The State of the Chabacano de Zamboanga

I was riding a jeepney in Zamboanga city when I heard some students talking in Chabacano. They were speaking with a very heavy Chabacano accent so I was surprised to hear many of them mixing Tagalog words with their Chabacano. It seems that even with highly fluent Chabacano speakers (this was at least my assumption), code switching is fast becoming the norm. It also appears that code switching is becoming a fad and not just being done out of necessity. Whereas before, people will fall back on a word from another language only when they do not know the Chabacano word for it, people today seem to employ words from another language even for very simple-everyday-words. I also noticed that when code switching, Tagalog is now becoming the language of choice alongside English.

There seems to be a perceived notion that to mix English with Chabacano is cool and that speaking in pure Chabacano will make one sound uneducated or baduy.  I am not sure though if this notion traverses age and socioeconomic status. In Manila, the story is rather different. There, you will find educated people speaking in pure Tagalog without any shame in doing so and when they do use English words, it is very minimal or only for things not found in Tagalog such as: computer, cupcake, and baseball. These words are also, by the way already incorporated into Filipino (the politically correct name of Tagalog), their spelling tagalized: kompyuter, kapkeyk, beysbol. Such is the power of elevating the standards of a language by means of establishing a language commission and implementing aggressive efforts to formalize and regulate it.

In the 1930s, Tagalog was chosen to be the base of a standardized national language. However, even up to the 1970s, there were very few Filipinos who could speak this language. In recent studies however, it has been found out that more than 80% of Filipinos now speak this language. This is certainly good news because the consensus is that we need a national language to bind us and to foster nationalistic fervor in us, the bad news is that all of this comes at a price: our local Philippine languages, the link to our regional identities.

As Zamboanga city has a lot of good schools, she receives a good deal of migrant students whose language, primarily are either Tagalog, Bisaya/Cebuano, or Tausug.  Inside jeepneys, I can hear students speaking Chabacano with one person and Tagalog with another. Assuming that a Chabacano speaker does not speak Bisaya, he/she will speak in Tagalog to the Bisaya speaker. Many of these migrant students will be found in private elementary and high schools, colleges, and universities. In city funded elementary and high schools, the story is different. Migrant students in city funded elementary and high schools will often be compelled to learn Chabacano as they are in the minority.

In the pueblo (downtown), it is very noticeable that the language of commerce is now Tagalog. I think that business establishments are now requiring their employees to speak in Tagalog. Employees attending food stands in the malls will by default, speak to you in Tagalog but will speak in Chabacano (if they know how to) once you reply to them in Chabacano. It appears that there has been a dramatic rise in the number of recent migrants in Zamboanga city which made this group of people a strong economic force that businesses are now forced to adjust to their language preferences.

In the restaurants, it is now very hard to find a Chabacano speaking waiter. The same is true for salesladies in the department stores.

Zamboanga city has always been a melting pot of different languages. Migrants, in the past, learned to assimilate and eventually became fluent Chabacano speakers. But this was in the past, when many Zamboanguenos did not speak Tagalog. Today, most Zambonguenos already know how to speak Tagalog (with varying degrees of fluency) and migrants are finding out that they do not anymore need to learn Chabacano to live in Zamboanga city. In the jeepney, it will be evident who the unassimilating migrants are. These are the people who when you say pabor (as the means to convey your request to hand your fare money to the driver in the front seat) will ignore you.

In the media, the Chabacano is changing. My uncle who watches a lot of Chabacano news programs observed that the Chabacano being used in these programs is now becoming lasang. Lasang is a Chabacano slang which means nonsense. He said that he heard the anchor once use rapto for the word 'rape'. This is obviously a case of coining words based on their similarity to the English word.. In a plaque of commemoration, I saw the following inscription: ya desvela na fortaleza del nuestra senora la virgen del pilar este dia 5 de julio de 2012. This inscription means unveiled at the fortress of our lady of pillar this 5th of july of 2012. Desvela (I think) is a term meaning to remove one's veil (or maybe it was term coined by the author of the inscription in the plaque). This most probably stems from words with the prefix des- like descarga which means to remove one's load or descansa which means to remove one's tiredness. These events are becoming more and more rampant in Chabacano. Along with code switching, it is a glaring sign that fluency in this language is entering an all time low.

The refusal of the local government to take on a more active role in the Chabacano story is unfortunate. A regulating body for the Chabacano language should help implement standardization in this language which has always been a spoken one but so far, there have been no efforts to establish one. Chabacano could potentially be what Tagalog is today if a Chabacano language commission were to be established. The establishment of a Chabacano language commission shall also settle disputes regarding its spelling, accepted and unaccepted words and expressions, and pronunciation.

The state of the Chabacano today is becoming lamentable. Let me sound the alarm bells as early as now. Unless more aggressive preservation efforts will be implemented, the day will come when Chabacano will only be spoken inside the home. This prediction is bleak but it is not without merit.


  1. No hay otro con puede disculpá aquí sino con estos mana hijo de pepita Ultra-Tagalista, el KWD los demás personaje que ta empujá por el Tagalización del Filipinas. Ademas, fuera de ese, ya quitá también kita el enseñanza del lengua Chavacano porque antes "gao/dao", tiene man gale sujeto en Chavacano pero ya abolí cuando el Tagalo ya renombrá ya como Fefita (este filipino 'dialect') gale. ^_^

    Sobre todo, jendêh lang el lenguaje Chavacano ya aparece afectao de este sino todos los 175 Idiomas Filipino na país. ..y siempre, gracias KWF!!!!

    Ojalá algún día tiene quien oí mi ruego que hay abolí ya el lengua nacional y el kwf.

    ¡¡¡¡¡Zamboangueño Yo!!!!

  2. Como una Etnia Zamboangueño con poco sangre de pamfaron (Ylongo ^_^ jaja), te deseo creá una academia se llama "ACADEMIA DE LA LENGUA CHAVACANA"
    con su obligación y responsibilidad:

  3. Por último jendêh yo ta creé por el concepto de tené Lengua Nacional na un país multilingual como el Filipinas de aton... porque el cosa kita debe tiene es una lengua puente que neutral y no sesgada.
    Una país donde ta reconocé y ta dalé igual oportunidad y privilegio para Democracia y libertad lingüística y Emancipación idioma.

  4. Unveil equivalent in Zamboangueño Chavacano is "Develá".

  5. Ta mira yo aron ese palabra desvela o devela, ta referi ese na aquel ta quita el mujer suyo velo. Pero el palabra unveil na inscripcion el suyo definicion otro. Na ingles, el palabra unveil puede queda aquel quita el velo o aquel inaugura, pero hinde na Chabacano. Si pensa kita, puede man y ta pasa man gayod este ansina como gane na caso del palabra unveil. Pero para conmigo, si no hay sila encontra palabra na Chabacano para unveil (que quiere decir inaugura), era ya usa ya lang sila palabra sinonimo. Si cosa man aquel palabra, no conmigo pregunta kay yo, bueno lang yo mancuento.hahaha. :P

  6. Jajaja

    Aay amo gale...
    Tiene se kita palabra "Inaugura" o "Inauguración". Hmmmmm.... ^_^

  7. Hola a todos! Despues de un tiempo sorprendido por el aumento del numero de blogs hispanofilipinos y,sobre todo de chavacano zamboangueno,con presencia en internet,television,radio,musica y,al parecer,el deseo del gobierno local de promocionar la lengua,con los carteles que muestras en la calle,organismos publicos o eventos como el Dia de Fundacion del Chabacano,o Zamboanga,Ciudad latina de Asia...tenia la esperanza,de ser ahi este lenguaje,algo vivo en la calle,en el pueblo,como ultimo vestigio de "un poquito de espanol".....el panorama que presentas es muy triste y me sorprende.Si,creo que hace falta una Academia de la Lengua y una normalizacion de la lengua.Por toda esta idea que tenia en la cabeza,de visitar un dia Filipinas y,sobre todo Zamboanga,para pasear por sus calles,comer en un restaurante,escuchar chabacano y poder comunicarme con un filipino,a pesar de que el gobierno espanol,no aconseja a los turistas espanoles en Filipinas,visitar Mindanao,me resulta especialmente triste.Aparte de este comentario,deciros que comprendo todo el sentido de lo que decis,pero me pierdo en palabras como "gao/dao" "man gale" "Fefita" "jendeh lang".Lo de Chavacano Lasang,es verdad,lo veo mucho en la television,es terrible.Un saludo,Joaquin

  8. Maga palabras sinónimos del "Inaugurá", como el siguientes:

    Desplegá (poco común pa este)
    Comenzá (hmmmmm palabra común este)