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Confidence in Chabacano: Counterbalance to a western ideology of language

Michael L. Forman

University of Hawaii at Manoa
Department of Linguistics
University of Hawaii at Manoa
1890 East-West Rd., Moore Hall 569
Honolulu, Hawaii 96822, USA

This paper reflects a small set of problems drawn from a 1999 conference concerned with
endangerment to Chabacano and held at the Ateneo de Zamboanga, which meetings the
author was privileged to attend. Metalinguistic interest there included attention to the
Zamboangueño lexicon with respect to origins and orthography. Interest was tilted to the
Spanish component away from Philippine sources. Selected difficulties which result are
discussed with respect to possible impact on preservation. Concerns raised by contemporary
contact with Tagalog have led to proposals for schooling treatment, but questions both
unsettled and even not yet addressed about who speaks Zamboangueño and about how
Zamboangueño works suggest a need for more descriptive and analytic work. Voice (passive?
ergative?) and verb serialization are two exemplifications beyond phonology and orthography
of areas needing study. The paper ends with a question about Western history in the labelling
of Zamboangueño as Chabacano.

Key words: Zamboangueño, reflexivity, metalinguistics, orthography, voice, serialization.


Neste artigo recóllense un conxunto de problemas, bosquexados nun simposio celebrado en
1999 no Ateneo de Zamboanga, sobre o proceso de extinción do chabacano. Os intereses
metalingüísticos incluíron o léxico do zamboangueño en relación coa súa orixe e ortografía
así como o compoñente español desas linguas lonxe das fontes filipinas. Tamén se mostran
certas dificultades resultantes en relación cos efectos que producen sobre a preservación da
variedade lingüística. Algunhas cuestións que xorden do contacto contemporáneo co tagalo
conduciron a propostas para o seu tratamento escolar, pero cuestións sen perfilar e mesmo sen
formular acerca de quén fala zamboangueño e acerca de cómo esa variedade lingüística se
desenvolve suxiren a necesidade de contar cun traballo analítico e descritivo meirande. O
aspecto (¿pasivo, ergativo?) e a serialización verbal son dous exemplos de áreas que necesitan
un estudio meirande máis alá da fonoloxía e da ortografía. O artigo remata cunha
Copyright © Estudios de Sociolingüística 2(2), 2001, pp. 95-117?i n t e rr ogación sobre a historia occidental na identificación do zamboangueño como

Palabras clave:zamboangueño, reflexividade, metalingüística, ortografía, aspecto verbal,

The phenomenon of language death and the attendant phenomenon of languages
facing that danger of death have become rather common themes in public discussion
of languages and linguistics in recent years. Typically it is linguists who are raising
the alarms. To our chagrin, we frequently find that those listening shrug and turn
away, muttering something about how we linguists are merely looking after our own
highly specialized, highly esoteric interests. Why should anyone else care? As far as
the common respondent can see, it’s a language-eat-language world out there, and the
price of modernization is creeping monolingualism, if not in English, then at least in
one of the world’s other ‘big’languages. But what has brought us together here in the
capital city of the Republic of the Philippines reflects something different, a
refreshing change: it is citizens of the City of Zamboanga who, themselves, have
raised the alarm. They are concerned over the future of the Chabacano language
Zamboangueño, and it is they who have asked for help in dealing with the present and
the future of that language. This can only be encouraging for us in our discipline if
we care about language attrition; we have citizens and concerned speakers of a
language which they fear is endangered and they are seeking alliance with us. And
then of course the question is: Can we bring our knowledge to the task and be of any
help to them? That is why we are gathered here together.

The theme of my submission to this conference –perhaps from marvelling too
much over the televised performances of the gymnasts at the recent Olympic games
in Sydney– is that confidence and balance go together. A certain imbalance comes
about from not having the strength to stay focussed, and too much leaning just to one
side can lead to unwanted tumbles. Chabacano would never have existed in the first
place had not language encounters between West and East taken place in previous
centuries, but today as those East-West encounters continue in new contexts, to lean
too much to one side, not to find a balancing focus, would put us at risk. The ‘object’
of our conference is language contact and the lessons of general linguistics, on the
one hand, but it is also Chabacano, a language with Iberian links in history but
nonetheless a language situated in today’s Philippines that is the cause of our coming
together. We aim to be of help to the concerned speakers of Chabacano, but there is
the risk, still, that ideas about language which are too Western at base will be passed
on from us and then themselves contribute to the further endangerment of the
language. For any such already transmitted, we may have a special obligation of
reflexivity and communication.

A major concern of mine is that we examine reflexively that special orientation
of linguistics in the West which justifies a study of language ‘for its own sake’,
setting aside as not scientific or not properly theoretical approaches which leave
unsevered languages, their speakers, and their ways of speaking as organizing
everyday life. I find myself in agreement with the sentiment below, expressed
recently by Daniel Nettles and Suzanne Romaine:

[Languages] have no tangible existence like trees or people. In so far as language can
be said to exist at all, its locus must be in the minds of the people who use it. In
another sense, however, language might be regarded as an activity, a system of
communication between human beings. A language is not a self-sustaining entity. It
can only exist where there is a community to speak and transmit it. A community of
people can exist only where there is a viable environment for them to live in, and a
means of making a living. Where communities cannot thrive, their languages are in
danger. (Nettles & Romaine, 2000: 5)

From this point of view, the expressions of concern on the part of those citizens
of Zamboanga who have sought assistance through Instituto Cervantes may well be
a sort of early-warning signal, a danger perceived which is not only a danger to the
language but also a danger which is in some way a danger of environment –a sort of
miner’s canary, in an image Nettles and Romaine use.

Others will bring to this conference lessons from the wide world of linguistics.
I hope that my contribution to this conference will be of some use to those of you
who may be less familiar than I am with Zamboanga City and its Zamboangueño or
who are acquainted with the city and its people but have not been there recently. It
was my privilege and good fortune to have been invited to a conference in
Zamboanga held in November last year. The conference was entitled: “Cultiva el
lenguaje Chavacano ayer, ahora y hasta para cuando” and was held at the Ateneo de
Zamboanga, sponsored by the Ateneo’s Institute of Cultural Studies for Western
Mindanao and generously supported by the Spanish Ministry of Education and
Culture’s Program for Cultural Cooperation; Mr. Rolando L. Macasaet, Presidential
Adviser on Peace; and Coca-Cola Bottlers Philippines, Inc.

Today I want to make use of things I learned during that visit and at that
conference to try to contribute to the context of our present work. I will concentrate
on a small set of problems among a set of concerns I heard Zamboangueños speak
about –and then, just once, touch on a problem not mentioned there at all. In this
latter instance, I may risk going against our conference organizers’ injunction to
avoid “topics that are strictly grammatical in nature”. I believe, however, that even
here if we think about the sociolinguistics of our own discourse in contact with the
concerns of Zamboangueño speakers, I shall not have trespassed across that line.

My earliest work on Zamboangueño was provoked –I feel that that’s the right
word: provoked– by Keith Whinnom’s (1956) Spanish Contact Vernaculars in the
Philippine Islands. Perhaps we might acknowledge in today’s context that Whinnom
in the 1950s did himself raise questions about the future of Chabacano. He noted that
what later came to be known as the Manila Bay Creole varieties were at that time not
thriving. But he reported what I thought a ridiculously low number of speakers of
Zamboangueño; I thought him quite simply wrong on that as well as on a number of
other points. As a resident of Zamboanga City in the early 1960s I was listening to
the language being spoken everywhere I went, and was struggling myself to speak it
acceptably in my work and in my social interactions with city residents. The central
aspect of what I referred to as provocation, however, was not numbers of speakers or
his predictions of endangerment, but Whinnom’s comments about the systematicity
of the language as he found it. Whinnom said that he found the language
“disintegrating” into two dialects and that under the circumstances, he thought it
“almost absurd to attempt to write a grammar” (1956: 77). Echoing the same
sentiment thirty pages later, he claimed that speaking in Zamboanga “offers so many
contradictions that it is scarcely worthwhile to attempt to formulate any rules” (1956:
108). And of the phonology, Whinnom raised his eyebrows and wrung his hands over
“ va garies and inconsistencies of pronunciation which make analysis virt u a l ly
impossible”. Today I would ask: What was Whinnom’s idea of the nature of a
language? My own view of Zamboangueño in those days was not through the filter
of any prior knowledge of Spanish; to the contrary, it was earlier experience in study
of Tagalog, Cebuano Visayan, and later as I wrote my dissertation, of Kapampangan,
that gave me the impression that there were many aspects of speaking other
Philippine languages which helped to make sense of how Zamboangueño worked. At
the same time, to be sure, it was clear to me that Zamboangueño was quite unlike
those other Philippine languages in some respects. At the time I had a very limited
view of what later became the field known as creolistics, and certainly I had no other
experience which would have made possible comparisons to other creoles. (I did do
a seminar with Robert A. Hall, Jr. at Cornell in the latter half of the sixties, but this
was a ‘seminar’ in title only).

In a review of the Whinnom monograph, Howard McKaughan raised criticism
of Whinnom’s data (McKaughan, 1958: 356). Agreeing with McKaughan, I used
these same quotes, which I have repeated above, critically in my dissertation
(Forman, 1972: 10-11, 18, 72). Later I found it encouraging to read similar criticism
of Whinnom’s data voiced by John Lipski (1992: 225, n. 3).

In the 1960s or 1970s I entertained no fear of endangerment to Zamboangueño.
I did note that the language was quite open to influence from its contacts with English
and with Tagalog, and although I didn’t know much of anything about relexification
at the time, in the light of change that one could observe in progress, I tossed out the
suggestion that there might come a day in the future when Zamboangueño would be
classified as a variety of ‘Philippine Creole English’or ‘Zamboanga Creole Tagalog’
if percentages of vocabulary items by source were to be the sole criterion (Forman,
1972: 16).

The lexicon does hold a metalinguistic interest for at least some speakers of
Zamboangueño. One question that people are still asking in Zamboanga is the
question of distribution of sources of lexical items. Commonly the question is: What
percent Spanish / what percent Philippine (or Visayan, or Tagalog)? One speaker at
the November 1999 Conference, Rev. Agapito Ferrero, CMF, refined this sort of
commentary with information about Caribbean and Peruvian lexical items; he also
noted that certain Romance vo c a bu l a ry casually called ‘Spanish’ is really
“Portuguese or Italian or from Picardia”. He added that military recruitment brought
in Spanish of a rural character, from the south of Spain and from Western Andalucia.
A similarly refined commentary on the origins of Philippine-sourced vocabulary
remains to be developed, although a beginning has been made in work by Frake and
Molony. Fr. Ferrero somewhat more generally, but less particularly, referred to that
component of the lexicon as ‘Malay’. Given ongoing contact at least some
Zamboangueños have with Malay-speaking places like Brunei, this is not helpful. I
understand that Fr. Ferrero means ‘Malay’in some generic sense –as when José Rizal
is referred to as “the pride of the Malay race”. But when actual Malay dialects are
conflated with Philippine sources which are indeed Hesperonesian, but not ‘Malay’
in the more particular sense, themselves sometimes borrowing from Malay, the use
can create confusion. When I was pressed to add my opinion on this topic of
component sources in the lexicon of Zamboangueño, I responded that my figures
were much like those reported by Frake, but that there was surely more work to be
done, and that I would like to see the question applied to specific texts and to specific
situations of speaking. Asking a fisherman about waves and the weather might well,
as it had in my own experience (Forman, 1972: 27-29), increase the quantity of
Philippine-source vocabulary, for example. Conversely, speaking as a Westerner to
someone well-travelled and well-schooled might well provide the pressure which
would increase the percentage of Spanish components in evidence.

Zamboangueños, then, are interested in words. There is a Zamboangueño lexical
entry for ‘word’, palabra. This receives an entry in Camins’ dictionary; he provides
the gloss ‘word, promised word’ (Camins, 1999: 105). I believe that the word has a
somewhat wider sense than the English, though; cf. Tagalog salitâ. In the glossary
section of my dissertation, I glossed the same form ‘word, utterance’(Forman, 1972:

There is also, among many Zamboangueños of my acquaintance, a very strong
concern for spelling, for orthography. I was not yet out of the airport at Zamboanga
City in November 1999 when I was asked: “Which is correct, b or v?” The question
concerned the proper spelling of Cha(b/v)acano. I had not yet seen the beautiful
poster prepared for the conference, which, in large, bold print, used the v spelling.
Prepared, though, by awareness that two extant Bible translations used v while
another used b [the New York International Bible Society’s (1981) New Testament,
followed the earlier (1977) World Home Bible League’s Tres libros del Nuevo
Testamento lead with El Nuevo Testamento. Chavacano, while the Claretians’(1982)
translation used b: El Buen Noticia na chabacano], I demurred at making a
commitment, talking instead about how new software for word processing now
rendered such pressures for orthodoxy less necessary than they were thought to have
been in the past. I said that they should feel free to choose for themselves. That, of
course, did not make the question go away. Mayor Lobregat, a key supporter of the
1999 conference, focussed attention on the b/v question for the language name this

To be frank about it, until recently Chabacano had been taken as a joke, even by some
of those for whom it was the language of the cradle. One reason is that Chabacano is
considered just a bastardized form of Spanish. In fact, the word ‘Chavacano’–spelled
with a ‘V’ as in victory– suggests crudeness, but today many Zamboangueños,
especially the champions of the local language, spell Chabacano with a ‘B’ as in
Bravo to indicate its uniqueness to Zamboanga and to emphasize its Philippine and
Zamboangueño character. (Mayor Lobrega t ’s welcoming address, read by
Councilwoman Mª Isabelle Climaco)

As an aside, I might note that our Jesuit hosts for this conference will perhaps
remind us of the way the sobriquet ‘Jesuit’ was once used, and of how they came to
choose it for their own appellation and made it what it is today. What we need to ask
is, historically, where do such ideas come from? What has introduced them? What
continues to support credence in them?

There is quite a bit more that might be said about orthography. No one asked me
about the selection of c or k, as in Cha(b/v)ac/kano, although I might have, in the
past, written the language name as Chabakano, much as I had written Kapampangan
rather than Capampañgan or Capañgpañgan (Forman, 1971: viii). There is among
literate Zamboangueños a decided orientation to Spanish orthography, and it is
carried through in the Camins’ work, despite what Camins says in the Introduction to
his Handbook and Dictionary (1999):

This endeavor is one of the very few attempts to lay Chabacano de Zamboanga into
print. The fundamental reason behind the dearth of manuscripts in Chabacano is
simple: Chabacano is essentially a spoken dialect.

Let us not now attend to the circular reasoning here so that we can focus on what
explanations there might be for orthographic decisions in Camins’ work.
Besides, practitioners of the written Chabacano cannot agree among themselves on
what alphabet to use. Similarly, pronunciations differ as they greatly depend upon the
ethnical intonations of the vowels a, e, i, o, u. Likewise, the printed words vary in
their spellings; among these, the use of the Pilipino alphabet B, K, S, P, and Nyo for
the Spanish V, C, Z, F, and Ñ.

For the intrepidity of setting Chabacano in print, complete with an alphabet and parts
of speech, the author had opened himself to a wide-range [sic.] of possible criticisms
from both scholars and practitioners alike. That, as a matter of fact, would be very
good since it would interest them also into putting down what they think is correct.
Profound interest in the dialect, or on any other, would guarantee the survival of that

In this work, the author had used a simple rule: local words are spelled in their
original spellings, while words of Spanish origin and their variants are spelled in
accordance with the Spanish alphabet.

It is quite easy for those who are familiar with Spanish to learn Chabacano because
most of the dialect’s basic words are of Spanish origin. Other words in the dialect,
although given different meanings and their spellings altered, also are of Hispanic
origin. The rest of the words come from the various Philippine ethnic tribes.
(Camins, 1999: 5)

We would have no trouble finding a number of details here to comment on. One
which should surely not pass without notice is the attitude so compatible with the
science dimensions of linguistics, namely, that Camins welcomes criticisms and
alternative interpretations. Would that he still lived, for it would be a pleasure to
interact with him in such a way perhaps contributing to the preparation of a third
edition of his handbook and dictionary.

But then we might also voice the regret that Camins draws his distinction
between ‘local’ words and ‘words of Spanish origin’. One would rather have it noted
that in the present, all Chabacano words are local words. Further, ‘original spellings’
for the Philippine native words ignores historical fact such as the pre-Hispanic
Devanagari-derived syllabary forms (Conklin, 1991; Bright, 1996; Court, 1996;
Kuipers & McDermott, 1996). Possibly the disinterest in spelling with the ‘Pilipino’
alphabet reflects a certain antagonism to Tagalog and to Manila (see below). Finally,
for me, at least, there is something rather dated and quaint, at least, about Camins’
use of ‘ethnic’and ‘tribe’ here (cf. Hymes, 1984 [1968]).

In keeping with my general observations, Camins is more concerned with the
spelling of his ‘words of Spanish origin’ than he is with the way he spells the
Philippine-source forms. In this he is no different from many other Zamboangueños,
including those who call themselves Chabacanistas or who are referred to by others
as champions of the language. A fact which perhaps contributes to the lack of clarity
is this: the phonology of Zamboangueño still awaits adequate description. Frake has
noted that it is a system “encompassing many features of both [Spanish and
Philippine languages]” and he uses glottal catch and velar nasal to illustrate non-Spanish
segments. Initial velar nasal is possible. Camins’ dictionary lists six forms
with initial <Ñ>; the first four (spelled <Ñg> for initial velar nasal) are of Philippine
origin (and my colleague Robert Blust calls attention to the semantic skewing
common among Philippine languages on this feature in that these first four all
contain an element ‘mouth / snout’):

Ñga-ñga ‘open-mouthed imbecile look’;
Ñgirit ‘senseless fixed grin’;
Ñgut-ñgut ‘a beating pain as in toothache’;
Ñgusu ‘snout’

and then the last two (where initial <Ñ> stands for initial palatal nasal) are of Spanish
provenience, but clipped:

Ñor , <Ñg>, <Ñ> and in at
least one case (nieto, nieta ‘grandchild (male, female)’) we find ++ rather
than <ñ>. Other Spanish lexical items ( niebla ‘fog’ and nieve ‘snow’) do not seem
to be used in Zamboanga –while the climate there reduces opportunity to talk about
such things, there is certainly the possibility that Zamboangueño speakers might
know the words. I just have no evidence on that point. They do not appear in Camins

Where the velar nasal seems to cause difficulty, that is, where inconsistencies
are found in Camins’treatment, is where the segment occurs in medial positions. Five
examples illustrate the difficulty for a learner / user of the dictionary. The inclusions
in parentheses are Camins’ pronunciation guides:

Bangui-bangui (ba-NGUI-ba-GUI) ‘inedible colored small crabs’. [Is -GUI a typo
for - N G U I? Is -N G U I- the same as <Ñ g u i->? Or <Ñ g i-> with the Spanish
orthographic pattern of  for [gi] rather than [gwi]?]

Punga (pung-NGA) ‘talking through the nose’. [Again ng- and -NG, where earlier we
saw ñg. Is this /pu N a/ or /pu NN a/?] (We find Samar-Leyte pungas ‘flat-nosed’; punga
in Wolff ’s Cebuano Dictionary is ‘experiencing difficulty in breathing from having
too full a stomach or being pregnant’; pungá in Motus’s Hiligaynon dictionary seems
closest: ‘a nasal manner of speech’.)

Sangit (SANG-ngit) ‘snagged’. [Again ng where earlier ñg; apparent gemination in
the pronunciation guide.]

Sangñga (sang-GA) ‘to block, snag’. [Is this -G rather than -NG a typo? Or is it really
/ N g/ that is being represented?] [What are we to make of the difference between <-ngñg->
here and <-ng>- or -ngng- above? And note the commonality semantically.]

Sangut (san-GUT) ‘sickle’. [Now here the spelling is ; is this really /n/+/g/?
and not / N / or / N g/?] (Yap & Bunye’s Cebuano dictionary shows sánggot ‘scythe’
–but their entry examples show use with a coconut, so ‘scythe’is probably an error
where they really mean ‘sickle’ or some other such short-handled tool; Wolff ’s A
Dictionary of Cebuano Visayan has sanggut ‘sickle’and the entry associates the tool
with palm toddy. Note / N g/ here clearly in the Cebuano; we can be confident that
both Yap & Bunye’s and Wolff ’s treatments are phonemic).

After some detailed and careful study, I am tempted to observe that Camins’
pronunciation guides will work for many entries only for those users of the dictionary
who already know how to pronounce these words; they are well-nigh useless for a
language learner. That problem should be addressed in a subsequent edition of this
valuable work and must be remedied.

A second, predictable problem area for Camins’ dictionary is treatment of that
phonological segment called glottal catch. Spanish, of course, does not have this
phonological feature. It occurs in Zamboangueño medially intervocalically and in
clusters, and it also occurs finally. It is phonemic. In final position Camins indicates
it with  or ; I am not convinced that this is entirely consistent. I believe there
are cases with a written  in Camins’ pronunciation guides where there is no
glottal catch in spoken Zamboangueño. Medially, inter vocalically, it is (sometimes)
indicated with <-> (hyphen). Medially in clusters it is indicated with h/H. A
distracting fact for the learner who is not closely familiar with Spanish orthography
is found in that  initially is representation of no sound in words of Spanish origin
but represents /h/ in words of Philippine origin. Furthermore words of Spanish origin
with initial  are pronounced /h/, and sometimes words of Philippine origin with
initial /h/ are spelled with : Thus  for /hende / /.

One twist I noted involves the derivational use of a suffix -an (or -han, where
the stem ends in a vowel). Thus Cuhi (cu-JIH) ‘to catch’ (< Spanish coger) and
Cuhijan (cu-JI-han) ‘catch if you can; game of children’. Almost as if he wanted to
cover all possibilities, Camins also included Cogida ~ Cugida ‘the catch’(with, note,
 this time. His pronunciation guide gives (co-GI-da) and even for the variant with
raised u, (cu-GI-da) ). Thus we find Peleajan ‘fight, quarrel’ and Saludajan ‘act of
greeting or saluting one another’ alongside Pulujan ‘handle of knife or bolo’,
Pugajan ‘hard palm timber’ and Patujan ‘goal, end-point of a race’. I am assuming
that the last three are not of Spanish origin (although I am not at all certain of this);
the point is that the  orthographic pattern carries throughout, regardless of the
assignment of ‘source’ to the word as a whole.

And then we find words of neither Spanish nor Philippine origin in the
dictionary spelled with  and we remain uncertain as to how they are pronounced:
jacka ‘world war II Japanese paper currency’; juajuy ‘a 37-number lottery’.

C a m i n s ’ d i c t i o n a ry also contains two forms with  following another
consonant: Bidju (bid-JUH) ‘a short spear to catch fish under water’, and Canje
(CAN-je) ‘broth of boiling rice’.

On top of that, the learner who is unable to recognize what is of Spanish origin
and what is not is in serious trouble with respect to the use of this spelling system.
Now all of this may be of interest to the phonologist or the lexicographer, but why
should it make any difference to those concerned about Zamboangueño as an
endangered language? I submit that it matters just because it makes the dictionary
less than fully useful for the learner, whether that learner is insider or outsider, native
or non-native.

While sitting ‘off-stage’and waiting to be interviewed at one radio or TV station
in Zamboanga, I overheard other broadcasters expressing a concern that I was yet
another outsider come to criticize the way they used the language. One of these
broadcasters expressed to me the view that Camins’ dictionary would have more
value (for her) if it were an English-to-Chabacano dictionary rather than being what
it is, Chabacano-to-English.

Permit me to turn now to a different kind of problem. I was asked a number of
times in Zamboanga in 1999 what I thought of the idea of teaching Zamboangueño
in the schools, either elementary or higher education. I was aware that there would be
those in applied sociolinguistics who would jump to encourage such a move. I myself
have been active in seeking bilingual education programs for various groups in
Hawaii, and have been frustrated and distressed when off icialdom in my home state
resisted the idea.

Jeff Siegel, who has taken the initiative in developing a project he calls P.A.C.E.,
Pidgins and Creoles in Education, reports that “[s]ince the discipline [of Pidgin and
Creole Studies] began, there have been calls to promote the use of pidgins and creoles
in formal education (...)” (Siegel, 1993: 299). Siegel intends that this program
contribute to “the distribution of detailed information about existing programs and
their eff e c t iveness to educators, community leaders and gove rnment offi c i a l s
throughout the region (Australia and the Southwest Pacific)”. Siegel expresses the
hope that the information so provided “may be helpful in making more enlightened
language planning decisions and in setting up new programs or improving existing
ones” (ibid.: 307). One negative result mentioned by Siegel for evaluation of a
program in Haiti has relevance to the topic of orthography in the dictionary discussed
above: controversy over adopted orthography, and difficulties teachers encountered
in mastering written Creole both were thought to have effected that evaluation (ibid.:
305). For more of relevance see also Siegel (1997).

Here is similarly oriented support for creoles in education from another linguist
active in creole studies:

Education is potentially the most effective equalizer because it can reach children
early enough in life. The issue of language acquisition and the associated sense of
social and ethnic identity in relation to others is probably the most crucial, yet the
most downplayed, element in educational systems. (Escure, 1997: 287)

Nettles & Romaine (2000: 186) observe that “[t]here is no doubt that absence of
schooling in one’s own language can make maintenance [of that language] difficult”,
but they go on to argue that:

Language movements cannot succeed if schools or states are expected to carry the
primary burden of maintenance or revival. A frequent decision of language revival
groups to start on the educational system can be misguided, particularly if the
language in question is spoken primarily by those already past school age.
(Nettles & Romaine, 2000: 187)

At present I do not have anything like a full picture of just who speaks
Zamboangueño today. Frake (1980) using as a base the 1960 census, estimated
40,000 speakers on Basilan Island alone. I do not have current figures. Rodil (1999)
cites 1990 figures showing that “the total number of Chavacano speakers in
Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago is 273,701”. A current brochure aimed at tourists
states: “There are 442,345 inhabitants in the city [Zamboanga City], 76% of whom
are Christians and 24% Muslims” (Zamboanga Hermosa: The Garden City Gateway
to your Memories).

I do not believe that the situation is as dire as that focussed on in the Nettles &
Romaine (2000) discussion just above. Indeed I had a live ly and delightful
conversation in Zamboanga with a group of elementary school children. I believe that
there are many thousands of elementary school aged children in Zamboanga who
speak the language. On the other hand, we do have the important report of Lauro C.
Lleno, mentioned only by Fr. Bill Kreutz at the Ateneo de Zamboanga conference,
who tells us that only 51% of the Ateneo students surveyed come from homes where
Zamboangueño continues to be spoken. His findings came as a shock to at least some
of those who read his report, and it seems not unreasonable to suppose that there are
others who ought to have this information who have not read the report in question.

The population of the City of Zamboanga has grown very substantially in the
last quarter of the twentieth century. The physical city itself seemed to be very much
bigger than it was when I left it in 1964. I am not absolutely certain of the figures,
but I understand that it has grown at least five times larger than it was then, with a
current population approaching half a million people. Many of the newer residents
are refugees from embattled surrounding areas, where fighting between dissidents,
those who would establish a Muslim state in the south, and the military created
conditions that were too unsafe for them to stay where they had been. A re-reading
of Frake (1980) would remind us that there are thousands of Zamboangueño
speakers, both first-language and trade-language speakers who live / lived on
Basilan. Frake’s observations about the place of Zamboangueño among the languages
in Yakan life should not be overlooked in our deliberations. In any case, the “Loyal
and Valiant City” became a city of refuge anew in the days of Marcos’s martial law.
It also became the home of a large military base called Southcom, the Southern
Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. The landscape along the road I
used to travel between an office in Baliwasan and the old Peace Corps training center
in Ayala is now stunningly different visually from what I remember of the early 1960s
and very considerably more populated. The view of the city from the air is quite
different too.

One of the sources of concern for champions of Chabacano is this influx of
young military to the city. One of the laments I heard frequently was a concern over
what at least some have called ‘Chabacano pul-pul’ (pulpul is glossed in Camins’
dictionary as ‘substandard work’; the form also can be found in David Zorc & Rachel
San Miguel’s Tagalog Slang Dictionary (1991): an ignorant, useless person, with
semantic shift from the Tagalog word which means ‘blunt, dull point’; Wolff (1971:
796) gives the form as Cebuano with meanings ‘not bright, unskilful, slow running,
slow of movement, mentally slow’). This criticized way of talking is characterized by
the preference or tendency to insert Tagalog pronouns, in particular, the second
person singular, into otherwise Zamboangueño utterances. I was told by more than
one person that this has resulted from young women near the Southcom base chatting
with non-Zamboangueño soldiers and adopting their Tagalog. Examples were given
by Ms. Lojean Valles-Akil in her presentation to the November 1999 conference.
(She noted the possibility that Cebuano was a possible source in addition to Tagalog).

Ya mira yo CON IKAW alla.
(I saw you there.)
(Normal Zamboangueño: Ya mira yo CONTIGO alla.)

Other examples from my notes of her talk, but not found in the paper distributed
to participants:

Que tal IKAW?
(How are you?)
(Normal Zamboangueño: Que tal TU?)

Quiere KA mira sine?
(Do you want to watch a movie?)
(Normal Zamboangueño: Quiere TU mira sine?)

Because I was also offered very similar (if not identical) examples by others
(who presented them as shocking things to be horrified by), I would note the
difference here between the use of ikaw in the two cases, and ka in the latter instance.
The examples with ikaw strike me as ‘crashingly ungrammatical’and rather unlikely
–as though someone made them up to use as cautionary examples. The example with
ka strikes me as a more likely, more believable case of code-switching. Another
example of the what is to me odd sort: DE IKAW este? ‘Is this yours?’ (normal
Zamboangueño: DITUYO ba ‘ste?). I would expect Tagalog speakers trying to use
Zamboangueño to say something like De iyo este?, or maybe Kon iyo, rather than De
ikaw. After all, Tagalog distinguishes pronoun cases, and no Tagalog speaker would
say something like (ng, or sa) ikaw ito? (normal Tagalog: Sa iyo ba ito? ‘Does this
belong to you?’). Of course that brings up the point that the Tagalog ‘sa-pronoun’ iyo
is isomorphic with the Zamboangueño first person singular iyo. Is that where this
trouble starts?

A speech event which occurred just as the Ateneo de Zamboanga conference
was beginning was pointedly reported to me. The report itself seems to me entirely
reliable and credible. A former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences was looking
for the room where the conference was to be held. He approached a group of
students, and, according to his self-report, asked them: Taqui ba el conferencia? They
replied: O p ò. (His query ‘Is the conference (being held) here?’ was in
Zamboangueño; their reply ‘Yes, sir’ was polite Tagalog). Of course there is much
one would like to know about the contexts of this event: Who in particular were these
individual students? What was the history of the students’ experience of interaction
with the Dean? Did he usually speak Zamboangueño on campus to them? Or might
this have been a first time, occasioned by the special event? and so on.

The children I mentioned speaking with above did not speak this sort of
‘Chabacano pulpul’ which I had been told young people were now speaking; the
Zamboangueño the children used with me was lively and articulate but polite, and
altogether charming. I did not hear a single Tagalog pronoun in perhaps thirty
minutes of conversation.

Note one interesting development out of the rise of such attention to
Zamboangueño’s contact with Tagalog: where Rev. Ferrero mentioned that there was
an old idea of Zamboangueño as ‘español corrupto’, but that this had been rebutted,
and where the students who questioned me in open forum were clearly probing for
my attitudes with the respect to the notion of Zamboangueño as ‘bastard Spanish’,
and where Mayor Lobregat in her introductory remarks opening the conference
herself purposefully repeated that old saw that “Chabacano is considered just a
bastardized form of Spanish”, Valles-Akil made the argument, new to my hearing,
that the formerly ‘pure’ Chabacano was only just now being ‘corrupted’ by Tagalog
intrusion of this sort. Note that Camins argued in his handbook:

There might be a pure Tagalog, Cebuano, Subanen or even a pure Sama dialect. But
there just cannot be a pure Chabacano because the dialect was born out of necessity,
of an admixture of tribes, races, and cultures –who were forced by circumstances to
live together, dialogue with one another, and to procreate a distinct breed of more
tolerant, hospitable, compassionate, less bellicose, and less rapacious Filipinos.
(1999: 5)

There are two more points, related to the issues of language policy and planning
on the one hand, and to our knowledge of Zamboangueño on the other, which I wish
to touch on before I close. The first involves a question of the structure and use of
Zamboangueño which native speakers have been addressing. The second involves a
question of structure and use which I have not heard taken up by any but outsiders.
In raising these two points I do not wish to trespass on the line drawn by our
conference organizers; it is my conviction that any linguistics is, or ought to be,
sociolinguistics, as William Labov once said (e.g., 1972: 184). The two points of
syntax I want to discuss are matters of sociolinguistics in that how the data for
discussing them are to be gathered, and how the investigation proceeds, are both
matters for careful reflection on how people talk to one another. In that way I hope to
avoid merely talking about “topics which are strictly grammatical in nature”, but
focus attention instead on how what we know, or don’t know, about how
Zamboangueño works has impact or potential impact on attitudes about the language
and about action aimed at supporting maintenance of the language. And what we
know about the language in part is a function of how we interact with speakers of the
language (Briggs, 1986).

The first of these two points is the question of passive: does Zamboangueño
have passive voice? This has been a lively, although somewhat vexed, topic in the
discussion in recent years of other Philippine languages. Many scholars have taken
up the idea that Philippine languages are ergative, that an ergative analysis works
better than the old ones did. But I have not yet heard discussion of Chabacano as
ergative. What has been said, if anything, on this topic? Zamboangueño speakers and
champions have entered this fray. Camins (1999: 12-13) for one planted his feet
f irmly and insisted: “In Chabacano there is no passive voice. If ever it is desired our
forefathers would express it in Spanish in which they are conversant”.

Now, in my opinion, when we talk about something a language does not have,
we are in a certain sense engaging in talk more about ourselves, what we know, what
we expect or what we look for, than we are talking about the language under
investigation. Of course I do not mean to neglect the sense in which description is
always comparison. At the same time I want to express a commitment to the sort of
balance which comes from resolutely fixing one’s attention on what is there.

And what is there in Zamboanga is more than one language. In that respect, I
have no quarrel with Camins’ answer. Camins does well to remind us of the
multilingual nature of the common repertoire. Nonetheless, I find interesting the
example Camins uses to illustrate his claim:

The criminal was killed by soldiers. (English passive)
El criminal fue matado por los soldados. (Spanish passive)
El maga soldao ya mata con el criminal. (Chabacano active)

What I take notice of here are the following points: Camins asserts that his
forefathers would have used the Spanish in which they were fluent. Perhaps so. But
today there are many in Zamboanga who are not fluent at all in Spanish. I would say
that there are very many more who are fluent in English. Then note that Camins
(writing in English) begins with an example in English. Next we see what I take to
be a Spanish translation from the English, however normal an instance of Spanish it
may be (and I am in no position to evaluate that). The Chabacano form which appears
third, however, illustrating Camins claim –by what does not show up– is a sentence
of the form SVO. Now, I am not denying that SVO sentences occur in
Zamboangueño; they do. In my opinion, however, VSO is the more unmarked order.
Often in my experience, an SVO sentence results from translation of an English
sentence that was ‘there’ first. I have noticed that a high percentage of the radio 
news-script texts in my possession are in the form SVO. These scripts were collected in
1999. They are, I assume, translated from news leads from elsewhere, most probably
originally in English or in Tagalog.

Valles-Akil (1999) explored the question, how similar is Chavacano syntax to
that of other Philippine languages? Her method was to make use of a questionnaire
developed for eliciting syntactic forms in Philippine languages (Constantino, 1965)
and present Chabacano translations in comparison with other translations elicited for
Tagalog, Cebuano, Sama Balangingi and Subanon. In the copy of her paper
distributed to conference participants, Valles-Akil concluded:

(...) in as far as its noun marking is concerned, Chavacano’s syntax is clearly of
Malayo-Polynesian character. Although it does not lend to the Malayo-Polynesian
passive sentence construction, its adherence to the Malayo-Polynesian word order is
obvious as shown by the position and function of its noun marker/s in a sentence.

Up to a point, I have no diff iculty agreeing with what Ms. Valles-Akil is arguing,
and I too found that there were aspects of Zamboangueño syntax which could be
compared rather directly to that of other Philippine languages such as Tagalog or
Cebuano. The final chapter of my dissertation was a more developed attempt to make
this point (Forman, 1972: 232-237) than I can take the time to make here.

As one brief example: one might construct a chart of noun markers of case, as

   Zamboangueño                 Tagalog                       Cebuano
commons propers (pers)   commons propers (pers)       common propers (pers)
el si                           ang si                        ang si
de~di de~di                      ng ni                         ug ni
con(el) con                     sa kay                        sa kang

Of course, things start getting more complex quickly as one develops such
comparisons and this is not the whole picture by a long shot.

The syntactic work done so far has not yet produced a clear description of
Zamboangueño syntax. Two examples I present below are perhaps functionally more
like ‘passive’ than they are formally, but it is syntactic (and discourse) phenomena
like these which call out for a finer-grained description.

Fr. Ferrero (1999) provided an interesting anecdote which offers one of the
relevant examples. He was making the point that the newly arrived Spanish-speaker
“feels at home with chavacano and thinks he speaks correctly”, but then “gets his
great bukul” (i.e., is in for a lump on the head) when he boards the lancha (‘ferry’,
‘launch’) to Isabela and asks the attendant:

(version in Ferrero’s paper)             (version as in my notes as he spoke):
   Libre este asiento?                             Libre ba ‘ste?

 and she replies:

Jendeh, Padre, ta paga ese.               Ay, hende / , Padre! ESE(,) TA PAGA!

Then Ferrero notes in his written version: “(libre in Spanish is NOT
OCCUPIED)” Clearly the boat’s attendant took it as ‘free, gratis, complementary, no
charge’. What I want to know is, what is the proper analysis of Ese ta paga here?

Later, reading in a book which Councilwoman Climaco brought to the airport
for me on the day I left Zamboanga, I found my second example. The book I was
reading is a book about the life of the late and much-loved mayor of Zamboanga City,
Cesar Climaco. A moment after he had been shot down on a city street, patrolman
Benjamin Arquiza, the policeman who had just turned away from talking with the
mayor, quoted others present as saying about the assassinated Climaco:

Ya tira con el mayor .
(The mayor has been shot. / (Someone) shot the mayor.) (Climaco et al., 1997: 16)

The C.C.C. Foundation volume publication where this appears commemorates
the 13th death anniversary of the late Mayor Cesar C. Climaco, and reprints many
articles from Cesar: Champion of the Underdog (1991). The particular piece from
which I have quoted was originally a news story in the Zamboanga Times, 17
November 1984, three days after the assassination. The first gloss is contained in the
story. The second gloss is my addition. (The book also reprints a news story about the
murder of patrolman Arquiza which took place not a very long time after).

Algun is a word that does exist in the repertoires of Zamboangueño speakers
(Forman, 1972: 242, there given as algun and algun-as and glossed as ‘certain’) and
in Camins (1999: 37) one does find algo ‘something’ and algunus ‘someone’. I
would note here that the policeman is not reported as using it, or any other
representation of an agent, in this utterance –and that may well be the kind of
omission that a description really ought to include. My own Sprachgefühl for
Zamboangueño, unfortunately, does not permit me to say more at this point.

The other problematic topic, the one I noted I have not heard being discussed in
Zamboanga or even in the wider context of linguistics being done in the Philippines
is the question of whether or not Chabacano, and Zamboangueño in particular, have
serial verbs. My idea of why this matters (at the level of sociolinguistic or
ethnographic linguistic treatment of our subject) is that insiders would not permit the
level of inadequacy one finds in the profession’s treatment of the topic, and, at the
same time, the community might benefit from knowing two things: one, the level of
interest among scholars; and two, the ways in which the system of their language is
like that of a set of other languages (which, as I understand it, does not include

Briefly, the problem is this: John McWhorter’s book Towards a New Model of
Creole Genesis (1997) contains a survey of serial verb constructions in creole
languages. McWhorter presents his findings in three categories: creoles with a wide
range of serial verb constructions, creoles with a limited range of serial verb
c o n s t ructions, and creoles with no serial verbs. He places Chabacano and
Zamboangueño in the latter category. In doing so, he makes it clear that he is relying
on data “adapted from Jansen, Koopman, and Muysken 1978". When I checked that
source, I was surprised to find that those authors did indeed make such a claim, but
presented absolutely no support for that claim as ‘data’. Some years ago, I had noted
(to my initial pleasure) that Zamboangueño appeared twice, under the rubric
‘Philippine Creole Spanish’, in Linguistics: The Cambridge Survey; this was the
neglected language of our concern making ‘the big time’in linguistics. Terrific. Then
to my disappointment, I found that the two major figures in creolistics citing
Philippine Creole Spanish (Bickerton, 1988; Muysken, 1988) both seemed to get
things wrong in their treatment. Subsequent to discovering this, I presented a paper
at the Sixth International Conference on Austronesian Languages (1991), and later
published a critique in Oceanic Linguistics (Forman, 1993). In that paper, I presented
my argument for why I thought both Pieter Muysken and Derek Bickerton had gotten
things about Zamboangueño wrong. To my knowledge I am the only one who raised
such complaints. I hope that does not mean that my criticism is wrong, only that no
one else noticed. Bickerton has communicated with me about the paper, but neither
Bickerton nor Muysken has published anything which would make me change my
mind about the critique I offered. McWhorter seems to have missed Forman (1993).
(A colleague in creole studies, Miriam Meyerhoff, called it clearly and explicitly to
his attention after he made a dismissive comment on CreoList about “an obscure
article” showing that “even Philippine Creole Spanish has some [serialization],
despite there being none in the substrate languages”.) Details of this argument might
carry us too far into territory which the conference organizers wanted us to avoid. In
that case, I shall be happy to convey, to any who want to know, relevant data and
further details of this argument.

In closing, I want to turn to a founding figure in the study of language death,
N a n cy Dorian. In Grenoble & W h a l ey ’s recent volume (1998), E n d a n ge re d
Languages, Dorian observes that “languages are seldom admired to death, but are
frequently despised to death” (Dorian, 1998: 3). Expanding on this view, Dorian says:

(...) languages have the standing that their speakers have. If the people who speak a
language have power and prestige, the language they speak will enjoy high prestige
as well. If the people who speak a language have little power and low prestige, their
language is unlikely to be well thought of. Because the standing of a language is so
intimately tied to that of its speakers, enormous reversals in the prestige of a language
can take place within a very short time span. (ibid.: 3-4)

To me, the people who speak Zamboangueño remain people very well thought
of. One wonders, however, if their concern about the standing of their language is not
the wilting of the canary –an indication that things have changed and they no longer
perceive themselves as having power and prestige. Possibly, we might speculate, the
assassination of Cesar Climaco was a turning point. The great increase of military
activity in the area has had effect on the environment. Frake has written recently
about the need for one who travels in the area to become competent in what has been
called ‘checkpoint Ta ga l og ’ ( Fr a ke, 1998, where Fr a ke refers to “military -checkpoint-
interaction ritual”). “In the more usual cases the group that exercises
military or political power over others will establish its own language as the language
of governance in its contacts with those others” (Dorian, op. cit.: 4-5). It is
noteworthy that the Philippine military has nothing like the US military’s Defense
Language Institute (in Monterey, California) where students study hundreds of
different languages. What if the Philippine military were to study and teach at least
select members of its forces to speak Zamboangueño competently and to promote
them for learning to do so? It seems to me noteworthy that Zamboangueños in my
recent experience pointed often to the military when they talked about the
endangerment of Zamboangueño.

Dorian’s article, however, is really much more about linguistic than about
military matters, and these are the considerations we as linguists might most take to
heart. She focuses attention on the history of language and language treatment in
Europe, and in particular on the rise of standard languages. She isolates European
beliefs about language which she thinks are “likely to have had an unfavourable
impact on the survival of indigenous languages” (p. 10):

The cumulative effect of the ‘ideology of contempt’, of ignorance about the
complexity and expressivity of indigenous languages, of a belief in linguistic social
Darwinism, and of a belief in the onerousness of bi- or multilingualism converge to
bear down most of the languages spoken by populations without wealth or power.
They are heavy weights for small populations in particular to cast off, and few have
so far been able to do so. (Dorian, 1998: 12)

Dorian writes about the survey done by the Abbé Gregoire in 1790 and his
finding that various regional speech forms were labeled coarse and stupid, and were
considered to keep the people ignorant and superstitious (Dorian ,1998: 7, citing
Grillo, 1989: 31, 174). We might ask if there is any connection between the attitudes
reported there and such phenomena as the origin of the label ‘Chabacano’ in the
arena of our concern. Do we know how old ‘Chabacano’is as label for the language?
Dorian offers a caution that we had best take to heart:

Europeans who came from polities with a history of standardizing and promoting just
one high prestige speech-form carried their ‘ideology of contempt’ for subordinate
languages with them when they conquered far-flung territories, to the serious
detriment of indigenous languages. And in addition to a language ideology favoring
a single normalized language, derived from the history of national language
standardization in their homelands, Europeans espoused other ideologies that
exacerbated their contempt for whatever unstandardized ve rnaculars they
encountered. (Op. cit., p. 9)

One can readily see where Chabacano would have been vulnerable to such
ideology. At the same time we today must recall our discipline’s history of “reducing
a language to writing”, and other idealizations, which we use the reductions of
‘science’ to justify, and be cautious about the kinds of recommendations our own
ideologies of language, sometimes yet unexamined, we offer to the people who speak
Chabacano and wish to preserve and nourish it. Whatever we do, we need to keep
mindful of the Chabacano language in its context, not severed from that context of
the lives of its speakers, not studied or preserved just as an object of interest in its
own right, but as something still very central to the lives of its speakers.

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