Nov 19, 2010

The Mexican asks: How much Spanish remains in Filipino languages?

Dear Filipino,

How much Spanish remains in Tagalog or any of the other Filipino languages?  Whenever I'm enjoying my pansit bihon with lechon and the turo-turo joint is broadcasting some Pinoy show on the television, I can't concentrate because the sprinkling of Spanish makes me feel like I should know what everyone is saying!

The Mexican

The Mexican

Dear Mexican Dear Idol,

First of all, thank you very much for your email and question!  The Filipino is honored -- no, make it extremely honored and grateful! -- that you've written to encourage him to keep up this blog, which was inspired in the first place by your "Ask a Mexican!" column!

[NOTE: This and the next few paragraphs, which are enclosed by the brackets, are not for you, Idol, but for the uninitiated.

A Filipino turo-turo joint, or a carinderia, is a local eatery which serves inexpensive home-cooked meals and is typically characterized by a very informal ambience: i.e., no reservations required, no uniformed waiters at your beck and call, no fancy fixtures, et cetera.  The root word, turo, is a Tagalog word which means "to point," so patrons of a turo-turo joint usually just point from an array of heated but earlier-prepared viands to order their desired meals (although generally they are also able to order a la carte meals at higher price points). 

Pancit bihon is a popular Filipino noodle dish and lechon is a pork dish.  See the below photos for reference:
Pancit Bihon (from

Lechon Kawali (from
Just looking at the pictures make me salivate, but enough with this aside and on to The Mexican's my idol's question. ;-) ]

The Pinoy television show you were watching was probably in Tagalog, which is the language of the people from the provinces in and around Metro Manila.  It was made the national language in 1937 and renamed Pilipino in 1939. 

There are several good reasons why, whenever you're eating at the turo-turo joint, you feel you should be able to fully understand (but maybe don't) what the Filipinos on TV are talking about.  They are as follows:
  • There are an estimated 4,000 Spanish words in Tagalog, or about 20-30% of Tagalog words while Visayan and other Philippine languages borrowed about 6,000 Spanish words.  But then dig this: Chavacano, which is spoken in Zamboanga, is actually the only Spanish-based creole language in Asia. (So I'm not entirely sure here, but I'm guessing you can probably survive in Zamboanga speaking only Spanish!)
  • With slight changes in spelling and pronunciation, Pilipino incorporated the Spanish terms for counting (uno, dos, tres...), telling time (a la una y media?), the calendar (Enero, Pebrero, Marso...), days of the week (Lunes, Martes, Miyerkoles...), among others.  
  • Spanish has developed "false friends" in Tagalog and in the other Philippine languages.  These are the related words which started out from the same starting point but -- probably because of local usage/application, loss of nuance, or outright misuse -- have developed different meanings with the passage of time (e.g., kontrabida, which is from contra vida, meaning "against life," is now Tagalog for villain).
  • Of course, there are also a lot of "false cognates" -- similar words in Spanish and Tagalog that appear to have a common origin but actually do not (e.g., ama is Tagalog for father but Spanish for housewife).  (I think another good example is the word recently used by Brandon Rios to describe Pacquiao: puto, which is a popular steamed rice cake in the Philippines, but is not exactly a term of endearment in Spanish.)
  • Then, there are the Tagalog words which the Spaniards incorporated into their own language, too (e.g., dalaga, palay, bolo, etc.)
  • And here's the most interesting as far as you and I are concerned: Because the Philippines was directly under the Viceroyalty of New Spain, which was created to administer Spain's far-flung colonies including those in the Spanish East Indies and which was headquartered in Mexico from 1565 to 1821 (until Mexican independence), there was an active Manila-Acapulco galleon trade which allowed many native Mexican words, such as those from the Nahuatl, to creep into Philippine languages (e.g., sayote from chayotl, kamote from camotl, etc.).
Despite the departure of the Spaniards in 1898 from the Philippine archipelago, Spanish remained one of the official languages in the Philippines until 1973.  And in fact, it was still a required subject in colleges across the country until 1987.  Unfortunately, however, except for a few thousand words which became part of the daily Philippine lexicon, The Filipino did not really learn it enough to be able to really converse in the language.

Thanks again for your question, Idol!  Mabuhay ka! ;-)

Got a question for The Filipino?  Email him now at 


Neneng Tarigan said...

The blog is informal, but quite informative...I really love the contents....

Anonymous said...

As a language teacher, I've always found these things interesting. Thanks for the post. Btw, there's a Facebook page dedicated to Tagalog words that have Spanish origin. Check this out:

The Filipino said...

@Neneng: Thanks for the compliments!

@ajpoliquit: I just checked out the FB page and "Liked" it.

Unknown said...

I'm not very fluent in Spanish, but I remembered listening to a couple of Hispanic coworkers who were talking in Spanish, and I responded to them (in English, of course) and they were surprised that I understood what they were saying. I guess a few Spanish words here and there kinda helps. ;)

Love the blog! Bibisita ako ulit. (I'll visit again.) :)

The Filipino said...

Thank you for "loving" the blog, Leiza! Yes, please continue to visit/comment and feel free to email me any question you want answered and featured on the blog too. I have other pending questions to answer and time is quite limited, but if you're question is interesting, I might allow it to jump the queue! Let's connect on FB too!

Unknown said...

I definitely will ask a question one of these days. :) and connect on FB, sure! You can find me at: ;)

Jaclyn said...

I can speak conversational Spanish and can read & write it also but I'm not 100% fluent since I live here in Manila and I don't know anybody who I can speak the language with. Although my dad & my grandmother can speak it but they never really taught us the language. Therefore I only use it whenever i'm talking with my Mexican fiance and other Hispanic friends.

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