I have always been used to hearing our local dialect in my beloved city of Zamboanga: I was born and raised there basically. However, having been there for more than two decades, I had not spoken the dialect fluently until I stayed in Makati City in 2008, where I stayed in a boarding with my fellow Zamboangueños. I had to equip myself with the accent and some hondo palabra (deep words) to be able to adapt my fellow boardmates and other Zamboangueños whom I would be meeting then.
A large percentage of Chavacano’s words came from Mexican Spanish, with influences from Portuguese, Italian and native American Language Nahuatl (words like “chonggo” and “tiangge” came from Nahuatl) and other local dialects in the Zamboanga peninsula. Grammar structure is mainly from Tagalog.
It was easy for me to speak and learn Chavacano since it follows the Tagalog sentence structure, it has no verb conjugations and, I know a bucket-full of Spanish words from our classes way back high school (and I did always hear and understand speakers though I was not much into speaking it when I was there then).
Then, the time came when I became fluent with it. I basically speak the dialect with my Zamboangueño companions. At the office, inside the jeepneys, inside the vans when I am calling a Chavacano speaker, people would look at us with a smile and sometimes speak to us about the dialect we were using. The common comments were:
“Wow, is that Spanish you are using.”
“Your dialect sounds much like Spanish.”
“I feel like I am in Spain or Mexico when I hear you speak your dialect.”
These are still the comments I shall be hearing, I presume when I speak the dialect to fellow Zamboangueños.
Chavacano is believed to be the oldest Spanish Creole in the world today, having survived for close to 400 years in the Philippines. There are about more than half million speakers of Chavacano in Zamboanga Peninsula alone. For everybody’s information, mi ciudad de Zamboanga is not the only city that has Chavacano speakers. There are also speakers of the language from Cavite and Davao and other parts of the country.
I have this Brazilian friend who is here in the country, and asked me to speak the Chavacano with my other friends, while he was there listening to us. I was shocked to know that he understands well the language. That friend of mine speaks Portuguese as his native tongue, and knows Spanish as well.
Another, a fellow student at the Arturo Eustaquio Memorial Science High School, Mike Covarrubias, who was in Spain a year ago told that he literally spoke pure Chavacano and people there understood the language. He became the official interpreter/translator of his group. He was understood by the people there 90% of the time as he speaks the language. He also told that they were able to retrieve his wife’s wallet in the train by speaking Chavacano. His wife came back to the train, and said that the personnel won’t open the door since they could not understand her. Mike came in and spoke the language. He was fortunately understood and was able to retrieve the wallet.
There were cases when one is in an unfamiliar place, especially in a Spanish-speaking place/country where his/her best English could not be comprehended, turn to a Spanish Creole such as the Chavacano: it may save your day.
I personally believe that aside from the local dialects in the Zamboanga Peninsula, the two major languages that influenced the Chavacano is the Mexican Spanish and Portuguese.
I am proud of this language, though it may not sound like Spanish with the accent and pronunciation the modern speakers of the language use. When I speak Chavacano, I usually pepper it with the most correct pronunciation I know in relation with Spanish. Chavacano is considered as one of the “endangered” languages of the world, given that only 600,000 more or less speak it.
I will be putting some examples of this wonderful language in the future. But, for the meantime, I found an article from Wikipedia about this language. Please click Chavacano.
Gracias a Dios and vaya con Dios. Mi resos para na paz na mi ciudad de Zamboanga.