The Ethnologue divides Sinama into 7 languages based on mutual intelligibility. The 7 Sinama languages are Northern Sinama, Central Sinama, Southern Sinama, Sinama Pangutaran from the island of Pangutaran off of Jolo island, Mapun, Bajau West Coast of Sabah and Bajau Indonesia. Jama Mapun, a language from the island of Mapun, formerly known as Cagayan de Sulu, is a related language and sometimes also referred to as Sinama. These classifications are rarely recognized by Sama themselves who instead classify their Sinama by the village or island it originates from. The emic classification of a Sama person's language e.g. Silumpak, Laminusa, Tabawan generally form the different dialects of the 7 Sinama or Bajau languages.
Bajau West Coast Sabah
Berau East Kalimantan
The following list of Sama dialects is from Ethnologue, with some additions from Pallesen (1985) (individual languages with separately assigned ISO codes highlighted in bold; locations and speaker populations are from Palleson (1985:45-50)):
Inabaknon: Capul Island, off the coast of northwestern Samar, central Philippines
Karundung: Karundung, on the southeast coast of Jolo Island
Pilas: Pilas Island|Pilas Group, 15 km west of Basilan Island
Sama Dilaut: throughout Sulu, but especially in Zamboanga City, in Siasi, and in Sitangkai, south of Tawi-Tawi Island. 80,000 speakers in the Philippines. Also called sama to'ongan 'genuine Sama'; sama pagūng 'floating Sama'; sama pala'u 'boat-dwelling Sama'.
Sibutu’ (Sama Sibutu): Sibutu’ Island, southwest of Bongao Island. About 10,000 speakers.
Simunul: Simunul Island, south of Bongao Island. 10,000 speakers. Also called sama səddopan.
Tandubas (Tandu’-baas): Tandubas Island, just of the northeastern point of Tawi-Tawi Island. Census figure of 27,000, including the population of Tandubas. Also called a'a tandu'-bās 'people of Tandu-Bas', a'a ungus matata 'people of Ungus Matata'. The Sama of central Sulu call them obian, ubian, sama s'ddopan 'Southern Sama'.
The consonants of the Sinama languages are represented by the letters b, d, g, h, j, k, l, m, n, ng, p, r, s, t, w, y and '.
Representation of the glottal stop in Sinama has not yet reached a consensus among Sinama speakers. Linguists have suggested the use of an apostrophe like character (') for word final glottal stops. Central Sinama has adopted this for glottal stops in between vowels as well (i.e. a'a, the Sinama word for human). Other Sinama languages have chosen to follow Tagalog orthography and to leave this vowel medial glottal stop ambiguous. Sinama speakers often spell the word final glottal stop with an h at the end. Sinama speakers in Malaysia may also spell it with a k following the vowel softening patterns of Bahasa Melayu.
In certain dialects of Sinama b becomes β and g becomes Ɣ when found between two vowels.
The vowels a, e, i, o, u are found in all Sinama languages and dialects. In addition to these 5 vowels ə, and ɤ are found in one or more Sinama language.
Many of the Sinama languages have contrastive vowel lengthening. This is represented by a macron over the vowel (āēīōū).
Sinama pronunciation is quite distinct from other nearby languages such as Tausug and Tagalog in that all of the Sinama languages primary stress occurs on the penultimate syllable of the word.:124 Stress will remain on the penultimate syllable even with the addition of suffixes including enclitic pronouns. In Northern Sinama (Balanguingi') the stress will shift to the ultima when the penult is the mid central vowel /ə/.
The 1st, 2nd, & 3rd singular pronouns -ku, -nu and -na respectively, the 1st plural inclusive pronouns -ta and -tam, as well as the 2nd plural pronoun -bi are all enclitics. These enclitic pronouns change the pronunciation by shifting the stress of a word through the addition of a syllable; a verb or noun combined with a suffixed one syllable enclitic pronoun. Some Sinama orthographies represent this by writing both noun/verb and pronoun as one word e.g. luma'ta for "our house" in Central Sinama. Other orthographies represent this with a hypen e.g. luma'-ta for "our house" in Southern Sinama. Still others write this keeping the noun/verb separate from the prounoun e.g. luma' ta for "our house" in Northern Sinama.
The lyrics of the song called Kiriring Pakiriring (popularly known as Dayang Dayang) were written in the Simunul dialect of the Southern Sinama language.
Central Sinama and Southern Sinama are 2 of 6 languages used in the 2012 Filipino drama film, Thy Womb.
Sinama is featured on the 1991 edition of the Philippine one thousand peso bill. Langgal is written under a picture of a Sama place of worship. Langgal is the Sinama for that place of worship.