They Don't Speak Spanish in the Philippines?

Early flag of the Filipino revolutionaries ("Long live the Philippine Republic!"). The first two constitutions were written in Spanish. Photo: "Bandera 03". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons .

Early flag of the Filipino revolutionaries (“Long live the Philippine Republic!”). The first two constitutions were written in Spanish. Photo: “Bandera 03″. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons .

The Philippines, a Southeast Asian archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, is, like the countries of Latin American, a former colony in the Spanish Empire. The Philippines was under Spanish rule for three centuries, belonging, in fact, specifically to the Kingdom of New Spain. During this time, the dominant language of the colonial government in the islands was Spanish, only to be replaced by English, after the Spanish-American War, when Spain ceded control of the islands to the United States for $20 million.

Throughout the 20th century, the use of Spanish declined, particularly after the destruction of the Spanish stronghold in the Battle of Manila. The country's subsequent modernization and World War II left English the nation's most common language.

In 1946, the Philippines gained independence from the United States, but it retained English as one of its two official languages, Filipino being the other. Currently, Filipinos have English or one of the local languages as their mother tongue. It is estimated that less than 1% of the current Filipino population speaks Spanish.

In 2008, Gaspar Canela wrote in the Reino de Siam blog that the state of the Spanish language in the Philippines was actually much worse because, in his opinion, the Spanish never succeeded in replacing local languages:


Intramuros. Image by shankar s. on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons license Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).

Muchos filipinos, los menos estudiados, hasta desconocen que estuvieron sometidos a un reino ibérico durante más de tres siglos. Los estadounidenses, tras expulsar a los españoles, trajeron a Filipinas barcos repletos de profesores de inglés. Tuvieron más éxito que los españoles en extender el uso de su idioma, pero tampoco todos en las islas dominan hoy día la lengua de Shakespeare.

Many Filipinos do not even acknowledge that they were subjects of an Iberian kingdom for more than three centuries. The Americans, after expelling the Spaniards, brought ships full of English-language professors to the Philippines. They had more success than the Spaniards in extending the use of their language, but still not everywhere on the islands does the language of Shakespeare reign.

Nonetheless, Spanish did not disappear from everything. Traces of the Spanish language are present in the surnames of many Filipinos, in the names of cities and historic sites, as well as on the country's streets and plazas. Moreover, classic Philippine literature was written entirely in Spanish, even during much of the twentieth century. Among the many works of classic Spanish Philippine literature is Noli me tangere, by writer José Rizal, who, scholar say, played a significant role in the consolidation of Filipino nationalism.

Rizal, now considered a national Filipino hero, was executed on December 30, 1896, on charges of sedition by the Spanish authorities. The night prior to his execution, he wrote a poem titled “My Last Farewell”, which describes his love for the Philippines. YouTube user Hispanic Filipino uploaded a video where he recites the poem:

But is Spanish a dead language in the Philippines? Hardly. Spanish remains strongly rooted in the islands, even though it's difficult to notice at first. Guillermo Gomez Rivera, director of the Manila weekly Nueva Era, is optimistic about the future of the language in the Philippines and shares his opinion on web blog, Filipinas Única where he states that Spanish is very easy for any Filipino who speaks Tagalog, Visayan, and Ilokano:

El español es bien fácil para cualquier filipino que hable tagalo, bisaya, bicolano e ilocano porque en estas lenguas indígenas están incrustadas miles de hispanismos. En estos idiomas indígenas todas las prendas que se llevan en el cuerpo se llaman en español: sombrero, camiseta, cinturón […] Todos los muebles y enseres que se encuentran dentro del hogar se llaman en español: cocina, cuarto, sala […] Todo lo que es infraestructura de urbanización se llama en español: […] esquinita, avenida, plaza…

Spanish is very easy for any Filipino who speaks Tagalog, Visayan, and Ilokano because thousands of hispanisms are embedded in these indigenous languages. In these indigenous languages, all articles of clothing are referred to in Spanish: sombrero (hat), camiseta (shirt), cinturón (belt) […] All furniture and appliances that are found in the home are referred to in Spanish: cocina (kitchen), cuarto (room), sala (living room) […] All urbanization infrastructure is called in Spanish: […] esquinita (corner), avenida (avenue), plaza (square)…

Internet user Neptuno Azul demonstrates this principle with Eloidoro Ballesteros's poetry, written in Chavacano, a creole language derived from Spanish and various local languages:

Recently, there are signs that interest in Spanish might be rising, thanks to efforts by the Cervantes Institute and other Spanish and Philippine institutions, as well as people who want to rescue the legacy of the Philippine language. These groups even got some official support from the former government of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who started the partial reinstatement of Spanish in secondary education in 2009. Outside schools, the business community's interest in Spanish is also rebounding.

One useful demonstration of Spanish as a living language in the Philippines is this YouTube video, titled “Teaching Spanish in the Philippines”, where several Filipino students show what they've learned in school.

Post originally published in Globalizado blog.

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