Why Filipinos Don't Speak Spanish Anymore?

When I was growing up I wondered why I only speak Tagalog (our national language), Cebuano (our regional dialect) and English (our medium of instruction) while not speaking a single word of Spanish (our supposed mother tongue). Though I must admit I do know some Spanish words but of course when I'm cursing at someone.


¿Hablas español?

When I was growing up I wondered why I only speak Tagalog (our national language), Cebuano (our regional dialect), and English (our medium of instruction) while not speaking a single word of Spanish (our supposed mother tongue). Though I must admit I do know some Spanish words but of course when I'm cursing at someone.

We do know that most of us have Spanish surnames with mostly American first names. That is why many Filipinos in America are difficult to recognize and even classified as "Latinos." It's either you're classified as Chinese, Mexicans, Vietnamese, and sometimes Native Americans. No wonder, Filipino-Americans are not well represented in the United States.

But going back to the question, Why Filipinos don't speak Spanish anymore? Despite the effort to reconnect to Spain and its culture we seem to forget our Spanish language even though the remnants of Spanish culture are still staring us in our face. Some of us may speak closer to Spanish like the creole language of Chavacano in Zamboanga. Few schools are offering Spanish language classes because of the fact that many people who want to learn a foreign language wanted the in-demand ones like Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and French.

Our interest in the Spanish language seemed to be absent. Sometimes former Spanish colonies like Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba have also asked why their fellow Filipino cousin has turned its back from its Spanish past and embraced the Gringo culture. That's a simple assumption that we have became traitors to our own past. Indeed that echoed Jose Rizal's famous statement “Ang hindi lumingon sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paruruonan” (those who don’t look back to where they come from cannot reach their destination).

Filipinos are Asians with a Spanish soul

In a practical way, many of us think in this way "Why do we have to learn Spanish when we don't encounter Spanish people every day?" Seriously, there are about 700 million Spanish speakers around the world and that means they are seven times larger than all the Filipinos!

One interesting analogy why the non-speaking of Spanish in the Philippines remains a hot topic today is the case of Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Both countries (though Puerto Rico is not considered as such) have been under Spanish control for more than 300 years and both were under American rule but the difference is that the Philippines gained independence from the United States in 1946 while Puerto Rico remains an American territory until this day. So with this in mind, people without the knowledge of the Philippines and Puerto Rico would probably believe that Puerto Rico would not speak Spanish anymore because it's under U.S. control while the Philippines would still speak Spanish because of the fact it gained independence from the U.S. 60 years ago.

WRONG! As a matter of fact, Puerto Ricans still speak fluent Spanish even though they are all American citizens. The Filipinos hardly speak Spanish even though the language has Spanish loan words and phrases. The question is, what happened? In my opinion, even though we gained independence from the United States, our country has lost its connection with Spain and with the various Spanish-speaking countries. We also fell in love with American pop culture and so Spanish has become irrelevant to the new generation as many of them speak more English than Spanish. In Puerto Rico's case, they never lost their Spanish connection because of its proximity to large Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico and Cuba.

Recently, we only attribute Spanish to some cheesy Mexican telenovelas with bizarre lip-synched dialogues. We only know so-called conyo-Spanish (pseudo-Spanish).

In tracing back our love affair with Spain, we have to go back in time and picture out the time when Filipinos spoke Espanol, our lingua franca for the next 350 years. The Spanish established schools to teach the Spanish language (to the extent of basic literacy) and Catholic catechism. We were taught to only understand the church sermons and basic laws that concerned ordinary citizens. In this case, not all Filipinos speak Spanish very well, and to the point, only the illustrados know how to write as well. Because of this, the majority of the archipelago's population is illiterate.

Just imagine the people around you speaking Spanish

However, as the number of schools increased Spanish literacy improved. The rise of the middle class was attributed to this, the growth of opportunities has brought about the urgent need for reforms. The men that urged such reforms were well educated like Jose Rizal, Juan Luna, Graciano Lopez Jaena, and many others. But the new opportunities come with a price. These men became enemies of the state overnight and so many of them went into hiding. But the consequence also blossomed Spanish literature in the Philippines. As a matter of fact, most great works attributed to Jose Rizal are in Spanish.

The remnants of the Spanish language took root in almost all dialects in the country while some creole language remained such as Chavacano and its variances. This creole language was developed by ordinary people in an effort to communicate with their Spanish overlords. The conditions in the forts of Zamboanga and Cavite were difficult and that communicating with people of different backgrounds was important, because of this a pidgin language was developed. Such language later developed into Chavacano, which is still spoken today.

Certain Spanish words have changed their meaning in the Philippine setting in the course of time. It has become so Filipinized that some people think it's not a Spanish word at all. Take for example the Spanish "azar," which means luck or chance but the Filipino "asar" means to annoy.

During the height of the use of the Spanish language in the Philippines, all historical documents in this era are written in Spanish. Spanish was used to write the Constitution of Biak-na-Bato, Malolos Constitution, the original national anthem, (Himno Nacional Filipino), as well as nationalistic propaganda material and literature, like Rizal's Noli Me Tangere. In fact, Rizal propagated Filipino consciousness and identity in Spanish.

During the early decades of the American period, Spanish was still widely used by the majority of the population as many of the people are still learning English. Although the English language had begun to be heavily promoted and used as the medium of education and government proceedings, the majority of literature produced by indigenous Filipinos during this period was in Spanish with the likes of Fernando Ma. Guerrero, Rafael Palma, Cecilio Apóstol, Jesús Balmori, Manuel Bernabé, Trinidad Pardo de Tavera and Teodoro M. Kalaw. Ironically, there was a growing interest in Spanish language literature because the Philippine middle and upper classes were educated in Spanish. As a result, Spanish had become the most important language in the country despite roughly half of the population not speaking the language.

The decline in Spanish language use started when the children taught in English during the early American period became adults. They started to feel that learning Spanish is impractical and the medium of instruction has shifted into English. American pop culture was the way and so the Spanish became marginalized. After the war, most of the Spanish-speaking population like the Spanish mestizos went elsewhere.

One thing that made our Spanish experience more interesting is that we gave the Spanish some words in Philippine origin such as abaca (abaca), baguio (typhoon), carabao (water buffalo), bolo (big knife) and sampaguita (flower). The Spanish in turn transplanted Nahuatl words into our vocabulary such as nanay (from nantl -- mother), tatay (from tatle -- father), bayabas (from guayabas -- guava), papaya, zapote, etc.

But the question remains, ¿Hablas español?

COMMENTS

BLOGGER: 14
  1. withonespast.wordpress.comDecember 26, 2012 at 3:08 AM

    "They started to feel that learning Spanish is impractical and the medium of instruction has shifted into English", it wasn't a general "feel" we had then but more of a shift in administrative policy to end Spanish to break nationalist leaders who cling to hispanismo as an identity that we had to keep to bar the American invasion :)

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  2. sounds plausible...

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  3. Seriously though, I wouldn't call it a love affair with Spain cos they took advantage of the Philippines for years and Filipinos were exploited, many were shipped to Mexico as slaves, that's hardly anything to be fond of. Although Spain did have great influence on Filipino culture, there is no reason to pay tribute to Spain by speaking their language. Just think of iit as a good contribution to the Filipino culture, just like how china influenced Vietnam, Korea and japan, doesn't mean that those people should speak Chinese to connect with their culture and history.

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  4. We should ask ourselves this question first: Was Spanish a common language in the Philippines? You will find the answers in the books written by many authors during the Spanish colonial times (I'm not talking about Rizal and his buddies). They wrote something similar to this: Filipinas: Estudio de algunos asuntos de actualidad By Eduardo Navarro, Eduardo Navarro Ordonez - Published 1897
    P 132 - en América con un invasor que casi todo lo llenaba y que tendía con su número á hacer desaparecer la raza primitiva pura, precisamente todo lo contrario de lo que pasa en el país filipino en donde la raza indígena en masa imponente se sobrepone á toda absorción bastando este concepto solo para que ni con medios muchísimos más poderosos que los hasta ahora puestos en práctica puedan conseguirse los frutos que las leyes exigen?

    Page 150 - El argumento del castellano es un argumento mito á más de fiambre, pues se ha probado con toda evidencia que en los siglos que han precedido ha habido imposibilidad material absoluta de enseñarlo.

    Spaniards were few and far in between and they did not comply with the Leyes de India (Law on Education) the Spaniards themselves created. Spaniards were not different from the Americans. Spaniards failed in teaching their language to the natives. I am not sure if I must attribute the success of English to the Americans because few had any education at all up until after the end of WWII, i.e, few could speak English themselves.

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  13. Spanish has never been widely spoken in the Philippines even during the Hispanic era. Natives who spoke Spanish were only a minority. Some of the reasons why Spanish never became widespread in the country are:

    DISTANCE - Prior to the opening of Suez Canal in the mid-19th century, the journey from Spain to the Philippines was long and very difficult that majority of Spaniards chose to settle in Latin America. To reach the Philippines, the Spaniards had to pass thru the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa then Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean etc., enduring three months of travel risking themselves to different types of diseases, pirates and other marine dangers. Because of that, only very few Spaniards went to the Philippines and were mainly concentrated in Spanish posts in Manila, Cebu and Zamboanga while the rest of the country was inhabited by the natives, Spain remotely ruled those areas by appointing local leaders to act on behalf of Spain. All these factors prevented the language to become widespread on the majority of natives.

    NO MAJOR DEMOGRAPHIC SHIFT - The fate of the Native Filipinos was the exact opposite of that with Native Americans. In America, 90% of the native population were wiped out by small pox and other Old World diseases. The result: a major demographic shift emerged and the Spanish population eventually became the majority. In contrast, the Philippines’ native Austronesians weren’t wiped out by the disease. Being part of the Old World, the native Austronesians faced the same atmosphere as with the Europeans and just like the Europeans, they too were long exposed to foreigners of various Asian and Middle Eastern nationalities and have been trading with them long before the Spaniards came and and so they were able to develop an immunity to the disease. The result: the native population remained intact and their population is about 10 times more than the Spanish and Latino population combined. In fact, as mentioned in item #1, most parts of the country weren’t touched by the Spaniards and were only remotely ruled by them.

    THE CHURCH VIOLATED THE SPANISH COURT ORDER OF A MANDATORY EDUCATION FOR ALL THE COLONIZED NATIVES- Instead, the friars studied the native languages so that they could more effectively “evangelize” the natives. Moreover...

    NO ACCESS TO PUBLIC EDUCATION - in relation to the above item wherein the Spanish Court ordered that a public education be made. Prior to the 19th century, the Philippines was remotely governed under the Virreinato de Nueva España (now modern day Mexico) and because of the distance, the vast majority of Spaniards who went to Manila were friars who violated the court’s order and instead founded private schools for the fortunate elite. There were not enough civil leaders to implement and oversee the public education system. Because of it, the vast majority of natives didn’t have access to education.

    DEATH AND EXODUS OF MOST SPANISH FILIPINOS & SPANISH-SPEAKING FILIPINOS- the majority of Spanish Filipinos and Filipino mestizos (half-Spanish) died in Manila bombing during the WW2 while the rest have migrated to Spain, Latin America and US during the American rule and Martial law era. The few ones who remained in the country were mainly concentrated in the posh urban areas in Metro Manila (particularly in cities of Makati, Quezon City, Alabang, BGC) and Cebu with most of the third generation don’t speak Spanish. That alone made a major impact in the status of the Spanish language in the country which was demoted from co-official to auxillary status in 1987.

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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger: Why Filipinos Don't Speak Spanish Anymore?
Why Filipinos Don't Speak Spanish Anymore?
When I was growing up I wondered why I only speak Tagalog (our national language), Cebuano (our regional dialect) and English (our medium of instruction) while not speaking a single word of Spanish (our supposed mother tongue). Though I must admit I do know some Spanish words but of course when I'm cursing at someone.
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Istoryadista | History Blog | Cebu Blogger
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