A New Breed of Chabacano Speakers

During the first ten years of the new millennium, the call center industry experienced exponential growth. Along with the many US-based companies outsourcing their customer service operations in the country comes the need for Spanish-speaking employees. This is because of the huge number of Hispanics in the US who have a hard time speaking English.

In the Philippines, there aren’t many Spanish speakers so call center companies tap on the Chabacano-speaking population of Zamboanga city and hire them for Spanish customer service positions. These call center companies are typically based in Manila.

Aside from the Zamboangueños’ capability to adapt the Spanish language quickly (I know of one Pampanga-based call center which hired a lot of Zamboangueños and trained them to speak Spanish for only one month 😱), Zamboangueños’ proficiency in English is at par (and at times even better) than that of  Manileños (owing largely to the very many good schools in the city like the Ateneo de Zamboanga university). This makes Zamboangueños very attractive to employers.

While this group of Chabacano speakers is not that large, a new type of Chabacano is emerging from these people. Because these people work in Manila (wherein Tagalog is the chief language for everyday communication), there is a tendency to replace Chabacano words with Tagalog words (especially if the Chabacano word is already forgotten or can’t be remembered quickly by the speaker). While this phenomenon already exists among Chabacano speakers in Zamboanga city, it is more frequent in this new breed of Chabacano speakers.

This group of Chabacano speakers also has the tendency to Chabacanize Spanish. For example, instead of saying manbreak ya yo (I’m taking my break)*as a Chabacano speaker from Zamboanga city would, they might say toma ya yo mio pausa.  They would also be prone to using Spanish when saying words like credit card, account, email address, and other words (which are frequently used in call centers) instead of English as a Chabacano speaker from Zamboanga city would.

Chabacano speaker from Zamboanga city might say: tiene tu credit card?

But a person in this group of new breed of Chabacano speakers would probably say: tiene tu tarjeta de credito?

Chabacano speaker from Zamboanga city might say: cosa tuyo email address?
But a person in this group of new breed of Chabacano speakers would probably say: cosa tuyo correo/correo electronico?

These people also would greet each other by saying hola and como estas and would be prone to saying no se (I don't know) instead of no sabe yo.

When it comes to numbers, these people would at times say cien (for 100) and mil (for 1000) instead of the Chabacano ciento (100) and un mil (1000). They

These people would also know the Spanish alphabet and so would sometimes spell out things in Spanish which they don’t want other people to understand what they are saying. This happens mostly with names.

These people’s comprehension of Spanish is quite good (these people speak with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Colombians, etc every day). I would not say the same with regards to their ability to speak Spanish though because Spanish would be their fourth or fifth language already (along with Chabacano, Tagalog, English, and for some Cebuano).

It is hard to say whether this type of Chabacano will have some influence in the Chabacano spoken in Zamboanga city as these people probably only number to a hundred but what I am sure of is that Chabacano is being taken to another direction by these people and we might one day see a Chabacano which has Spanish vocabulary not found in the Chabacano spoken in Zamboanga city.

I know that there are also Chabacano call center agents manning Spanish customer service positions in Davao  and if you are one of them, please do share any information on the kind of Chabacano that you speak.

Disclaimer: This post only talks about the Chabacano call center agents in Manila who deal with Spanish clients. Very little research has been conducted to write this article and only five people who work in just one office were observed.