Some more facts about Spanish in the Philippines

Late last year I wrote a post here about the proposal of reintroducing the teaching of Spanish in the school system of the Philippines.

My post has generated many responses. It has been in fact the most popular of my post since I started this blog. Since the time I wrote it I’ve found out some other facts relating to the history and nature of the Spanish language presence in the Philippines.

  1. During the colonial period (over three centuries) Spanish was the language used for administrative purposes, however, there was never a massive immigration of Spanish colonists as the Philippines didn’t have the economic potential of Mexico or Peru.
  2. The preaching of the gospels and the overall propagation of Christianity was mostly carried out via the native languages.
  3. Spain as colonial master only made the teaching of Spanish compulsory quite late in the 18th century.

Based on Ostler (2005:377 – 379)

Point 1 translates into a situation where a language doesn’t need to be used or maintained and consequently naturally reproduced by new generations of native speakers. The lack of enough native Spanish colonists didn’t provide the necessary environment for Spanish to have an initial firm hold at a greater scale during the period of the Spanish domination of this country. Ostler (2005) also lists the case of Dutch, as a colonial language with similarities to the fate of Spanish in the Philippines’ context. (p 395-403)

Apart from the primary role of the family for the maintenance of a language and the role played by a same language group setting to achieve this same goal, a language is propagated by organised school systems. Spain’s late response to the need to teach the general population Spanish together with the effects caused by the other two factors listed above may be assigned as the main reasons for Spanish not to have taken firm roots in the Philippines.


Ostler, Nicholas. Empires of the Word (Harper Perennial, 2005)

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About L. A. Pinel

I'm the founder and Director of Tres Culturas Spanish Language Studio, a specialist Spanish language school in Melbourne, Australia. As a teacher of Spanish I view the study of issues about the nature of the Spanish language in particular and of applied linguistics in general with great passion. I’m also an avid language learner, my other languages are Italian, Portuguese and French; at the moment I'm studying Latin and Mandarin Chinese.

Posted on August 23, 2008, in Culture, Education, Foreign Language Learning, Language, Language learning, Second Language Learning, Spanish, Spanish Language Learning. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. i beg to disagree on your analysis of point 1. let’s just take the idea of economic factor as a hindrance to the immigration of Spaniards in the Philippines at its face value.

    second, i also don’t agree with Ostler comparing the fate of the Spanish and Dutch languages. for the information of everybody, about 50 of the 87 languages and dialects in the Philippines are influenced by the Spanish language. the highly influenced one is the ‘chabacano’ in the southern part of the archipelago which is internationally known as ‘kitchen spanish’ being a grammatically wrong spanish language. similarly, a large percentage of the vocabulary of the ‘bikol’ language has roots in the spanish tongue.

    thus, there are linguists who blame the spaniards for the death of the indigenous languages in the philippines.

    with regards the re-introduction of the spanish language in the philippine educational system, well, it could be because of the following: 1. the past laws of the Philippines, including jurisprudence, are written in spanish. and these are still being used in the current legal system. 2. considering that a large percentage of the existing languages in the archipelago are influenced by the spanish language, it might as well be proper that the filipinos also learn the original language and not the ‘kitchen tongue’. 3. the philippines and spain shared a lot of historical and cultural experiences and now they are reviving them once again.

    hope this clarifies the issues. thanks and keep blogging :)

    • Chabacano is actually not a gramatically wrong form of the Spanish langauge. It is a creole, which means it is a language that has evolved from the mixture of two or more languages and has become the first language of a group. It is a creole like Haitan, a creole of French. They say Chabacano sounds strange to Spanish speakers, but is mutually intelligible. Creoles were originally pidgins, meaning they are auxillary modes of communication employed among people of diverse linguistic backgrounds. Pidgins often have highly simplified grammatic structure of the language it is based on. Pidgins are never the native language of anyone, but when they would eventually do, they are called creoles.

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