Native toPhilippines
Native speakers
95,000 (2000)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3tbl

Tboli (IPA: [tᵊˈbɔli]), also Tau Bilil, Tau Bulul or Tagabilil, is an Austronesian language spoken in the southern Philippine island of Mindanao, mainly in the province of South Cotabato but also in the neighboring provinces of Sultan Kudarat and Sarangani. According to the Philippine Census from 2000, close to 100,000 Filipinos identified T'boli or Tagabili as their native language.


Tboli is classified as a member of the South Mindanao or Bilic branch of the Philippine language families. The closest language to it is Blaan. Both are also related to Bagobo, and Tiruray.

Geographic distribution

Tboli is spoken in the following areas (Ethnologue).

Dialects are Central Tboli, Western Tboli, and Southern Tboli (Ethnologue).


Phonemic inventory

Awed, Underwood & Van Wynen (2004) list seven vowel phonemes, namely /a i e ɛ ə o ɔ u/ and 15 consonant phonemes shown in the chart below. Note that Tboli lacks /p/ as a phoneme and has /f/ instead, which is a typological rarity among Philippine languages.

Labial Coronal Dorsal Glottal
Nasal m n ŋ ⟨ng⟩
Stop voiced b d g
voiceless t k ʔ ⟨–⟩
Fricative f s h
Approximant w l j ⟨y⟩


Final stress is the norm in Tboli rootwords; however, the stress shifts to the previous syllable if the final vowel is a schwa.[2]


Unlike most other Philippine languages and Austronesian languages in general, Tboli permits a variety of consonant clusters at the onset of a syllable. This is evident in the name of the language, /tbɔli/, but also in other words like /kfung/ 'dust', /sbulon/, 'one month,' /mlɔtik/ 'starry,' /hlun/ 'temporarily,' /gna/ 'before,' and others.

Awed, Underwood & Van Wynen (2004) observe impressionistically there is a very short schwa pronounced in between the consonant cluster. However, these consonant clusters have not yet been analyzed acoustically.



Unlike other Philippine languages, Tboli does not make use of case-marking articles.

Plurality is marked by the article kem preceding the noun; kudà 'horse' (sg.), kem kudà 'horses.'


Tboli pronouns indicate person, number, clusivity, and grammatical role. Awed, Underwood & Van Wynen (2004) group Tboli pronouns into two main categories based on what they term "focus," which appear to be related to the absolutive-ergative case system in other Philippine languages. There are two further subcategories for each which deal with whether the singular pronouns behave as enclitics or as independent words. Their use depends on their role and position in a sentence.

Focused Nonfocused
dependent independent dependent independent
1st singular -e ou/o -u dou/do
2nd singular -i uu/u -em/-m kóm
3rd singular ø du -en/n kun
1st person dual te tu te kut
1st inclusive tekuy
1st exclusive me mi mi kum
2nd plural ye yu ye kuy
3rd plural le lu le kul

Examples using the third person plural pronoun.


Word order in Tboli is usually verb-subject-object, though there is some variation.









Mulu le sfu soging.

planted they shoot banana

"They planted banana shoots."


Tboli, like other Philippine languages, makes a distinction between transitive and intransitive verbs. Intransitive verbs are marked with the affix me- while transitive verbs are marked with ne-. Unlike Philippine languages, applicative affixes are not used in Tboli though prepositions are used instead.

Furthermore, aspect marking is not marked on the verb but with preverbal aspect markers such as deng (completed actions) and angat (incomplete action).


Tboli makes use of prefixes and infixes. Awed, Underwood & Van Wynen (2004) claim that suffixes do not exist in the language, though proclitic affixes may be thought of as such.

Writing system

Tboli has no official writing system, though the Latin script is usually used to write the language. The orthography is more or less similar to the one employed by Tagalog: b, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, ng (for /ŋ/), s, t, w, and y (for /j/), though other letters may be used in writing foreign words.

Awed, Underwood & Van Wynen (2004) use a system of diacritics to accommodate the seven vowel phonemes of Tboli. The vowels are: a, i, é (for /ɛ/), e (for /ə/), ó (for /o/), u, and o (for /ɔ/).

The glottal stop /ʔ/ is usually not represented in writing. Though the grave accent ` is used to represent it as in ngà /ŋaʔ/ 'child' and gawì /gawiʔ/ 'serving spoon.' If a vowel already has a diacritic on it, then the circumflex accent ^ is used as in sdô /sdoʔ/ and /bɛʔ/ 'don't.'

Awed et al. note that sometimes that the apostrophe may be used to break up an initial consonant cluster as in the name of the language; that is, T'boli instead of simply Tboli. They note that native Tboli speakers have had "a very strong negative reaction" to this convention, preferring instead to write Tboli.[2]


  1. ^ Tboli at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ a b Awed, Underwood & Van Wynen (2004)
  • Porter, Doris (1977). A Tboli Grammar. Philippine Journal of Linguistics, Special Monograph 7. Manila, Philippines: Linguistic Society of the Philippines.
  • Forsberg, Vivian M. (1992). "A Pedagogical Grammar of Tboli". Studies in Philippine Lingiustics. 9 (1): 1–110.
  • Awed, Silin A.; Underwood, Lillian B.; Van Wynen, Vivian M. (2004). Tboli-English Dictionary. Manila, Philippines: SIL Philippines.