Monday, August 15, 2011

Spanish in the Philippines
A historical ramble by me from the comboxes. I’m sure the Filipinos reading this will give any needed corrections. It started here when Jim C. described how liturgically low-church a Filipino priest is and I said it might be because Filipinos being half-Hispanic culturally may share with Latin peoples an affinity for a charismatic style more than a formal liturgical one.

Spanish and hispanidad in the Philippines is one of those ‘What if?’ histories that fascinates me, probably because it’s Catholic. The historian Arnold Toynbee, quoted by General MacArthur, called the islands a Latin-American country in Asia. For centuries the Spanish didn’t teach the Malays Spanish, only the Spanish and mestizo (Spanish-Malay or Spanish-Chinese) aristocracy. The Malays speak very different languages so divide and conquer, ¿no? So unlike Latin America few Filipinos spoke or speak it well. But by the 1800s that was starting to change: schools taught the masses Spanish. Because the upper class spoke it, all the early nationalist/independence leaders – like Rizal and Aguinaldo – did. (The first Filipino national anthem and constitution were in it.) They were sort of like the American colonists and their mother country: they wanted political independence from Spain but to still be a part of hispanidad. Among the masses you had a Spanish creole (using the Spanish they’d picked up in order to talk to the Spanish), Chabacano, still spoken by a couple million: Spanish vocabulary, mostly, overlaid onto a Malay structure. Like all creoles it’s a fun challenge for those of us with a high-school knowledge of the base language to understand.

Then the Americans came. They fought that stupid war with Spain, ‘liberated’ the Philippines, fought Aguinaldo and other independence freedom fighters and conquered. They wanted to get rid of hispanidad including the church. (Protestant missionaries; encouraging schism from Rome – but interestingly the Hodur-like founder spoke Spanish, refusing to learn English, resenting American rule; English in the schools.) They pretty much succeeded with the language. Still, before WWII the ethnic Spanish minority and mestizos ruled locally and Spanish remained the language of government, business and the university. If the US had left the Philippines alone, Spanish would have remained so as well as the lingua franca of the different-speaking Malay groups.

WWII (the Japanese occupation and American reconquest) destroyed old Manila, Intramuros, the heart of Filipino hispanidad, so after the war many of the old aristocrats left for Spain. Spanish faded fast after that, into the country’s independent years. With the latest constitution (1987? ... and I think before that, under Marcos, you no longer had to learn it in school) Spanish lost its official-language status.

So... very few there know Spanish. But... there are thousands of Spanish words still in the local languages. Church terms, days of the week, months, telling time, counting in higher numbers etc.

Rather like English has thousands of French words, since the Norman conquest changed the language for ever, but English is not a Romance tongue but still Germanic, the Spanish doesn’t usually help one understand Tagalog for example. It’s Malay.

Like the cultural meaning of French to English-speakers because of a similar history as the rulers’ tongue, many Filipinos think Spanish is a snob language. (Others love it and fondly remember it.)

The government has long pushed Tagalog as the national language, which of course the other groups don’t like. So I think the lingua franca is English as far as people know it. (They learn it in school.) Arguably, thanks to American empire especially after WWII, making English the world’s second language after first being spread by the British, knowing English has been a boost to the Philippines but the means by which it was done are still reprehensible.

BTW the reason the many non-upper class people often have Spanish last names isn’t intermarriage like with the uppers but because at one point the Spanish assigned them last names. Some of the old ruling families have Malay surnames (Macapagal) or Chinese ones that have been spelled in Spanish (Cojuangco = Ko Huang Ko... I understand it’s cool there to be Chinese... successful merchant class wherever they go). The Spanish first names come naturally of course because the church and its saints’ names came from Spain.

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