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Chavacano, also Chabacano, is a Spanish-based creole language spoken in the Philippinesmarker. It is the common name for the six dialects of what is formally known in Linguistics as Philippine Creole Spanish. The word "Chavacano" is derived from the Spanish language meaning "poor taste," "vulgar," "common," "of low quality," "tacky," or "coarse".

Background information

Linguistical significance

The Chavacano language is the only Spanish-based creole in Asia. It has survived for more than 400 years, making it one of the oldest creole languages in the world. It is the only language to have developed in the Philippines (a member of Philippine languages) which does not belong to the family of Austronesian languages, although it shows a characteristic common to the sub-classification of Malayo-Polynesian languages, the reduplication.


This creole has six dialects. Their classification is based on their substrate languages and the regions where they are commonly spoken. The three known dialects of Chabacano which have Tagalog as their substrate language are the Luzonmarker-based creoles of which are Caviteño (spoken in Cavite Citymarker), Ternateño (spoken in Ternate, Cavite) and Ermiteño (once spoken in the old district of Ermitamarker in Manilamarker and is now extinct). The other dialects of Chavacano which have, primarily, Cebuano as their substrate language are the Mindanaomarker-based creoles of which are Zamboangueño (spoken in Zamboanga Citymarker, Basilan Provincemarker, parts of Sulu Provincemarker and Tawi-Tawi Provincemarker, and in Sempornamarker-Sabbah, Malaysiamarker and the rest of the Zamboanga del Surmarker, Zamboanga Sibugaymarker and Zamboanga del Nortemarker), Davaoeño (spoken in some areas of Davaomarker) and Cotabateño (spoken in Cotabato Citymarker).


Much of the words in the Chavacano vocabulary are mostly derived from the Spanish language, while its grammar is mostly based on other Philippine languages primarily, Tagalog and Cebuano. Its vocabulary, especially the Zamboangueño dialect, has some minor influences from the Italian language, Portuguese and several Native American languages. The vocabulary of the Ternateño variety, in particular, has a major influence from the Portuguese language.

In contrast with the Luzon-based creoles, the Zamboangueño dialect has the most borrowings from other Philippine languages including Hiligaynon, Subanen/Subanon, Sama-Banguingui, Tausug, Yakan, Tagalog and Ilocano. Portuguese, Italian and some words of Nahuatl, Quechua, Mexican-Indian and Taino origin are present in Zamboangueño.


The highest number of Chavacano speakers are found in Zamboanga City and in the island province of Basilanmarker. A significant number of Chavacano speakers are found in Cavite City and Ternate. There are also speakers in some areas in the provinces of Zamboanga del Surmarker, Zamboanga Sibugaymarker, Zamboanga del Nortemarker, Davao, and in Cotabato City. According to the official 2000 Philippine census, there were altogether 607,200 Chavacano speakers in the Philippines in that same year. The exact figure could be higher as the 2000 population of Zamboanga City, whose main language is Chavacano, far exceeded that census figure. Also, the figure does not include Chavacano speakers of the Filipino diaspora. Notwithstanding, Zamboangueño is the dialect with the most number of speakers, being the main language of Zamboanga City whose population is now believed to be over a million.

Speakers can also be found in the town of Sempornamarker in the eastern coast of Sabah, Malaysiamarker—not surprisingly—because this northern part of Borneomarker is close to the Sulumarker islands and the Zamboanga Peninsulamarker. This region was once part of Spanish Philippines until the late 19th century.

Some people of the Muslim ethnic tribes of Zamboanga such as the Tausugs, the Samals, and of Basilan such as the Yakans also speak the language. In the close provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawimarker areas, there are Muslim speakers of the Chavacano de Zamboanga.

Social significance

Chavacano has been primarily and practically a spoken language. In the past, its use in literature was limited and chiefly local to the geographical location where the particular variety of the language was spoken. Its use as a spoken language far exceeds than its use in literary work in comparison to the use of Spanish in the Philippines which was more successful as a written language than a spoken language. In recent years, there have been efforts to encourage the use of Chavacano as a written language, but the attempts were mostly minor attempts in folklore and religious literature and few pieces of written materials by the print media. In Zamboanga City, while the language is used by the mass media, the Catholic Church, education, and the local government, there have been few literary work written in Zamboangueño and access to these resources by the general public is not readily available.

While the Luzon-based creoles, Davaoeño, and Cotabateño are believed to be in danger of extinction, the Zamboangueño dialect has been constantly evolving especially during half of the past century until the present. Zamboangueño has been experiencing an infusion of English and more Tagalog words in its vocabulary and there have been debates and discussions among older Chavacano speakers, new generation of Chavacano speakers, scholars, linguists, sociologists, historians, and educators regarding its preservation, cultivation, standardization, and its future as a Spanish-based creole. In 2000, The Instituto Cervantes in Manila hosted a conference entitled "Shedding Light on the Chabacano Language" at the Ateneo de Manila Universitymarker.

Because of the grammatical structures, Castillian usage, and archaic Spanish words and phrases that Chavacano (especially Zamboangueño) uses, between speakers of both contemporary Spanish and Chavacano who are uninitiated, both languages appear to be non-intelligible to a large extent. For the initiated speakers, Chavacano can be intelligible to some Spanish speakers, and while most Spanish words can easily be understood by Chavacano speakers, many would struggle to understand a complete Spanish sentence.

Today, Chavacano in Zamboanga City is gradually becoming to be both a spoken and written language. It is used in local government, education, print media, television, radio, film, visual media, the Catholic Church and in popular music. Zamboangueños are woking hard to revive and prolifirate the language that an online Chavacano collaborative dictionary was created.


Chavacano or Chabacano originated from the Spanish word chabacano which literally means "poor taste", "vulgar", "common", "of low quality", "tacky", or "coarse". During the Spanish colonial period, it was called by the Spanish-speaking population as the "lenguaje del calle", "lenguaje de parian" (language of the street), or "lenguaje de cocina" (kitchen Spanish to refer to the Chabacano spoken by Chinese-Filipinos of Manila, particularly in Ermita) to distinguish it from the Spanish language spoken by the peninsulares, insulares, mestizos, or the elite class called the ilustrados. This common name has evolved into a word of its own in different spellings with no negative connotation, but to simply mean as the name of the language with that distinct Spanish flavor.


Zamboangueños usually, though not always, spell the name of the language as Chavacano to refer to their language or even to themselves as Chavacanos, and they spell the word as chabacano referring to the original Spanish meaning of the word or as Chabacano referring also to the language itself. Thus, Zamboangueños generally spell the name of the language in two different ways.

Caviteños, Ternateños, and Ermitaños spell the word as it is spelled originally in the Spanish language - as Chabacano. Davaoeños, Cotabateños, and especially those from Basilan province tend to lean more on the Zamboangueño spellings. The dialects of the language are geographically-related: Ermitaño, Caviteño, and Ternateño are similar to each other having Tagalog as their substrate language while Zamboangueño, Abakay Spanish, and Cotabateñ are similar having Visayan (mostly Cebuano) as their substrate language(s). A Zamboangueño would call his dialect Zamboangueño, Zamboangueño Chavacano or formally as Chavacano de Zamboanga, a Caviteño would call his dialect Caviteño or Chabacano de Cavite, and etc. to emphasize the difference from one another using their own geographical location as point of reference.

There are also other alternative names and spellings for this language depending on the dialects and context (whether hispanized or native). Zamboangueños sometimes spell their dialect as Chabakano, Zamboangenyo, or Zamboangenio. Caviteño is also known as Caviten, Linguaje di Niso, or sometimes spell their dialect as Tsabakano. Ermitaño is also known as Ermiteño while Ternateño is also known as Ternateño Chabacano, Bahra, or Linguaje di Bahra. Davaoeño is also Davaweño, Davawenyo, Davawenyo Zamboangenyo, Abakay Spanish, or Davao Chabacano/Chavacano. Cotabateño is also known as Cotabato Chabacano/Chavacano.

Speakers from Basilan consider their Chavacano as Zamboangueño or formally as Chavacano de Zamboanga.

Historical development


On June 23, 1635, Zamboanga became a permanent foothold of the Spanish government with the construction of the San José Fortressmarker. Bombardment and harassment from pirates and raiders of the sultans of Mindanaomarker and Jolomarker and the determination to spread Christianity further south (as Zamboanga was a crucial strategic location) of the Philippines forced the Spanish missionary friars to request reinforcements from the colonial government.

The military authorities decided to import labor from Luzon and the Visayas. Thus, the construction workforce eventually consisted of Spanish and Mexican soldiers, masons from Cavite (who comprised the majority), sacadas from Cebu and Iloilo, and those from the various local tribes of Zamboanga like the Samals and Subanons.

Differences in dialects and cultures made it difficult for one tribe to communicate with another. To add to this, work instructions were issued in Spanish. The majority of the workers were unschooled and therefore did not understand Spanish but needed to communicate with each other and the Spaniards. A pidgin developed and became a full-fledged creole language still in use today as a lingua franca, mainly in Zamboanga Citymarker.

From then on, constant Spanish military reinforcements as well as increased presence of Spanish religious and educational institutions have fostered the Spanish creole.

Caviteño / Ternateño

The Merdicas were a Malay tribe of Ternatemarker, in the Moluccasmarker, which was a small Spanish colony. Ternatemarker had been a Portuguesemarker colony before the Spanish rule. In 1574, the Merdicas volunteered to come to Cavite to support the Spaniards against the threat of invasion from the Chinese pirate known as Limahong.

The invasion did not occur but the Merdicas community settled in a place called Barra de Maragondon at a sandbar near the mouth of the Maragondonmarker river.

Today, the place is called Ternate and the community of Merdicas and their generations continued to use their Spanish creole (with Portuguese influence) which came to be called as Ternateño or Ternateño Chavacano.


English Chavacano IPA phonemic transcription

(abstract phonemes) 1
IPA phonetic transcription

(actual sounds) 2












How are you? (familiar/common)




Good morning







Good afternoon







Good evening/night














Thank you


Excuse me

I am sorry







How much?
I didn't understand


Donde tu anda?
Spanish: ¿A dónde vas?
(‘Where are you going?’)
Ya mirá yo con José.
Spanish: Yo vi a José.
(‘I saw José.’)
Ele ya empezá buscá que buscá con el sal.
Spanish: Ella empezó a buscar la sal en todas partes.
(‘He/She began to search everywhere for the salt.’)
Ele ya andá na escuela.
Spanish: Ella fue a la escuela.
(‘He/She went to school.’)
Si Mario ya dormí na casa.
Spanish: Mario durmió en la casa.
(‘Mario slept in the house.’)
El hombre, quien ya man encuentro tu, es mi hermano.
Spanish: El hombre, a quien conociste, es mi hermano.
(The man [whom] you met is my brother.)
El persona con quien tu ta conversa, bien alegre gayot.
Spanish: La persona con quien conversas, está bien alegre.
(The person you are talking to is very happy indeed.)

Another sample of Chavacano de Zamboanga

Treinta y cuatro kilometro desde'l pueblo de Zamboanga, el Bunguiao es un barrio chico estaba como un desierto. No hay gente quien ta queda aqui. Abundante este lugar de maga animales particularmente como puerco, gatorgalla, venao y otro mas pa. Maga pajariador lang ta visita con este lugar.

In English:

:Bunguiao, a small village, thirty four kilometers from the city of Zamboanga, was once a wilderness. No people lived here. The place abounded with wild animals like pigs, wildcats, deer, and still others. The place was visited only by bird hunters.

In Spanish:

:A treinta y cuatro kilómetros de la ciudad de Zamboanga, Bunguiao, un barrio pequeño, era una vez un desierto. Ninguna gente vivió aquí. El lugar abundó con los animales salvajes como puercos, gatos monteses, venados, y aún otros. El lugar fue visitado solamente por los cazadores (de aves).

(Caviteño / Ternateño)

Nisós ya pidí pabor cun su papang.
Spanish: Nosotros ya pedimos un favor de tu padre.
(We have already asked your father for a favor.)

Another sample of Chavacano de Cavite

Puede nisos habla: que grande nga pala el sacrificio del mga heroe para niso independencia. Debe nga pala no niso ulvida con ilos. Ansina ya ba numa? Debe haci niso mga cosa para dale sabi que ta aprecia niso con el mga heroe. Que preparao din niso haci sacrificio para el pueblo. Que laya? Escribi mga novela como Jose Rizal?

In Zamboangueño:

:Querer decir, puede nosotros habla que muy grande sacrificio gale ya ofrece nuestro maga heroe para obtene con nuestro independencia. Entonces, no debe nosostros olvida con ellos. Ancina gane, jendeh ba? Necesita nosotros manda sabe con todos que nosotros ta aprecia con nuestro maga heroe y nosotros preparado tambien sacrifica para con el nacion. Quemodo ese nosotros hace? Maga clase de novela como ya escribi si Jose Rizal, nosotros hay escribi tambien?

In English:

:We can say what great sacrifices our heroes have done to achieve our independence. We should therefore not forget them. Is it like this? We should do things to let it be known that we appreciate the heroes; that we are prepared to make sacrifices for our people. How? [should we] write novels like José Rizal?)

In Spanish:

:Podemos decir: qué grandes sacrificios nuestros héroes han hecho para nuestra independencia. Debemos por lo tanto no olvidarnos de ellos. ¿Tiene gusto en esto? Debemos hacer cosas para que sea sabido que apreciamos a nuestros héroes; que estamos listos para hacer los sacrificios para nuestro pueblo. ¿Cómo lo haremos? ¿Escribimos novelas como José Rizal?

Translation of the Lord's Prayer

Zamboangueño Chavacano

Zamboangueño (common)

Tata de amon tallí na cielo,

bendito el de Usted nombre.

Manda vené con el de Usted reíno;

Hace el de Usted voluntad aqui na tierra,

igual como alli na cielo.

Dale canamon el pan para cada día.

Perdona el de amon maga culpa,

como ta perdona kame con aquellos

quien tiene culpa canamon.

No deja que hay caé kame na tentacion

sino libra canamon de mal.

Zamboangueño (formal)

Nuestro Tata talli na cielo,

bendito el de Usted nombre.

Manda vené con el de Usted reíno;

Hace el de Usted voluntad aqui na tierra,

igual como alli na cielo.

Dale con nosotros el pan para cada dia.

Perdona el de nuestro mana culpa,

como nosotros ta perdona con aquellos

quien tiene culpa con nosotros.

No deja que nosotros hay caé na tentacion

sino libra con nosotros de mal.

Caviteño Chabacano

Niso Tata Qui ta na cielo,

quida santificao Tu nombre.

Manda vini con niso Tu reino;

Sigui el qui quiere Tu aqui na tierra,

igual como na cielo!

Dali con niso ahora,

niso comida para todo el dia.

Perdona el mga culpa di niso,

si que laya ta perdona niso con aquel

mga qui tiene culpa con niso.

No dija qui cai niso na tentacion,

pero salva con niso na malo.

Ternateño Chabacano

Padri di mijotru ta allí na cielo,

quidá alabaó Bo nombre.

Llevá cun mijotru Bo trono; Viní con mijotru Bo reino;

Siguí cosa qui Bo mandá aquí na tiehra,

parejo allí na cielo!

Dali con mijotro esti día,

el cumida di mijotro para cada día.

Perdoná quél mgá culpa ya hací mijotro con Bo,

como ta perdoná mijotro ‘quel

mga culpa ya hací el mga otro genti cun mijotro.

No dijá qui caí mijotru na tintación,

sinó hací librá con mijotro na malo.

Months, days, numbers, and phrases

Names of months, days, and numbers in Chavacano are the same as in Spanish:

English Spanish Chavacano
January enero Enero
February febrero Febrero
March marzo Marzo
April abril Abril
May mayo Mayo
June junio Junio
July julio Julio
August agosto Agosto
September septiembre Septiembre
October octubre Octubre
November noviembre Noviembre
December diciembre Diciembre
Monday lunes Lunes
Tuesday martes Martes
Wednesday miércoles Miercoles
Thursday jueves Jueves
Friday viernes Viernes
Saturday sábado Sabado
Sunday domingo Domingo
one uno uno
ten diez diez
hundred cien ciento
five hundred quinientos quinientos
one o'clock Es la una a la una
five o'clock Son las cinco a las cinco
now ahora ahora
today hoy (or este día) este dia
tomorrow mañana mañana
this afternoon esta tarde este tarde
on the street en la calle na calle/na camino
on the table sobre la mesa encima mesa/na la mesa
in the room en el cuarto adentro cuarto
the door la puerta el puerta
one peso un peso un peso
twenty centavos una peseta un peseta
good bueno bueno
better mejor mejor/mas bueno
best el mejor (de) el con todo mejor/el mejor de todo

Persons and Relations (Chavacano equivalent of English words)

English Formal Familiar Common
Mr./Mrs. Señor/Señora Ñor/Ñora
Father Padre Papa Tata
Mother Madre Mama Nana
Grandfather Abuelo Lolo
Grandmother Abuela Lola
Grandfather-in-law Aguelo Aguelo
Grandmother-in-law Aguela Aguela
Granduncle Tio-Abuelo Tio-Abuelo
Grandaunt Tia-abuela Tia-abuela
Uncle/Aunt Tio/Tia Tio/Tia Tito/Tita
Godfather Padrino Paninoy Ninoy
Godmother Madrina Maninay Ninay
Son/Daughter Hijo/Hija Hijo/Hija
Elder Brother Hermano mayor Manong
Elder Sister Hermana mayor Manang
Brother/Sister Hermano/Hermana
Cousin(s) Primo(s)/Prima(s)
Nephew(s) Sobrino(s)/Sobrina(s)
Child(ren) Niño/Niña o Niños
Grandchildren Nieto/Nieta
Godson/Goddaughter Ajihado/Ajihada
Brother-in-law/Sister-in-law Cuñado/Cuñada
Father/Mother-in-law Suegro/Suegra
Father and Godfather Compadre Pare
Mother and Godmother Comadre Mare
Opposite Parents of a Couple Balai
Husband(s) of Sister(s) Concuño(s)
Wife(ves) of brother(s) Concuña(s)
Husband and Wife Marido y Mujer
Doctor and Patient Doctor y Paciente
Lawyer and Cliento Abogado y Cliente
Teacher and Pupil Maestro y Dicipulo
Lender and Borrower Prestamista y Deudor
Landlord and Tenant Propietario y Inquilino
Son/Daughter-in-law Yerno/Yerna
Single man/woman Soltero/Soltera
Very young maiden Dalaguita, Dalaguiñggiñg
Young maiden Dalaga
Sweetheart Novio/Novia
Friend(s) Amigo(s)/Amiga(s)
Companion Compañero(s)/Compañera(s)
Pal/Chum Barkada
Enemy Enemigo
Opponent Contrario
Partner Socio
Acquaintance Conocido
Stranger Desconocido/Estranjero
Foreigner Estranjero
Visitor Visita
Guest Invitado Invitao
Landlady Casera
Boarder Pupilo
Boss, Employer Ámo
Chief Jefe
In-charge Encargado Encargao
Manager Maniñger
Foreman Capataz
Employee Empleado
Worker Trabajador/Trabajadora
Laborer Obrero
Day laborer Jornalero
Helper Ayudante/Ayudanta
Salesman/Salesboy, Saleslady/Salesgirl Tendero/Tendera
Messenger Mensajero/Mensajera
Servant Sirviente Muchacho/Muchacha Atchay


Forms and style

Chavacano (especially Zamboangueño) has two levels of usage for words: The common or familiar form and the formal form.

In the common or familiar form, words of local origin or a mixture of local and Spanish words predominate. The common or familiar form is used ordinarily when conversing with people of equal or lower status in society. It is also used more commonly in the family, with friends and acquaintances. Its use is of general acceptance and usage.

In the formal form, words of Spanish origin or Spanish words predominate. The formal form is used especially when conversing with people of higher status in society. It is also used when conversing with elders (especially in the family and with older relatives) and those in authority. It is more commonly used by older generations, by Zamboangueño mestizos, and in the barrios. It is the form used in speeches, education, media, and writing.

The following examples show a contrast between the usage of formal words and common or familiar words in Chavacano:

English Chavacano (Formal) Chavacano (Common/Familiar)
slippery resbalozo/resbaladizo malandug
rice morisqueta canon
rain lluvia/aguacero aguacero
dish vianda/comida comida
braggart/boastful orgulloso(a) hambuguero(a)/bugalon(a)
car coche auto
housemaid muchacho (m)/muchacha (f) ayudante/ayudanta
father papá tata
mother mamá nana
grandfather abuelo abuelo/lolo
grandmother abuela abuela/lola
small chico(a)/pequeño(a) pequeño(a)/diutay
nuisance fastidio malihug
hard-headed testarudo duro cabeza/duro pulso
slippers chancla chinelas
married de estado/de estao casado/casao
(my) parents (mis) padres (mi) tata y nana
naughty travieso(a) salawayun
slide rezbalasa/deslizar landug
ugly feo (masculine)/fea (feminine) mala cara
rainshower lluve tali-ti
lightning rayo quirlat
thunder/thunderstorm trueno trueno
tornado tornado/remolino ipo-ipo
thin (person) delgado(a)/flaco(a)/chiquito(a) flaco(a)

Writing system

Chavacano orthography

Chavacano words of Spanish origin are written using the Latin alphabet with some special characters from the Spanish alphabet: the vowels with the acute accent (á, é, í, ó, ú), the vowel u with diaeresis (ü), and ñ.

Chavacano words of local origin are also written using the Latin alphabet and are spelled in the manner according to their origin. Thus, the letter k appear mostly in words of Austronesian origin or in loanwords from other Philippine languages (words such as kame, kita, kanamon, kaninyo).

Some additional characters like the ñ (eñe, representing the phoneme , a letter distinct from n, although typographically composed of an n with a tilde), the digraph ch ( , representing the phoneme ), the ll ( , representing the phoneme ), and the digraph rr ( with strong r) exist in Chavacano writing.

The Chavacano alphabet has 29 letters including the special characters.

As a general rule, words of Spanish origin are written and spelled using Spanish orthography (ie. fiesta, casa). Words of local (Philippine languages) origin are written and spelled using local orthography, but only when those words are pronounced in the local manner (ie. manok, kanon). Otherwise, words of local origin are written and spelled in the native manner along Spanish spelling rules (ie. jendeh, cogon).

In the old times, all Chavacano words, regardless of origin, were written according to the Spanish orthography (kita = quita, kame = came). Furthermore, some letters were orthographically interchanged because they represented the same phonetic values. (i.e. gente = jente, cerveza = serbesa)

It is uncommon in modern Chavacano writings to include acute accent and the diaeresis in writing and usually these marks are only used in linguistic or higly formalized text. Also, the letters ñ and llare sometimes replaced by ny and ly in informal texts.

The use of inverted punctuations (¡! and ¿?) as well as the accent marks, diaeresis, and circumflex have become obsolete even in standard texts among modern dialects.


The Chavacano alphabet has 29 letters including /ch/, /ll/ & /ñ/:

a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z

Letters and letter names

A a a J j jota R r ere
B b be

K k ka Rr rr erre
C c ce L l ele S s ese
Ch ch che Ll ll elle T t te
D d de M m eme U u u
E e e N n ene V v uve
F f efe Ñ ñ eñe W w doble u

G g ge O o o X x equis
H h hache P p pe Y y ye

I i i

Q q cu Z z zeta

Other letter combinations include rr (erre), which is pronounced or , and ng, which is pronounced . Another combination was ñg, which was pronounced but is now obsolete and is only written as ng.

Some sounds are not represented in the Chavacano written language. These sounds are mostly from words of Philippine and foreign origin. Furthermore, the pronunciation of some words of Spanish origin have become distorted or Philippinized in modern Chavacano. Some vowels have become allophonized ('e' and 'o' becomes 'i' and 'u' in some words) and some consonants have changed their pronunciation. (i.e. escoger became iscují in informal speech; tiene ; Dios ; Castilla became instead of ).

Glottal stops, as in Filipino languages, are not also indicated (â, ê, î, ô, û). These sounds are present mostly in words of Philippine origin and are indicated only in dictionaries. (i.e. jendê = not; olê = again). When indicated, circumflex marks are used.

Other pronunciation changes in some words of Spanish origin include:

f ~
ch ~
rr ~
di, de ~ (when followed or preceded by other vowels: Dios ~ /jos/ ; dejalo ~ /jalo/)
ti, te ~ (when followed or preceded by other vowels: tierra ~ /chehra/; tiene ~ /chene/)
ci, si ~ (when followed or preceded by other vowels: conciencia ~ /konshensha/)

Other sounds

-h (glottal fricative in the final position); sometimes not written
-g ; sometimes written as just -k
-d ; sometimes written as just -t

Sounds from English

“v” pronounced as English “v” (like: vase) (vi)
“z” pronounced as English “z” (like: zebra) (zi)
“x” pronounced as English “x” (like: X-ray) (ex/eks)
“h” like: house (/eitsh/); sometimes written as 'j'


Letters Pronunciation Example Significant
ae aye cae fall, to fall
ai ayi caido fallen, fell
ao aow cuidao take care, cared
ea eya patea kick, to kick
ei eyi rei king
eo eyo video video
ia iya advertencia warning, notice
ie iye cient(o) one hundred, hundred
io iyo cancion song
iu iyu saciut to move the hips a little
uo ow instituo institute
qu ke que what, that, than
gu strong gi guia to guide, guide
ua uwa agua water
ue uwe cuento story
ui uwi cuida care, to take care
oi oye oi hear, to hear


Simple sentence structure (word order)

Declarative affirmative sentences in the simple present, past, and future tenses

Chavacano generally follows the simple Verb-Subject-Object or Verb-Object-Subject sentence structure typical of Tagalog and Cebuano in declarative affirmative sentences:

Ta compra (verb) el maga/mana negociante (subject) con el tierra (object).
Ta compra (verb) tierra (object) el maga/mana negociante (subject).
:Tagalog: Bumibili (verb) ang mga negosyante (subject) ng lupa (object).
:Tagalog: Bumibili (verb) ng lupa (object) ang mga negosyante (subject).
::(‘The businessmen are buying land.’)

The subject always appears after the verb, and in cases where prenominal subjects (such as personal pronouns) are used in sentences, they will never occur before the verb:

Ya anda yo na iglesia en denantes.
:(‘I went to church a while ago.’)

Declarative negative sentences in the simple present, past, and future tenses

When the predicate of the sentence is negated, Chavacano uses the words jendeh (from Tagalog or Cebuano ’hindi’ which means ’no’) to negate the verb in the present tense, no hay (which means ’not’) to negate the verb that was supposed to happen in the past, and jendeh or nunca (which means ’no’ or ’never’) to negate the verb that will not or will never happen in the future respectively. This manner of negating the predicate always happens in the Verb-Subject-Object or Verb-Object-Subject sentence structure:

Present Tense

Jendeh ta compra (verb) el maga/mana negociante (subject) con el tierra (object).
Jendeh ta compra (verb) tierra (object) el maga/mana negociante (subject).
:(‘The businessmen are not buying land.’)

Past Tense

No hay compra (verb) el maga/mana negociante (subject) con el tierra (object).
No hay compra (verb) tierra (object) el maga/mana negociante (subject).
:(‘The businessmen did not buy land.’)

Future Tense

Jendeh hay compra (verb) el maga/mana negociante (subject) con el tierra (object).
Jendeh hay compra (verb) tierra (object) el maga/mana negociante (subject).
:(‘The businessmen will not buy land.’)
Nunca hay compra (verb) el maga/mana negociante (subject) con el tierra (object).
Nunca hay compra (verb) tierra (object) el maga/mana negociante (subject).
:(‘The businessmen will never buy land.’)

The negator jendeh can appear before the subject in a Subject-Verb-Object structure to negate the subject rather than the predicate in the present, past, and future tenses:

Present Tense

Jendeh el maga/mana negociante (subject) ta compra (verb) con el tierra (object) sino el maga/mana empleados.
:(‘It is not the businessmen who are buying land but the employees.’)

Past Tense

Jendeh el maga/mana negociante (subject) ya compra (verb) con el tierra (object) sino el maga/mana empleados.
:(‘It was not the businessmen who bought the land but the employees.’)

Future Tense

Jendeh el maga/mana negociante (subject) hay compra (verb) con el tierra (object) sino el maga/mana empleados.
:(‘It will not be the businessmen who will buy land but the employees.’)

The negator nunca can appear before the subject in a Subject-Verb-Object structure to strongly negate (or denote impossibility) the subject rather than the predicate in the future tense:

Future Tense

Nunca el maga/mana negociante (subject) hay compra (verb) con el tierra (object) sino el maga/mana empleados.
:(‘It will never be the businessmen who will buy land but the employees.’)

The negator no hay and nunca can also appear before the subject to negate the predicate in a Subject-Verb-Object structure in the past and future tenses respectively. Using nunca before the subject to negate the predicate in a Subject-Verb-Object structure denotes strong negation or impossibility for the subject to perform the action in the future:

Past Tense

No hay el maga/mana negociante (subject) compra (verb) con el tierra (object).
:(‘The businessmen did not buy land.’)

Future Tense

Nunca el maga/mana negociante (subject) hay compra (verb) con el tierra (object).
:(‘The businessmen will never buy land.’)

Nouns and Articles

The Chavacano definite article el precedes a singular noun or a plural marker (for a plural noun). The indefinite article un stays constant for gender as 'una' has completely disappeared in Chavacano. It also stays constant for number as for singular nouns. In Chavacano, it is quite common for el and un to appear together before a singular noun, the former to denote certainty and the latter to denote number:

el cajon (’the box’) - el maga/mana cajon(es) (’the boxes’)
un soltero (’a bachelor’) - un soltera (’a spinster’)
el un soltero (’the bachelor’) - el un soltera (’the spinster’)

Nouns in Chavacano are not always precedeed by articles. Without an article, a noun is a generic reference:

Jendeh yo ta llora lagrimas sino sangre.
:(’I do not cry tears but blood’.)
Ta carga yo palo.
:(’I am carrying wood’).

Proper names of persons are preceded by the defnite article si or the phrase un tal functioning as an indefinite article would:

Si Maria es un bonita candidata.
:(’Maria is a beautiful candidate’.)
un tal Juancho
:(’a certain Juancho’)

Singular nouns

Unlike Spanish, Chavacano nouns do not follow gender rules in general. In Zamboangueño, the article 'el' basically precedes every singular noun. However, this rule is not rigid (especially in Zamboangueño) because the formal vocabulary mode wherein Spanish words predominate almost always is the preferred mode especially in writing. The Spanish article 'la' for feminine singular nouns do exist in Chavacano. When in doubt, the article 'el' is safe to use. Compare:

English singular noun Chavacano singular noun (general and common) Chavacano singular noun (accepted or uncommon)
the virgin el virgen la virgen (accepted)
the peace el paz la paz (accepted)
the sea el mar la mar (accepted)
the cat el gato el gato (la gata is uncommon)
the sun el sol el sol
the moon el luna el luna (la luna is uncommon)
the view el vista la vista (accepted)
the tragedy el tragedia el tragedia (la tragedia is uncommon)
the doctor el doctor el doctora (la doctora is uncommon)

And just like Spanish, Chavacano nouns can have gender but only when referring to persons. However, they are always masculine in the sense (Spanish context) that they are generally preceded by the article 'el'. Places and things are almost always masculine. The -o is dropped in masculine nouns and -a is added to make the noun feminine:

English singular noun Chavacano singular noun (masculine) Chavacano singular noun (feminine)
the teacher el maestro el maestra
the witch el burujo el buruja
the engineer el engeniero el engeniera
the tailor/seamstress el sastrero el sastrera
the baby el niño el niña
the priest/nun el padre el madre
the grandson/granddaughter el nieto el nieta
the professor el profesor el profesora
the councilor el consejal el consejala

Not all nouns referring to persons can become feminine nouns. In Chavacano, some names of persons are masculine (because of the preceding article 'el' in Spanish context) but do not end in -o.

Examples: el alcalde, el capitan, el negociante, el ayudante, el chufer

All names of animals are always masculine—in Spanish context—preceded by the article 'el'.

Examples: el gato (gata is uncommon), el puerco (puerca is uncommon), el perro (perra is uncommon)

Names of places and things can be either masculine or feminine, but they are considered masculine in the Spanish context because the article 'el' always precedes the noun:

el cocina, el pantalon, el comida, el agua, el camino, el trapo

Plural nouns

In Chavacano, plural nouns (whether masculine or feminine in Spanish context) are preceded by the retained singular masculine Spanish article 'el'. The Spanish articles 'los' and 'las' have almost disappeared. They have been replaced by the modifier (a plural marker) 'maga/mana' which precedes the singular form of the noun. Maga comes from the native Tagalog or Cebuano 'mga'. The formation of the Chavacano plural form of the noun (el + maga/mana + singular noun form) applies whether in common, familiar or formal mode.

There are some Chavacano speakers (especially older Caviteño or Zamboangueño speakers) who would tend to say 'mana' for 'maga'. 'Mana' is accepted and quite common, especially among older speakers, but when in doubt, the modifier 'maga' to pluralize nouns is safer to use.

English plural noun Chavacano plural noun (masculine) Chavacano plural noun (feminine)
the teachers el maga/mana maestro(s) el maga/mana maestra(s)
the witches el maga/mana burujo(s) el maga/mana buruja(s)
the engineers el maga/mana engeniero(s) el maga/mana engeniera(s)
the tailors/seamstresses el maga/mana sastrero(s) el maga/mana sastrera(s)
the babies el maga/mana niño(s) el maga/mana niña(s)
the priests/nuns el maga/mana padre(s) el maga/mana madre(s)
the grandsons/granddaughters el maga/mana nieto(s) el maga/mana nieta(s)
the professors el maga/mana profesor(es) el maga/mana profesora(s)
the councilors el maga/mana consejal(es) el maga/mana consejala(s)

Again, this rule is not rigid (especially in the Zamboangueño formal mode). The articles 'los' or 'las' do exist sometimes before nouns that are pluralized in the Spanish manner, and their use is quite accepted:

los caballeros, los dias, las noches, los chabacanos, los santos, las mañanas, las almujadas, las mesas, las plumas, las cosas

When in doubt, it is always safe to use 'el' and 'maga' to pluralize singular nouns:

el maga caballero, el maga dia, el maga noche, el maga chabacano, el maga santo, el maga dia que viene (this is a phrase; 'el maga mañana' is uncommon), el maga almujada, el maga mesa, el maga pluma

In Chavacano, it is common for some nouns to become doubled when pluralized (called Reduplication, a characteristic of the Malayo-Polynesian family of languages):

el maga cosa-cosa (el maga cosa is uncommon), el maga casa-casa (el maga casa is common), el maga gente-gente (el maga gente is common), el maga bata-bata (el maga bata, 'child', is common), el maga juego-juego (el maga juego is common)

In general, the suffixes -s, -as, -os to pluralize nouns in Spanish have also almost disappeared in Chavacano. However, the formation of plural nouns with suffixes ending in -s, -as, and -os are accepted. Basically, the singular form of the noun is retained, and it becomes plural because of the preceding modifier/plural marker 'maga' or 'mana':

el maga/mana caballeros (accepted)
el maga/mana caballero (correct)
el maga/mana dias (accepted)
el maga/mana dia (correct)

Adding the suffix -es to some nouns is quite common and accepted. Nouns ending in -cion can be also be pluralized by adding the suffix -es:

el maga meses, el maga mujeres, el maga mayores, el maga tentaciones, el maga contestaciones, el maga naciones, el maga organizaciones

However, it is safer to use the general rule (when in doubt) of retaining the singular form of the noun preceded by the modifier/plural marker 'maga' or 'mana':

el maga mes, el maga mujer, el maga mayor, el maga tentacion, el maga contestacion, el maga nacion, el maga organizacion


Chavacano pronouns are based on native (Tagalog and Cebuano) and Spanish sources; many of the pronouns are not used in either but may be derived in part.

In Chavacano de Zamboanga, there are three different levels of usage for certain pronouns depending on the level of familiarity between the speaker and the addressee, the status of both in family and society, or the mood of the speaker and addressee at the particular moment: common, familiar, and formal. The common forms are, particularly in the second and third person plural, derived from Cebuano while most familiar and formal forms are from Spanish. The common forms are used to address a person below or of equal social or family status or to someone is who is acquainted. The common forms are used to regard no formality or courtesy in conversation. Its use can also mean rudeness, impoliteness or offensiveness. The familiar forms are used to address someone of equal social or family status. It indicates courteousness, and is commonly used in public conversations, the broadcast media, and in education. The formal forms are used to address someone older and/or higher in social or family status. It is the form used in writing.

Additionally, Zamboangueño is the only variety of Chavacano which distinguishes between the inclusive we (kita) - including the person spoken to (the addressee) - and the exclusive we (kame) - excluding the person spoken to (the addressee) - in the first person plural except in the formal form where nosotros is used for both.

Personal (Nominative/Subjective Case) Pronouns

Below is a table comparing the personal pronouns in three dialects of Chavacano language.

  Zamboangueño Caviteño Ternateño
1st person singular iyo
2nd person singular evo[s] (common)
vo[s] (common)
tu (familiar)
uste[d] (formal)



3rd person singular el
1st person plural kame (exclusive/common/familiar)
kita (inclusive/common/familiar)
nosotros (formal)

nisos mijotro

2nd person plural kamo (common)
vosotros (familiar)
ustedes (formal)


3rd person plural sila (common/familiar)
ellos (formal)
ilos lojotro

Possessive Pronouns (Chavacano de Zamboanga)

The usage modes also exist in the possessive pronouns especially in Zamboangueño. Amon and inyo are obviously of Hiligaynon and Cebuano origins, and when used as pronouns, they are of either the common or familiar mode. The inclusive and exclusive characteristics peculiar to Zamboangueño appear again in the 1st person plural. Below is a table of the possessive pronouns in the Chavacano de Zamboanga:

1st person singular mi
de mi
de mio
di mio

2nd person singular de vos (common)
de tu (familiar)
tuyo (familiar)
de tuyo (familiar)
di tuyo (familiar)
de usted (formal)
di usted (formal)

3rd person singular su
de su
de suyo
di suyo

1st person plural de amon (common/familiar) (exclusive)
diamon (common/familiar) (exclusive)
de aton (common/familiar) (inclusive)
diaton (common/familiar) (inclusive)
nuestro (formal)
de/di nuestro (formal)

2nd person plural de inyo (common)
diinyo (common)
de vosotros (familiar)
de ustedes (formal)
di ustedes (formal)

3rd person plural de ila (common/familiar)
diila (common/familiar)
de ellos (formal)
di ellos (formal)


In Zamboangueño, Chavacano verbs are mostly Spanish in origin. In contrast with the other dialects, there is rarely a Zamboangueño verb that is based on or has its origin from other Philippine languages. Hence, verbs contribute much of the Spanish vocabulary in Chavacano de Zamboanga.

Generally, the simple form of the Zamboangueño verb is based upon the infinitive of the Spanish verb, minus the final /r/. For example, continuar, hablar, poner, recibir, and llevar become continuá, hablá, poné, recibí, and llevá with the accent on the final syllable.

There are some rare exceptions. Some verbs are not derived from infinitives but from words that are technically Spanish phrases or from other Spanish verbs. For example, dar (give) doesn't become 'da' but dale (give) (literally in Spanish, to "give it" [verb phrase]). In this case, dale has nothing to do with the Spanish infinitive dar. The Chavacano brinca (to hop) is from Spanish brinco which means the same thing.

Chavacano (especially Zamboangueño) uses the words ya (from Spanish ya [has/have been]), ta (from Spanish está [is]), and hay plus the simple form of the verb to convey the basic tenses of past, present, and future respectively.

In Zamboangueño, Ya can appear both before and after the main verb to express that in the present perspective, the action has already been completed in the past (present perfect tense) with the accent falling on the final ya.

English Infinitive Spanish Infinitive Chavacano Infinitive Past Tense Present Tense Future Tense Present Perfect Tense
to sing cantar canta ya canta ta canta hay canta ya canta ya
to drink beber bebe ya bebe ta bebe hay bebe ya bebe ya
to sleep dormir dormi ya dormi ta dormi hay dormi ya dormi ya

The Chabacano of Cavite and Ternate uses the words ya, ta, and di plus the simple form of the verb to convey the basic tenses of past, present, and future respectively:

English Infinitive Spanish Infinitive Chabacano Infinitive Past Tense Present Tense Future Tense
to sing cantar canta ya canta ta canta di canta
to drink beber bebe ya bebe ta bebe di bebe
to sleep dormir dormi ya dormi ta dormi di dormi

Archaic Spanish words and false friends

Chabacano has preserved plenty of archaic Spanish phrases and words in its vocabulary that modern Spanish no longer uses; for example:

"En denantes" which means 'a while ago' (Spanish: "hace un tiempo"). Take note that "En denantes" is an archaic Spanish phrase. Modern Spanish would express the phrase as "poco antes de hoy" or "hace un tiempo", but Chabacano still retains this archaic Spanish phrase and many other archaic Spanish words.

"Masquen" means 'even (if)' or 'although'. In Spanish, "mas que" is an archaic Spanish phrase meaning 'although', nowadays replaced by the Spanish word "aunque".

In Chavacano, the Spanish language is commonly called "castellano". Chavacano speakers, especially older Zamboangueños, call the language as "castellano" implying the original notion as the language of Spain while español is used to mean a Spaniard or a person from Spain.

The pronoun "vos" is alive in Chavacano. While "vos" was used in the highest form of respect before the 16th century in classical Spanish and quite archaic nowadays with modern Spanish (much like the English "thou"), in Chavacano, it is used in the common level of usage (lower than tu, which is used in the familiar level) as in the same manner of Cervantes and in the same manner as certain Latin American countries such as Argentina does (informally in contrast with usted, which is used formally). Chavacano followed the development of vos in same manner as Latin America did - (the voseo).

On the other hand, some words from the language spoken in Spain have evolved or have acquired totally different meanings in Chavacano. Hence for Castillian speakers who would encounter Chavacano speakers, some words familiar to them have become false friends. Some examples of false friends are:

"Cerilla" means 'earwax'. In Spain, "cerilla" generally means 'match' (and earwax too, to a lesser extent); Although in Latin America its meaning is 'earwax'.

"Siguro"/"Seguro" means 'maybe'. In Spanish, "seguro" means 'sure', 'secure', or 'stable', although it could imply as well as a probability as in the phrase, "Seguramente vendrá" (Probably he will come).

"Siempre" means 'of course'. In Spanish, "siempre" means 'always'.

"Firmi" means 'always'. In Spanish, "firme" means 'firm' or 'steady'.

In Portuguese, a language similar to Old Spanish, "na" is a contraction of "em a" ('in the'). In Chavacano, "na" is a preposition that is used in many ways with different meanings.

Language Acquisition

There are currently no language material where one could learn Chavacano outside of the region.However, several projects are underway to produce language material in the form of cds and books/booklets in order for the foreigner to learn.One, in particular, is a project called "Basic Chavacano". It is an audio instruction (cd/booklet) for Zamboangueño Chavacano. As information is gatheredmore will be reported.

See also


SIL code: cbk
ISO 639-1: none
ISO 639-2: crp
ISO 639-3: cbk


  1. Brooks 1933, Vol. 16, 1st Ed.
  2. SIL International
  3. Ethnologue


  • Brooks, John. (Feb-Mar., 1933). Más que, mas que and más !que!, Hispania, [67404], (Vol. 16, 1st Ed.).
  • Chambers, John, S.J. and Wee, Salvador, S.J., editor, (2003). English-Chabacano Dictionary, Ateneo de Zamboanga University Press.
  • McKaughan, Howard P. (1954). "Notes on Chabacano grammar", Journal of East Asiatic Studies 3, (205-26).
  • Michaelis, Susanne., editor, (2008). Roots of Creole Structures: Weighing the contribution of substrates and superstrates, Creole Language Library Volume 33. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Rubino, Carl and Michaelis, Susanne., editor, (2008). "Zamboangueño Chavacano and the Potentive Mode", Roots of Creole Structures: Weighing the contribution of substrates and superstrates, Creole Language Library Volume 33 (279-299). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Steinkrüger, Patrick O. (2007). "Notes on Ternateño (a Philippine Spanish Creole)", Journal of Pidgin and Creole Languages, 22(2).

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