Origins of the Chabacano Cosa

John M. Lipski from the Pennsylvania State University is the author of one of the few articles that I have found on Chabacano. In his article, Lipski tries to unravel the Chabacano de Zamboanga mystery. While his article was never able to give concrete answers about Chabacano, I did find some answers to a question that I had a long time ago.

As my awareness and pride in being a Zamboangueño swelled over the past few years, I began searching for the roots of certain Chabacano words. One of those words was the word 'cosa'. 'Cosa' is the Chabacano equivalent of the word 'what' in English. Study these examples:

Cosa tuyo nombre?
What is your name?

Cosa tu quiere?
What do you want?

Cosa tu ta hace?
What are you doing?

As you may have observed, the word 'que' is not used during the instances presented above as it would have been in Spanish. ''Que' however is still used in Chabacano, albeit very minimally. 'Que' is normally how you would ask a person older than you to repeat him/herself. Using 'cosa' to ask somebody (older than you or with more authority than you ) to repeat his/herself would be considered rude. Consider this example:

Respectful:
Old woman: Ya come ya tu?
Kid: Que?

Rude:
Old woman: Ya come ya tu?
Kid: Cosa?

It is permissible however to use 'cosa' when speaking to your friends.

Lipski, in his article, explains that much like Mexican Spanish came about, there existed a non creolized form of Philippine Spanish. The interrogative usage of cosa in Philippine Spanish as well as kitchen Spanish is documented in these texts:

Kitchen Spanish:

`mueno dia señolía ... ¿cosa quiele? mia tiene nuevo patila ...'
[good day, Sir, what do you want? I have new merchandise].
(Moya y Jiménez 1883: 334)

`Cosa? No tiene biligüensa, mas que mia chino mia siempele genti. Ah, sigulo no siñola bilalelo …’
[what? Have you no shame; although I’m Chinese, I’m still a person. Surely {she} is not a true lady]
(Rizal 1891:121-2)

Note that these kitchen Spanish statements were used between Spaniards and Chinese (which would explain why quiere is pronounced as quiele, seguro is sigulo, and verguenza is biliguensa).

Philippine Spanish:

`¿También redactarás las actas de las sesiones? ---¿Cosa eso, señor?'
[Will you also take minutes of the meetings? What is that, sir?]
(Feced 1888: 68-69)

`Quiero decir que tendrás muchos galanes. ---¿Cosa galanes?'
[I mean that you must have many beaus. What are beaus?]
(Feced 1888: 91)

My conclusion based upon these findings is that the word 'cosa' which means thing in Spanish was initially used in with its original meaning in mind. However through time, the true meaning of 'cosa' was lost and and since it was normally used in statements such as 'cosa quiele' by chinese merchants (which could have roughly meant what thing do you want), the word cosa took on a new role as an interrogative. It was most probably then picked up by the native Spanish speakers who were taught to speak the same way as the natives did and then by the speakers of Philippine Spanish.

Another theory is that the Chabacano cosa comes from the Italian cosa. The Italian cosa also means why. There is not much lexical evidence though that there is Italian influence in Chabacano.

Unfortunately, it seems like the curious case of cosa will remain a mystery for now.

1 comment:

  1. It is not uncommon in Spain to here shopkeepers say "¿Cosa quiere?"

    Also, I've also heard colloquially, "¿Cosa dijo/dijiste?"

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