An Overview of Pidgins and Creoles: the case of Chabacano

Mª Teresa Galarza Ballester


The following essay offers an overview of pidgins and creoles. It considers the most well-known definitions of pidgin & creole language and takes into account the theories that have accounted for the origin of these languages. Main generic characteristics of these varieties are pointed out (which are obsolete, in my view) as well as other concepts related to creolistics. Next, the paper focuses on the case of Chabacano (a variety of Spanish spoken on the Philippines), giving an explanation of the origin of the language and listing the main properties of this language.

  1. What is a Pidgin

    1. Origin of Pidgins

    2. Characteristics of Pidgins

    3. The Pidgins of the world

  1. Creoles

    1. Main characteristics of creoles

    2. The Post-Creole continuum

  1. Language death

    1. Preliminary concepts

    2. Creoles and dying languages

  1. The case of Chabacano

    1. The Origin of Zamboangueño or Chabacano

    2. Overview of the properties of Chabacano


A Pidgin is essentially a contact language, a variety which had no native speakers and developed for some practical purpose among groups of people who did not know each other languages; this is the approach generally accepted, as illustrated in the following definitions. Mc Mahon (1994:253) states that pidgins 'develop in a situation where different groups of people require some means of communication but lack any common language. Crucially, a pidgin is nobody's first language; all its speakers learn it as adults as a second or further language, and all have native speakers of their own'. Fernandez (1998:212) states that 'a pidgin is a language made up of elements of several other languages (at least, more than two), and used mainly for “trading contacts”; in other words, it is an auxiliary language that has no native speakers'. De Camp (1971, quoted in Romaine 1993:23) defines a pidgin as 'a contact vernacular, normally not the native language of any of its speakers ... it is characterized by a limited vocabulary, an elimination of many grammatical devices such as number and gender, and a drastic reduction of redundant features'. Hymes (1971, quoted in Romaine 1993:24) states that 'pidginization is that complex process of sociolinguistic change comprising reduction in inner form, with convergence, in the context of restriction in use ... pidginization is usually associated with simplification in outer form'. Todd (1974, quoted in Romaine 1993:24) defines a pidgin as a 'marginal language which arises to fulfill certain restricted communicative needs among people who have no common language'. And Romaine (1993) states that 'a pidgin represents a language which has been stripped of everything but the bare essentials necessary for communication'. However, as next section shows, there is no real agreement as to what exactly a pidgin is since it is unclear how these varieties have arisen.

1.1. Origin of Pidgins

In dealing with the origin of pidgins in the early 1970s there were two widespread theories: monogenetic and polygenetic. Todd (1974) classified the theories into: 'the baby talk theory, independent parallel development, nautical jargon, monogenetic/relexification' and Mühlhäusler (1986) listed six theories: the nautical language theory, the foreigner talk/baby talk theory, relexification theory, universalist theory, common core theory and substratum theories.

Today, according to McMahon, there are five widespread theories (listed in McMahon 1994:255-256),

  1. The nautical jargon theory assumes that pidgins are derived from the lingua franca used by the crews of ships, presumably through trading and other contacts.

  2. Each pidgin might have evolved independently.

  3. The superstrate or lexifier language contributes the vocabulary to a pidgin, while its grammar comes directly from the substrate(s).

  4. All current pidgins are descended ultimately from Sabir, a fifteenth century proto-pidgin with a Portuguese superstrate which was used in trading and in the first Portuguese colonizing expeditions to India, West Africa and the Far East.

  5. The baby talk and foreigner talk accounts both relate pidgin origin to second language acquisition; either non-European indigenous people learned an imperfect version of the target, superstrate language, or the European colonisers simplified their own language to make it easier for the substrate speakers to learn.

The nautical jargon theory attempts to explain the lexical similarities found in pidgins, it holds that all of them have nautical elements since they are spoken near the sea. The second theory is known as independent parallel development, it points out that pidgins have evolved independently and although there are similarities within them, the similarities are hardly surprising since pidgins have European superstrates and non-European substrates. The third theory states that the superstrate contributes to the pidgin vocabulary while the substrate contributes to the grammar, however notice that since there are several substratum languages involved in the process of pidginization many pidgin constructions and lexical items have two or more possible sources. The fourth theory (monogenesis) is really controversial since there are pidgins of non-European origin impossible to have descended from Sabir that share structural features with pidgins of European origin. Finally, the fifth theory relates pidgin origin to second language acquisition, it moreover constitutes an attempt to explain why pidgins are 'simplified systems'. It has been said that people learned an imperfect version of the target since they were incapable of learning a European language accurately, this racist hypothesis is thankfully being rejected now and instead of it is generally thought that Europeans simplified their own language and thus non-Europeans had a restricted input and learned a simplified version of the language.

1.2. Characteristics of Pidgins

Pidgins are used in contact situations and therefore have restricted functions. Thus, pidgins are generally characterized by an absence of complex grammatical structures and a limited vocabulary. However it has been pointed out that 'pidgins do not simplify the grammars of their superstrate and substrate languages, but also restructure them to produce a new linguistic system' (Mc Mahon 1994: 254). The following points are said to be characteristics of pidgins.

1.3. The Pidgins of the world

The exact number of pidgins is difficult to establish since there is no agreement as to what counts as a pidgin, and often there is no recognition of a pidgin or creole as a separate language. Hancock (1977) lists 127 creoles and the Ethnologue (2004) lists 82 creoles and 17 pidgins. As the following map shows pidgins are spoken all over the world, but particularly in the Caribbean, in tropical regions of West Africa and in the South Pacific.


The term creole is believed to be derived from Portuguese crioulo and originally was used to talk about people of European origin, born and grown up in a colony; later the term was extended to indigenous natives and finally the term was applied to certain languages used in colonies.

The development from a pidgin to a creole has been called 'creolization', it is believed to happen when a pidgin becomes the first language of a community (as has happened with Tok Pisin). Therefore, according to this view, the creole is the language of the children of pidgin speakers and has a large number of native speakers. This approach is generally agreed by most scholars. McMahon (1994:254) states that 'a pidgin becomes a creole when it is adopted as the native language of a speech community'. Fernandez (1998:212) also states that 'when a pidgin becomes the language of a community of speakers – as in the plantations of the deep South in USA – it becomes a creole'. Romaine (1993:38) points out that 'the development from pidgin into creole involves an expansion of expressive forces in response to communicative needs', a definition close to Hyme's (1977, cited in Romaine 1993:38) 'the process of creolization involves an expansion of inner form and complexification of outer form'.

However, the concept of Creole remains unclear since scholars are not in agreement as to what exactly a creole is. The widespread idea stating that a Creole is a pidgin language with native speakers has been argued. Some scholars claim that 'a creole may not ever need to have been a pidgin, and that pidgins are neither mixtures of languages nor the result of only two languages coming into contact' (Polomé 1990:508). Then, how these varieties arose?

Creole languages have been studied by individual scholars for a long time but a consensus has not been achieved since each one of them has pointed to a different theory. Some of the categories established to define creole languages are listed in Reinecke (1937) and include: 'Plantation Creole, Settler's creole, Trade Jargons, Babu Languages, Lingua Francas, etc.' (Polomé 1990:510). These categories involved reduction and are now rejected by some specialists because 'it is generally accepted that pidgin and creole languages involve not only reduction, but restructuring' (Polomé 1990:510). It is then stated here that the listed categories are characterized by reduction, while it is generally thought that creole languages are reshaped or restructured since they have to fulfill many more functions than the previous pidgins, 'the term restructuring suggests a) the linguistic outgrowth from one specific prior language, and b) that the existing structure of the language is then reshaped' (Polomé 1990:510).

The Bioprogram Hypothesis (Bickerton, 1984) states that 'learners in this multilingual situations unconsciously produce their innate grammar' (Polomé 1990:510). This theory thus rejects the idea of restructured language, and it does also constitute an attempt to explain the similarities that many creole languages share by an innate and universal process.

Many theories describing the process of creolisation are similar to those used to describe pidginization, although both processes are usually distinguished it should be taken into account that pidgins and creoles are developing systems and as such may overlap in terms of structural complexity depending on their functions, therefore theories overlap as well.

But there are many theories, some consider the process a consequence of social contact, others point out that that social contact has happened because of slave trade and consider the relationship between masters and slaves essential, there are theories that consider creolization a language appeared from the contact of speakers of 'advanced' cultures with speakers of 'non-advanced' cultures, being the 'non-advanced group incapable of learning accurately the prestigious language, and there are even theories stating that the inaccuracy has to be fixed or frozen to the emergence of the creole; others claim that dominant speakers purposefully simplify their language for the subjugated community. Very different theories state that creoles have a non-European substrate while others state the opposite. There are theories considering creoles as European lexicons mixed with non-European grammatical features and others point out that a creole is an earlier language which has replaced its vocabulary in favour of a European lexicon but not its structure. Some scholars consider that creoles share a common origin while others consider that each creole developed independently, etc.

2.1. Main characteristics of Creoles



eg. Pidgin Krio 'was' = wash / wasp

Creole Krio 'was' = wash, 'waswas' = wasp


eg. Chabacano

'yo un delaga' = I am a young girl

'el mujer pobre' = the poor woman

Creoles lack non-finite verb forms (Romaine 62), ie the participle, the gerund and the infinitive.

2.2 The Post-Creole Continuum

Creolization is viewed by some scholars as a continuous process which occurs at any stage in the continuum development from jargon to expanded pidgin, in this cycle creolization and post-creolization are considered as two aspects of the same process as well. Decreolization is the process by which creole speakers drop structures developed or borrowed in the creolization stage and adopt structures from the superstrate language. Bickerton (1980, cited in Romaine 1993:158) describes decreolization as 'a process which occurs whenever a creole is in direct contact with its superstrate'.

When the process is devoloping it leads to several varieties of the language, at one extreme the variety similar to the standard language and at the other extreme the variety similar to the Creole,

The more basic variety is called the basilect and the variety closer to the external model is called the acrolect. Between these two extremes may be a range of slightly different varieties, some with many and some with fewer Creole features, known as mesolects. This range of varieties, evolving after the Creole has been created, is called the Post-Creole continuum (Yule 1996:235)

In the study of creoles today must be difficult to distinguish between which structures originated during creolization and which developed during post creolization, since there is a constant succession of restructurings of the original system across the continuum. In the post-creolization stages both decreolization and recreolization can occur. Recreolization means that creoles can become more creolized again, it involves an increase in creole structures after decreolization has taken place. The process seems rarer than decreolization and may occur when speakers of existing varieties of creoles interact with speakers of a superstrate.


3.1 Preliminary concepts

The death of a language happens when a community shift from a minority language to a majority language, the changes occurring 'at an accelerated rate for particular sociolinguistic reasons' (McMahon 1994:284). The process resembles a reverse creolization since 'all these processes involve linguistic contact; all are partly motivated by social factors; all involve characteristic subsets of linguistic changes' (McMahon 1994:284).

Language shift happens when a bilingual community abandon the native language in favour of a new language associated with prestige and wealth. The native language continues being used in reduced groups, but it is gradually substiuted by the new language. The process is called language shift, and the gradual substitution is called language obsolescence.

There are three more situations involving language death without involving language obsolescence,

      1. Sudden death involves 'the loss of a language through the death of all its speakers' (McMahon 286), as happened in the colonization of Tasmania.

      2. Radical death is also a short process but 'motivated by political oppression' (McMahon 286), as happened in El Salvador when in 1932 many Indians were killed and the rest of the aborigin population stopped talking the native language to avoid being recognized.

      3. Bottom-to-top death involves 'the loss of a language from casual contexts first, with retention longer in ritual contexts' (McMahon 286).

The three cases lack language obsolescence, while when dealing with language death as a fact resembled to reverse creolisation, language obsolescence is present.

There are two types of gradual language death:

      1. language suicide 'typically involves a creole and its superstrate' (McMahon 286), the speakers abandon gradually their language in favour of the superstrate, which is associated with wealth and prestige.

      2. In language murder 'the dying language and the new language need not to be related at all' (McMahon 286), in this case the speakers were obliged to abandon the native language suddenly.

In language suicide speakers gradually borrow words and structures from the superstrate language until the native language is progressively absorbed by the superstrate, the process thus may seem the same as decreolization.

3.2 Creoles and dying languages

There are parts of the world where the languages of former colonial powers are undergoing attrition as minority languages. This fact may lead to language death, it occurs when a group of speakers abandon gradually their native language in favour of the dominant language, a process resembling creolisation in reverse.

Two factors should be taken into account when dying languages and creolization are compared: the sociolinguistic context and the structural feature common to both processes.

a. Structural features

There are certain changes usually found in dying languages: the reduction of morphology and a movement from synthetic to analytic structures, which may be generally considered the reverse process to creolization. Romaine states that 'a main source of developments in creolization is the grammaticalization of distinctions and a movement from a more pragmatic to a more syntactic mode of communication. In language death the reverse is true' (Dorian 1989:376). The changes may be caused by the superstrate language, either by lexical borrowing or grammatical borrowing, and as the native language lacks in structures and vocabulary speakers have to use the superstrate language. These changes also include an increase in semantic transparency, as it is highlighted in the Principle of Paradigmatic univocity (Hjelmsleve 1938), pointing out a relationship between form and meaning. Since there is a preference for analytical forms pidgins often display a fixed word order leading to isomorphism between form and meaning.

There are, however, differences between creoles and dying languages: unlike many pidgins, dying languages do not generally show a tendency to uniformity of word order and dying languages moreover show a tendency to retention of morphological complexity. Trudgill (1976, cited in McMahon 1994:312) has argued language death as creolization in reverse on the grounds that 'creoles tend to be simplified but not reduced ... dying languages are restricted and reduced but not simplified'. For Trudgill, simplification in crelization does not imply impoverishment of the language, on the contrary, he points out that both pidgins and creoles are very functional languages and simplification means a move towards regularity, therefore general rules have greater scope and fewer exceptions.

b. Sociolinguistic features

The main factor, broadly speaking, is that of language contact. Pidgins and dying languages occur in societies where two languages or more are used. Nevertheless, the stages in the life cycle of dying languages and pidgins should be identified to deal with the similarities between them at a comparable stage of development. These similarities consider the inequalities existing between the users of languages with differet prestige. Some of the factors, according to Dorian 1989:371, are:

Therefore, it is crucial for the study of language death to consider the 'lack' of linguistic competence of semi-speakers. This factor may be due to the inadequacy of the language for certain discourse functions, which leads gradually to the death of the language. However, generally speakers abandon their language in favour of the dominant language. Efforts made by educators to eradicate the use of the minority language are often seen as well intentioned, and as speakers begin to recognize varieties of the language often prefer to use those of the dominant language. When the shift to the new language happens at home, it is seen as a decisive factor for language death.

Although there are similarities between pidgins and dying languages, there are differences as well:

  1. a pidgin is the first stage in the development of a language, while language shift and obsolescence represent the last.

  2. Pidgins typically begin in formal situations between strangers for purposes that often relate to commerce and trade, while dying languages are spoken between people sharing close personal ties.

  3. The primary function of pidgins is communication, while that of a dying language is the assertion of in-group identity.

  4. The mode of acquisition of pidgins and dying languages also seems to be different (Dressler 1988). Younger speakers of dying languages will have contact with more fluent older speakers, whereas the first generation of pidgin speakers will be the only users of the language.

  5. Language death occurs in bilingual situations, but pidginization in trilingual or multilingual communities.

                                                                                                                                                                                                McMahon (1994:310-311)


The Philippines is the only former Spanish colony where the Spanish language was not acquired by the majority of the native population. Instead some creole languages emerged, the varieties of Philippine Creole Spanish, which are known as Chabacano. This term is used to refer to all creole languages in Philippines, among them, the most used are:

Zamboangueño (known as Chabacano as well)




Zamboangueño is spoken in Zamboanga city, and in some enclaves in Cotabato, Jolo and Durao. Caviteño and Ternateño are spoken along the Manila Bay, both languages share several grammatical features and seem relexifications of earlier Portuguese-based creoles. Both have been influenced by Tagalog, the national Philippine language. Varieties of Philippine Creole Spanish are also spoken on the island of Mindanao, although the largest group of speakers is found in Zamboanga city. A small group is found in Cotabato, Cotabateño variety is identical to Zamboangueño with a few lexical differences.

Frake (1971) lists all the varieties in two groups, the language spoken in Ternate and other varieties already disappeared are identified as Manila Bay Creole, while the Chabacano spoken in Zamboanga and Cotabato are identified as Southern Mindanao Creoles.

Linguistic investigations seem to point out that the earliest evidence of the beginnings of Philippine Creole Spanish can be traced to 1700 in Ternate, Moluccas; Molony (1973, cited in Riego de Dios np) states that ' linguistic evidence for the transmission of Ternateño to the Philippines, occurs in the form of a few Indo-Pacific, Malay and Portuguese terms used mostly in the dialect of Chabacano spoken in Ternate, Philippines'.

When the Spaniards settled the Philippines Chabacano was regarded as a broken language called español de cocina (kitchen/broken Spanish), which was also used to designate Spanish-based pidgins in Manila. However, authentic español de cocina was used between native Filipinos and Chinese merchants, or between these groups and Spaniards, as a secondary language. It was never used natively, it could not thus be considered a creole language, but a pidgin. The native population thought they were using a kind of broken Spanish, and foreigners did not regard the varieties as proper languages either. The languages acquired the creole status relatively late.

Frake (1970) was the first in classifying Chabacano as a creole,

Philippine Creole Spanish is not simply a Philippine language with unusually heavy Spanish lexical influence, nor is it Spanish with a large number of Philippine loanwords. It is a distinct language, easily distinguishable from both its Romance and Austronesian progenitors. Philippine Creole Spanish shares enough in common with the classic creoles of the Caribbean that no one would, I think, challenge its assignment to the category creole language (Lipski 11).

4.1. The origin of Zamboangueño or Chabacano

Most descriptions of Philippine Creole Spanish have not distinguished between Zamboangueño and Manila Bay varieties. Whinnom (1956) hypothesized that 'the formation of the Philippine Creole Spanish dialects was the result of linguistic and cultural mestizaje between Spanish-speaking garrison troops and Malay speakers' (Lipski 25). Although Frake groups the varieties in two main branches there have been other scholars who have not distinguished the two groups yet.

McWhorter (2000) considers Chabacano as 'having emerged via marriages between Iberian men and Philippine women' (Lipski 25). The most elaborated account of Zamboangueño has been made by Warren (1981), he suggests that from the 17th century to the 19th century muslim pirates from islands in the Sulu Sea attacked many parts of the Philippines and carried off captives, who later managed to escape to Zamboanga. Moreover, Spanish vessels also rescued slaves and carried them to Zamboanga. These freed slaves remained in Zamboanga and used different Philippine languages, therefore they began to use the Spanish-based contact vernacular to communicate. This theory, however, is not new, Worcester (1898 and 1930) noted that

Zamboanga was at the outset populated by escaped Moro slaves who had sought the protection of the Spanish garrison there. Coming originally from widely separated parts of the archipielago, these unfortunates had no common native dialect, hence there arose among them a Spanish patois known as Zamboangueño (Lipski 29).

Note that these theories describe the primary input to Zamboangueño, but the language has undergone more changes after the primary input becoming what is known as Chabacano,

Lipski points out that Zamboangueño finally 'came into existence as an independent language towards the middle of the 18th century' (Lipski 38). In the 19th century more Spanish items entered the language as native Spanish speakers went to Zamboanga. In the 20th century immigration from the central Visayan region to Zamboanga turned out to increase Visayan items and structures. From the 1930s onwards increasing use of English in Zamboanga results in incorporations of Anglicisms into Zamboangueño. However there are still differences between Manila Bay Creoles and Southern Mindanao Creoles. According to Lipski the difference among Philippine Creole Spanish dialects and Zamboangueño lies

in the fact that the Manila Bay Philippine Creole Spanish ... based on a nearly exclusively Spanish input with Philippine elements added only later, without altering the basic patterns already developed. Zamboangueño, on the other hand, began life as a hybrid pan-Philippine contact language whose Spanish items had already been filtered through Philippine languages, and which was therefore a Philippine language in the structural sense at every point during its existence' (Lipski 40)

The origin of Ternate Chabacano goes back to the 16th century and the 17th century, when Ternate was the most important island in the Moluccas (Indonesia), and Spaniards settled there. However the Spanish troops had to withdraw from the Moluccas and settled in Manila to fortify themselves against the attack of Chinese warlords. The immigrants called this new settlement Ternate, after their own homeland in Indonesia. These immigrants spoke their own language and a mixture of Tagalog and broken Spanish. Eventually, they became to speak a variety of Manila Bay Creole.

The origin of Cavite Chabacano goes back to 1641, when Spaniards settled on the Cavite Peninsula. The city of Cavite grew due to the arrival of immigrants from Ternate, and thus both languages were mixed. Whinnom (1956) assumes that 'Caviteño is the modern descendant of Ternateño, traced from the socio-economic situation of the great influx of Ternateños to Cavite City to work in the dockyards' (Riego de Dios np). Ternateño and Caviteño are today known as Manila Bay Creole.

The language spoken in Cotabato City is known as Cotabateño by the inhabitants of Cotabato, however there has been no study made of Cotabateño as a language of its own. Cotabateño is regarded by most scholars as a variety of Zamboangueño. Both languages are identified as Southern Mindanao Creoles.

According to the Ethonologue Chabacano is spoken in Zamboanga, Basilan, Kabasalan, Siay, Margosatubig, Ipil, Malangas, Lapuyan, Buug, Tungawa, Alicia, Isabela, Lamitan, Maluso, Malamawi, Cotabato city, Mindanao; Cavite, Ternate, and Ermita near Manila. It is also spoken in Malasyia (Sabah). The 1970 census listed speakers in 60 of the 66 provinces.

The Ethonologue describes Chabacano as a creole with predominantly Spanish vocabulary and Philippine-type grammatical structure. Chabacano or Zamboangueño is the major language of Zamboanga City. Ermiteño (Manila) is extinct and Davawen Zamboangueño may be extinct. Nearly all Caviten speak Tagalog, but many still speak Caviteño.

According to a 1990 census, there are 292,630 speakers, including

155,000 Zamboangueño (1989 J.Holm)

27,841 Caviten

3,750 Ternateño (1975 census)

5,473 Cotabato (1981 Wurm and Hattori)

4.2. Overview of the properties of Chabacano

4.2.1. The Noun Phrase Nouns and adjectives

Chabacano has no inflectional morphology, nouns and adjectives are invariable, there is no distinction for gender and adjectives are in masculine form. Bare nouns without an article have generic reference to the entire category, as in (1).

(1) Jendeh yo ta come gente, 'I do not eat people' (Holm np)

The Zamboangueño definite article has only one form el, similarly the indefinite article un is invariable for gender and number, as in (2).

(2) Yo un dalaga, 'I am a young girl' (Holm np)

Zamboangueño nouns and adjectives have no plural inflections either, instead nouns form the plural with a preceding plural marker, maga > mga or mana.

(3) Maga criminal, 'criminals' (Holm np)

Demonstratives have three syntactically-determined forms: este, de este, con este. There is also aqui. These function as both demonstrative adjectives and pronouns, they are not marked for number or gender.

(4) Ese princesa no puede sale, 'That princess can not leave' (Holm np)

(5) Desde el primer dia ya mira le con ese, 'Since the first day he saw her' (Holm np)

Adjectives can occur either before or after the noun they modify. The poor woman in (6) means a woman without wealth, while in (7) means a woman arousing pity.

(6) El mujer pobre

(7) El pobre mujer

Adjectives are not inflected for gender or number, and are generally derived from the Spanish.

(8) El nuevo luna, 'the new moon' (Holm np) Possession

Zamboangueño indicates possession by means of di, which can be combined to yield forms such as del, as in (9).

(9) ya vira le oleh na casa del mujer, 'he returned again to the woman's house' (Holm np)

Possessive adjectives are formed by prefixing di to the personal pronouns.

(10) el di suyo profesion, 'his profession' (Holm np) Articles

Chabacano has both a definite and a indefinite article: el and un, both invariable. The contraction del also occurs. Pronouns

The Zamboangueño personal pronouns are marked for case in that they have three syntactically determined forms: nominative, genitive and a oblique case for objects of verbs and prepositions. Subject pronouns, listed below, are obligatory if there is no lexical subject due to the absence of person and number in the verb.








tu, evós, vos

Tu, vo, usté


ele, le



kamé, kitá








                                (Mackenzie np)

There are three degrees of intimacy in the second person singular pronoun,

evos (intimate)

tu (neutral)

uste (formal)

Kamo is the neutral second person plural, opposed to the more formal ustedes. The third person singular pronoun ele does not distinguish for gender. Sila is the third person plural pronoun. The first person plural pronoun distinguishes between two forms of 'we' (kame and kita), these forms are from Visayan and differ in meaning, as shown in (11).

kame (excluding the person addressed)

kita (including that person)

(11) ta conversa kita, 'you and I are conversating' (Holm np)

Reflexive pronouns are formed by using the appropriate possessive adjective with cuerpo, as in (12).

(12) ya culga ele disuyo cuerpo, 's/he hanged him/her self' (Holm np)

As for interrogative pronouns, some are bimorphemic, some are reduplications (cosa-cos) while others combine morphemes (con quien). Some of these interrogative pronouns also serve as relative pronouns.

Predication The Verb Phrase

Chabacano conveys TMA by means of the following pre-verbal particles,








Eli ta jugá. (S/he plays)

de/di (Cavite)



¿Cosa hora di lligá vusós? (When will you arrive?)

ay (Zamboan)



Ay escribí yo cun mi anák (I'll write to my son)




María ya regalá un relos con su nobio (...a watch)

(Mackenzie np) Unmarked verbs

Instead of using verb endings to mark tense, some creoles use particles usually occurring before the verb to mark tense or aspect. Chabacano uses unmarked verbs (with no preverbal markers) as well. In the following examples, the unmarked verbs refer to the present-future time.

(13) con ese gente puede ele come, 'these people he can eat' (Holm np)

(14) todo aquel quiere anda saca con ese mujer, 'those who wanted to go to take that woman' (Holm np)

(15) anda eli alli na reino, 'he goes there to the kingdom' (Holm np) Past Tense

The preverbal marker ya indicates perfective aspect, which implies past tense, as illustrated in (16).

(16) ya anda si la Lamitan, 'they went to Lamitan' (Holm np) Progressive Aspect

Preverbal marker ta indicates actions that are in progress and habitual actions, as in (17).

(17) ta anda yo, 'I usually go/I am going' (Holm np) Habitual Aspect

It can be indicated by the unmarked verb, as in (15) anda eli alli na reino. Irrealis Mood

The irrealis marker ay can express future or unrealized events that are predicted, and for some speakers hypothetical, as in (18).

(18) mucha gente ay procura anda saca, 'a lot of people will try to get her (Holm np)

Notice that other speakers use era to indicate a hypothetical situation. Negation

Zamboangueño uses different words to negate different kinds of predicates.Predicates with nouns take the negator jendeh, as in (19).

(19) jendeh este leyen, 'this is not a legend' (Holm np)

In verbal predicates, nuay indicates the negation of past action, replacing the past marker ya, as is shown in (20).

(20) nuay sila anda na Karagasan, 'They did not go to Caragasan' (Holm np)

Unmarked verbs take nunca while imperatives take no, as is shown in (21) and (22) respectively.

(21) nunca yo quiere con vos, 'I will never love you' (Holm np)

(22) no vos anda, 'do not go' (Holm np) The Copula

There is no copula before a predicate consisting of an adjective or a noun, as in (23).

(23) soltero el anak disuyo, 'bachelor the son of his' (Holm np)

Locative and existential predicates require the copula talla in initial verb position.

(24) ese dia, talla tamen el mujer na casa, 'that day the woman was there at the house' (Holm np) Existence

Existence is indicated by tiene, as in (25).

(25) tiene buruju, 'there are witches' (Holm np)

Existence in abundance is indicated by mucho.

(26) mucho comida, 'there is a lot of food' (Holm np) Serial Verbs

Zamboangueño can have sequences of up to five verbs in a single clause, only the first takes preverbal markers.

(27) necesita mandaana pruba saka el cart dituyo hermano, 'it is necessary to tell somebody to go try to get your sister's card', (Holm np)

Other Structures Coordinating Conjunctions

Zamboangueño uses the same conjunction y to link sentences, as in (28).

(28) pronto aprende y pronto tamen olvida, 'I learn quickly and also forget quickly' (Holm np) Prepositions

In Zamboangueño there is a general locative preposition, na, which has a wide range of meanings including 'in, into, at, to, from, out of'.

(29) quiere le sale na agua, 'he wants to get out of the water' (Holm np) Complementizers

The Zamboangueño subordinator que can with its variant forms quel and kay be used to introduce a subordinate clause.

(30) ya mira le que tiene galeh casa ese mujer, 'he saw that [surprisingly] that woman had a house' (Holm np)

In Zamboangueño some subordinate clauses can occur without a subordinator, as in (31).

(31) mira usted ay cumpre pa yo este otro clase, 'you will see that I will still buy this other kind' (Holm np) Dependent Clauses

Non-embedded subordinate clauses in Zamboangueño can serve many functions. Among the most common are: hasta, baka (lest), desde, casi, cuando, maski(n) (even though), para, si.

(32) maskin ta dormi tamen el seis cabeza, el otro seis cabeza despierto, 'although these six heads are asleep, the other six heads are awake' (Holm np)

Relative clauses are usually introduced by the relative pronoun que or quien, which can be used as subject, direct object, or object of a preposition.

(33) el mana gente quien ya man tunuk na garganta, 'people who have got fish spines caught in their throat...' (Holm np)

(34) el ombre, que ya man encontra tu, mi hermano, 'the man you met is my brother' (Holm np)

(35)el persona, con quien ta conversa tu, bien bueno gayot, 'the person you are talking to is very nice indeed'

There are also cases of relative clauses in which the pronoun has been omitted, as in (36)

(36) ya encontra yo uno polis ta munta na bicicleta, 'I met a policeman who was riding on a bike' (Holm np) Word Order

Zamboangueño generally follows a VSO word order. Statements are made into yes/no questions through intonation or by the insertion of the question marker ba.

(37) ya anda na pueblo? 'Did you go to the market? (Holm np)

Notice that VSO word order is also maintained in questions with interrogatives, as in (38).

(38) cosa ba tu nombre? 'what is your name?' (Holm np)

4.2.4. Conclusions

The above examples have shown that the majority of the Chabacano vocabulary comes from Spanish, although there are words derived from the native languages as well as anglicized words. Conversely, grammatical properties can not entirely be traced back to Spanish, as this paragraph summarizes. There are pronouns derived from Spanish & Portuguese and there are pronouns derived from some native languages, and while Spanish allows for the absence of a subject pronoun Chabacano does not since there is no clear subject verb agreement. Unlike Spanish, there is no grammatical gender in Chabacano, gender is known from the context and sometimes it is encoded by means of male/man or female/woman. Verbs occur in their bare form, there are no person and number markers on the verb, therefore tense, mood and aspect are encoded by means of verbal particles. Unlike Chabacano, Spanish verbs are marked for person and number and carry tense, mood and aspect morphology. Unlike Spanish, Chabacano has serial verbs (up to five) that are interpreted as a single predicate. Word order in Chabacano is VSO while in Spanish is generally SVO.

In conclusion, this overview has shown that Chabacano reproduces some properties of the substratum languages as well as some properties of the superstratum languages. Note, however, that there are many substratum languages, typologically quite similar but still different, and it should be known where do these grammatical properties come from.


DORIAN, Nancy C. (1989) Investigating obsolescence. Studies in language contraction and death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

FERNANDEZ, Francisco. (1998) 'Today's English' (175-216) in A History of English. Valencia: Albatros.

HANCOCK, Ian. 'Creolization and language change' (507-525) in POLOMÉ, Edgar (ed) (1990) Research Guide on Language Change. Berlin; New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

McMAHON, April M.S. (1994) 'Pidgins and Creoles' (253-283), 'Language Death' (284-313), Understanding Language Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

ROMAINE, Suzanne (1993) Pidgin & Creole Languages. London: Longman.

YULE, George (1996) 'Pidgins and Creoles' (233-235), The study of language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Electronic References

JOHN M.LIPSKI. When does Spanish become creole and vice versa? The case of Chabacano (Philippine Creole Spanish). The Pennsylvania State University.

A Dissertation Presented to the Faculty of the Graduate School Ateneo de Manila, by Sister Maria Isabelita O. Riego de Dios, R.V.M. 1976

Chabacano versus related creoles: Socio-linguistic Affinities and differences, by John Holm, University of Coimbra.
Here you can find selective Pidgin and Creole listings (though this is by no means a complete list of Ps/Cs).
Ian Mackenzie's Spanish Language & Linguistic website. This site provides an overview of Chabacano and Palenquero.
This is a website about cultural anthropology and also provides two maps of pidgins and creoles.