Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Spanish in the Philippines

Some reflections on what was and what might have been.
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. (Read entire post.)


Orchard Ville said...

Sadly, though, even Catholicism, in the Philippines, seem to be fading as well, due secular influences. Many new generation of Filipinos no longer practice Catholicism. Some Filipinos chose Protestantism, like the ones calling themselves "born again". Others have rejected Christianity altogether. Philippines have so much to thank the Spaniards for, because they introduced Catholicism - the only thing I can think of to thank the Spaniards greatly. The Americans helped the Philippines so much during WW2, which is greatly remembered to this day. The Philippine culture, which used to be deeply rooted in Catholicism, is now beginning to give in to secularism due to outside influences. For example, now that secularism is taking its hold of America, it's also taking its hold of the Philippines via American media. Philippines is more influenced by the Americans rather than the Spaniards, which, I think is the fault of the Spaniards that conquered the Philippines. If the Spaniards had the sense to expand their influences, they should have done so by teaching their language to the natives the moment they conquered the land. Just my thought on the matter. Thank you.

xavier said...

Maria Elena:

Interesting bt just to let you in a an a fascinating tidbit: I listened to an interview (in Spanish) with the director of the Cervantes institute in Manila. He pointed out that (a) the Manila branch is the second largest in Asia after Tokyo.
(b) a lot of Filipinos are learning Spanish.

Part of the reason isn't really sentimentalism but a pragmatic decision. You see Filipinos who loive and workd in Spain can become citizens in 2 years as opposed to 10 for everyone else.