LOOK: This Was How They Spoke Chabacano in 1901!

Do you ever wonder how our ancestors spoke Chabacano in 1901? I'm sure you have heard that the Chabacano before was so different and much more Spanish-sounding than the one we speak today. Although traditional Chabacano still exists in some form through the formal Chabacano we hear in radio and TV programs, I don't think anybody living today will have firsthand information on how people in Zamboanga spoke Chabacano in 1901. Well, if you are curious about it, read on.

But first, let me give you some background information about 1901. According to Wikipedia, during this time, Zamboanga was under the independent republic of Zamboanga. This government however, at least, in 1901, seemed to have been just a puppet government of the Americans.

The following Chabacano dialogues that you are about to read are the oldest recorded Chabacano (de Zamboanga) conversations. These Chabacano dialogues were taken from a manuscript which is actually just part of a bigger one which describes the culture of Mindanao. The manuscript was discovered by Mauro Fernandez who is a Linguistics professor at the University of La Coruña in Spain and he has graciously shared these dialogues with me.

According to Mauro Fernandez, a Jesuit priest called Jose Clos (who wrote the language section of the entire manuscript) asked a Chabacano speaker to write down the dialogues found in the manuscript. The current copy that Mauro Fernandez has is actually just a copy of the original text sent to Manila from Zamboanga. Some parts were difficult to decipher and thus we see some errors in the spelling. The spelling used in the manuscript to record Chabacano conversations is Spanish. You will also see annotations enclosed in parenthesis in Spanish. Since Mauro Fernandez will be publishing the whole manuscript and making an extensive linguistic commentary on it, I will only be citing fragments of conversation from the manuscript and commenting on them.

Ticang. (al despertar). Aché, Aché.
Aché. Nay.
Ticang. Dispertá yá para cusí capé. Endo, Endo.
Endó. Nay
Ticang. Dispertá yá tamen vós para andá comprá desayuno.
Endó. Cosa, cosa Nay ay comprá?
Ticang. O un peseta. Comprá vós cuatro cént de bibinca, dos cént de poto, cinco
cént de polvos de capé y cuatro cént de dulce: ay volvé pá con vós cinco
cént. Hacé vós pronto cay ay andá pá vós Tata na trabajo.
Endó. Nay…
Aché Cucido yá Nay el capé.

Ticang: (upon waking up). Ache, Ache.
Ache: Nay.
Ticang: Get up already to make coffee. Endo, Endo.
Endo: Nay
Ticang: You get up as well to buy some breakfast.
Endo: What will I buy?
Ticang: Here’s one peseta. Buy four cent of Bibinca, two cent of poto, five cen of coffee powder and four cent of sweet; you will be given back five cent. Do it fast because your father still has to go to work.
Endo. Nay…
Ache The coffee is ready Nay.

The first thing that you’ll probably notice is how funny the names of these people are. But I guess this was how names were during that time. We’ll also notice that they actually “cook” their coffee instead of just “making” coffee. I asked my uncle about the polvos de cafe and he said that this is grounded coffee beans and is drunk mostly by people who live in rural areas. This is still sold today in markets in Zamboanga city although most people nowadays drink instant coffee. Another thing that we’ll notice in this conversation is the usage of the word desayuno (breakfast). The word desayuno is rarely used in Chabacano. I’m not sure if the usage of this word was widespread during those days. I asked my uncle about this word and he said that he knows the word and its meaning but he said that it is probably only used by people who also speak or know some Spanish. Even Camins’ dictionary does not contain the word desayuno, only Santos’ dictionary has this word. The word used in mainstream Chabacano for breakfast is almuerzo. We will, later on, see in the next dialogues that there is a high possibility of Ticang being able to speak or at least, having formally studied Spanish.

A peseta is equivalent to 20 centavos. My uncle said that he can recall the word peseta still being used when he was a kid. I’m not sure when the peseta was abolished but it was still probably in use back then even after its abolishment as a synonym for 20 centavos since the cost of goods back then were only a few centavos each. The word cent is probably a shortened version of centavo. Maybe it is an error in the transcription and should have been written as cen. Today, we still use the word cen to mean money and centavo (e.g. diez cen). Through this manuscript, we could say that a common breakfast in those days is coffee with poto and bibinca which are rice cakes. I asked my uncle about the word dulce and he wasn’t sure if it meant sugar or dessert. I’m thinking that it may be a type of sweetener because bibinca and poto are already sweet and so it doesn't make sense to have dessert after eating them. Today, we use the word azucar to say sugar.

This is how a present day poto and bibinca look like:

Source: sukitospoon.wordpress.com 

Another peculiarity that we can observe in the manuscript is the two children saying Nay when answering in the affirmative to their mother instead of oo or si. I think I also have heard in the past my uncles and aunts saying Ma when answering in the affirmative to my grandmother (they call their mother Ma). I’m not sure if there are still families doing this these days.

We also see hace vos pronto which might be an archaic way of saying apura vos.

Ay volvé pá con vós cinco cent means five cent will still be returned to you. The word volve in today’s Chabacano, however, does not anymore mean to return (something), it means to go home. We now use the word devolve for the word return. While Chabacano dictionaries will tell you that volve also means to return aside from go home, there are only a few people today who are aware of this other meaning.

The next thing that we’re going to look at is a conversation between the mother Ticang and the father Etong.

Etong. Luego mandá vós mi comida allá na casa de aquel chino si Pan͠gá, cay allá yó ay trabajá ahora.
Ticang. Jóo.

Etong: Send my lunch over to the house of the Chinese, Panga because I will work there today.
Ticang: Okay.

In this conversation, we see the word manda (to send) which is also probably only used by people who are acquainted with Spanish. It is unclear though if this was used by people before interchangeably with the modern Chabacano equivalent which is envia knowing all the while that this word is Spanish and not Chabacano.

We can also observe that between husbands and wives, oo may have been the way to answer in the affirmative and not si.

In the next dialogue, we shall see Ticang asking her kids to pass by the church to hear mass before going to school even though this was prohibited by the president (of the Zamboanga republic).

Aché. Si Tatay ¿donde ya?
Ticang. Te allá abajo ta amolá su bolo: andá, llamá, hablá taquí yá el desayuno.
(Se desayunan). Camó dos (á los dos), antes de andá na escuela, pasá anay na iglesia uí misa ¿ja?; cay quitá cristiano; y más que el Presidente ya prohibí de andá no [=na] iglesia con el maga bata, andá camó siempre, cay camó gendé ay asfixiá allá. Primero Dios que nadie ¿Ya uí camó?
Aché y Endó. Nay. (después de desayunar) Andá ya camé, Nay
Ticang. Jóo.

Ache: Where is father?
Ticang. He is downstairs sharpening his knife. Go, call him and tell him that the breakfast is ready. (They eat breakfast). You two (to their two kids), before going to school, pass by the church first to hear mass, okay? Because we are Christians and even though the President prohibited children from going to church, you still do it, because you will not suffocate there. God first before anyone, you hear?
Ache and Endo: Nay. (after eating breakfast) We’re leaving, Nay.
Ticang: Okay.

Now let’s talk about the different ways of calling your parents in Zamboanga. I would hear Mamang and Papang, Mama and Papa, Mommy and Daddy, but never Nanay and Tatay. So it's probably safe to conclude that this way of calling parents does not exist anymore though I know that this continues to exist in other provinces.

Mas que means even though. This is old Spanish and this is where the Chabacano masquin/misquin comes from. My uncle said that people still say mas que in Chabacano although I think that these people would probably be old timers.

The word asfixia means to suffocate and I’m not sure whether this was used a lot in those days. Today, I think the more known word is sufoca.

In the conversation, we also see an expression that is clearly Spanish, primero Dios que Nadie.

I asked my uncle about the form: prohibi+de+verb and he said that this is used up to today. An example sentence that we can make out of this form is ya prohibi de maneja coche con el maga borracho (the drunk were prohibited from driving).

Here is another dialogue.

Buchang. Buenos días, ñora Ticang.
Ticang. Buenos días, ñora. Subí usté.

Buchang: Good morning Ms. Ticang.
Ticang: Good morning miss. Go up.

In this part, we see that good morning was still buenOs dias in those times and not the buenAs dias as we now know it. We’ll also see that instead of saying come in, the host says, go up. This was probably because houses those days were built on stilts in rural areas and stone houses in cities or towns normally had two stories, the second story housing the living area and bedrooms and the ground floor serving as a stable for horses, a kitchen, or a warehouse. Thus, it was in the second story that one would normally entertain visitors at that time.

Let's proceed to the next dialogue.

Buchang. ¡Ay! Ñora Ticang! Tá hablá yo con usté como hermana, anoche mal cenar gayot camé.
Ticang. Na ¿porque man?
Buchang. No hay gayot camé ni un chiquito.
Ticang. ¿No hay ba trabajo el de usté marido?
Buchang. Tiene ñora, pero cuanto lang aquél su tres reales de jornal, palta pá para ná comida lang.

Buchang: Ms. Ticang! I’m speaking to you like a sister, last night, we ate really poorly.
Ticang: Why?
Buchang: We had so little to eat..
Ticang: Doesn’t your husband have a job?
Buchang: He does miss, but his daily wage of three reales is not even enough for food.

The word chiquito I know exists in the Chavacano de Cavite and it means small. In this conversation, we see that the word chiquito is used more or less to mean the same thing. This word is in Camins’ dictionary, but it’s not used that much anymore in contemporary Chabacano de Zamboanga.

The expression ta habla yo con uste como hermano/hermana means I'm speaking to you, not as a stranger but a brother/sister. There are only a few people using this expression in today's Chabacano.

According to an article, I found in Wikipedia, the Philippine real was the currency in use until 1852 when the peso was introduced at the rate of eight reales to one peso. The three reales in the conversation could have been equivalent to 0.37 pesos or less than half a peso.

The word jornal (daily wage) is a word that is not used very much today, Chabacano speakers today simply say sueldo.

The next conversation is about the security situation in the rice fields during those times.

Ticang. Gendé pá bá ustedes tá cortá el Sementera?
Buchang. Gendé pá ñora, pero maga cuatro día pa puede yá man curtá. Esté pá maga gente tá espiá lang, que no hay quien tá bisiá el sementera tá andá silá curtá.
Ticang. Ay de véras; con este tiempo de hambre, si nó ustedes bisiá gayot gende man ustedes yá [¿ay?] podé aprovechá nada.
Buchang. Ay ñora, por eso si Candoy, todo el noche allá ta durmí na sementera; y con todo ese anteanoche cinco gente gayot estaba tá hacé sangut el palay, y al gritar canila si Candoy, duru y parejo gayot [s]ila cás-cás.

Ticang: Are you not harvesting the rice field yet?
Buchang: Not yet miss; it is still four days before we can harvest. There are people who are just observing us, if we don’t guard the rice field, they will steal rice from us.
Ticang: That’s really true. With these times of hunger, if you don’t guard (the rice field), you won’t benefit from it.
Buchang: That’s why Candoy sleeps at the rice field every night. But even after doing all that, last night, five people were found stealing palay, and when Candoy shouted at them, they all ran hard.

The final part, duru y parejo gayot [s]ila cás-cás was initially unintelligible to me as to most of the people that I asked. Though most of us guessed as much, (that it meant that the rice thieves fled fast from the rice field together and fast) it was Mauro Fernandez who confirmed this suspicion. He further explains that cas-cas is found in the Chabacano dictionary of Riego De Dios and is listed as coming from the Tagalog word kaskas.

I don’t think the usage of the word corta to mean harvest is still heard of nowadays. It is possible, though it is only known among people who own rice fields. The word sementera is a word still used today though younger people especially those who grew up in urban neighborhoods probably wouldn’t know it.

In the conversations above, we can also see the frequent usage of the form al+verb (in its Spanish infinitive form). In present day Chabacano, I’m not sure if this is still used. What I tend to hear is the form al+Chabacano verb (e.g. al abaja, al come, al senta, etc).

One of the things that surprised me was the widespread usage of hinde, kamo, sila, kame, kay, man, gayot/gayod, bisia, sanggut (and other words from different Philippine languages) even during those times. I mistakenly thought that people during those times spoke a Chabacano which was almost Spanish.

In the next dialogue, we see Ticang and Buchang talking badly about the revolutionaries.

Ticang. ¡Ay! cosa yá man gane este tiempo! … nunca gayot yá observá carestía como ahora ni ya subí el precio del ganta del arroz hasta cuatro reales.
Buchang. Quilaya usté, cuando el tiempo del Republica tá decomisa todo el arroz y no hay pa podé sembrá ninguno cay no sabe pá quitá aquél si quilaya ba quita ay quedá.
Ticang. Ay de veras! ¿cosa ya tiempo aquel? ni no hay más respetá ni el maga iglesia, cay todo gayot ya saqueá.
Buchang. Si ñora, hasta el maga tela colorao, el maga cinta, el maga galón ya hacé divisa divisa el maga militar del Republica.
Ticang. Ay bueno lang si ese: ya sacá sacá el maga vestido del Padre, el maga muebles y hasta magá alhajas. Jesús, María y José! ta profaná gayud silá todo, por eso gende ná tá salé el castigo de Dios aquí na Zamboanga.

Ticang: Wow, these times are something else! Never was price increase like this seen or the increase in price of a “ganta” of rice up to four reales.
Buchang: That’s because during the times of the Republic, rice was being confiscated and nobody was able to plant rice as we still did not know what will become of us.
Ticang: That’s true! Those were really hard times. Not even the churches were spared as they were looted as well.
Buchang: Yes miss, even the red fabrics, ribbons, and insignias were made into badges by the Republic's military.
Ticang: And not only that, they took the cassocks, furniture, and even jewelry. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! They are desecrating everything, that is why Zamboanga is always getting punished by God.

I initially didn’t understand the words saquea (to loot), cinta (ribbons), and divisa (insignias). It turns out that these are Spanish words. Mauro Fernandez graciously explained them to me.

A divisa looks like this:

Source: www.amilitarmineira.com.br

In this conversation, we can see how the ordinary Filipino felt about the Philippine revolution. I think it was in a film titled El Presidente where I saw that there were people complaining about Katipuneros taking away their rice. For me, it is amazing not just to be able to read a conversation during those days in Chabacano but to be able to catch a glimpse on how people back then viewed current events as well. In history books, we really don’t get to read whether the Philippine revolution was popular among the people to whom it would've mattered the most, the Filipinos.

It is important to remember as well that the revolution that we studied in school never talked about the revolutions in the other parts of the archipelago. In fact, the revolution that we read about in history books was known as the Tagalog war among the Spanish.

We also see how religion-centric people were during those days saying Zamboanga was being punished for all the disrespectful deeds that the military of the Republic committed against the churches. The catholic churches during those days with the cura parroco were probably the symbol of the Spanish yoke and thus they absorbed the brunt of the anger of the revolutionaries.

The word carestia is still in use these days but only by a few people.

The Chabacano profana (desecrate) is not in the Chabacano dictionaries that I have nor could it be identified by the Chabacano speakers whom I know.

In the dialogue, we also see the usage of pode instead of puede. I think the word pode is hardly ever used these days.

The next dialogue is about the taxes being imposed by the Republic on its citizens.

Buchang. Ya reclama yó ñora con el mismo Alcalde, pero gende man ele tá hacé caso.
Ticang. Ay yó yá reclamá con el mismo Presidente, que no puede camé pagá ese dos por ciento de contribución.
Buchang. Na ¿cosa man ya hablá con usté?
Ticang. No hay man aquel hablá nada, y hablá lang ele que todo el mundo tiene que pagar asina dao.

Buchang: I complained to the mayor miss, but he did not pay any attention.
Ticang: Oh, I complained to the president that we can’t pay the two percent contribution.
Buchang: Well what did he tell you?
Ticang: He did not say anything, and he only said that everybody has to pay that.

In this conversation, we could conclude that people were being asked to pay a tax of 2%.  I didn’t include that dialogue anymore but Buchang was actually asking Ticang for a loan of 5 pesos to pay the 2% tax imposed on them.

The phrase todo el mundo to mean everybody comes from Spanish and is not anymore used today. Today we say todo ‘l gente. The same can be said for the form: tiene+que+verb, today we say necesita+Chabacano verb.

The next dialogue is about school attendance during that time.

Buchang. Ñora Ticang ¿tá manda usté pa ná escuela con el de uste anac?
Ticang. Tá mandá ñora, cay si faltá dáo na escuela ay multa dáo.

Buchang: Miss Ticang, do you still send your child to school?
Ticang: Yes I do, because if he doesn’t go to school, he will be penalized.

As you probably have guessed, the word falta in the conversation means to be absent. I am not sure if this meaning of falta is still in use today but the common meaning of falta is to lack (something) in Chabacano. Some people also use this word to mean to do something bad to someone (e.g No hay gane yo con bo falta, I never did anything wrong to you). In Spanish, the word falta can mean to be absent from work or school.

The next dialogue is about the Americans suppressing the dominant religion and the Spanish language in the archipelago during that time. I bet you never read that happening in your history book.

Buchang. Cay el maga maestro no quiere más dao mandá aprendé catecismo pate el maga libro español; y todo el libro que tenía tanto de Religión como el de lengua español ya recogé yá dao y no quiere más mandá llevá na escuela.
Ticang. Asina ya, cay no quiere dao el maga americano, quiere lang que aprendé inglés el mgá bata.

Buchang: Because the teachers don’t want to teach catechism and the Spanish language anymore. And all the books that we had about religion and Spanish were put away and they don’t want them to be brought to school anymore.
Ticang: Yes, because the Americans don’t want them to, they only want for the children to learn English.

I was at first confused by the presence of the Americans in this text. The conversation in this text implies that the Zamboanga republic and the Americans coexisted during the time when this manuscript was created. I initially thought that the Presidente being talked about was General Vicente Alvarez and from my reading, he was Presidente of the Zamboanga republic only until 1899. But according to the Wikipedia article on the Zamboanga republic, it looks like the Republic became a puppet government of the Americans in 1901.

I also noticed that in the conversation above, que was always used to say 'that' (e.g. ya habla si Buchang que…..) whereas today we normally say kay or na. It appears that there was an obvious distinction between kay (because) and que (than) before than today.

In the next dialogue, we see people complaining about taxes and about airing their grievances to a civil commission. I think the commission being referred to in this dialogue is the Taft commission.

Ticang. Na cosa man: el maga gente aburrido ya gane con ese contribución, y tá uí yo hablá con el maga gente que preparáo dáo allí algunos para reclamá con el Comisión civil si bené.

Ticang: What else? The people are already mad about that contribution, and I’m hearing from people that there are some who are prepared to make a complaint to the Civil Commission if they come.

Ui habla obviously comes from the Spanish oir hablar (to hear talk of), This is not in use anymore today.

Now let's take a look at a fragment of a sentence found in the manuscript.

No uste incomoda, ñora Ticang, cay tiene culpa siempre aquel de uste anác ta jugá, jugá siempre con Andoy, aquel de suyo ubán…

Don't be troublesome miss Ticang, your child is also at fault here, always playing with Andoy, his friend...

In the sentence above, we see the word siempre being used in two ways. One to mean 'always' (this is actually not being used anymore), and the other to mean 'still' (which is very much in use today). The third meaning of siempre is 'of course' (like in Tagalog). I wasn't sure how to translate the word incomoda in the sentence above. Incomoda only appears in one of my Chabacano directionless, but it defines it as uncomfortable, inconvenient, unhandy and that simply doesn't fit the context.

According to Lipski’s research in Chabacano/Spanish and the Philippine linguistic identity, Zamboanga was the most Spanish-speaking area of the Philippines in the mid 19th century. It is highly probable then that Spanish existed alongside Chabacano in Zamboanga city during the times that this text was created.

Today, when we speak Chabacano, it is difficult not to slip in some English words. I think this was also the case during those times. People spoke Chabacano, slipping in some Spanish from time to time (code switching and borrowing words). People in those times might have been conscious of this phenomenon and could identify what are actual Spanish and Chabacano words. Today though, nobody can tell. Some expressions or words which are really Spanish might just be identified as traditional Chabacano or Chabacano hondo instead of Spanish. Of course, this is just my theory.

Present day Chabacano compared to 1901 Chabacano

Here are some Chabacano sentences that I took from the text and a translation in contemporary Chabacano.

1901 Chabacano: Hacé vós pronto cay ay andá pá vós Tata na trabajo

Contemporary Chabacano: Apurra vos (or pronto vos) cay ay anda pa vos (or de vos) Tata na trabajo.

1901 Chabacano: Luego mandá vós mi comida allá na casa de aquel chino si Pan͠gá, cay allá yó ay trabajá ahora.

Contemporary Chabacano: Luego lleva vos mi comida alla na casa de aquel chino si Panga, kay alla yó ay trabaja ahora.

1901 Chabacano: ¿No ba ustedes reclamá?

Contemporary Chabacano: Hinde ba ustedes (ay) reclama?

1901 Chabacano: No hay man aquel hablá nada, y hablá lang ele que todo el mundo tiene que pagar asina dao. *asina is probably ansina

Contemporary Chabacano: No hay man aquel ele cosa ya habla, y habla lang ele que todo’l gente necesita dao paga conese .

1901 Chabacano: Pues yó no hay más mandá con mi anác tiene ya un semana.

Contemporary Chabacano: Pues yo no hay mas manda entra na escuela con mi anak tiene ya un semana.

1901 Chabacano: Na, cosa quitá podé hacé? el que manda, manda. Pero camó no olvidá siempre con Dios, ¿ja? y siempre que puede, andá camó na misa y allí rezá camó de corazón y pidí con la Virgen para ampará canaton ¿ja?

Contemporary Chabacano: Na cosa kita puede hace? El cosa sila manda, ay segui kita. Pero no kamo olvida firmi con el Dios ha? Y cuando puede, anda kamo na misa y alla reza kamo con corazon y pedi con la virgen para dale proteccion conaton, ha?

Ampara meaning to protect is not used that much today and since I wanted this to be the contemporary version, I opted to use dale proteccion. Siempre que puede means 'whenever you can' and is not being used nowadays either.

That's the end of this article. I hope you enjoyed that blast from the past as much as I did. 😊