The Eskaya Script in A Philippine Leaf (1997).
  5. ^ a b c d e f Piers Kelly. The Classification of the Eskayan Language of Bohol A research report submitted to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Bohol, The Philippines. July, 2006.
  6. ^ a b Kelly, Piers. 2013. The word made flesh: An ethnographic history of Eskayan, a utopian language in the southern Philippines[3]
  7. ^ Cristina J Martinez Gahum ug Gubat: A Study of Eskayan Texts, Symbolic Subversion and Cultural Constructivity. Unpublished manuscript, 1993
  8. ^ Stella Marie de los Santos Consul Iniskaya: A linear linguistic description. A Dissertation presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School Cebu Normal University. September, 2005
  9. ^ Ma. Cristina J Martinez Gahum ug Gubat: A Study of Eskayan Texts, Symbolic Subversion and Cultural Constructivity. Unpublished manuscript, 1993
  10. ^ This is modelled on Himmelman's table of Cebuano case marker's in Nikolaus Himmelmann, ‘The Austronesian languages of Asia and Madagascar: typological characteristics’. The Austronesian Languages of Asia and Madagascar, ed. by Nikolaus Himmelmann and Alexander Adelaar. London: Routledge, 2005. Cited in Fuhui Hsieh & Michael Tanangkingsing ‘The Empty Root in Cebuano and Kavalan: A Cognitive Perspective’ Papers from the Tenth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics. January 2006.
  11. ^ See op.cit Martinez Gahum ug Gubat(132) and Kelly The Classification of the Eskayan Language of Bohol(12)
  12. ^ [4]
  13. ^ If the link is broken, there is an archive here.
  14. ^ Piers Kelly. Part One: 1980–1993Visayan-Eskaya Secondary Source Materials: Survey & Review Produced for the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Bohol, Philippines. 2006

Additional readings

  • Piers Kelly (2012) Your word against mine: How a rebel language and script of the Philippines was created, suppressed, recovered and contested. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 23 (3):357-378.
  • Piers Kelly (2012) The morphosyntax of a created language of the Philippines: Folk linguistic effects and the limits of relexification. In The 42nd Australian Linguistic Society Conference Proceedings – 2011 (Canberra, 2-4 Dec 2011), edited by M. Ponsonnet, L. Dao and M. Bowler. Canberra: ANU Research Repository,
  • Marciana Galambao "The Eskaya Language", The University of Hawaii.
  • Piers Kelly The Classification of the Eskaya language of Bohol A research report submitted to the National Commission on Indigenous Peoples, Bohol, The Philippines. July 2006.
  • Hector Santos " The Eskaya Script" in A Philippine Leaf. US, January 25, 1997.
  • Hector Santos " Butuan Silver Strip Deciphered?" in A Philippine Leaf. US, October 28, 1996
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