Origins of the Chabacano Calavera

The Spanish language takes another hit in the word calavera. Calavera in Spanish means skull. In my language however, it means skeleton. You may be wondering how the meaning of this word got changed in the Chabacano de Zamboanga.

Most historians say that Chabacano is a parroted language. As time goes by, words in a parroted language will have a high tendency to be misinterpreted. The word for clouds may be misinterpreted for wind or rain and the word for plate may be misinterpreted for food or abundance.

Here are some examples of how we use the word calavera in the Chabacano de Zamboanga dialect.

Chabacano: Bien *flaco ya gayod tu. Caray calavera ya tu.

English: You’re so thin. You look like a skeleton already.

Situation: Group of people eating. Someone arrives and there is no chicken left anymore.

Chabacano:  Calavera ya lang man el manok? No hay kamo conmigo deja manok?

English: Is this chicken bone all that is left? You didn’t leave me any chicken?

Let me just say that that last sentence was very difficult to translate. If you noticed, I translated the word calavera to bone in this sentence. Only in this context though, can the word calavera be translated as chicken bone.

The Chabacano calavera is pronounced as calabera. For this article, the Spanish spelling calavera was used. The same word also exists in the Chavacano de Ternate. It is spelled as kalabera and is defined as skull by the book titled The TernateƱos by Esteban A De Ocampo.

The dictionary of Camins defines this word as skull and skeleton. For old Chabacano speakers and for some people, the original meaning (skull) is probably not yet lost.

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