Zambo’s Chavacano language now has its own orthography PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 08 February 2016 11:58

By  vic larato


After almost two years in the making, Zamboanga City has finally produced and is now promoting the orthography of its unique and Spanish derivative language called Chavacano, a feat that no administration in the past had ever done nor even just a thought of it.

Dr. Jose Genaro R. Yap-Aizon, the mayor’s executive assistant for Education, Culture, Arts and History, explained that the orthography refers to the set of rules and/or standards on the usage of a language, and its primary function is to apply graphemes in the oral statements and written pronunciations of the language.

(Note: A grapheme is a set or a part of a system of writing that includes the letters or the alphabet (consonants and vowels), diphthongs; stress, syllabication, spelling, accents and punctuations, and the hyphens.—Ed.)

A linguist and a language professor himself, Dr. Aizon pointed out that the orthography is very vital to the preservation and promotion of a language, especially like the Chavacano of Zamboanga, which lends meaning from the word creole [defined as a language of mixed origin: a language that has evolved from the mixture of two or more languages, and has become the first language of a group].

History has it that the City of Zamboanga, highly urbanized and chartered in 1937, is presently home to nearly one million but united and peace-loving Zamboangueños of diverse faiths, cultures and traditions.

Along with these diversities is the reality that in a multilingual and multiethnic society, the people were born to speaking different vernaculars or dialects and languages. And in the case of Zamboanga, the Spanish-based creole language called Chavacano is widely spoken by the majority of the population.

Study showed that Chavacano borrows heavily from Spanish vocabulary minus its grammatical structure. It also combines vocabulary words and makes use of certain grammatical rules from English, Tagalog, Bisaya, Tausug and other dialects in this part of the country.

Today, the Zamboanga Chavacano is one of the oldest creoles in Asia, which has survived for than 400 years.

While previous administrations had taken steps to preserve and promote the Chavacano language due to the perceived threat of extinction brought about by the influx of non-Chavacano-speaking migrants, Aizon said it is only during this present administration that the orthography was produced, and thus forms as the basis of language.

From a linguist’s perspective, Dr. Aizon said the importance of orthography cannot be overemphasized, especially for language instruction.

It increases clarity and self-confidence in communication; the standard usage of letters and symbols makes language learning easier and more accurate, and it can define learning assessment standards.”

For language preservation and maintenance, the standard usage of Chavacano orthography prevents confusion or misunderstanding.

“One cannot just produce a book or dictionary of a language without the basis—the orthography. It should come first and foremost before any other promotional publications of a language,” he quipped.

Now that the Zamboanga Chavacano has already its own orthography, which was submitted last Dec. 4, 2015 to the Komisyon ng Wika as part of its archives for future reference, Aizon said the preservation and promotion of  Chavacano language now stands on a solid ground.

It now forms part of the Department of Education’s (DepEd’s) Mother Tongue Based-Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) instructional materials for Grades 1 to 3 in all the subject areas.

And, to formally launch the Chavacano orthography, the city government conducted last week a series of trainings among MTB-MLE teachers on how to use the orthography in teaching.

Dr. Aizon further stressed that the focus is on language maintenance or the way Chavacano is being used by the present generation of Zamboangueños in adherence to the principles of MTB-MLE.

Although the Chavacano orthography is a wok in progress and is still evolving towards a standardized written academic language, Aizon said it can be used as a common reference for consistency.

He thanked the civil society organizations, academic institutions and the people from different professions who contributed their time, talent and resources to the making of the Zamboanga Chavacano Orthography.

“It was really a long and tedious process, almost two years in the making,” he recalled. It all started from the city government’s open invitation to all universities in Zamboanga for a research on the Chavacano orthography.

Of those invited, only the Ateneo de Zamboanga University had responded positively, thus it was given a grant by the city government to do the research, which ran from August until October 2014.

The research output was presented to, critiqued, revised and improved by the participants of the five-day Zamboanga Chavacano Orthography Congress on Nov. 19-23, 2014 at Paseo del Mar’s Centro Latino Convention Hall. One of the objectives was to determine the different Chavacano word variations.

The participants were representatives of the different sectors, such as the academe, religious, military, police, barangay officials, business and civic leaders, and other stakeholders.

Then, a committee was organized with Dr. Aizon as chairman and co-chaired by Michelle C. Reyes, chairperson of ADZU Languages Department.

The members are Dr. Maria Yvonne Socorro H. Ramos, chief of staff, Western Mindanao State University; Dr. Victoria D. Mangaser, division supervisor, Department of Education; Dr. Valeria G. Corteza, division supervisor, DepEd; Maion Guerrero, chair of Communications Department, ADZU; Joylito Lahoy, assistant chair of Languages Department, ADZU; Prof. Julie Uy-Cabato, director of Language Development and Resource Center, WMSU; Prof. Elinor T. Cudia, director of Komisyon ng Wika, WMSU.

Other members include Dr. Erlinda C. Espinosa of Silsillah Foundation, Dr. Expedito H. Malbago, a professor of the College of Liberal Arts, WMSU; Prof. Claro Potenciano, also of WMSU College of Liberal Arts; Prof. Josefina S. Mendoza, Prof. Norma C. Conti, Felino Santos, a journalist.

Councilors Rogelio L. Valesco, chairman of the Committee on Education, and Vincent Paul Elago, chairman of the Committee on Tourism, both of the Sangguniang Panlungsod, are honorary members.

The next step now, according to Dr. Aizon, is to write and produce the Chavacano lexicography or dictionary.— Vic Larato