Historia Zamboanga

El Diutay Prinsipe & the creole that’s more than a lengua de tienda

September 2, 2018
Various versions of Saint-Exupery’s classic

I must have sent a note to the universe and it decided to respond. Last week I was at the Philatelic Museum (Singapore) to see the exhibit, “The Little Prince: Behind the Story” (more on my next blog). Then a few days ago, Jerome Herrera sent a link (to this blog’s FB Page) to his book project press kit. He was translating The Little Prince to Chavacano. “El Diutay Prinsipe” is due for release this month (September 2018). Now, that’s a strange coincidence, right?

The writer’s work is written in modern Chavacano orthography. Proofread by friends and self funded, a labor of love for an often misunderstood language. Herrera is also a blogger whose site, Bien Chavacano, has become a meeting place and repository for Chavacanos and non-Chavacanos to visit.

What makes “El Diutay Prinsipe” important is that it puts to writing a language rarely used in popular literature. Rizal wrote Chavacano conversations in his Noli, wittingly or unwittingly, recording for eternity the creole he admired. He was not alone. There were many hispano-filipino writers that did, like Jesús Balmori, an Ermita native. He penned the lyrics for the song, “el pasacalle aray”. And now we have “El Diutay Prinsipe”.

More than “lengua de tienda, y de nula dignidad, lengua de trapo”

The first time I heard Chavacano spoken was in college. A close friend’s family were Zamboangueños. During some holidays, we would hung out in their home and have these drinking sessions that lasts until the wee hours of the morning. I remember then that there was this AM station that plays Spanish songs. He would tune in and explain what the songs were about. Chavacano has given him a deeper appreciation of our hispano traditions and I thought that was really cool.

I would discover Cavitenen and Ternateño when I already had this blog. By this time, I already spent considerable amount of hours researching the history of our vanishing languages, among them Spanish and Chavacano in Cavite (now spoken mostly by old timers). Ermita’s Chavacano, the one that the likes of Rizal was familiar with, is believed to have vanished in the mid 1900’s or after WWII.

What would save our Spanish and Spanish creole?

I posed this question to historian Benito Legarda Jr and he said, “both parents must speak using it at home, if only one does, the child won’t pick it up.” A former colleague from Bicol shared with me how his father literally forced him to speak Spanish. He would refuse his allowance to school whenever he catches his son speaking any other language at home except Spanish. It apparently worked because the language he hated when he was a child gave him a livelihood later in life.

Views that our Spanish creole is nothing but a bastardized language comes from hispanophobic Filipinos. The writer-historian Elizabeth Medina once shared an online discussion where she was defending the position of preserving Spanish as a Filipino language. In it I discovered that many of those who opposed her were, as Medina called them, “Tisoys”! One of the commentators in the thread said that the closes we’ll ever get to Spanish is our debased version, which is Chavacano. These Filipinos wants nothing to do with their hispano-filipino heritage. For them, its words were to be kept as communication worthy only to be used in the kitchen.

It is not surprising that today, especially in Metro Manila, other Filipino language are often scoffed at and made fun of—many try their best not to sound “promdi”. But we must continue with our local languages—using them ensures that the death bells won’t be tolled for them in the future.

Herrera’s “El Diutay Prinsipe” is a noble and admirable effort. It not only promotes the language among young Chavacanos, it also allows it to be read and studied by non-Chavacano speaking Filipinos. “El Diutay Prinsipe” shows that Chavacano is not mere pidgin but a complete language worthy of our appreciation as a Filipino language.

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