The Chavacano or Zamboanga Language: Spanish-Based Creole Tongue of the Philippines, a Part of Culture

Chavacano alphabet and pronunciation (Zamboanga dialect)

Chavacano, or Zamboanga, a creole language combining Spanish, Tagalog, and Cebuano vocabulary and grammar, emerged from the interactions of several different cultures.

Whenever people from two different cultures and languages interact with each other, the consequences of this connection can be profound in areas such as culture, environment, and language. Faced with the need to communicate, they might choose to use the language of the dominant culture, perhaps with a few borrowings from others, or they might develop a creole language. Creoles are mixed languages which develop from linguistic interactions and take significant contributions from each tongue, often using the grammar from one and the vocabulary of the other or using the nouns from one and the verbs or modifiers from another. The Michif language of Canada, for example, combines French and Cree in approximately equal proportions, while other creoles combine two or more languages in different ways.

The Development of Creoles

Creoles often spring up naturally from interaction between two cultures as the people learn to communicate despite social and linguistic barriers. Many indigenous languages in areas once colonized by European nations have sprung up as a result of such interactions in countries around the world. In the Philippines, one of the languages growing out of Spanish rule was Chavacano, a language combining elements of Spanish and several indigenous languages such as Tagalog.

The Chavacano Languages of the Philippines

Chavacano, also known as Philippine Creole Spanish, grew out of Spanish exploration and expansion, as the Omniglot website indicates. The San José Fortress in Zamboanga became a major Spanish settlement in the Philippines, and a language using mainly Spanish vocabulary but grammatical structures mostly from Tagalog and Cebuano emerged as a spoken tongue by 1635. It is still spoken today, especially in the Zamboanga region, as well as in parts of Malaysia. The written form is just now emerging, with spellings following the conventions of the source languages.

Formal Chavacano retains its close connections with Spanish, while an informal variety that has emerged with a large number of words from Tagalog and other local languages. The Ethnologue website lists six dialects of Chavacano, also known as Chabakano or Zamboangueño, although the Davawen Zamboangueño and Ermiteño varieties may have no native speakers still living. Altogether, approximately 600,000 people speak one or more of the Chavacano’s dialects.

The Future of Chavacano

All languages change, and Chavacano will likely continue to influence other tongues and be influenced by them. With modern communications making interaction with people around the world easier than ever before, vocabulary from many different languages could make their way into Chavacano, and the creole could even spread to other countries and continents. Even as its dialects change and perhaps become extinct, Chavacano will continue to be a reminder of the history and culture of the Philippines as it continues to develop as one of the important languages of the Pacific nation.

Whatever its future, Chavacano has made an important contribution to the Philippines and to the world.