Chavacano language

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Chavacano is the common name for several varieties of Spanish-based creole used in the southern Philippines, predominantly around the areas of Zamboanga and Cavite. It is the main language of Zamboanga City, which is the largest Spanish creole speaking region in Asia with an estimated 700,000 speakers.

There are many words and phrases used in the Chavacano vocabulary that are no longer used, or considered archaic, in the Spanish language. Due to the isolation of Zamboanga and indeed the Philippines itself from the rest of the Spanish empire, it has retained its ancient Castilian Spanish words and meanings which now vary in modern continental and Latin American Spanish. Approximately 80% of the vocabulary is Spanish-based, with influences from Mexican Spanish as well as Castilian Spanish, with the grammatical structures taken from Tagalog and Cebuano languages.

The symbolic date for the establishment of Chavacano is June 23, 1635 when the Spanish government via Governor-General Don Juan Cerezo de Salamanca built San José Fort, establishing a permanent foothold in the southern Philippines to defend against Moro Pirate attacks and as part of a strategy to possess the entire Mindanao peninsula. Due to the Spanish colonization of the archipelago and continued efforts by the Jesuit priests to Christianize and educate the local population, regional Spanish-Tagalog creoles were already in existence.

The construction of San José Fort required a large use of labor, thus resulting in the import of workers from Luzon, the Visayas, Cebu, Iloilo and other local tribes. As work instructions were issued in Spanish and there were existing linguistic differences between the dialects of the regional tribes, the Chavacano creole developed as a means of communication between all languages. Reinforcements of Spanish military and the increase of educational and religious institutions over the next several centuries reinforced the use of the Chavacano language.

Due to variances between regions, the Chavacano language can be further divided into regional dialects such as Zamboangueño, Caviteño and Ternateño.

Registers

There are usually two registers in the Chavacano language, the familiar or common form and the formal form. Zamboangueño uses three registers, distinguishing the familiar form from the common form in that the familiar form still uses respectful terms of address amongst known people.

The common form is of colloquial usage, and vocabulary words from the local dialects predominate. It is used in informal situations and around family. The formal form retains its strongly Spanish-based vocabulary and is used to address elders or people in authority. The form used in education, speeches, the media and writing, it is commonly used today by older generations, Zamboangueño mestizas, in the barrios, and amongst Chavacano speakers from different regions who do not share a common local dialect.

Below is an example of personal pronouns in three varieties of Chavacano in comparison with Spanish.

  Zamboangueño Caviteño Ternateño Spanish
1st person singular iyo
yo
yo yo
2nd person singular evo(s) (common)
vo(s) (common)
tu (familiar)
uste(d) (formal)
tu
vo
uste
vo
uste
3rd person singular el
ele
eli él
ella
1st person plural kame (exclusive)
kita (inclusive)
nosotros (formal)
nisos mijotro
motro
nosotros
nosotras
2nd person plural kamo (common)
vosotros (familiar)
ustedes (formal)
vusos ustedi
tedi
vosotros
vosotras
ustedes
3rd person plural sila (common & familiar)
ellos (formal)
ilos lojotro
lotro
ellos
ellas


Camins, Bernardino S. Chabacano de Zamboanga Handbook, 2nd Ed. (1999) Office of the City Mayor, Zamboanga City (Philippines)