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Philippine Spanish

Philippine Spanish describes the actual dialect of Spanish that was once (and is still, albeit by extremely small numbers of speakers) spoken in the Philippines. It does not refer to Chabacano, which is a Spanish-based creole language.

Spanish was brought to the Philippines when it was colonised by Spain, and while it exerted a massive influence over the local Austronesian languages, Spanish itself never became a lingua franca of the majority (unlike in Latin America, for example). The Philippines’ major connecting route to the Spanish Empire was to the Mexican port of Acapulco. As such, historically, the dialect of Spanish to which Philippine Spanish was most similar was Mexican Spanish.

When the US seized control over the Philippines from Spain, the official language of the Philippines was changed to English, and since then English has been the predominant “second language” of the Philippines. While Spanish was seen to have some value for historical reasons (and some minor practical ones, like many old Philippine laws having been written in Spanish), for the most part it has declined dramatically in use.

Contemporary speakers of Philippine Spanish represent a very small part of the Philippine population. They are largely mestizo (or Eurasian), and many of them remain very wealthy (although others are more “middle-class”); Spanish for them was a marker of their “aristocratic” background, and as such their speech tended to veer towards the more conservative side. Even as of 1986 they were largely older (with younger generations often being “vestigial” or “semi-speakers” who spoke with a different, simplified, grammar from their elders whose Spanish was more traditionally “correct”). Almost all of them had at least one grandparent who was actually from Spain. As such, in a number of ways (pronunciation and grammar more than vocabulary) their dialect was more similar to Castilian Spanish than the Mexican dialect that Philippine Spanish was historically closer to.

Some phonological features of Philippine Spanish, as of 1986:

  • /b/, /d/, /g/ never reduced to fricatives, although /d/ is often elided entirely
  • /s/ is always pronounced, sometimes with the pronunciation of northern Spain
  • unstressed /a/, /e/, /o/ often merge to schwa
  • usually /f/ is pronounced [f] but sometimes it’s pronounced [p], as in Chabacano (mostly among “vestigial” speakers)
  • no merger between <y> and <ll>
  • <y> never becomes a fricative
  • <rr> sometimes merges into <r>
  • <r> and <l> are always clearly distinguished
  • it employed distinción (only vestigial speakers sometimes mixing them up) – different from the colonial era when Philippine Spanish was reputedly a seseo dialect
  • perhaps the most uniquely Philippine characteristic is the use of [q] at the beginnings of words that nominally begin with a vowel, or at a hiatus between vowels (like el hombre [el.qom.bre] or maíz [ma.qiz])

Some morphosyntactic features:

  • use of and vosotros predominated, even though vosotros did not seem very used in the dialects that exerted so much influence over Philippine languages
  • the dialect is strongly leísta (i.e. preferring to use the indirect object pronoun le where normative grammar would say to use lo)
  • especially among more vestigial speakers, there is a lot of loss of grammatical agreement (e.g. in gendered adjectives or verb conjugations)
  • again among vestigial speakers, there is a strong tendency to avoid embedded clauses, especially where it’d require the subjunctive, and instead to use infinitives even when this is not grammatical in other Spanish dialects
  • and again among vestigial speakers, the frequent use of subject pronouns relative to other dialects (probably to compensate for the loss of grammatical agreement)
  • the frequent omission of direct and indirect articles and sometimes prepositions among vestigial speakers

Lexically there are still a lot of similarities between Philippine Spanish and Mexican Spanish, including in choice of swear words. There are not that many borrowings from Philippine languages, mainly just for local flora and fauna.

There have been some syntactic shifts from Spanish elsewhere; e.g. lenguaje means “national language” rather than “language” as the abstract concept; gracia means “given name”; seguro means “maybe, probably” (with asegurao meaning “sure”). There is also the use of cuidao with a subject pronoun to kinda mean “it’s [subject’s] call”, like tu cuidao, usted cuidao “it’s up to you” or yo cuidao “I’ll take care of it”. Apparently this is an adoption of a Philippine construction.

See Also / References