Spanish language in the Philippines

From Wikipilipinas: The Hip 'n Free Philippine Encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Spanish is a language that was imposed in the Philippines. Spanish was used as required under King Philip, and it remained so for over four centuries (1565-1987). Following the Philippine-American War (1899-1903) the First Philippine Republic was abolished and the US forces implemented and imposed English as the language of education and government, leaving Spanish and Tagalog as co-official, then Spanish later being abolished in 1987.

There are thousands of Spanish loan words in 170 Philippine languages, and around 13 million Spanish documents in the Philippine archives. Courts of law still recognize documents written in Spanish. However, the language is no longer commonly spoken in the country. According to the 1990 census, there are 2,658 fluent Spanish speakers and 607,200 creole (Chavacano) speakers in the Philippines. A 2006 study conducted by the Instituto Cervantes Manila and the Consejería de Educación de la Embajada de España (English: Education Council, Embassy of Spain), in coordination with the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española (English: Philippine Academy of the Spanish Language) produced a higher figure - 2.9 million Spanish speakers including non-native speakers - but this constitutes only a small minority in a country of more than 85 million citizens.

In recent years there has been growing interest in the Spanish language throughout the country, including re-establishing a sense of nationalism amongs the Filipino people and also a large demand in business process outsourcing in the Philippines, where businesees are seeking to employ fluent Spanish speakers in the country. In some universities, including the University of Santo Tomás in Manila and the University of San Carlos in Cebú, Spanish is a required 3 unit subject.



The Spanish colonial era

Spanish was first introduced to the Philippines in 1565, when the conquistador, Miguel López de Legazpi founded the first Spanish settlement on the island of Cebú. The Philippines, ruled from Mexico City was a Spanish territory for 333 years (1565-1898).

Although the language was never compulsory while under Spanish colonial rule, and its learning was in fact discouraged or explicitly prohibited from the natives by the Spanish colonial authorities, Spanish was at one time spoken by around 10% of the population. It was the first and only language of the Spanish and Filipino-Spanish mestizos minority, and the second but most important language of the educated native Ilustrados. The stance of the Roman Catholic Church and its missionaries was also to preach to the natives in local languages, and not in Spanish. The priests and friars preached in local languages and employed indigenous peoples as translators, creating a bilingual class known as ladinos. The natives, generally were not taught Spanish, but the bilingual individuals, notably poet-translator Gaspar Aquino de Belén, produced devotional poetry written in the Roman script in the Tagalog language. Pasyon is a narrative of the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ begun by Gaspar Aquino de Belén, which has circulated in many versions. Later, the Spanish ballads of chivalry, the corrido, provided a model for secular literature. Verse narratives, or komedya, were performed in the regional languages for the illiterate majority.

A reason that Spanish did not expand as much as it did in the Americas is attributed to the fact that the archipelago was not a direct colony of Spain, but instead was administered from Mexico City (in what was then New Spain) thereby lessening the possibility of large scale Spanish migration to the Philippines. Another reason is the large distance separating Spain from the Philippines as compared to the Americas. Yet another is the actual population of Spaniards in Philippines was believed to be quite less than that of the Americas.

In 1593, the first printing press was founded. A great portion of the colonial history of the Philippines is written in Spanish. Up until recently, many land titles, contracts, newspapers and literature were still written in Spanish, and though it is no longer an official language legal documents in Spanish are still recognised in Filipino courts of law.

The Universidad de Santo Tomás, the oldest educational institution, was inaugurated in 1611 and continues to this day as the property of both Spain and the Roman Catholic church. Hence, the words "royal" and "pontifical" are part of the university's official title.

In 1863, Queen Isabel II of Spain decreed the establishment of a public school system.

A 17th century book to learn Castilian

In the early seventeenth century a Tagalog printer, Tomás Pinpin, set out to write a book in romanized phonetic script to teach Tagalogs how to learn Castilian. His book, published by the Dominican press where he worked, appeared in 1610, the same year as Blancas's arte. Unlike the missionary's grammar (which Pinpin had set in type), the Tagalog native's book dealt with the language of the dominant rather than the subordinate other. Pinpin's book was the first such work ever written and published by a Philippine native. As such, it is richly instructive for what it tells us about the interests that animated Tagalog translation and, by implication, Tagalog conversion in the early colonial period. Pinpin construed translation in ways that tended less to oppose than to elude the totalizing claims of Spanish signifying conventions.

The role of Spanish in rising nationalism

Early flag of the Filipino revolutionaries. The first constitution was written in Spanish.

Spanish is a language of historical importance. Propagandists during the Spanish era spread nationalism through Spanish. Noli Me Tangere and La Solidaridad and other material in awakening nationalism, were written in Spanish. The country's first constitution was written in Spanish. The constitution proclaimed Spanish as an official language. According to Horacio de la Costa, nationalism would not have been possible without Spanish. It is through Spanish that natives became aware of nationalistic ideas and independence movements in other countries.

During the Spanish colonial era, and also through the early American period, Philippine nationalism, government reforms, the country's first constitution and historic novels were written in Spanish. While not widely understood by the majority of the population, Spanish at this time was nonetheless the unifying language since Tagalog was not as prominent or ubiquitous as it is today and each region had their own culture and language, and would rather speak in their local languages. Denizens of each region thought of themselves as Ilocano, Cebuano, Bicolano, et cetera, and not as Filipinos.

Throughout the colonial era the term "Filipino" originally referred to only the Filipino-born Spaniards and Filipino mestizos; while Malay natives (who were derogatively referred to as Indios) referred to them as 'Castila' or 'Cachila'.

The Ilustrados or "The Enlightened Ones", which included Philippine-born Spaniards, certain Mestizos, Sangleys (or Chinese mestizos) and prominent Malays, were the educated elite who promoted and propagated nationalism and a modern Filipino consciousness. The unifying force is primary reasons historians say that the Spanish authorities did not want to promote the language.

Propaganda in Spanish

José Rizal propagated Filipino consciousness and identity in Spanish. One material highly instrumental in developing nationalism was the novel Noli Me Tangere (Latin for "Do not touch me") which exposed abuses of the Spanish government and clergy. Rizal of course, wrote in Tagalog also and did promote Tagalog. However, the majority of his works are in Spanish.

The novel Noli Me Tangere's very own notoriety among the Spanish authorities, government and clergy, propelled its popularity even more among Filipinos. Reading it was forbidden because it exposed and parodied Spanish clergy and government authority.

The American era

See also: Literature of the Philippines#Modern Literature (XX Century)

With the era of the Philippines as a Spanish colony having just ended, a considerable amount of media, newspapers, radios, government proceedings, education, etc. were still in Spanish. Ironically, the public school system the Americans established served to further promote Spanish-language literacy among the masses. Even in the early 20th century a hegemony of Spanish was still in force.

Although English had begun to be heavily promoted and used as the medium of education and government proceedings, the majority of Spanish literature by native Filipinos was produced at this time. Among the great Filipino literary writers of the period were Fernando Ma. Guerrero, Rafael Palma, Cecilio Apóstol, Jesús Balmori, Manuel Bernabé, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and Teodoro M. Kalaw.

This explosion of Spanish language literature occurred because the upper class minority were educated in Spanish. For the first time, Filipinos experienced a greater degree of freedom of expression and even support, since the Spanish authorities weren't too receptive to Filipino writers and intellectuals during the colonial period. As a result, Spanish became the most important language in the country despite that the majority was comprised of non-Spanish speaking natives.

The new Philippine Republic established Spanish as the official language in the constitution of 1898, drawn up during he Constitutional Convention in Malolos, Bulacán. The language was then free to be taught and learned by all the natives, and not just by the select few. Its officialisation was in an attempt to increase its speakers so it would serve as a common language in a nation of over 80 different local languages, each with its many dialects

In his 1899 book “Yesterdays in the Philippines”, the American John Early Stevens wrote: Spanish, of course, is the court and commercial language and, except among the uneducated native who have a lingua of their own or among the few members of the Anglo-Saxon colony, it has a monopoly everywhere. No one can really get on without it, and even the Chinese come in with their peculiar pidgin variety. (Page 11).

While the 1903 census officially reported the number of Spanish-speakers at only 1% of the population, it only considered those who were monolingual in the language and had Spanish as their one and only tongue, ie. Peninsulares (Spanish-born Spaniards), Insulares (Filipino-born Spaniards), and other Europeans (Filipino-born, Spanish-speaking Italian families, among others). It completely disregarded the bilingual Spanish-mestizo and multilingual Chinese-mestizo and Chinese minorities who - although spoke two or more languages - utilised Spanish as their primary language of business and culture. Furthermore, the native-Filipino illustrado class, who were academically instructed in the Spanish language, also used Spanish as their primary language despite having any one of the many native languages as their mother tongue. These together would have placed the numbers at 10% of the 8 million Filipinos of that era as Spanish-speakers.

The 1916 report by Henry Ford to President Woodrow Wilson says I travelled through the [Philippine] Islands, using ordinary transportation and mixing with all classes of people under all conditions. Although based on the school statistics it is said that more Filipinos speak English than any other language, no one can be in agreement with this declaration if they base their assessment on what they hear...
Spanish is everywhere the language of business and social intercourse...In order for anyone to obtain prompt service from anyone, Spanish turns out to be more useful than English...And outside of Manila it is almost indispensable. The Americans who travel around all the islands customarily use it.

In 1924, the Philippine Academy of the Spanish Language was created. In 1936, Filipino films in Spanish began to be produced.

Decline of the Spanish language

Nevertheless, the disbanding of the Philippine Republic after the Philippine-American War, which cancelled the constitutional decree that established Spanish as the official language in the country, proved a turning point in the popularity of the language. Spanish has been in decline since then, because the Americans gradually pursued an aggressive campaign of de-Hispanicisation and promotion of English as a universal language which has resulted in the loss of Spanish as the major language of commerce and government. As Spanish was substituted by English as the language of education and government, the number of Spanish speakers steadily declined. The bombardment of Intramuros by US warplanes during World War II, also reduced the number of Spanish speakers significantly.

After World War II and during the Marcos regime, many of the centuries old Spanish-speaking families of Philippines migrated to Spain, Latin America and the United States. By 1940 the number of Spanish-speakers in the Philippines was approximately 6 million, however, as a percentage of the total population the numbers had actually dropped. By the 1950 Census Spanish-speakers constitued 6% of the population, down from a 10% peak. However, down through the 1960s and 1970s, Filipinos were still being exposed to the Spanish language through print and audiovisual media even before they learned to speak Filipino or English.

Spanish was abolished as a compulsory school subject in 1968 and as an official language in 1973.

The state of Spanish today

Today, Spanish is only used for cultural heritage purposes and on an optional basis.

The 1990 Census found that the language was spoken by less than 0.1% of the population; 2,658 speakers (1990 Census), though recently there seems to have been a resurgence in interest in the language among educated youth as seen in recent survey by the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española (English: Philippine Academy of the Spanish Language), which showed that there were roughly 2,900,000 Spanish speakers in the Philippines (as a first, second, third, or fourth language) in 2006. The language is maintained mostly by mestizo families, and thousands of people around the country, particularly in the province of Cebú and in the cities of Zamboanga and Bacolod. The Philippine President, Gloria Arroyo is a member of the Philippine Academy of the Spanish Language. Furthermore, certain universities, most especially the University of Santo Tomás in Manila, a Spanish Royal University, and the University of San Carlos in Cebú, requires its students to take up at least 3 units of Spanish.

Debate over the status of Spanish

The propagation and/or imposition of Spanish as an official language is still in heavy dispute. On one side, much of the history and culture is embedded in the language. There are an estimated 13 million manuscripts from the 16th century to 1898 which include government documents, economics, trade disputes, legal matters, patriotic material, religious material, registrations etc. Up to the 1960s, birth certificates were printed in both English and Spanish. There is still a very strong need to translate a great number of historical documents.

Spanish is viewed by some as representing colonization and has less relevance than English for practical usage or Filipino in terms of nationalism. However, Spanish was used by the first Filipino patriots like Jose Rizal, Andrés Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo, who chose Spanish as the national language of independent Philippines. Spanish was used to write the country's first constitution, Constitución Política de Malolos, the original national anthem, (Himno Nacional Filipino), as well as nationalistic propaganda material and literature, like Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere. Indeed, Philippine nationalism was first propagated in the Spanish language and for these reasons many believe Spanish should be considered a national language.

Manila is home to the main East Asian branch of the Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish government's official overseas institute for the promotion of Spanish language. The Spanish language enjoys popularity as a language of choice for learning a foreign language among new generations of young Filipinos.

Proposals for reinstatement

In recent years, there has been some increased interest in the Spanish language. Also, there is a growing demand in the Philippine call-center industry for fluent Spanish speakers.

Recently, the Union of Local Authorities of the Philippines, composed of Philippine local government adminisrators, appealed to Philippine President Gloria Arroyo to enforce the requirement of Spanish in the curriculum of all schools and colleges (both public and private) throughout the country. If Arroyo agrees with the plan, this will soon pave the way for the re-establishment of Spanish as one of the country's official languages and possibly, one of its national languages alongside Filipino and English.

Guardia Civil

The city of Ozamiz announced plans to recommission the Guardia Civil, who will be required to take Spanish language courses and whose first task will be to guard a local 250-year-old fortress.

Spanish as is used in the Philippines

Since the Philippines was administered by New Spain (Mexico) rather than Spain itself during the colonial period, the Spanish language spoken in the Philippines had a greater affinity to Mexican Spanish (ie. Spanish as spoken in Mexico) rather than that of European Spanish (as spoken in Spain) and indigenous Philippine languages. Nowadays, however, there is a strong tendency among newer generations of speakers (i.e. those learning the language) to conform with European Spanish grammar (use of vosotros forms), phonology (pronouncing z and soft c as [θ]; however, see section on Phonology below), and vocabulary, due to the strong presence of the Spanish media and the Instituto Cervantes. Despite this, variations primarily in pronunciation and intonation abound.


When pronouncing Spanish words (such as names of people or places), there are tendencies among the majority non-Spanish-speaking population to:

  • Stress words differently than would Spanish speakers,
  • Raise the mid vowels /o/ and /e/,
  • Insert a glottal stop [/] before stressed syllable-initial vowels,
  • Palatalise (or affricate) alveolar sounds when they appear before [j],
  • Seseo, as in Latin America and Andalusia (where the tendency originated from). The modern European Castilian phoneme IPA /θ/ as in ciento, caza (interdental voiceless fricative, like English th in thin) does not exist in traditional Philippine Spanish nor in any native Philippine language; it combined with /s/ as in siento, casa,
  • Pronounce d as [d] in all positions,
  • Pronounce g as [g] in all positions,
  • Pronounce both b and v as [b] or differentiate between the two, resulting in v sounding as in English,
  • Pronounce z as [z],
  • Pronounce sce and sci as [se] and [si] respectively,
  • Not distinguish between r and rr,
  • Pronounce the h,
  • Pronounce au as [o],
  • Pronounce eu as [ju],
  • Pronounce sr as [sr] or [zr] ,
  • Pronounce final m as [m].

Ll is invariably pronounced as [ʎ].


There are Latin Americanisms, archaisms and borrowings from indigenous Philippine languages. In fact, of the great number of Spanish loan words that exist in the various Filipino languages, a few are actually of Nahuatl origin that were first incorporated into Mexican Spanish, and which do not exist in European Spanish. These include nanay(nantl), tatay(tatle), bayabas [from guayaba(s), guava], abokado (avocado), papaya, zapote, etc.


Diacritic marks are almost always left out, save for the tilde on the ñ. Spanish words however are vocally stressed as they would be by Spanish speakers, by older generations and an increasing number of younger Filipinos.

Philippine computer keyboards currently and have always used the US standard layout, which includes neither ñ nor combining diacritics. Typewriters sometimes include the ñ but not accented vowels.

Influence on the languages of the Philippines

There are approximately 4,000 Spanish words in Tagalog, and around 6,000 Spanish words in Visayan and other dialects. The Spanish counting system, calendar, time, etc are still in use with slight modifications. Archaic Spanish words have been preserved in Tagalog and the other vernaculars such as pera (coins), sabon [jabón (at the beginning of Spanish rule, the j used to be pronounced as [ʃ], the voiceless postalveolar fricative or the "sh" sound) - soap], relos [reloj (with the j sound) - watch], kwarta (cuarta), etc. The Spaniards and the language were referred to as either Kastila or Katsila (especially in most Visayan languages) after Castilla, the Spanish name of the Spanish region of Castile.

Chabacano, also called Zamboangueño, is a Spanish-based creole spoken in the Philippines. Chabacano is concentrated mostly in the South, in the provinces of Zamboanga, with some speakers found in Cavite. As a large number of workers to build military and other Spanish establishments in Zamboanga and other areas in the South, were imported from different linguistic regions, Chavacano developed as a lingua franca.

Meaning changes

While many Spanish words have made their way to Philippine languages, many of these words have had a shift in meaning from the original Spanish. This has resulted in false friends, related words that exist in two languages with different meanings. A sampling of these words are shown below:

Word Language Meaning in the Philippines Original Spanish word Spanish meaning
ya Chabacano denotes past tense ya already, now
siguro Tagalog, Chabacano, Cebuano, Ilokano, Hiligaynon maybe seguro secure, stable, sure
syempre Tagalog, Chabacano, Cebuano, Hiligaynon of course siempre always
pirmi Hiligaynon, Cebuano, Chabacano always firme firm, steady
basta Tagalog, Chabacano, Cebuano, Hiligaynon as long as basta ; hasta enough!, stop!; until
Impakto Tagalog spirit causing temporary madness(originally elemental spirit from the earth) impacto impact, shock
maske, maski Tagalog, Chabacano, Cebuano, Hiligaynon even if por más que/ más que as much as; even if; even then;/more than
kubeta Tagalog toilet, outhouse cubeta bucket
kasilyas Tagalog, Cebuano, Chabacano, Ilokano toilet, toilet seat, to excrement casillas squares, cube, hut
Lamierda, lamyerda Tagalog paint the town red la mierda the shit
barkada Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilokano group of friends barcada boatload
sugal Tagalog, Cebuano gambling jugar to play, to gamble
mamon Tagalog, Cebuano fluffy bread mamón (de "mamar"), mamón (de "mamas") suckle (from mamar "to suckle") mammary glands (as in the English word "mammaries")
pera Tagalog money pera silver coin; pear
silbi Tagalog, Cebuano use servir to serve
suplado Tagalog, Cebuano snobbish, snooty, stubborn(child), brat soplado blown
palengke Tagalog market palenque palisade
kontrabida Tagalog, Cebuano villain contra vida against life
aparador Tagalog, Cebuano clothes cabinet aparador sideboard

False cognates

The following words do not fall under false friends and their similarity is purely coincidental. They are still a source of confusion:

Word Language Meaning in the Philippines Similar Spanish word Spanish meaning
Ama Tagalog, Ilocano father ama house lady,also:He or She loves
Lupa Tagalog ground, earth lupa magnifying glass
Luto Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilonggo cook luto mourn
Puto Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Ilonggo a type of rice cake puto man-whore, homosexual (derogatory)
Baho Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilonggo pungent, smelly bajo low, short
Sabi Tagalog to say saber to know
Kasí, kasé Tagalog because casi almost

List of Spanish words of Philippine origin

Although the greatest linguistic impact and wordloans have been from Spanish to the languages of the Philippines, the Filipino languages have also loaned some words to Spanish.

Following are some of the words of Philippine origin that can be found in the DRAE (the dictionary published by the Royal Spanish Academy):

See also


External links

  • Instituto Cervantes Manila, Philippines branch of the Spanish government agency devoted to the study the teaching of Spanish language and culture
  • Círculo Hispanofilipino, group which aims to preserve and revive the use of the Spanish language in the Philippines
  • Semanario de Filipinas, Philippines news and information to the Spanish-speaking audience, but from a Philippines point of view

Original Source

Smallwikipedialogo.png This page was adapted from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Spanish language in the Philippines. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with Wikipedia, WikiPilipinas also allows reuse of content made available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike. See full WikiMedia Terms of Use.