The Constantino-Cubar Dissensus and Philippine Language Description

Presentation Date: 

Saturday, April 29, 2023


Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology, City of Iligan, Lanao del Norte

Paper read at the 5th Linguistic Society of the Philippines International Conference.


Ernesto A. Constantino’s article The Sentence Patterns of Twenty-Six Philippine Languages (1965) constitutes a landmark text in the grammatical description of Philippine languages (PLs) by a Filipino linguist. It presents a novel synthesis of two schools of grammatical theory often taken to be at odds with each other: American Descriptivist Immediate Constituent (IC)-Analysis and early Transformational-Generative Grammar or “Standard Theory”. A follow up to this article was The deep structures of Philippine languages (1970) which sought to update the scholar’s analysis in light of later developments in grammatical theory in the United States.


A fellow Filipino linguist, Ernesto H. Cubar, engaged Constantino, his esteemed colleague’s views in Topicalization and Some Related Processes in Philippine Languages (1975) (later republished by the UP Department of Linguistics in 2019) and in Writing Filipino Grammars: Traditions & Trends (1994) co-authored with Nelly I. Cubar.


This paper traces the theoretical antecedents of these scholars’ works, their points of convergence and divergence, the “afterlives” of their ideas, and the challenges they present for future research on the grammatical structures of PLs, in particular:

  1. case systems and the most privileged syntactic argument in PLs;
  2. topicalization and other related syntactic operations; and
  3. sentence/construction types in elicitation and grammar-writing.


To supplement the discussion, examples are culled from languages and varieties not represented in these studies of Constantino and Cubar such as: Ma-eng Itneg, Porohanon, Ini/Romblomanon, and Maguindanaon.

Keywords: Description of Philippine languages, grammatical theory, American Descriptivism, Transformational-Generative Grammar

ISO 639-3 language codes: itt, prh, rol, mdh