CHAVACANO.

Commenter and Lojbanist komfo,amonan sent me a link to this article in Spanish on attempts to preserve Chavacano (a/k/a Philippine Creole Spanish), summarizing it as “The language is showing signs of decay, but plenty of under-30s speak it, so it looks like they’re nipping it in the bud.” I knew nothing about Chavacano, but Wikipedia has a long and interesting article on it (with the requisite obtrusive tut-tutting boxes at the top complaining about too few citations and too many quotations). Here’s a bit on the spelling:

Zamboangueños usually, though not always, spell the name of the language as Chavacano to refer to their language or even to themselves as Chavacanos, and they spell the word as chabacano referring to the original Spanish meaning of the word or as Chabacano referring also to the language itself. Thus, Zamboangueños generally spell the name of the language in two different ways. Caviteños, Ternateños, and Ermitaños spell the word as it is spelled originally in the Spanish language – as Chabacano.

Apparently it’s the only Spanish-based creole in Asia, which is a bit surprising.

Comments

  1. I’ve been on hiatus more or less on Wikipedia. The 3 million figure has been bandied around for several years now on that site. It came from an estimate done by someone in the 1980s about the number of Spanish speakers in the Philippines. Certain editors take this to mean Chavacano specifically.
    The 2000 Census is the only reliable source available. But even then, it has its drawbacks since many Filipinos see their regional language tied to identity. So despite the census reporting about 200 thousand speakers of the Cavite variety of Chavacano, the number is likely much lower. The 1995 census lists 34 thousand. So I am not sure who is right.
    With that said, I think the Zamboanga variety is the healthiest variety of Chavacano. It has experienced exponential growth since the 1940s with Keith Whinnom (1957) reporting 1,300 speakers to the 2000 Census reporting around 380,000 (with the usual caveats). There is ample media in Zamboanga Chavacano and its local prestige ensures its survival. The future doesn’t look too great for the Cavite & Ternate varieties. And Ermita Chavacano is already gone, if its sole speaker hasn’t passed away yet.
    Wow, I wrote a lot… So here’s a news show in Zamboanga Chavacano for your enjoyment! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OQDiykOSyDE

  2. John Emerson says:

    According to my dictionary “Romanian” means the citizens of the country, and “rumanian” means peasant.

  3. Well there are (or were) quite a few Portuguese creoles in Asia (& Africa & India), which makes sense as it were the Portuguese who did the most trade on this sea-route (I think?)

  4. marie-lucie says:

    I have just read the Wikipedia article, which has quite a bit of information, more than for many other languages. It seems that the Zamboangueños learned their Spanish 400 years ago, not so much from the Spanish administrators or priests but from a large contingent of Mexican workers imported in order to build a large fort (and who seemed to have remained on the spot afterwards, blending into the local population). The Spanish of those workers was probably not quite standard, and it included a number of Nahuat (Aztec) words. This origin may explain the name “Chavacano”, a word I did not know but which under its modern spelling “Chabacano” means ‘vulgar’ and similar derogatory epithets.
    The spelling “Chavacano” must be the old Spanish one, since at the time of the Spanish conquests the language still distinguished the sounds /b/ and /v/ from each other (and used the corresponding letters, as in French and Italian) but later stages of the language blended their pronunciation and simplified the spelling by using only the letter “b” in writing. The creole apparently maintains the /b/ vs /v/ distinction, long lost in other varieties of Spsniah but enabling a fine distinction between the name of the creole and the derogatory word which gave rise to it.
    Judging from the examples of the various local varieties of Chavacano, the Z variety seems to be closest to Spanish, with simplifications quite compatible with incipient creolization. The presence of the large Mexican element among the founding population probably explains the greater persistence of the creole in Z than elsewhere over the centuries.
    The grammatical information is quite interesting. The verb is greatly simplified (somewhat as in French-based creoles), but the pronominal system is a complex mix of Spanish forms and forms from a local Filipino language: one characteristic of the languages of the area is the great abundance of personal pronouns, expressing subtle social nuances, so the first Chavacano speakers must have found the Spanish set qujite insufficient to express the fine distinctions and supplemented it with some pronouns from their own language(s).
    Attention to social nuances is also shown by the existence (in this once-despised language) of both formal and informal styles, the formal style using more Spanish vocabulary and the informal more Filipino vocabulary. For instance, the formal style calls parents “papa” and “mama” as in Spanish, but the informal style uses “tata” and “nana” which are widespread not just in the Philippines but also in other Malayo-Polynesian languages.

  5. It’s controversial, but I believe Whinnom was a proponent of the theory that PCS is relexified Indo-Portuguese creole.

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    It seems remarkably close to Spanish: “Recuerdo que una vez iba hablando en chabacano con mi esposa en un avión y una pareja de extranjeros nos miraban sonriendo. Resultaron ser españoles y podíamos entendernos a la perfección”. Is it usual for creoles to have diverged so little from their parent language? I realize, of course, that the words quoted are in Spanish, not Chavacano: I’m thinking of what they mean, not of their form.

  7. Christopher! Welcome back; I see from your briefly updated blog (you might want to remove those spam comments) that you’ve finished a BA; are you now in grad school? Anyway, don’t be a stranger; I’m glad this post lured you in.

  8. at the time of the Spanish conquests the language still distinguished the sounds /b/ and /v/ from each other
    Are you quite sure of that? I thought that in 1492 Nebrija introduced the u/v and i/j distinctions precisely in order to obviate spellings like “boluja” for “volvi’a.” If the distinction exists in Chabacano, it’s evidence for the Portuguese theory.

  9. the only Spanish-based creole in Asia, which is a bit surprising
    isn’t it a direct effect of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, and the ensuing split of the hemispheres (Western to the Spaniards, Eastern to the Portuguese) enforced by the papacy through the entire age of discoveries?

  10. komfo,amonan says:

    I was thinking along the same lines as MOCKBA. Indeed, Philippines were on the Portuguese side of the line, a fact which they chose to ignore when the Spanish took them.
    The Manila galleons traveled between Manila and Acapulco up to three times a year for 250 years.

  11. J. W. Brewer says:

    Beyond the Tordesillas point, I had thought of Francis Xavier who is perhaps usually conceptualized as a Spaniard in hindsight. But pretty much all of his work in various parts of Asia from Goa to Japan was under Portuguese political/military/diplomatic auspices and it’s not clear to me that he necessarily spoke Spanish any better than he spoke Portuguese (much less enough to influence the development of local creoles). His wiki-bio seems to have been written from a somewhat anti-Spanish nationalistic perspective that emphasizes that his cradle language was Basque and that he was born outside of Spain-as-political-entity (in the old free-standing Kingdom of Navarre) and that his family suffered the consequences of Spanish invasion and conquest when he was a boy.
    Guam and the Marianas may be too far out in the Pacific to be “Asia,” but pre-1898 Spanish rule there left a lot of influence in Chamorro. Wikipedia asserts that the Americans took over just in time (although we initially just took Guam and the rest of the islands went first to the Germans and then the Japanese) to prevent Spanish-influenced Chamorro from being superseded by Chamorro-influenced Spanish creole, but perhaps scholars disagree on exactly what the situation was and how it best ought to be categorized.

  12. Bill Walderman says:

    Re Chamorro: When I was in the army, I worked for a while under a sergeant who was from Guam. He had a Guamanian friend in the area (this was in Munich) with whom he sometimes spoke on the phone in Chamorro while I was present. Though I couldn’t understand anything else in SSG Ulloa’s Chamorro speech, I was struck by the fact that the numerals were borrowed from Spanish, which became apparent when he recited a telephone number. I’m not sure of this, but I think that some of the Philippine languages, maybe including Tagalog, use numerals borrowed from Spanish, too.

  13. 1-Rodger C.: there exist Spanish loanword strata in some Native American languages (Mapudungu is one) with distinctive reflexes of earlier /b/ versus /v/. Hence the Spanish which first served as the source for Chavacano vocabulary may indeed still have had /b/ and /v/ as separate phonemes.
    2-MMcM is quite correct: many scholars still believe that all Spanish Philippine Creoles derive from a Portuguese pidgin ancestor: since Portuguese had /b/ and /v/ phonemes at the time (and still does today), and since their distribution is quite close to that of the (Old) Spanish phonemes /b/ and /v/, it must be difficult to establish what the source of these two phonemes in Chavacano is: Spanish or Portuguese?
    3-Marie-Lucie: Careful! The borrowed Philippine pronouns are only found in the Zamboagueno variety of Chavacano: if we accept that it and at least some of the other varieties have a common ancestor, the Zamboagueno pronouns must have been borrowed well after the initial formation of the pidgin/creole. This is indeed something which we find in other creole languages: the more “mixed” languages (Saramaccan, Angolar) are genetically related to unmixed ones (Sranan, Sao Tomense), indicating that the mixedness of some varieties does not stem back to the birth of the creole but to subsequent influence.
    4-Athel Cornish-Bowden: it is indeed unusual for a creole to be this readily intelligible to speakers of its lexifier: Sranan and Haitian Creole are basically incomprehensible to native speakers of (respectively) English and French. I suspect that at least part of the reason lies with the phonological simplicity of Spanish: this simplicity meant that Spanish lexical items were much less affected by sound changes over the course of pidginization/creolization than what we find in languages which are phonologically and phonotactically more complex.
    5-Bill Waldermann: Chamorro has borrowed so much Spanish (it’s not just the numerals!) that it can be considered a genuine mixed language. By contrast, in the Philippines there has been a considerable amount of borrowing (including numerals!), but of a much lesser magnitude: no Philippine language could fairly be called a mixed language (involving Spanish, that is: if English influence continues to grow there, some major Philippine languages might become mixed languages).

  14. isn’t it a direct effect of the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, and the ensuing split of the hemispheres (Western to the Spaniards, Eastern to the Portuguese) enforced by the papacy through the entire age of discoveries?
    Well, sure, in a general sense, but if there’s one, you’d expect there to be a few; Asia’s a big place.

  15. marie-lucie says:

    Etienne:
    1-Rodger C.: there exist Spanish loanword strata in some Native American languages (Mapudungu is one) with distinctive reflexes of earlier /b/ versus /v/. Hence the Spanish which first served as the source for Chavacano vocabulary may indeed still have had /b/ and /v/ as separate phonemes.
    This is not the only instance of conservatism in areas remote from Spain: for instance, in Bolivia (and perhaps other countries) Spanish speakers still make a distinction between /y/ and /ll/. One reason is that this distinction exists in Quechua, but if the Spanish brought at the time of conquest had used /y/ exclusively, there would have been no mechanism for reintroducing a difference. In any case, linguistic change does not occur suddenly in all groups within a population, whether in terms of age, region, class, etc. Another instance with age and class in Spanish is the change from /f/ to /h/ (later zero): in Don Quixote, the knight (who is educated and reads old books) uses /f/, as in /facer fazañas/ ‘to do [high] deeds’, while Sancho, who is illiterate, uses the newer /h/, thus /hacer hazañas/.
    2-MMcM is quite correct: many scholars still believe that all Spanish Philippine Creoles derive from a Portuguese pidgin ancestor: since Portuguese had /b/ and /v/ phonemes at the time (and still does today), and since their distribution is quite close to that of the (Old) Spanish phonemes /b/ and /v/, it must be difficult to establish what the source of these two phonemes in Chavacano is: Spanish or Portuguese?
    I am not in a position to evaluate the Portuguese pidgin hypothesis, but the Zamboangueños were exposed to Mexican Spanish much more than to Portuguese. If that form of Spanish had already lost the distinction, Chavacano words coming from Spanish would not have observed the original difference, and only Portuguese words, which appear to be few in the language, would have preserved it. It is therefore much more likely that the distinction comes from the older pronunciation of Spanish, still used in Mexico at the time (at least in the region where those Mexican workers came from).
    3-Marie-Lucie: Careful! The borrowed Philippine pronouns are only found in the Zamboagueno variety of Chavacano: if we accept that it and at least some of the other varieties have a common ancestor, the Zamboagueno pronouns must have been borrowed well after the initial formation of the pidgin/creole.
    With the very limited material at my disposal, I did not say anything about whether the borrowing of Philippine pronouns dated from the birth of the creole or not. I only mentioned that they were borrowed in order to fill a perceived gap. Whether all speakers or just the Z’s perceived it (and did something about it) is irrelevant to the reason for the borrowing.
    4-Athel Cornish-Bowden: it is indeed unusual for a creole to be this readily intelligible to speakers of its lexifier:…
    From the snippets of dialects mentioned in the Wiki article, it looks like Z (especially its formal variety) is the closest one to Spanish, but I doubt that there was indeed total understanding between the two parties: the Spaniards seem to have been amazed that they and the Filipinos could understand each other at all, and both sides probably glossed over differences that would have become apparent with longer acquaintance.

  16. Thanks Etienne and Marie-Lucie. That’s pretty much what I guessed, and there seems to be a general tendency to exaggerate the degree of mutual intelligibilty of different languages (e.g. Welsh speakers are sometimes claimed to be able to understand Breton, but I think this means little more than a capacity to recognize particular words). Also, one may guess that a university professor and his wife speak in a way that is easier for a Spaniard to understand than someone they might meet on the street. It’s certainly the case that I can converse with little difficulty with university professors in Chile, but I can understand almost nothing of what I may hear in a bus (and it’s not because they’re speaking Mapudungún!).

  17. Interesting thread. According to a recent article in Journal of World History, there were many people from the Philippines (“chinos”) in Mexico during the Manila galleon years (excerpted here).

  18. I’ve studied Chamorro a bit, and it shows a lot of inherited Philippine-type grammar (incl. infixes), but its lexicon is just larded with Spanish loans, with interesting results: dumiklaklara ‘is declaring’, sinapatos ‘shod’. I noted some recent impressions of Chamorro on Saipan here.

  19. As far as I know, the differences between Breton and Welsh are primarily phonological, and people have an almozd invinit gapassity to ignure mare fanological divargences. There is, of course, the matter of French loans that don’t exist in Welsh, but the same is true of the Welsh of Wales vs. Patagonian Welsh. With a little effort, and as long as the topics of conversation aren’t too high-register, there shouldn’t be much of a problem.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    I have met four people from Chile. The first two were a couple I became friends with, both educated people. I conversed (in Spanish) with the woman quite easily as her pronunciation was very clear, but I had great difficulty understanding the husband. Later I got to know another Chilean woman, a graduate student who lived in my house for several months, and again I had no difficulty in communicating with her. But I also briefly met a male Chilean professor, with whom I exchanged a few emails in Spanish before meeting him in person and finding that I could hardly understand a word he was saying!

  21. Yes Marie-Lucie, even educated people vary greatly in how intelligible they are, and there are some Chileans that I know quite well that I have great difficulty understanding. A couple of weeks ago I was teaching a course in Valdivia (about 800 km south of Santiago) and I could barely make any sense of what the students said, with one exception, a student from Colombia who had been in Chile just six months — too little for her to have picked up a Chilean way of speaking. I gave the first lecture in Spanish and the second in English, and had the students vote on which they preferred. To my relief (and also a bit to my chagrin) they voted 7 to 4 in favour of English. Fortunately my wife and a local professor were there to do most of the discussion with them. Although your sample of four is too small to have any statistical significance, the fact that you could understand the two women much more easily than the two men corresponds very well with my own experience.

  22. It’s one of the basic results of sociolinguistics (or indeed dialect geography before it) that women’s speech tends to be closer to the standard than men’s speech, which is why dialect geographers mostly sought out older rural males.

  23. marie-lucie says:

    Yes in general, but the chilean men in Athel’s experience and mine were neither old nor rural.
    There is at least one instance in French dialectology where an older rural male was interviewed, but whether for reason of deafness, toothlessness or whatever, his daughter-in-law was the one who gave all the answers.

  24. A bit late, but researching something else I just stumbled on this paper by John H. McWhorter: The Scarcity of Spanish-Based Creoles Explained.

  25. >Marie-lucie
    Yesterday I saw an Argentinian film where the language was Spanish. However, I didn’t understand all words so I helped me with the subtitles in English. Sometimes the argot and the accent are the reasons.

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