This is How they Spoke Chabacano in the 1800s!

In 1883, Jacinto Juanmartí, a priest, sent a letter to Hugo Schuchardt (a German linguist) which contained a transcript of several Chavacano de Cotabato dialogues. The setting is somewhere near Pollok (Polloc), in Cotabato.

If you wish to view the transcript, it is available here. The transcript is owned by Mauro Fernandez, a linguistics professor at the Universidad de La Coruna in Spain, who has written several scholarly articles about Chabacano. The Spanish translation was made by the same person who wrote or transcribed the dialogues, who is evidently well versed in both languages as the Spanish translation is actually more of an interpretation.

The first dialogue is about somebody asking for a "rice loan". The first thing that struck me was the usage of ñora which is also in use in the Chabacano de Zamboanga. I also found it interesting that the other transcript (Chabacano de Zamboanga dialogues in 1901) that Mauro Fernandez sent to me also contained a dialogue wherein somebody was asking for a loan.

In dialogue 1, one of the speakers say: yá tené gayot yó que vené aquí con vós, para hace lang comigo favor de emprestá un caban de palay. The usage of the expression ya + tene + que + verb to signify had to (do something) also occurs in the 1901 Chabacano de Zamboanga dialogues but does not appear anymore in modern day Chabacano de Zamboanga.

El puerco todas las noches tá hacé gayot mucho perjuicio; y camé bien rendido yá de tanto visiá. In this sentence, what grabbed my attention immediately was the usage of todas las noches. In the modern Chabacano de Zamboanga, the equivalent of this phrase is todo'l (todo el) noche. I am uncertain whether at some point in the distant past, todas las noches was employed in the Chabacano de Zamboanga as well. The word visia means to watch out (for something) or to make rude observations on other people, this word exists in the present day Chabacano de Zamboanga.
  • Camó gayot siempre tá pillá.
  • Ná... si manang no quiere gayód cré¡ no sabe vá  V. que si manong firme yá lang tá hacé ansina comigo?
In the two sentences above, we see the words siempre and firme coexisting with each other. Both words mean always. In the first sentence, we see the word pilla which is pella (from the Spanish pelear) in the modern day Chabacano de Zamboanga.
  • Para no lang yó avergüenzá con el maga gente.
  • Malisud pá mán ansina tá tené uno deuda, y si no tá puedé pagá, macá juyá lang.

  • Más quen delante de quien
  • Mas que camé ta pasa un poco de miseria por causa del tiempo
In the phrases above, we see two sets of words with the same definition, one creolized and the other not creolized, existing in the same time period in the Chavacano of Cotabato.

Ya jablá era endenantes, y no ahora cay tá hacé yo otra cosa.

In the sentence above we see the word era which is being used like it is today in the Chabacano de Zamboanga. You can read more about the Chabacano era here. Another word in the sentence above which exists today in Chabacano de Zamboanga is endenantes which means a while ago. The word jabla in the sentence above is curious because it suggests that the word habla was pronounced with the Spanish j instead of the Spanish h (which is silent) in the Chavacano de Cotabato during this time period. This word is pronounced as habla (silent h) in the the Chabacano de Zamboanga.

Si no puedé yó luego llegá aquí banda caniño, evos yá lang comprá magá tres libra de carne venao. In this sentence, we see that the unit of measurement used during that time was libra and not kilograms or grams like we do today. We also see that we used to have deer (venao) back then in certain places, we probably hunted them to extinction.

Ná quilaya man vós, algunas veces por no tener camé por donde, tá salí yó mariscá, si Pedro ta andá man corte... todo yá el remedio tá hacé camé por esté de amon vida, y no hay gayot siempre por donde.

In the sentence above, we see the word quilaya in action as early as 1883 in the Chavacano de Cotabato. This word means how and appears in the present day Chabacano de Zamboanga as well. We also see the expression no hay por donde which still exists in the Chabacano de Zamboanga today. This expression roughly means to not have any means of surviving.

Other things that can be observed from the transcript are certain phrases that adhere to Spanish grammar such as otra cosa, todas las noches, algunas veces, no se and buenos dias as well as old Spanish words like mas queendenantes and ansina which are also present in today's Chabacano de Zamboanga. One will also observe the usage of lo que which can be seen in the traditional Chabacano de Zamboanga but never appears in the modern Chabacano de Zamboanga (either formal or informal). 

After reading the five dialogues in the transcript, I realized that the Chabacano in Cotabato and Zamboanga during the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century were very similar and almost the same. From the transcript, we can observe that the past, present and future tense marker in Cotabato's Chavacano is the same as what we have in the Chabacano de Zamboanga. The pronouns (camo *kamo, ustedes, amon, vos, uste, quita *kita, yo, comigo, su, canaton, canino, canamon, and con ele) are the same in both languages.

The absence of tu and nosotros can be observed in both languages during this time. Nosotros has been known to exist in the traditional Chabacano de Zamboanga but has fallen into disuse in recent days. It looks like nosotros appeared in the Chabacano de Zamboanga much later and eventually disappeared for some reason or another.

No hay, ay mandá lang era yó componé el techo del amon casa cay tá gutiá man aquel si tá man ulán.

In the sentence above, we see that the word used for the verb rain is man ulan. This is quite a surprise to me because I thought that the Spanish llover would have been used instead.

Malisud pá mán ansina tá tené uno deuda. In the preceding phrase, we see the word malisud which comes from the Bisaya or Ilonggo word lisud meaning hard. Add ma in front and it becomes an adjective. This word is in use up to today in the modern Chabacano de Zamboanga along with dificil which also means hard or not easy.

Cay tá man suudmud yá dao silá de tanto dale prestá con el maga gente. In this phrase, we see the word suudmud which may be sumod. Sumod is an Ilonggo word which means to be tired or wary (of doing something)

It was also a surprise to me that words such as cay, maga, gane, pa, gayot, lang, gende (hende), va (ba), caja, and man were already in use during these times. Another surprise was the usage of si in front of names of persons. I guess that if there is one thing that we can conclude from this transcript, it is that Hiligaynon and other Philippine languages made a mark on the Chabacano language much earlier than we had previously thought.

I am not sure whether the modern day Chabacano of Cotabato and Zamboanga are very similar to each other also but I have tried asking somebody who speaks the Chavacano de Cotabato to translate some English sentences into the Chavacano in Cotabato for me and it looks like this language is the same as the Chabacano in Zamboanga.  I am pretty sure that there are some differences in the words that we use but then this also happens within the Chabacano de Zamboanga speaking communities itself. One group may use the word empena, while the other may say prenda. One family might say principia, and another one might use empeza.

According to a publication by John M. Lipski and Salvatore Santoro titled Zamboangueño Creole Spanish: "Differences between Cotabato Chabacano and ZM are subtle, and mostly involve a few lexical items and pragmatic choices, e.g. of pronominal address; for all practical purposes they are the same language (Riego de Dios 1976, 1978, 1989)".

According to the book: Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia, and the Americas by Stephen A Wurm, Peter Muhlhausler, Darrell T Tryon: "Zamboangueno spread to Cotabato city and Davao city, Basilan Island, the Sulu Archipelago and Jolo Islands around the turn of this century (Lipski 1986)". if this statement were true, this probably means that the Chabacano in the transcript was the same Chabacano that was spoken in Zamboanga city during that time period.

In the words though of one native speaker of the Chavacano de Cotabato, "it (Chavacano de Cotabato) is a dying language, one can count how many Chavacanos there are in Cotabato city". According to an acquaintance, the Chavacano in Cotabato has some Maguindanaoan words in it but is still Chabacano de Zamboanga in grammar. Because it is largely accepted that the Chavacano in Cotabato developed from the Chabacano de Zamboanga, all this should not come as a surprise at all.

These conversations took place more than 130 years ago and it is really amazing that we get to study them today. It is a fascinating glimpse into the life of our ancestors who had to deal with rulers exacting tributes, with farm-destroying pigs, with unforgiving Chinese creditors, and other hardships of life. But amid all these difficulties, we see our ancestors helping out each other in what is a great example of the bayanihan spirit in action.


  1. Jerome, I think it still exist in today's Chavacano (Zamboangueño) the sentence Ya+Verb+Que..
    Though i am not sure if my way of writing is the same as it is.
    Examples how i write.

    Ya compra yo el que no hay na casa.
    Ya compra yo el cosas que no hay na casa.

    No más ya gane que come, jugá lang siempre na gallera.

    1. Hi Aron. Aquel na transcipt, otro el structure: ya+tene+que+verb.


      Ya tene yo que compra el que no hay na casa

      Ya tene yo que compra el cosas que no hay na casa

      =) Gracias por tu comentos!

    2. Aaah . . Double verb gale ...


      Got it...

      But how sure are we that this gramatical structure no longer exist in the Comtemporary Chavacano?

    3. Well, I have never encountered this grammatical structure but let's see what other people have to say. :D

    4. Yeah! You're right! ^_^

      Like what I've encountered from someone who is a Zamboangueño from far away Barrio by asking me "¿Cosá su gracia?". Well, at first I didn't know that what he was asking me is my name as in "¿Cosá su nombre?".. jajaja
      i will never forget thus encounter in my life...

      Another example is this, the "Permiso" when you'll pass between two person are talking. Whereas when in Pueblo we just simply said "pasa yo". Since then, I started to use Permiso everytime I pass by in between two or three people talking.

  2. Yes. Both Cotabateño Chavacano and Castellano Abakay (Davaoeño Zamboangueño) are offspring of Zamboangueño.

    No wonder, We can easily communicate with R. Riego de Dios a Cotabateñ who is currently in ZDA but been outside the country for years.

  3. Agree!
    In my case, I used empeña over prenda, Rescata, Amarea over buyuñg, segui línea over man pila, morisqueta over canon, i also use both Kita/Kame and Nosotros, I also used frequently Vosotros over Ustedes, I also used both Ellos and Sila, I also used both Acerca de and Sobre de over Por causa de if what I mean is About Me, I also used Taoyu over Toyo, Genibre over Jisnibre, Refrigerador over frigerador,

    So for me, I may suggest that our Linguists should study everything about Chavacano its past, Middle and Contemporary.

  4. We also have many Chavcanos in Semporna, Sabah and their Chavacano is called Zamboangueño as most of them came from Zamboanga City and have stayed their even before the creation of a new country called Malaysia.

    I had this opportunity when i have a classmate in College who is from Semporna, and who is only veru fluent in Chavacano and Bahasa Melayu.

    What nice about her is that, She don't mixe up her language. If she speaks in Chavacano, she speaks it fluently and purely without Anglicism or Tagalism and same when speak in Bahasa Melayu.

  5. I am not a Chabacano speaker and I should study it more, but I noticed that the Chabacano from the late 19th century was a bit more close than its roots. Today it looks like more close to the Filipino languages, but still retain lots of things, which is amazing considering how many changes happened in more than a century. Good job on this article, amigo, I enjoyed to read it!

  6. The ya + tene + que + verb construction exists in the Chabacano de Cavite where it becomes ya + tiene + que + verb.

    Por ejemplo:
    Nisós ya tiene que andá na misa todo el domingo.

    Regarding gracia:
    As previously mentioned, ¿Cuál es su gracia? = ¿Cuál es su nombre?.

    It's considered an archaic, although polite form of asking someone's name when ¿Cuál es su nombre? or ¿Cómo se llama usted? was considered too abrupt or blunt to ask of someone. It is referring to gracia del bautismo (o sea el nombre que por la "Gracia de Dios" se le pone a la persona que le convierte como miembro de la fe Católica.)

    I have only heard it used in Buenos Aires, Argentina and in the Mexican countryside, mainly by older people.


    1. Hola desde el Sur de Espana! Excelente articulo Jerome y,muy buena tu colaboracion con el profesor Mauro Fernandez.En cuanto a vigencia actual,sabeis algo sobre numero de hablantes de cotobateno o chabacano abakay?creo recordar datos,ya antiguos sobre hablantes en Cotabato de Margarita Riego de Dios,pero actuales no conozco.Muy interesantes las aportaciones de JPS sobre el uso de "su gracia" en el caviteno en relacion al comentario de Aron.Pregunto a JPS,si puede informarnos si hay iniciativas nuevos para revitalizar el caviteno,a nivel local.Un fuerte abrazo a todos,joaquin