Tausug 101: Learning Bahasa Sug (Intro)

Assalamu Alaykum! (Peace be upon you all!)

This is the introductory post for the series of posts “TAUSUG 101: Learning Bahasa Sug”. But before beginning our long—yet fun—journey in learning Bahasa Sug, here are some bits of information we need to know first.


Tausug, Sinug and Bahasa Sug

A lot of people always get confused with the terms “Tausug”, “Sinug” and “Bahasa Sug” (I myself got into a I-thought-I-was-right situation just lately). We come to ask “Do they mean the same thing, or are they different?” something which must be explained when we want to learn the language itself. Although the three terms are most of the time used alternately to refer to the language (which is quite wrong and confusing to do so), a clear distinction must be made between them to avoid further disorder in this world!


“Tausug” literary means “People of the current” or “People of the Sea”. The term refers to the people who are mostly residing in the Sulu Zone (mostly Sulu islands, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, also in Zamboanga and Sabah. It’s a long story). It should not, basically, be used to refer to the Language.The name of the language the proud Tausugs use is known as “Bahasa Sug”, and the way of speaking this language is called “Sinug”.

Okay. Let’s try to wrap it up. Again, “Tausug” = “the people”,  “Bahasa Sug” = “the language” and “Sinug” = “the way of speaking Bahasa Sug”. I hope we got it all clear. Throughout this course, in sha Allah we will be using these terms (most of the time) when referring to the “people”, their “language” and the “way of speaking”. (AN EXCEPTION: When I say “Tausug Word” it means a word from the Tausug Language: Bahasa Sug, and not the people of Sulu, okay? 🙂

Malayo-Polynesian Roots

Just like most of the languages in Southeast Asia, Bahasa Sug is considered one of the languages that came from its Malayo-Polynesian ancestor. Although there are quite a number of unique words and terms in Bahasa Sug, similarities with the neighboring Malay Languages such as Filipino (Tagalog) and Malay can be found. Also having the influence of Hindu and Islamic Empires (way back in time) there are also Tausug terms that are derived from the Hindu and Arabic terms. Bahasa Sug having more closer affinity with Philippine local dialects as Binisaya and Kamayo, and even Tagalog is also noted. This is one good reason why it is easier for Filipinos to learn Bahasa Sug than other people.Sulat Sug

During the olden times, the Tausugs had a way of writing their Bahasa into texts. It is known as “Sulat Sug”. It is just similar with the Arabic Hurufs (letters) but with some variations which is closer to (and is inspired by) Malaysian Jawi writings. Old documents such as treaties and compacts made between the Sulu Sultanate and other foreign countries are usually recorded in Sulat Sug. I have seen a number of these in museums, and I can easily decode and understand most of them! Cool, huh? Even my grandmother is still using this kind of writing when sending us letters. (It doesn’t mean she’s that old! I am just stressing the fact that it is still being used today on some parts of our place.)

But eventually, Sulat Sug had slowly drifted with time. With the arrival of the western education and the introduction of the Latin way of writing, more and more Tausugs have forgotten how to write in Sulat Sug, after preferring the Latin writings… (Yup, that’s a sad story. Things like these are just inevitable to happen). Only a small number of Tausugs, mostly uneducated in Western education, still uses the Sulat Sug.

Writing Sinug in Latin Letters

We are nowadays using the modern way of writing, which is the Latin letters. But there are some sounds in Bahasa Sug that do not have their exact equivalents in Latin letters (because Bahasa Sug is also a mixture of other languages such as Arabic). This is the reason why a lot of problems are met when writing Bahasa Sug into Latin Letters. There are confusions as to which letter would represent this kind of sound; or if the letters “o” and “e” are allowed, and so on.

Unfortunately, there is no available concrete “Guide to Writing Bahasa Sug” yet (or maybe I haven’t found it yet). Maybe there are a few published Tausug Dictionaries, with instructions and the like, but only a few has access to them. This is also another reason why we only have a few number of Books published in Bahasa Sug. Maybe some time in the future, this will be solved eventually, In sha Allah :-). I know there are a number of individuals out there, working on this problem now… So we have to wait a little longer yet. And as for us wanting to learn the Bahasa Sug using the Latin letters, we will try as much to keep them simple. We will try to find solutions along the way.

I don’t want to overload this post, so I have to cut it here. At least, now we know some bits of info about the language we are about to learn: Bahasa Sug, the language of the Tausugs. I hope these infos would help us along the way, in better understanding the Bahasa Sug—in a fun and easy way. I myself is rediscovering my own language! So let us be, uhm, more enthusiastic to learn this language little by little. Yeay!

Our Next post would be our FIRST LESSON: The Sounds in Bahasa Sug.

Salam Kasilasa!

Tausug 101

(Originally published last May 31, 2015 in Tausug101.blogspot.com by the same author. All rights reserved.)

6 thoughts on “Tausug 101: Learning Bahasa Sug (Intro)

  1. Salam 🙂 gusto ko po matuto ng tausug may bf po kasi ako gusto ko naiintindihan ko po sila kapag nag uusap so ano po gagawen ko paano po ba aralin yung tausug? Reply po please.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Salam! (peace)

      The equivalent of the article “but” in Bahasa Sug (Tausug) is sa’ i.e.

      Diyhilan ku siya siyn sa’ di’ siya mag-iyan.

      I gave him some money but he refused.


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