The Different Profiles of Chabacano Speakers

I recently asked my officemate, “ta fuma gale tu?”

He replied, “Bata pa yo, recio ya yo ta fuma.

I was really surprised when I heard him say recio instead of fuerte. You see, in all my life, I have never heard anyone use that word. In fact the only reason why I know this word is because I read it in a text which was actually written in the Chabacano de Cavite and subsequently checked its meaning in a Spanish dictionary.

Over the years, I have come to realize that Chabacano is not spoken in the same way by everyone. While accent is definitely one of the things that differentiate people in which they speak Chabacano, it is not the only one. Socioeconomic background, age and ones geographical location also play a vital role in how one will speak Chabacano.

Older people who live in poverty tend to speak a Chabacano without code switching or borrowing of foreign words. Most of these people are found in the rural areas of Zamboanga city. They are the ones whom Zamboanguenos from the lowlands and urban centers would call the de alla-alla, de monte, and de arriba. The chief occupation of these people is agriculture based. If they would be multilingual, they would probably speak Bisaya or Tagalog. Most of these people however will be monolingual. They are the people who most likely would patronize Chabacano TV and radio programs and hear mass in Chabacano. These people speak in a very distinct accent. They pronounce the letter g like the letter c and the letter d like the letter t. The word bag becomes bak and the word kid becomes kit to these people. They also do not pronounce the letter s. Some of them will use uste even when speaking to friends. This last bit of info is based on where they live in Zamboanga city. Some expressions that can be found in the speech of this people are chingga, cabron, and chinggona.

It is not however only old and impoverished people who speak Chabacano without code switching or borrowing foreign words. There are also OLD middle and upper class people who would speak a Chabacano without the help of other languages. They would most probably live within downtown Zamboanga city or the pueblo. These people would most likely be doctors, lawyers, businessmen, and government employees. They would most probably speak Chabacano with an accent similar to those of the de monte but theirs would be lighter. These people will also watch Chabacano radio and TV programs but will probably not hear mass in Chabacano. These people would understand Tagalog but not speak it well. They would be well versed in English as these people grew up when English was widely spoken in the country and Tagalog was not yet in vogue. These people’s good proficiency in Chabacano would allow them to speak Chabacano without any need to code switch or borrow foreign words. Some expressions that one would hear from this group of people are: chiflate, rampago, rayo, madre mia and rampet.

Young Chabacano speakers from well off families are notorious for code switching or borrowing foreign words. Majority will use Tagalog or English words in place of Chabacano words. I am not sure which factor contributes more to this phenomenon: inadequate knowledge of Chabacano or the strong influence of Tagalog (national and official language) and English (official language).  The choice of whether to use English or Tagalog words can depend on which language the speaker is stronger at. Some people from this group of Chabacano speakers will even sometimes even say that they don’t speak Chabacano or that they speak Chabacano only a little.

I myself speak Chabacano with a lot of code switching. Sometimes I do it when I don’t know the Chabacano equivalent, when I can’t think of the Chabacano equivalent, and when there is no Chabacano equivalent. But I never say that I don’t speak or speak only a little Chabacano. It is always clear in my head that it is my mother tongue no matter how much code switching I do.

For me, code switching in Chabacano exists because of various reasons. Here are some of them:

1.    Absence of a Chabacano equivalent for the loan word such as cellphone, computer, keyboard, mouse, etc..

2.    Presence of a Chabacano equivalent for the loan word but it feels baduy and awkward (especially for young people) to use it. For example, feliz cumpleanos (happy birthday),felices pascuas (merry Christmas).

3.    Speaker possesses limited Chabacano vocabulary.

Young Chabacano speakers from impoverished families might not do too much code switching.

Code switching also exists in Tagalog. Native Tagalog speakers would normally loan words from English when there is no Tagalog equivalent. People however who speak Tagalog only as a second language would loan words from English whenever they don’t know the Tagalog equivalent as well as when there is no Tagalog equivalent.

Migrants form a different group of Chabacano speakers. These people speak Chabacano as a second language. Most would learn Chabacano because they need it for their job. Majority of these people speak Bisaya as their first language. These people would find familiarity with the Bisayan words in Chabacano already planted in the past by earlier migrants. They will be more disposed to using a Bisayan loan word (even though there is a Chabacano equivalent) because of convenience and familiarity. These people will speak Chabacano in the accent of their mother tongue. They would most probably also speak Tagalog and English (depending on their place in the economic pyramid). If a migrant is already old and has lived in Zamboanga city for a very long time already, then he/she would probably speak Chabacano very well. This is especially true if the migrant worker came to Zamboanga before the 1990s when Tagalog was spoken only by very few people.

Another group of Chabacano speakers are politicians. Politicians are known to speak Chabacano very well. These politicians use Chabacano to touch base with the ordinary people who most likely speak Chabacano. Some politicians would also do code switching but they would usually borrow words from Spanish so that their Chabacano will not sound “contaminated”. Radio announcers in Chabacano radio programs can also be included in this group of Chabacano speakers.

And then there are the Chabacano speakers who have emigrated from Zamboanga city or are working abroad. These people would probably speak Chabacano just as they used to when they were still living in Zamboanga city if they live within a closely knit Zamboangueno community or will probably be prone to learning to speak Chabacano with code switching if they mingle with non Chabacano speakers a lot. We can probably categorize these people a little bit more into these categories:

1.    Rich Zamboangueños who have immigrated to the United States (most probably during the martial law years).

2.    Rich Zamboangueños who have recently immigrated to countries like Canada.

3.    Zamboangueños who are working overseas.

4.    Zamboangueños in different call centers in Luzon and Visayas (most of them work for Spanish accounts and thus would incorporate Spanish words in their conversations)

Then we go to the Basileños. Don’t ask me how they speak Chabacano over there because I have never been to Basilan but I had classmates in college who were from Basilan and I believe that they speak Chabacano better in Basilan (even among the young people).

Generally, it is age and economic status which determines a Zamboangueños (not including migrants) proficiency in Chabacano. Young people from privileged families would speak Chabacano with a lot of code switching while old people from impoverished and privileged backgrounds would speak Chabacano better with minimal or no code switching.

Further studies must definitely be done if we are to learn more about the different profiles of the Chabacano speaker. Some questions that have not been answered in this blog post are the following:

1.    The state of Chabacano among the children of Zamboanguenos who have emigrated.

2.    How Chabacano is spoken among young migrants

3.    The factors influencing the decision of whether to use Chabacano or English when code switching

4.    The different profiles of Chabacano speakers in Basilan.

Disclaimer: I have never done any formal studies to prove the theories presented above.


  1. Hi, I came across this very interesting site. It's good to see young Zamboangueños showing interest in trying to fully understand the dialect, let alone write about it.

    Ojala mas mucho pa jovenes algun dia que hay escribi y usa buenamente di aton dialecto. Ta keda ya kita poco, I hope this will promote awareness and better understanding on the language.

  2. Is it true that Chavacano is a dying language?

  3. The Chabacano in Cavite and Ternate are.

  4. Hi, Jerome. I have a question: what does "rampet" mean?
    Muchas gracias!

  5. Hi. It is an expression meaning darn or damn.

  6. Hola Jerome!

    uno yo del mana Zamboangueño Hablantes que afuera del pais pero masquen taqui man yo afuera del pais firmi yo siempre ta conversa el mi lenguaje natal. jendeh man verbalmente pero na escribidas. por ejemplo si talla yo Zona de Construccion y ta acaba yo hace el mana instrucciones que hay dale yo con el encarga na sitio, ta escribi ya yo se en Zamboangueño. pero una vez ta dale ya yo el instruccion mio, directa ya yo se ta traduci na Ingles o Ingles mezclado con Hindi-Urdu.

    Masquen mira tu na mi FB, "Rpbd Dbpr" ralo lang gat yo ta escribi en Ingles y/o en Tagalo.

    jajajaja... tiene pa gale otros mana expressiones que ta usa kame antes cuando bata pa como enseguidas: "Que Coconana", Chiñg (si continua con ese hay queda se Chingga)... uno lang esos del mana expression que ta usa kame de mi hermano mayor cuando bata porque prohibido kame conversa o usa mana mal palabras.... porque si, hmmm... izquierda y derecha de palmada na de amon cara... jajajajajajaja ^_^


    Buenasimas Noche y Dios Te Bendiga Compoblano!

    Viva La Lenguaje Chavacano y Viva La Seis Dialectas del Idioma Chavacano como enseguidas: Caviteñ,Bahra, Ermiteño, Cotabateño Castellano Abakay y Zamboangueño... :)


  7. Gracias por su bien largo comentario.jejeje.