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Title: CAGAYAN DE ORO
 
 
History
 
 
Cagayan Means River
 
By Elson T. Elizaga
 

August 31, 2002 -- What is the meaning of the word "cagayan"? In a series of emails, Dr. Lawrence A. Reid explains that cagayan comes from an ancient word that means "river". Variations of this word -- karayan, kayayan, and kalayan -- all mean river. Reid is Researcher Emeritus of the Department of Linguistics, University of Hawai'i.

According to Reid, the original word is unknown because the ancient speakers of the Proto-Philippine language are dead. But it can be scientifically reconstructed as *kaRayan, pronounced like "cagayan".

The asterisk in *kaRayan is a linguistic symbol, indicating that the word is hypothetical. The capital R represents an unknown sound -- referred to by Reid as "proto-phoneme" -- that was most likely a fricative g, which is similar to the sound of g in "gamma".

*kaRayan then evolved into the Northern Cordillera kagayan, the Ilokano karayan, the Kapampangan kayayan, and kalayan. These words mean "river".

 
Form Meaning Region Sample speakers
*kaRayan      
karayan river   Ilokano
kagayan river Northern Cordillera, Tagalog, Central Philippines Ibanag, Itawis (also kayan)
kahayan river Central Cagayan Agta
kayayan river   Batanic, Kapampangan, Bolinao
kalayan river Central and Southern Cordillera, and Southern Philippines Kalinga, Bontok, Ifugaw, Inibaloi and Pangasinan; Tboli and Blaan
 

Some sources say that the original word for river is kagay, which, when combined with -an (place), became kagayan (river place).

But Reid explains that *kaRayan is a whole, complete idea, and is not a combination of several others: "Note that in all the languages that have a reflex of this form, it simply means 'river'. It is not a morphologically complex form. There is no language that reflects a form kagay. Nor is there any evidence that either the final -an was a suffix, or for that matter that the initial ka- was a prefix. At some early stage, it is possible that the -an was a locative suffix ...."

Reid's explanations are responses to queries sent by webmaster Elson T. Elizaga to Alibata, a yahoogroup. Reid and Elizaga later exchanged emails directly to discuss details about the etymology. More information about Reid is in his website.

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Email from Dr. Lawrence Reid

Dr. Lawrence A. Reid"The word 'cagayan' is reconstructible, possibly, to one of the early proto-languages of the Philippines if not for Proto-Philippines itself, as *kaRayan "river", where *R represents the proto-phoneme with g reflexes in the Northern Cordilleran languages, such as Ibanag and Itawis, as well as in Tagalog and other Central Philippine languages, as r in Ilokano, as y in Batanic languages, Kapampangan and Bolinao, and as l in Central and Southern Cordilleran languages such as Kalinga, Bontok, Ifugaw, Inibaloi and Pangasinan, and in the southern Philippine languages, Tboli and Blaan. Of course the term *kaRayan is not reflected in all of these languages.

"... In Proto-Philippines there were two words for 'water'. The term for 'fresh water' was *wa'iR, hence Bontok, etc, wa'il 'stream'; Manobo languages wayig, and similar forms; T'boli 'el; Maguindanao 'ig 'water', all of which reflect the reconstructed term faithfully, according to the phonological developments of each language. The general term for 'water' was *Danum, hence Bontok, etc., danum; Sambalic languages lanom 'water'. There are no languages in the Philippines that reflect a term 'ag'. Lists of terms for 'water' and also 'river' from around 50 Philippine languages can be found in my 1971 book, Philippine Minor Languages: Word Lists and Phonologies (Oceanic Linguistics Special Publication No. 8. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.)

"The word that has been reconstructed for Proto-Philippines by Himes, and also Blust for 'to flow, of a river' is *bulus. None has reconstructed *agus with this, or any other meaning. In fact it is doubtful that there was a *g phoneme in the Proto-Philippine language. The g sound in Philippine languages usually developed from a voiced velar fricative, represented as *R in reconstructions.

"The evidence for the Proto-Philippine word reconstructable for river, *kaRayan, comes from Ilokano karayan, Central Cagayan Agta kahayan, Itawis kayan, etc. Note that in all the languages that have a reflex of this form, it simply means 'river', it is not a morphologically complex form. There is no language that reflects a form 'kagay'. Nor is there any evidence that either the final -an was a suffix, or for that matter that the initial ka- was a prefix. At some early stage, it is possible that the -an was a locative suffix. But perhaps *kaRay was the name of a plant that typically grew in the river where the term first developed, or the name of a kind of fish. These are far more likely than to assume that *kaRay meant 'river'. But to go beyond the evidence presented above is pure speculation, and any person's guess is as good as any others ...."

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RELATED QUESTIONS

  • What is cagayan?
  • What is the etymology of cagayan?
  • What is the meaning of Cagayan de Oro?
  • Does cagayan mean river?

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