Volume 72 1963 > Volume 72, No. 1 > Phonology of Central Bontoc, by Lawrence A. Reid, p 21-26
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Summer Institute of Linguistics

THIS PHONOLOGY is based upon the dialect of about 1,500 people living in Guinaang, in the sub-province of Bontoc, Mountain Province, Philippines. This dialect is part of the Central Bontoc language which is spoken in the majority of the barrios of the Bontoc municipality. Each barrio has a vocabulary containing words peculiar to its own area, and distinctive intonational and sub-phonemic changes. Yet despite this, mutual intelligibility is high, and the phonemes set forth in this paper are valid for the whole area.

Although Guinaang shows less cultural change than the surrounding barrios, its central position and the high degree of monolingualism present have provided a good basis for the study of the dialect. Materials upon which this statement is based were gathered in Guinaang between August, 1959, and June, 1961, under the auspices of the Summer Institute of Linguistics.


In order to provide a satisfactory basis for the description of both the segmental 1 and the suprasegmental phonemes it is necessary to first define the structure of the syllable and the word as they occur in Central Bontoc.

The syllable consists of a compulsory onset and peak with an optional coda. 2 The onset and coda may be any one of the consonants described below, and the peak may be any one of the vowels. These consonants (C) and vowels (V) occur in two basic syllable patterns, CV and CVC. Examples of CV syllables are si particle; ya conjunction; ta particle; mo if, when. Examples of CVC syllables are tay because; ken particle; nan particle.

When these syllable patterns occur as free forms, and when groups of the two syllable patterns occur in potentially isolable combinations within a stream of speech, they form a word. There are no restrictions in the order or combination of the two syllable types. Each phonemic word of more than one syllable carries a single primary stress.

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There is a suprasegmental item of stress which is considered to be phonemic. Its occurrence in any word is unpredictable but it identifies a syllable on which it falls as being one of the last three syllables of a word. On many occasions the position of primary stress // is the minimal difference between a pair of words, e.g., gayáng 3 a type of spear; gáyang crow; ?irít outskirts, edge; ?írit eggs of head-lice; bawí repent; báwi field shelter; bokár wild pig; bókar disperse; keréng chicken sacrifice; kéreng a type of bird; rimá five; ríma arm and hand; kiríng foundation boards of granary; kíring a small bird.

The prosodeme of stress has two allophonic variations. These are termed primary stress. Furthermore, there is a feature of stress which is considered to be non-phonemic since its occurrence can always be predicted in terms of primary stress. This feature is termed secondary stress.

Both allophones of primary stress and secondary stress may be aurally distinguished since their ultimate phonologic constituents differ. 4

Primary stress allophone 1. The ultimate phonologic constituents are increased volume and rise in pitch on segmental phonemes. These constituents however are susceptible to change through intonational pressure. Thus an intonational contour requiring a relatively low pitch on a final syllable will overrule the rise in pitch required by a stress phoneme occurring on that syllable. Likewise increased volume may also be overruled under certain intonational conditions. This allophone occurs when stress falls on (a) any closed syllable upon which stress may legitimately fall; (b) an open ultimate syllable, e.g., sépyat spill; pátta waistband; makán cooked rice; ?omammá to make, build.

Primary stress allophone 2. The ultimate phonological constituents of this allophone of the stress phoneme are increased volume, rise in pitch and prolongation of the syllable peak. As with the above allophone, this one is also susceptible to intonational pressure, although the feature of prolongation is always evident to some degree. This allophone occurs when stress falls on an open penultimate or antepenultimate syllable, e.g., gáter scabies; ?in?atépak, I am thatching a roof; ?inánapko, I looked for it.

Secondary (non-phonemic) stress []. This has ultimate phonologic constituents of increased volume and rise in pitch, but of lesser degree than in primary stress occurring in the same word. In open syllables prolongation may occur. However, it is manifest to a lesser degree than the prolongation in open syllables carrying primary stress. - 23 Secondary stress falls on (a) the first of two syllables preceding primary stress in the same word; (b) the second of two syllables following primary stress within the same word.

In the following examples the use of the grave accent is purely for illustrative purposes. Its writing is not required since secondary stress is predictable, e.g., ninbàb?aríka you deceived me; ?am?àmma?éna he is making it; domákarkà go outside.


1. Single Items.

  • (a) The high vocoids i and o are vowels when they occur as syllable peaks, otherwise they pattern as consonants, y and w respectively, e.g., kapí coffee; pitó seven; dáya sky; waró eight.
  • (b) [ü] The high close front rounded vocoid occurs only in consonant position and is therefore interpreted as a consonant. Since it is in complementary distribution with [y], ([ü] after o, [y] elsewhere), it is interpreted as an allophone of y. In the following examples read y with lip rounding after o. Y elsewhere is unrounded: ?ápoy fire; bóyoy a boil; ráya ginger; ?inbáyo to pound.
  • (c) r occurs only in consonant position in non-suspect data, and is therefore interpreted as a consonant. This phoneme has the following allophonic variations:
  • A voiced alveolar lateral continuant occurs (i) word initially as in the following examples: ráta [láta] kerosene can; réng?ag [lén?ag] life, spirit; (ii) when adjacent to i but not y as in ?íra see, dárig iron plough share, pápir paper; (iii) as second member of any consonant cluster which has for its first member any consonant occurring at the alveolar or interdental points of articulation, or any other consonant preceded by i, e.g., napótrak broken; nakásrang mixed; tinrék hole in wood; bigrá?en to force; ?omibráy to tire; (iv) when preceding another alveolar lateral continuant, e.g. barritá [ballitá] crowbar; darrík Dalican (village name).
  • [r] a retroflexed low central vocoid occurs in complementary distribution with the lateral continuant except word initially where the two variants occur in free alternation. The following examples should be read with [r] wherever r occurs: ?íkar snake spine head circlet; babréy village; ráreg fly.
  • [] a voiced flapped alveolar lateral continuant occurs in free alternation with [r] in all positions, and with [l] and [r] word initially.
  • (d) The long consonants [k:] [m:] [n:] [p:] [r:] [l:] are interpreted as sequences of two phonemes rather than as long segments, because (a) in all cases the vowel allophones which precede the long consonants are the variants which occur as peaks of closed syllables, and (b) there are clear non-suspect CC patterns by which to interpret them.
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2. Sequences.

(a) A fronted voiceless aspirated velar stop [] and a backed voiceless alveolar affricate [ts] are both interpreted as single complex phonemes, because both may occur word initially where there are no examples of non-suspect sequences of consonants. Since this voiceless velar stop [] occurs in complementary distribution with [g] ([g] syllable coda, [] syllable onset) these are interpreted as allophones of a single phoneme /g/, and since [ts] occurs in complementary distribution with [d], ([d] syllable coda, [ts] syllable onset) these are also interpreted as allophones of a single phoneme /d/.

In the following examples g is to be read as a fronted voiceless aspirated velar stop [] in syllable onset position and as a backed voiced velar stop [] in syllable coda position: gag?awís very good; gég?ar chew; ?in?ágar to cry; ?ágob bad odour.

In the following examples d is to be read as a backed voiceless alveolar affricate in syllable onset position, and as a voiced alveolar stop syllable coda position: di there; ?indad?ayáw to give honour; ?ad?ó sufficient; ?idérder to push gently; kedém eyelash.

(b) The contoid-vocoid clusters of [gw], [nw], [pw], [gy], [ny], and [ry] or any other contoid followed by a high non-syllabic vocoid are interpreted as sequences of two consonants, rather than as single complex phones manifesting respectively, labialization and palatalization, for the following reasons: (a) such clusters do not occur initially or finally in words and (b) they only occur at syllable boundaries, in which the preceding vowel is always a closed syllable submember, indicating the presence of a coda, the initial consonant of the cluster. The high non-syllabic vocoid is the onset of the following syllable.

3. Vowel Clusters.

There are no non-suspect vowel clusters found in Central Bontoc. All occurrences of the non-suspect vowels a and e 5 within any given word are separated from each other by one or two of the consonants. If that consonant is a glottal stop, which is frequently unarticulated in rapid speech, a pseudo vowel cluster may appear, but in deliberate speech the glottal is clearly heard, e.g., pa?éy put (deliberate speech); paéy put (rapid speech).

Suspect vowel clusters fall into three groups:

  • (a) There are sequences of two vocoids in which the second is a high non-syllabic vocoid, e.g., [ao eo ai ei] are interpreted as /aw ew ay ey/.
  • (b) There are sequences of three vocoids in which the second is always a high non-syllabic vocoid, e.g., [aoa aia oia aoe eia ioe aoi eoa] phonemically /awa aya oya awe eya iwe awi ewa/.
  • (c) There are sequences of two vocoids in which the first is a high vocoid: (i) clusters in which both vocoids occur as syllable peaks: [oa oe ia] are interpreted as /owa owe iya/.
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The validity of this interpretation is clearly apparent when the syllable having the high vowel as its nucleus also carries stress. Stress lengthens the vowel, and the semi-vowel off-glide becomes phonetically more distinct. Furthermore, there is morphophonemic evidence indicating the presence of a semi-vowel. With the addition of certain affixes unstressed vowels are lost. When the root contains an unstressed high vowel in one syllable, followed by a stressed vowel in the following syllable, a linking semi-vowel is retained, even though the unstressed vowel is lost. ka plus dowá becomes kadwá. Non-suspect vowels may also be dropped when they are unstressed or when they undergo regular morphophonemic stress changes: ?i plus donó becomes ?idnó; ?abét plus en becomes ?abtén.

(ii) There are clusters in which only the second vocoid takes a peak of syllabicity: [oa oe ia ie] interpreted as /wa we ya ye/. The contrasts between these two types can be seen in the following examples: [iékiek] yékyek armpit; [?iék] ?iyék laugh; [oégoeg] wégweg shake; [?oéy] ?owéy rattan.



The vowel phonemes of Central Bontoc are a, o, i and e. These phonetic norms are the variants occurring as peaks of open syllables. e is phonetically a high open central unrounded vocoid and should be read as such in all examples except where it occurs in syllables with a k coda. In this position it becomes a mid open front unrounded vocoid tending to become centralized. a, o and i have standard phonetic values, except when they occur as peaks of closed syllables, in which case a and o are slightly raised and i is lowered.

Vowel phoneme contrasts are illustrated in the following examples: ?abér weave, ?ebér, wet; ?obér mud fish trap, ?ebér wet; ?aréng?eng courting song, ?árong shade; ?írang fresh pig meat, ?eréng rest, fáwi field shelter, ?áwe scream, fáwer spread upwards (as trees, flames, etc.).


The consonant phonemes at the bilabial point of articulation are /p b m/. /p/ when occurring as a syllable coda is normally unreleased. /b/ is a voiced stop when it occurs as a syllable coda, except when it is the first member of a geminate cluster, when it alternates freely between [v], and [β] a voiced labiodental stop. As a syllable onset /b/ is a voiceless labiodental fricative [f]. /m/ is unrestricted. tapá rice husks, tabá fat; tórbek key, topék mouth, ?órpo thigh.

Other consonants at the alveolar point of articulation are /t n s/. /t/ occurs in free variation with a voiceless interdental stop syllable onset, and is normally unreleased when occurring as a syllable coda. /s/ is unrestricted and usually backed. /n/ is unrestricted. tapá rice husks, dapán foot; wédwed wobble, met expression of slight emphasis.

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Other consonants at the back velar point of articulation are /k ng/. /k/ is normally unreleased when occurring as a syllable coda. /ng/ is unrestricted.

Glottal stop /?/ may occur as a syllable onset and also as a syllable coda when it is the first member of a geminate cluster.

kawá spider, gáwa middle; pakpák noise of beating or bouncing, pagpág lengths of firewood; ?ámmo know, kámo hurry; ?awís convince, gawís good; sabén blanket, sabéng a fermented beverage.


Wad?áy san sin?árgew nan bab?arásang, ?i

There was one day young woman went

?ominóm ?asnán pokkayán. ?inírana nan ?ongá ya

to drink at a spring. She saw a baby and

?apéd ?in?ágar. Somá?ar ya ?iba?ágna nan ?amána,

just it cries. Goes home and tells her father,

ya kanán ?amána ?entakó ?ayá gan tay san ?anákmo.

and says her father let's go carry because your child.

Ya ?inméyda ?ay mangayáget, ?inírada?et ma?íd.

And they went to call, they saw none.

Ya kanaán nan bab?arásang, ?enta?ét tay na?iyánod

And says the young woman, let's go because swept away

sinán wá?ir.

in the stream.

Free Translation:

Once upon a time there was a young woman who went to drink at a spring. There she saw a baby, which just began to cry. She went home and told her father who said, “Let's go and carry it home, because it is your child.” So they went to get it, but found that it was not there. The young woman said, “Let's go, because it has been swept away by the stream.”

1   Anticipating the argument in the following pages it is probably convenient to list the segmental phonemes here / p t k b d g m n ng r s ? w y i o a e /.
2   The terms “onset”, “peak” and “coda” are borrowed from Hockett, Charles F., A Manual of Phonology, Indiana University Publications in Anthropology & Linguistics, Memoir 11 of the International Journal of American Linguistics, Waverly Press Inc., Baltimore, 1955. pp. 126-127.
3   To facilitate printing and for ease in reading, phonetic symbols have been eliminated wherever possible. Examples, unless otherwise stated, are in phonemic script.
4   The term “ultimate phonologic constituent” is used here as presented by Hockett to describe the features or components which emerge in the ultimate analysis of any phoneme, or phonologic item. cf. Hockett, ibid.
5   This symbol is used to represent a high open central unrounded vocoid.