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What is Waray-Waray?

Waray-Waray is a language spoken in the Eastern Visayas region of the Philippines.  It has about three million native speakers.  It is also known by many other names such as Waray, Winaray, Lineyte-Samarnon, Binisaya nga Sinamar-Leytenhon or variations of the names "Waray", "Leyte", "Samar" and "Visayan".

Hey wait a minute! Isn't Waray-Waray a dialect?

Absolutely NOT!  Waray-Waray is a language in its own right.

But my Filipino friends tell me the language of the Philippines is "Filipino" and there are over 100 dialects...

They are WRONG!

Could you explain?

When Filipinos refer to their languages as 'dialects' they are referring to the lack of political status of most Philippine languages rather than the inherent linguistic nature of their tongues.  Legally, although English and "Filipino" are the official languages of the Philippines,  there is only one national language of the Philippines which happens to be called "Filipino", but which most linguists say is nothing more than a state-sponsored variety of the Tagalog language.

But Waray is a language with its own dialects.

The line between 'dialects' and 'languages' is sometimes hard to draw which is why linguists sometimes refer to the differences as 'speech varieties'. But a common test of whether a speech variety is a language or a dialect is the test of mutual intelligibility.  If two speech varieties are mutually intelligible to their respective speakers without prior exposure, then the speech varieties are dialects of a language.  But if the two speech varieties are not mutually intelligible with each other, then the two speech varieties are probably distinct languages.  For a more detailed discussion on the "languages or dialects" issue, Christopher Sundita's "Languages or Dialects?" essay is highly recommended.  It can be accessed at the link  here.

Speakers of Waray cannot understand Tagalog (the national language of the Philippines) unless they learned it first (which they do since Tagalog is a cumpulsory subject throughout the Philippines).  And Tagalog speakers who have never learned Waray cannot understand Waray.  Therefore they are distinct languages.

OK, OK, so how did Waray-Waray get to be different from Tagalog?

They never were the same thing!  According to linguists, Tagalog developed from a proto-Central Philippine language and makes up its own branch within the Central Philippine group of languages.  Waray-Waray on the other hand is classified as belonging to the Central Visayan subbranch of the Visayan branch of the Central Philippine group of languages.  

The languages closest to Waray are Visayan languages like Cebuano, Hiligayon, Kinaray-a etc.

What is the meaning of the name 'Waray' and why is it the name of the language?

This is a huge topic in by itself.  For a detailed discussion, go to the section "The Debate on the Name 'Waray'".

How many dialects are there in Waray?

Several.  It is not yet known how many distinct dialects are there since there are different variations in the languages not just from province to province but in some cases, from town to town. R. Paul David Zorc however, in his "Bisayan Dialects" dissertation identified three main dialects (or rather dialect groups) for the Waray language: one dialect group that covers Eastern Samar, one dialect group that covers northern Samar and one dialect group that covers western Samar and Leyte.

Standard Waray is roughly based on the dialect of the language as spoken in the island of Leyte but this is merely because many Waray authors who got their works published hailed from Leyte and because the regional center of Eastern Visayas is in Tacloban City, in Leyte.  Writers from Samar write in their own variants of Waray which are equally proper and acceptable.

What are some of the dialectal differences between Standard Waray and other dialects?

Most of these hinge on lexical and vocabulary differences, but pose no great impediment to speakers understanding each other.

Eastern Samar dialects of the Waray language though are distinct in their use of a schwa vowel while Northern Samar varieties  use "s" in certain grammar words like pronouns and case markers where most Waray dialects uses "h".  For example sira (they) is used in the northern speech varieties  instead of the majority hira.

You mentioned Waray as belonging to the family of Visayan languages.  Could you elaborate further?

The Visayan languages are a group of languages within the Central Philippine group of languages (which includes the Bikol languages and Tagalog) that are linguistically related and are (generally) referred to by their speakers as Bisaya or Binisaya.  There are about thirty different Visayan languages. Four of these are considered major Philippine languages since each of these have at least one million speakers.  These are: Cebuano, Hiligaynon, Waray-Waray, and Kinaray-a.

These languages are as related to each other and distinct from each other as Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, Catalan, Romanian and other Romance languages are related to and distinct from each other.

Speakers of the Visayan languages not only refer to their languages by their local name but also as "Bisaya" or "Binisaya" which tends to confuse outsiders.

For a complete list of Visayan languages and further information about them, the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) has the following entry in their Ethnologue at 


In the Waray language, the word "waray" also means "nothing".  The word "waray" when doubled, can literally mean "double-nothing".  As a result there has been a debate on the name "waray".  There are a lot of angles on which this debate hinges on.  This section merely intends to give a few  highlights of the debate on whether to renounce the name 'waray' or whether to 'retain' the name 'waray'.


Argument 1: The name "Waray" means 'nothing' and as such is not a pleasant thing to name our language and our culture.  Doubled as "Waray-waray" it means "double nothing" and is doubly unpleasant.

Argument 2: The people of Samar and Leyte were historically known as Bisaya (Visayan in English) and their language as Binisaya (literally: the way of the Visayan) and we still are Bisaya speaking Binisaya.  This is the right name for our language.  To differentiate ourselves from other cultures that are also Bisaya, we append the names of Leyte and Samar.

Argument 3: We are not "waray" (meaning 'nothing') but rather "may-ada-ada" (meaning 'something').


Argument 1: The word "Waray" was chosen by our forebears not by foreigners.  The word "waray", in fact, is better than "Filipino" and "Philippines" both of which are derived from King Philip II of Spain who was a tyrant, colonizing king.  If 'Waray' was so derogatory, our people would have come up with a separate new name already.

The word "waray" when uncapitalized does mean "nothing" but our name is capitalized which means everything to us.  (Paraphrased from Orly Candari's defense of the name Waray in David Martinez's book "A Country Of Our Own"). 

Argument 2: There is also a linguistic reason why we named ourselves 'waray'.  Of the different Visayan peoples, we use the word "waray", in contrast to Cebuanos who use "wa'ay" and Ilonggos who use "walay".  The name "Waray" simply refers to the fact that we distinctly use that word in contrast with other Visayans.  (Paraphrased from R. Paul David Zorc's "The Bisayan Dialects").

Argument 3: The word "Waray-Waray" is not pronounced as "wary-wary" but rather equally stressed on all syllables.  This pronunciation indicates something else other than "double nothing". (Paraphrased from Rolando Borrinaga's article "Waray-waray defended")

Argument 4: There is no consensus as to what is to be the alternative name if Waray is dropped.  Bisaya/Binisaya is historically acceptable but that is only used when we do not distinguish ourselves from other Visayans. "Leyte-Samarnon" or "Samar-Leyte" while acceptable is too long--it tacks on the names of two provinces and gets cumbersome to use--and therefore should be used sparingly. 

There is also nothing that prevents us from keeping 'Waray' and 'Waray-waray' as a name for ourselves while at the same time retaining the historical and alternative names of Bisaya, Binisaya, Leyte-Samarnon, Samar-Leyte and its variants thereof.

Finally, the name "May-ada-ada" (which means "there is something" and actually proposed by Imelda Marcos) is infinitely worse than Waray: "may-ada-ada" has the secondary meaning of referring to "a person who suffers from an occasional loss of sanity."

References and Further Reading:

Renouncing 'Waray'

Agustin El O'Mora "An Ngaran Han Aton Pinulongan" (The Name of Our Language). Kandabao: Essays of Waray Language, Literature and Culture. Edited by Gregorio Luangco Tacloban City: Divine Word University Publications 1982. pages 48-51

Eduardo A. Makabenta Sr. Binisaya-English, English-Binisaya Dictionary Preface by Author.  Second Edition 2002 published by the Eduardo Makabenta Sr. Foundation

Retaining 'Waray'

Rolando Borrinaga's article "Waray-Waray defended" (Published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on November 29, 2003)

David C. Martinez A Country Of Our Own:Partitioning the Philippines Bisaya Books: Los Angeles, CA 2004.  page 66.   More information about this book can be obtained at its author's website at

Voltaire Oyzon Blog.  Blog Entry for August 18, 2005 
This blog entry by Voltaire Oyzon  (in Waray of course!) explores the facets of the name Waray.

R. Paul David Zorc The Bisayan Dialects of the Philippines: Subgrouping and Reconstruction. PhD. Dissertation, Cornell University. 1975