Spanish's influence in the Philippines

Discover why the Philippines is currently not a Spanish-speaking country, yet 33% of Tagalog words come from Spanish.

Atlas of Elementary Geography (1900?) by Juan de la Gloria ArteroOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

The Philippines

The Philippines is an island country located in Southeast Asia in the Pacific Ocean. With a population of 104 million, it is the 12th most populous country worldwide. After being ruled by two different nations since 1521, it was recognized as an independent nation in 1946.

Ferdinand Magellan (1860) by Baltasar GiraudierOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

Spanish rule

Ferdinand Magellan, while trying to reach the Maluku Islands (or Moluccas), was the first to arrive at the Asian archipelago in 1521 and christened it the Philippines in 1521 in honor of Philip II.

Miguel López de Legazpi (Before 1908)Original Source: Prado Museum

In 1565, explorer Miguel López de Legazpi set off for New Spain, in the Americas, and established the first Spanish settlement. Here, they found a huge linguistic variety that still exists today, with around 180 languages.

Landscape of the Philippines (1887) by Francisco RuibambaOriginal Source: Prado Museum

Like in the Americas, an evangelist process began. To this end, they took advantage of local languages in addition to Spanish. They mostly used so-called general languages, such as Nahuatl in Mexico and Quechua in Peru.

Atlas of Elementary Geography (1900?) by Juan de la Gloria ArteroOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

This is why the missionaries used Tagalog (island of Luzon)—it was the language mainly used by different peoples to communicate with each other.

However, Cebuano was also used, especially on the island of Cebu and on the islands at the center of the Philippines called the Visayas. Still, given that most activity took place in the Manila region, Tagalog was more relevant and widely used.

Spain bringing glory to the Philippines (1888) by Juan Luna y NovicioOriginal Source: Prado Museum

Spanish in the Philippines

Philippine Album (1870)Original Source: National Library of Spain

Spanish remained a language reserved for the social elite for centuries. In the 19th century, it was the language of the government and the language spoken in the upper echelons of Filipino society, but it was not spoken by the majority of the population at large.

Manila Main Square (1847) by José Honorato LozanoOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

Like in other Imperial Spanish territories, independence movements took over Spanish, and the leaders of the new nations made sure it was the dominant language. However, independence in the Philippines had to wait.

View of Manila from the Bay (1847) by José Honorato LozanoOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

A few months after Manila settled a peace treaty with Madrid, the United States entered the stage with the Spanish-American War of 1898. Spain was defeated and the Philippines unexpectedly found itself under the rule of the other nation.

Album of calligraphic essays by the students of the Municipal School of Quiapo (1887) by Escuela Municipal de QuiapoOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

The first action of the United States was to send boats filled with teachers to the Philippines to teach English. Paradoxically, it was precisely during this era when Spanish flourished and reached its peak. It was the language in which numerous Filipino authors wrote numerous works.

Flag of the Philippines (2021) by Emmanuel Nicolas Jr.Fundación Antonio de Nebrija

On July 4, 1946, the Philippines was officially recognized as an independent nation by the United States. The adopted lingua franca was English, the language of the last colonial power.

Grammar of Tagalog (1850) by Sebastián de TotanesOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

Spanish's influence on Tagalog

Friar Sebastián de Totanés recognized one of the general languages, Tagalog, and wrote the language's first grammar. This manual was used by the missionaries sent to the Asian archipelago.

Public Billards: Table of Philippine customs (1860) by Baltasar GiraudierOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

At the time, there were many Spanish words describing objects that were unknown to the indigenous population. In addition, between the 16th and 19th centuries, the world evolved considerably and many things were named in Spanish.

Words shared between Tagalog and Spanish (2022) by Rodrigo DíazFundación Antonio de Nebrija

Tagalog language

As a result, different concepts were taken from Spanish and adapted to the Tagalog language. These include terms related to gastronomy, dates, and elements that were taken to the peninsula. These terms make up around 30% of Tagalog's vocabulary.

View of the Plaza de México (1797) by José Joaquín FabregatOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

Influence on culture and other languages

During Spanish rule, the Philippines was under the control of New Spain, now known as Mexico. This link meant that, in addition to cultural aspects, some words, for example from Nahuatl, were also inherited by Tagalog.

Philippine Album (1870)Original Source: National Library of Spain



One example still around today of this cultural heritage is Chavacano, a creole language derived from Castilian Spanish, which was born out of the coexistence of Filipinos, Spaniards, and Mexicans in the 17th century. For many, it is a treasure that preserves words that died out in Spanish.

Cartel of 1883 in the Philippines (1883) by Compañías de navegación - EspañaOriginal Source: National Library of Spain

Credits: Story

Article composed using content from the Hispanic Digital Library, loans from the National Library of Spain and the Photography Archive of the Museo Nacional del Prado.

Curator: Rodrigo Díaz

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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