Filipinos used to value speaking Spanish more than English

March 25, 2023

Here’s a caveat. No, I do not discourage speaking English. Due to obvious reasons. It is the language that I speak myself.

There is, however, a debatable argument to the effect that Spanish was never widely spoken by Filipinos before.

During a visit to my late friend’s small office at Arellano University (Legarda), Pio Andrade Jr, a noted chemist who dabbled in history, argued passionately that Spanish was widely used.

I played abogado del diablo, and he got more adamant, taking papers out of boxes and laying them out for me to see.

He conceded that there may have been varying degrees of proficiency, but most Filipinos spoke Spanish.

The analogy that would best represent his viewpoint is this: We are generally regarded as English speakers today, even though a large percentage cannot speak it fluently. Many could only speak Taglish. Then again, we are generally thought of as English speakers.

He shared an anecdote on the Ford report (sent to US President Wilson 1916), which I find very interesting. Ford shared an anecdote in which Filipinos learned English but preferred to communicate in Spanish.

“There is however, another aspect of the case that should be considered. I had this forcibly presented to me as I traveled through the Islands, using the ordinary conveyances and mixing with all sorts and conditions of people. Although on the basis of School statistics the statement is made that more Filipinos now speak English than any other language, no one would think of the testimony of one’s own ears. Everywhere Spanish is the speech of business and social intercourse. For one to receive prompt attention, Spanish is always more useful than English and outside of Manila, is almost indispensable. Americans travelling about the Islands, use it habitually. What is more, they discourage the use of English. This was a development that took me by surprise. I asked an American I met on an inter-island steamboat why he always spoke Spanish to the stewards and waiters, and whether they could not understand him in English. He said that probably many of them could but one would not be treated with as much respect using English and not Spanish; that Filipinos seem to loose their manners using English, becoming rude, familiar and insolent”.

Henry Jones Ford, Report of the Philippine Islands to US President Woodrow Wilson (1916)

As a result, Americans like him had to communicate in Spanish. He also added Filipinos became impolite when they spoke in English.

Perhaps Filipinos haven’t mastered English yet? Perhaps they felt bad about it being imposed, so they didn’t bother to be polite about using it?

A lot of reading and research needs to be done. That’s all for now.

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