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Excerpt from the article "Palenquero and Chabacano" by Ian Mackenzie, University of Newcastle upon Tyne


Chabacano is spoken in Ternate and Cavite, in Manila Bay, in Zamboanga and Cotabato on the Island of Mindanao, and also on Basilan Island, to the south of Mindanao. In Manila Bay Chabacano exhibits Tagalog influence, while in the south the influence is from Cebuano.

3.1. Pronunciation. The sound system of Chabacano is not complex. It diverges in the following ways from Spanish, the lexifier language:

(a) The voiced obstruents /b, d, g/ are almost always realized as stops, i.e. [b, d, g].

(b) The dental [d] has been eliminated from the -ado ending: gente rabiao ‘angry person’.

(c) Spanish /f/ has been displaced by /p/, as a result of substrate influence: [Èpondo] < fondo, [ÈpweRa] < fuera.

(d) Spanish /x/ surfaces as /h/: [huÈga] < jugar, [Èhente] < gente.

(e) Spanish /tS/ surfaces either as [ts] or [S]: [Èpetso]/[ÈpeSo] < pecho.

(f) Unlike in most parts of the Spanish-speaking world, /´/ is preserved as a distinct phoneme: [kaÈ´a] < callar, [È´eno] < lleno.

(g) The Spanish trill /r/ has merged with the tap /R/: [ÈRosas] < rosas.

(h) In Zamboanga and Cotabato, the vibrant /R/ may be pre-aspirated: [ÈtohRe] < torre, [tohÈReRo].

(i) [R] to [l] modification is not uncommon in syllable-final position: [Èbilhen] < virgen, [Ètalde] tarde.

(j) Infinitives end in a stressed vowel, rather than /R/: [haÈbla] < hablar.

(k) Spanish final /R/ (except in infinitives) usually surfaces as a glottal stop [/], as in [seÈøo/].

(l) Syllable-initial stressed vowels are often preceded by a glottal stop (as happens in local indigenous languages): [lagRimeÈ/a] < lagrimear.

3.2. Grammar. Chabacano has both a definite and an indefinite article, viz. el and un, but both are invariant: el bata ‘the boy’, el voz ‘the voice’, un bata mujer ‘the woman’. The contraction del also occurs: debajo del olas.

As is typical of creoles, Chabacano has virtually no inflectional morphology, in that nouns, adjectives, verbs and determiners are almost always invariant. In the first place, gender simply is non-existent as a grammatical category, with adjectives being descended from the masculine in Spanish: El mujer alto ya andá na plaza ‘The tall woman went to the market’, El escuela limpio ‘The school is clean’. Note that, as in many other creoles, the masculinity or femininity of animate nouns can be signalled through agglutination to the base noun of words meaning ‘male’ or ‘female’, viz. macho and mujer; thus, e.g., el caballo mujer ‘the mare’.

Secondly, plurality in the NP is usually expressed through the particle mana (< Tagalog mga),; thus el mana casa ‘las casas’, el mana compañera ‘the companions’. Occasionally, suffixation of -s/-es may be used to mark the plural, as in Spanish: rosa ® rosas, plor (< flor) ® plores. Sometimes both plural formation process may occur at once: su mana pulseras ‘her bracelets. Usually, no plural marker is used with numeric determiners: siete mujer ‘seven women’.

The absence of person and number marking in the verb is offset by the fact that subject pronouns (listed in the table below) are obligatory if there is no lexical subject:

   Person     Caviteño        Source        Zamboangueño      Source
     1        yo              yo              yo              yo
     2    tu, vo, usté       tú, vos, usted   tu, evós, vos   tú, vos
     3        eli             él              ele, le         él
     4        nisós         nosotros          kamé, kitá      Tagalog/Cebuano
     5        vusós         vosotros          kamó            Cebuano
     6        ilós          ellos             silá            Tagalog/Cebuano

Similarly, the tenselessness of verb forms is compensated by the routine use of pre-verbal particles. The most important of these are as follows:

Particle   Source  Value                 Example
ta          estar present        Eli ta jugá. ‘He/She plays’
de/di(Cavite) de  future    ¿Cosa hora di lligá vusos? ‘When will you arrive?’
ay(Zamb.)    hay  future    Ay escribí yo cun mi anák. ‘I will write to my son.’
ya           ya   past  María ya regalá un relos cun su nobio.‘María gave her boyfriend a watch.’


Adjectives can usually be used as adverbs: Eli ta clavá bueno el vista ‘He/She stares’, caminá chiquitito ‘to walk in short steps’.

Turning now to syntactic functions, these are obviously not in general marked by inflections. Con/Cun is used to mark personal direct and indirect objects (in Zamboangueño, con/cun is used also with non-personal direct objects):

(6) Ya mirá yo cun José. ( ‘I saw José.’)

(7) Nisós ya pidí pabor cun su papang. (‘We have already asked your father for a favor.’)

(8) Ele ya empesá buscá que buscá con el sal. (‘He/She began to search everywhere for the salt.’)

The preposition na (probably of Portuguese origin) is used in locative and directional constructions:

(9) Eli ya andá na escuela. (‘He/She went to school.’)

(10) Mario ya dormí na casa. (‘Mario slept in the house.’)

Finally, copula omission is routine (as in the substrate languages):

(11) Yo pilipino. (‘I am Philippine.’)


Friedemann, Nina S. & Patiño Rosselli, Carlos. 1983. Lengua y sociedad en el Palenque de San Basilio. Bogotá: Instituto Caro y Cuervo.

Munteanu, Dan. 1996. El Papiamento, lengua criolla hispánica. Madrid: Gredos.

For more information consult A Linguistic Introduction to Spanish by Ian Mackenzie (University of Newcastle upon Tyne), LINCOM Studies in Romance Linguistics 35, ISBN 3 89586 347 5.


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