Differences between the Chavacano in Ternate and the Chabacano in Zamboanga

A year ago, I bought some books at the Dia de Libro book fair in Instituto Cervantes. One of the books that I bought was a book regarding the Ternateños in Cavite. It talks about the history and language of this people. It is titled The Ternateños: their history, languages, customs, and traditions, it was written by Esteban A. De Ocampo.

Through this book, I was able to learn a great deal about the Chavacano de Ternate. It is amusing at how much our two languages are similar and yet we are so far away from each other. It is like the English which was originally from Britain and was transported across the Atlantic to the Americas and over the Pacific, in Australia and New Zealand.

I was at first apprehensive to write this article because while the book of Esteban A. De Ocampo was published just recently, the research was actually done in the 1940s. 60 years is a lot of time for a language to evolve and transform itself. Take the Chabacano de Zamboanga for example, people who were in their 20s and above during the 1960s (who are probably in their 70s now) and today’s youth wouldn’t talk alike. Of course, they would understand each other, but there are words that are not anymore used by today’s youth. I remember visiting the uncle of my friend who is in his 70s, and I couldn’t get over the fact that he spoke so differently using words like actualmente and expressions like broma tu. I was amused though when I realized that broma tu is actually a translation of the Tagalog biro mo. Biro mo is an expression which would mean something like you’re never going to believe it. Here is how it is used in Tagalog:

Tagalog: Biro mo, nakapasa ako sa exam.
Chabacano: Broma tu, ya puede yo pasa na exam.
English: Would you believe that I actually passed the exam?

I find this amusing because it is a testimony to how Chabacano evolves. The Tagalog expression biro mo became popular sometime in the 80s and 90s. You wouldn’t hear it being used as much today though as it was during those times. But what I’m saying is that even though this popular expression from Imperial Manila hit the shores of Zamboanga city, we never adopted the Tagalog version of it. Instead we translated it into our own Chabacano version.

What I am not sure of is whether the Chavacano de Ternate once enjoyed the status of Chabacano today in Zamboanga. In the 1940s, was it widely spoken or was it used only at home within families? In the 1940s (when Esteban A. De Ocampo did his research), was his Chavacano already a dying language or was it spoken widely? If it was already a dying language, then it is probable that there aren’t many changes to the Chavacano de Ternate today and that of the 1940s but if it used to be spoken widely during the 1940s, then there may be differences between that Chavacano and today’s Chavacano.

I fear that this is the only comprehensive study done on the Chavacano de Ternate. At least it is the only one I came across with. So I write this article with a disclaimer that I am writing based on a research carried out in the late 1940s on the Chavacano de Ternate language.

I will begin by pointing out some interesting words that exist in both Chavacanos. One such word is ansina. Yes, my favorite Chabacano word ansina can also be found in the Chavacano de Ternate. Caga and Mia (coming from the Spanish cagar and mear) also can be found in the Chavacano de Ternate. Words that come from Mexican Spanish like Petate and Zacate (pronounced as sacate) also exist in the Chavacano de Ternate as well as Latin American Spanish words such as hincarse (which means to kneel).

The Chavacano de Ternate Past Tense and Present Tense is exactly like the Chabacano de Zamboanga Past Tense. The future tense though is different in both Chabacano dialects. To form the future tense in Chavacano de Ternate, the word di/de is employed. Here are some examples taken from the book The Ternateños: Their History, Languages, Customs, and Traditions:

Chavacano: Di Pega yo el bola.
Chabacano: Ay pega yo el bola.
English: I shall strike the ball.

Chavacano: Di dale yo el prueba.
Chabacano: Ay dale yo el prueba.
English: I will give you the proof.

Chavacano: Dondi boh di anda?
Chabacano: Donde boh ay anda?
English: Where are you going?

Chavacano: Eskoge ya boh y di bende yo kung boh por kilo.
Chabacano: *Escoge tu cosa tu quiere. Vende yo conese con boh por kilo.
English: You choose the ones you like. I will sell them to you by kilo.

*This translation is based on the English translation provided by Esteban A De Ocampo.
Escoge is pronounced as iskuhi, eskuhi, or eskohi
Vende is pronounced as bende

I would like to clarify that in De Ocampo’s book, he uses the word di to explain how to form the future tense in the Chavacano dialect. However, in some sentences found in the book, the word is spelled as de. So I will assume that some people say di and some people say de.

In his book, De Ocampo explains that for words that come from the Spanish language, they are pronounced with a stress (or an accent) on the last syllable. This pronunciation also applies in the Chabacano de Zamboanga dialect. The Spanish abrir becomes abrí. The Spanish hablar becomes hablá.

What is very interesting is my discovery (through the book of De Ocampo) that there are words in the Chavacano de Ternate dialect wherein the ‘e’becomes an ‘I’, the ‘o’ becomes ‘u’

Here are some examples:

Saber- Sabi (to know)
Donde- Dondi (where)
Adrede- Adredi  (on purpose)
Agrio- Agriu (sour)
Ajo- Aju (garlic)
Alegre- Alegri (happy)
Arder- Ardi (to inflame)
Doblar- Dubla (to fold)
Hiede- Hiedi (to smell bad)
Lodo- Lodu (mud)
Mojado- Mujao (wet)
Gordura- Gurdura (meat fat)

If you speak the Chabacano de Zamboanga, you know that this phenomenon also occurs in the Chabacano de Zamboanga. However, it is fascinating that some Spanish words undergo this change in the Chavacano de Ternate however they retain the Spanish original in the Chabacano de Zamboanga. An example of this is the word lodu in the Chavacano de Ternate. In my Chabacano, nobody says lodu. There are some words though wherein both the Spanish original and a changed form exist. Some examples are:

Puede and Puedi

Dale and Dali

Tiene and Tieni

Malu and Malo

Dondi and Donde

I initially thought that the reason why this lexical phenomenon happens in the Chabacano de Zamboanga was because of the Bisayan/Ilonggo influence but it turns out that this may very well have been going on ever since the oldest Chavacano dialect existed. 

What is weird that in the Chabacano de Zamboanga, only the Spanish original for these words exist. We never say dali, puedi, tieni, malu, dondi, and etc. 

One of the funny things that I discovered is that in the Chavacano of Ternate, the word for very is bung or bong. Here is how it is used in Chavacano:

Chavacano: *Bung mucho silahis.
English: There are plenty (or many) of clouds.

What is unclear is if bung/ bong is a word that evolved from the Chabacano de Zamboanga bien. Although, it is undeniable that these two words share some connection.

It is a big curiosity that there are words that appear creolized in the Chavacano de Ternate however are not in the Chabacano de Zamboanga. Some examples are:

Chavacano: Traves
Chabacano: Otra vez (pronounced as otra bes)

Chavacano: Tresi
Chabacano: Trece

Chavacano: Sinku
Chabacano: Cinco

Chavacano: Sieti
Chabacano: Siete

Chavacano: Raventa
Chabacano: Reventa (pronounced as rebenta)

Chavacano: Relihiosu
Chabacano: Religioso

Chavacano: Quieng
Chabacano: Quien

Chavacano: Rabu
Chabacano: Rabo

Chavacano: Kolerao
Chabacano: Colorao

Chavacano: Kontenti
Chabacano: Contento

Chavacano: Llema
Chabacano: Llama

Chavacano: Almueso
Chabacano: Almuerzo

Spanish words ending in -ado like cerrado, obligado, and apagado changing to cerrao, obligao, and apagao also happens in the Chavacano of Ternate just as it does in my Chabacano. Some examples are: *Alibiao, *Almariao, *Apretao.

Chavacano de Ternate has the tendency to add ‘g’ at the end of words ending in ‘n’. This can be seen in the following words: *tambieng (from the word tambien), *kamarong (from the word camaron), and *kahong (from the word cahon).

Showing plurality is the same in Chavacano as it is in Chabacano, the word ‘mga’ is employed. Here are some examples:

Chavacano: El mga soldao*
English: The soldiers

Chavacano: El mga hombre*
English: The men.

In the Chabacano de Zamboanga, we use the words por que for the English why. In the Chavacano de Ternate however, they use komu or komo to mean why. Here are some examples:

Chavacano: *Komo no kieri boh responde?
English: *Why do you not answer?

Chavacano: *Komo boh ta despedi?
English: *Why do you say goodbye?

However, Chavacano de Ternate seems to use porki to mean because (which obviously comes from the Spanish porque). This usage though does not occur in the modern Chabacano de Zamboanga. The word porque (meaning because) though does appear in the traditional Chabacano de Zamboanga. Here are some examples using the word porki.

Chavacano: Noay pa seguro porki el sol bung alto pa*.
English: It can’t be for the sun is still high*.

Chavacano: No boh olbida porki yo de sali na a las kuatro.
English: Don’t forget for I’ll take a walk at four.

*These examples were taken from De Ocampo’s book. The way the author spelled was conserved in this article however accented letters were not transcribed anymore.

After writing this article, I can’t help but feel like De Ocampo’s book wasn’t finished yet when it was published. According to the foreword, the manuscript of this book was found in his library after his death. I can’t help but feel like there are spelling mistakes in the book. There would be instances where a word is spelled in a certain way in the section of the book wherein he lists sentences in Chavacano however the same word would be spelled differently in the dictionary section. It feels to me like they are spelling errors because in the dictionary, De Ocampo would explain if a word has two spellings. It is possible that the author was never able to proofread his work. In the foreword, it doesn’t say anything about getting a native speaker to proofread the manuscript. It does say that a certain Lucila Rivera edited the manuscript, however it isn’t mentoned whether this person edited the Chavacano part also or only the English and Spanish part or if she’s a native speaker of the Chavacano dialect.


  1. it is due to portuguese influence to Ternate Chavacano, the words become "korasong" for corazon, muchachu for muchacho, todu for todo etc...

    beng grabe el inflencia de portugues na bahra

  2. Bien interisante. Largo tiempo ya, cuando yo puede bisita el pueblo. Jerome... tiene tu eccelente talento escribi. Pilipit ya el de mi lengua si combersa chabacano... pero no puedon olvida siempre. Gracias y salud!

  3. The Merdicas (also spelled Mardicas or Mardikas) were Catholic natives of the islands of Ternate and Tidore of the Moluccas, converted during the Portuguese occupation of the islands by Jesuit missionaries. The islands were later captured by the Spanish who vied for their control with the Dutch. In 1663, the Spanish garrison in Ternate were forced to pull out to defend Manila against an impending invasion by the Chinese pirate Koxinga (sacrificing the Moluccas to the Dutch in doing so). A number of Merdicas volunteered to help, eventually being resettled in a sandbar near the mouth of the Maragondon river (known as the Barra de Maragondon) and Tanza, Cavite, Manila.[1]
    The invasion did not occur as Koxinga fell ill and died. The Merdicas community eventually integrated into the local population. Today, the place is called Ternate after the island of Ternate in the Moluccas, and the descendants of the Merdicas continue to use their Spanish creole (with Portuguese influence) which came to be known as Caviteño or Ternateño Chavacano.

  4. Hi bunny_airs23. Thanks for your comment. I meant to smell (bad). Sorry about the confusion.