Language Policies in the Philippines during the Spanish Colonization


Language Policies in the Philippines during the Spanish Colonization



In 1565, the fleet headed by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, a Spanish explorer, reached Cebu Island and then the Spaniards started to colonize the Philippines islands.  The Spanish rule continued until 1898, when the sovereignty was transferred to America as a result of the Spanish-American war. For three centuries the Philippines was under the ruling of Spain, which has left a great deal of traces in every aspect of the Philippine life.

One of the most deeply rooted influences on the Filipinos was caused by the propagation of the Christian faith.  At the present day, most of the Filipinos are devout Christians except Muslims who are living in the southern parts of the country, Mindanao and Sulu Islands.  Another influence was brought about by a contact with the Spanish language.  All the major languages in the Philippines have been greatly influenced by the Spanish language in terms of vocabulary, pronunciation and a writing system. At a market-place buyers and sellers still use Spanish expressions for money, “uno peso” (one peso), “dos pesos”(two pesos), “tres pesos”(three pesos), “kwarto pesos” (four pesos) and the like. People also use Spanish expressions for hour and minute, “alas dose y singko” (five past twelve o’clock), “alas tres y medya” (half past three o’clock); for week, “Lunes” (Monday), “Martes” (Tuesday), “Myekules” (Wednesday) and so on; for month, “Enero”(January), “Pebrero” (February), “Marso”(March), “Abril”(April) and so on.  Listening to conversations among Filipinos, we find a large number of vocabulary derived from Spanish.

During three century colonization, Spanish mixed indigenous languages and produced various its creoles.  In various districts such as Davao, Cavite, Ermita, Ternate and Zamboanga arose creoles (Lipsiki 1987: 91).  Currently only Chabacano is a remaining creole, which is spoken by several thousand residents in the city of Zamboanga at the western tip of Mindanao Island.

Since the colonists spoke a totally different language from the languages of the people whom they conquered, one of the crucial issues to be dealt with was what language should be employed in the missionary and administrative activities.  What language should be selected, Spanish, Tagalog or other indigenous languages?  After selection, how the language should be propagated?  All those considerations are comprised into a category of language policies.

During the Spanish regime, language policies were planned by the government in the homeland and then conveyed in the form of royal decrees to the colony.  The colonial government should execute their language policies in compliance with the decrees.  Friars were also influential factor because no other Spaniards except them were allowed to live in villages where they had a direct contact with natives and supervised them.  All governmental policies regarding natives should be implemented by way of friars.  Without friars’ approval and cooperation no policies could have been conducted.  In addition to them, Filipinos’ attitude toward languages was also a highly influential factor.  The current sociolinguistic situations greatly depends on whether they were willing to accept the Spanish or not.

When we will look into the history of language policies in the Philippines, we should take note of these factors: the government in Spain, the colonial government, religious orders (friars) and Filipinos’ attitude.

The purpose of this paper is to discuss how these factors have contributed to sociolinguistic situations in the Philippines.  This paper is organized as follows: (1) At first we will see the linguistic situations in the Philippines when the Spaniards arrived; (2) Then we will look at language policies planned by the home country, in particular, by means of looking chronologically at royal decrees; (3) We also look into a few laws relating to language policies by the colonial government; (4) Then we will investigate how friars reacted to these policies; (5) Then we will see Filipinos’ attitude by describing how they reacted to the Spanish language; (6) Finally we will discuss what significance the language policies had, and what influence they exercised on sociolinguistic situations in the Philippines.



1. The Philippines When the Spaniards Arrived

What is referred to as the Philippines is composed of more than 7,000 islands. These islands were originally inhabited mainly by Malays, who formed a small community called “barangay” along sea coasts or on the riverside, and led a subsistence life by farming or fishing, and believed in primitive animism.  Around the 15th century, the influence of Islam reached the southern parts of the Philippines, such as Mindanao and Sulu islands which are currently a stronghold of the Muslin religion.

As for linguistic situations, inhabitants spoke languages of the Malayo-Polynesian family.  It seemed that more than several hundred languages were spoken as is the same with the present day.  Unfortunately there remain so few historical documents that it is difficult to visualize the sociolinguistic situations of the ancient societies.  One of a few data available was a book titled Relación de las Islas Filipinas published in Rome in 1604.  The author was a Spanish priest named Pedro Chirino.  He states as follows:


Of all those languages, it was the Tagal[1] which most pleased me and which I most admired….I found in this language four qualities of the four greatest languages of the world, Hebrew, Greek, Latin, and Spanish: it has the abstruseness and obscurity of the Hebrew; the articles and distinctions in proper as well as in common nouns of the Greek; the fullness and elegance of the Latin; and the refinement, polish, and courtesy of the Spanish…(DS 3. 368)[2]

…and there is hardly a man, and much less a woman, who does not read and write in the letters used in the island of Manila. (DS 3. 370)


There is another valuable documents descriptive of sociolinguistic situations of the islands.  In 1609, Morga, a former governor of this colony,  published Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas in Mexico city.  In his book he illustrated the life-style of the Filipino people and admired their languages as follows:


The inhabitants of the province of Manila, the Tagals, have their own language, which is very rich and copious.  By means of it one can express elegantly whatever one wishes, and in many modes and manners. It is not difficult to learn or pronounce.  The natives throughout the islands can write excellently with certain characters, almost like the Greek or Arabic. (DS 4. 46)


These two books indicated that Filipinos had possessed a writing system and most of the inhabitants had already known how to write and read, at least in the surrounding areas of Manila.  They showed that there was already universal literacy by the 16th century and seemingly a civilized society.

But some researchers such as Corpuz expressed a skepticism about this Chrino-Morga assertion that there was a prevalence of a writing system.  In order to refute the assertion, Corpus (1989:20-36) showed various evidence which seems reasonable[3].  Here we cannot afford to go into the problem whether this assertion was true or not.  Simply we should pay an attention to the fact that in the 19th century many Filipino patriots showed an interest in these passages of the books and “found” that there was once a great culture in this country which had been despised and regarded as a backward country.  These two books provided many Filipino intelligentsia with confidence and pride in the motherland.


2.  Language Policies by the Government in Spain


2.1. Some Features of the Spanish Colonization

According to Constantino (1978:29-31), there was the difference in the tactics of colonization between the Spaniards and the other colonizing powers in Southeast Asia.  In general, the Western powers initially instituted a system of indirect rule through the trading companies.  Britain and Holland preserved the old ruling class and controlled the masses through them. Thus the former ruling class was able to preserve their cultural tradition.  When the Western powers started to implant direct rule in the 19th century, the level of culture of the colonized people was such that it could no longer be completely obliterated.  Thus there remains the consistency of history, culture and literature.

But in the Philippines the Spanish authority controlled directly natives with an assistance of friars.  No ruling class was allowed to be intermediary between the colonial master and the masses.  In addition to that, friars stayed in villages and influenced the mentality of natives.  They urged villagers old practices and customers and systematically destroyed natives’ religious literature or whatever smacked of paganism.  Thus the identity of Malay people was totally wiped out in the Philippines.


2.2. Friars and Its Religious Enthusiasm

The fall of Granada marked the end of struggles between Christians and Muslims over the Spanish Peninsula.  During the struggles the government and the missionary closely cooperated to conquer militarily and to spread the Christian faith.  The cooperation of the Cross and the Sword was established during the time of “Reconquista” and continued after the Spaniards sailed off to conquer vast territories in America and Asia.  Soldiers arrived in the Philippines, accompanied with the religious orders (friars) whose job was to convert natives, to pacify them and to secure the Spanish rule.

Friars were, in later days, notorious for their abuse of the power and corrupt and luxurious life-style.  But the documents in earlier days showed the opposite image, that they were enthusiastic about their obligations.  Alzona (1932: 165-7) praised missionary activities in the 16-17th century and stated, “A perusal of the chronicles written by missionaries reveals the diligence and zeal of the Spaniards in bringing the Faith even to unwilling and hostile people.”  Earlier missionaries went to remote jungles or Muslim villages in spite of dangers and sacrifices in the performance of their duties.  They also suffered from hunger, epidemic, tropical weather, terrible road conditions.  The friars seemed to be driven by any other force but a pursuit of worldly profits.  We are impressed by the friars because of their self-sacrifice in missionary activities, which was quite different from the counterparts in later days.


2.3. Language and Religion

At the time of the Spanish conquest, inhabitants in the Philippines had not yet met sophisticated religion, only Islam coming to southern parts of islands.  Believers of primitive animism were quickly attracted to a new refined and systematized religion, that is, the Catholic doctrine.  Conversion was so complete that the mentality of the Philippine people was said to shift from Malay-oriented to Western-oriented.

In terms of a missionary language, the friars discussed which language was the most effective for spreading Christianity and which language was the most accurate in conveying the message from the Bible.  Missionaries might think that they could convey the Christian doctrine more precisely by means of Spanish that indigenous languages.  But from earlier experience in the Spanish colonies of South and North America, the friars found that the effective way to teach the Christian doctrine was to employ the languages of natives (Bernabe 1987: 10).

When missionaries started to translate catechism into the language of natives, they faced the problem of how to translate the central concepts of the Christianity.  It was almost impossible to translate precisely the important concepts such as “Dios” (the God), “espíritu santo” (holy spirit), “iglesia”(church), “Jesucristo”(Jesus Christ), “cruz” (cross) into indigenous languages was a difficult task.  In order to maintain the purity of these concepts that these words conveyed, the missionaries decided to leave them untranslated, convinced that they had no exact equivalents in indigenous languages.  Bernabe (1987:10) said that this decision might well be considered the first of language policies in the Philippines.

In religion, how a sacred name is pronounced was a great concern to the missionary, so the spoken language is often more important than the written language.  To pronounce the God or other sacred names in different way is tantamount to blasphemy.  Missionaries found the phonetic scripts of natives (called baybayin) inadequate because they had only three vowels and sometimes only consonants were written, vowel sounds being omitted.  Consequently, missionaries decided to adopt Roman alphabetical writing system for indigenous languages  As we will later discuss, the introduction of the Latin alphabet was one of the contributions of the Spaniards to the Philippine culture.


2.4. Alphabet Writing System

Natives’ scripts called baybayin was probably of Sanskrit or Arabic provenance.  Babybayin was reportedly in wide use among the Tagalogs as well as other linguistic groups in the archipelago during the early period of colonization (Rafael, 1988: 44).  But after the introduction of Romanized letters, baybayin was quickly displaced by romanized phonetic writing among the Christianized natives (Rafael 1988: 45).

In 1663 Father Francisco Colin witnessed, “all of them have now adopted our way of writing, with the lines from left to right; for formerly they only wrote vertically down and up, placing the first line to the left and running the others continuously to the right, just opposite to the Chinese and Japanese…”(DS 5.6).  Thus by the end of the 17th century, most of Filipinos shifted to alphabet writing system.

About the significance of alphabetical letters, Alizona (1932:3) gave a favorable assessment, “the introduction of the Latin alphabet was one of the contributions of the Spaniards to the advancement of Philippine civilization.”  Bernabe (1986:9) presented another view.  She admitted that the introduction of alphabet made it easier the intake of Western thoughts.  But she pointed to the fact that Filipinos started to alienate themselves from traditional culture and the original Malay identity.


2.5. Language Problems in the Philippines

A modern nation has a clear-cut goal for its language policy and establish an organization which will systematically implement policies.  In the colonial Philippine, the authority gradually realized what was the problem, how it should be done in terms of language problems.  In a sense the history of language policies was the history of gradual realization of language problems.

The colonial governments received royal decrees from the government in Spain.  The home government did not have detailed information, so the royal decrees tended to be vague and abstract.  As they looked at the whole colonies, the home government advocated the teaching of the Spanish language in order to establish a unified consciousness of the Spanish Empire including its colonies.

The colonial government had to implement polices in complying with royal decrees.  They needed to adjust the royal decrees according to the realties in the colony.  But governors and officials could stay on their position only for a few years due to the policy of homeland.  Bureaucrats were hesitant to do any policies, because they could not stay enough to know about its task.

We also look into the friars, who were the most influential.  Only friars were able to speak indigenous languages and they took advantage of their linguistic ability.  They knew clearly that their advantage depended greatly on their position as an intermediary between the colonial government and the natives.  They did not want their position undermined by teaching Spanish to natives.


2.6. Royal Decrees Issued by the Government in Spain

In Spain, it was the Council of the Indies at Madrid that decided the law and involved the decision about the language policies until 1837.  After 1837, it was the Ministry of the Colonies that issued the decrees concerning language policies (Alizona 1932: 19-20).

In the Philippines, missionaries decided to use indigenous languages for propagating the Christian doctrine. But the Council of the Indies at Madrid insisted that missionaries should use Castilian[4] because they were of the opinion that indigenous languages were inadequate to convey Christian ideas (Alizona 1932:19).

The government in Spain gave the colony many decrees concerning language policies.  In general, these degrees can be categorized into two types.  The first was to ask friars to learn indigenous languages.  The Madrid government knew that indigenous languages were indispensable for missionary activities through the experiences in North and South America.  The second was to ask the teaching of Spanish to natives.  As the time went by, the developing industry and bureaucratic system needed the universally knowledge of Spanish.  We will see important decrees chronologically and examine the significance of each decree.


2.6.1. The Decree in 1550

The earliest of the decrees concerning language policies was issued by Carlos I in Valladolid in 1550 (June 7) and reissued in July 17.   This is the first decree demanding the teaching of Castilian in the Spanish colonies which was issued before the colonization of the Philippines (Bernabe 1987:11; Alzona 1932: 20) .  This decree showed a great concern about whether the message of the Christian doctrine could be conveyed precisely through indigenous languages or not.  It stated as follows:


Having made special investigation as to whether the mysteries of our holy Catholic faith can be thoroughly and properly explained even in the most perfect language of the Indians, it has been seen that it is impossible without committing great discords and imperfections; and although chairs are founded, where the priests, who should have to instruct the Indians, may be taught, it is not a sufficient remedy, as the diversity of the language is great.  Having resolved that it will be advisable to introduce the Castilian, we ordain that teachers be assigned to the Indians, who may teach them what they wish to learn of their own accord, in the manner that will be of least trouble to them and without expenses.  We have considered that this might be well done by the sacristans, just as they teach reading, writing, and the Christian doctrine in the village of these kingdom. (B&R 45.185).


Three characteristics should be paid an attention to in the decrees.  First, the purpose of the Spanish teaching was mentioned only for the spread of the Christian doctrine.  Here language teaching was related to mainly religious purposes, not to nationalism or effectiveness of communication as often found in the modern times.  Second, the decree was rather vague and inadequate for concrete policies such as financial considerations.  Third, it upheld the idea that the sacristans were going to teach language.  There was no idea of systematic language teaching by professionals, even though the teaching by sacristans was usually done in those days.


2.6.2. Instructions in 1596

The king of Spain (Felipe II) sent to Tello, Governor of the Philippine colony, an instruction which stated that learning of indigenous languages by the friars was inadequate for missionary, instead the friars should teach Spanish to natives.


As you will find out, especial care has been taken that the ecclesiastics and friars who present themselves to give instruction should learn the language of the Indians whom they are to teach and instruct; and that chairs should be established where the said language may be taught, so that there may be plenty of priests and ministers who know the language, in order to fulfill the above purpose.  But inasmuch as this method has not proved, nor is it now, a sufficient aid by which the Indians may be taught and instructed in the Christian faith and religion, so that they may receive as much benefit therefrom as is advisable and desirable — and as they would have received had the same care been taken to teach all the Indians Castilian, by which plan more and better ministers would have been had for their teaching and instruction, and they would have fallen into fewer errors, or none, on account of their idolatries and other former vices and superstitions — it has been deemed advisable to provide in this regard the decree (issued in 1550: my comment) that will be given you with these instructions.  …you shall decide and ordain how the contents of the said decree may be observed, obeyed, and executed exactly and to the letter, both in that city and in all the other cities of those islands and provinces, so that all its contents may be fulfilled and executed. (B&R 9. 255-6)


This instruction was issued just after the occupation of the Philippines.  The government in Spain began to realize the importance of Spanish although they also understood the necessity of indigenous languages.  As Bernabe(1987: 10) put it, “ Originally, the Crown had encouraged the clergy to preach the faith through the medium of the native languages in order to facilitate the transition from paganism to Christianity, but in the 16 the century, it reversed its position as stated in the Instructions to Governor Tello.”


2.6.3. The Decree in 1603

The above two decrees required the teaching of the Spanish language, but at the same time the Crown government demanded of friars to learn indigenous languages probably because some of friars were reluctant or incompetent to master indigenous languages (Frei 1959:8).


Although it has been stringently ordered that the ministers appointed to the missions of the Indians, both seculars and friars, must know the languages of the Indians,… I have been informed that those orders have not been observed as is needful; … I charge you … to satisfy yourself that he has the necessary competency, and that he knows the language of the Indians whom he is to instruct…. In the visitations that you shall make you shall remove those whom you shall find to be incompetent, or lacking in the ability and good morals that are requisite, and those who not know sufficiently the language of the Indians whom they instruct. (B&R 20. 250-2)


There were a small number of royal decrees which urged friars to learn native languages.  Such decrees were not necessary in later days because friars became willing to learn native languages.  Evidently they knew the importance of the knowledge of language and its advantage to their worldly success.


2.6.4. The Decree in 1634

Felipe IV issued a decree demanding that the colonial government should teach Spanish to all the natives.   The previous decrees stated that the Spanish teaching should be given to natives who were willing to learn, not to all the natives.


We ask and request the archbishops and bishops to take measures and give orders in their dioceses for the curas and missionaries of the Indians by the use of the mildest means, to order and direct all the Indians to be taught the Spanish language, and to learn in it the Christian doctrine, so that they may become more capable of the mysteries of our holy Catholic faith, may profit for their salvation, and obtain other advantages in their government and mode of living. (B&R 45.184).


2.6.5. The Decree in 1686

Carlos II issued a decree in which he complained that former decrees (issued in 1550,1634 and 1636) had not been observed and stated there would be punishment if not observed.

… therefore, considering, in my royal Council of the Indias, the great advisability of observing this in the future strictly and inviolably, as it is inferred to be the most efficient means for banishing idolatries, to which the Indians are for the greater part addicted at present, as they were in the beginning of their conversion, from this means also it follows that the vexations which are practiced on them will cease in whole or in great part, and the Indians will be able to make their complaints directly to the superiors without making use of interpreters, who being bribed change the translation. (B&R 45.184-6).


This decree is remarkable in that the authority enumerated, for the first time, unreligious concern as the purpose to teach Spanish.  The decree was issued so that natives might be able to complain directly to the authority.   Usually natives complained through friars who were “interpreters”, from now on they could communicate with the authority without friars’ interpretation.  It was no wonder that friars opposed or sabotaged this decree.


2.6.6. The Decree in 1792

A similar type of decree was issued by Carlos IV in which he evoked the previous decrees (May 10, 1770; November 28, 1772; November 24, 1774)


… in regards to the establishment of schools for the Castilian language in all the Indian[5] villages, so that they may learn to read, write, and speak Castilian, prohibiting them from using their native language, and appointing for it teachers in whom are found the qualifications of Christianity, sufficiency, and good deportment that are required for so useful and delicate an employment.  They shall be assigned the salary for the present from the receipts of my royal treasury, by way of teaching fund in the villages where this contribution is current, while what is lacking shall be paid from the communal properties and treasuries.

… and you shall order that no other language be spoken in the convents, monasteries, and in all judicial, extra-judicial, and domestic affairs than the Castilian. (B&R 45.221-2).


This decree was more realistic than former decrees in that it mentioned clearly the financial sources, the type of desirable teachers and the mandatory use of Spanish in the domestic affairs.  It became closer to the modern language policies.


2.7. The Trend of the Decrees

The government in Spain repeatedly issued these decrees as regards language issues.  As we have seen, the features of the decrees were gradually changing.  At the first stage, the decrees asked both friars’ learning of indigenous languages and the teaching of Spanish to natives.  Frei (1959: 10) stated, “the primary purpose of teaching the Spanish language was the desire to spread Christianity.”  As time went by, the teaching of Spanish became more and more necessary because, “there is the diversity of the dialects which made ineffective the training of the clergy in the Philippine languages, which became more numerous as conquest brought more territory of the islands under the Spanish rule.” (Frei 1959: 10).

Then the necessity for language for administration came to be realized.  As Frei (1959: 11) mentioned, “The other consideration was the need of the state for a medium of promoting administrative matters…. Political and social aspects took on increasing importance at least toward the end of the Spanish regime and held equal rank with the religious motive….”


2.8. Language Policies by the Colonial Government

In compliance with decrees issued by the home government, the colonial government also issued several laws concerning language policies.  Compared to the royal decrees, those laws presented more concrete methods.  But they were equally ignored by friars.


2.8.1. The Ordinance 1768

Governor Solís issued the following law on October 19, 1752, later it became Ordinance 52 in 1768:


… so that in the villages of their districts they demand, establish, and found, from this day forward, schools where the children of the natives and other inhabitants of their districts may be educated and taught (in primary letters in the Castilian or Spanish language), seeing to it earnestly and carefully that they study, learn, and receive education in that language and not in that of the country or any other.

For that purpose, and so that it may have the fullest effect, I revoke, annul, and declare of no use and value ordnance 29, which declares that Spaniards shall not be allowed to live in or remain in the villages of the Indians; for in the future they must be admitted to such residence.

… and for the attainment of the duties and posts of governors and other honorable military posts it shall be a necessary qualification that those on whom they are conferred be the most capable, experienced, and clever in being able to read, talk, and write, in the above-mentioned Spanish language, and such posts must be given to such persons and not to others.” (B&R 46.277-8).

One of the radical reforms was proposed here.  So far ordinary Spaniards were forbidden to stay in the native villages, but the stay of Spaniards were allowed for the sake of propagation of Spanish.  But friars harassed and tried to repel those Spaniards who had moved to villages.  Anyway still a small number of Spaniards were staying.

This ordinance asked the establishment of schools and prohibited any other language than Spanish in schools.  It stated that official jobs could be given to those speaking Spanish as an incentive to learning of Spanish.  Obviously the developing bureaucracy needed in lower-level jobs more and more native officials with a knowledge of Spanish.


2.8.2. Ordinances of Good Government

Governor Jose Raon issued 94 ordinances in 1768 and was virtually a colonial code of local government.  Its Ordinance 25 stated about the Spanish language education and its financial sources as follows:


It is important that there should be good school teachers to instruct the natives so that these natives may learn the Spanish language for better understanding of the Christian Doctrine.  Since the salary of the teachers paid by the community fund is very small — one peso and one cavan (unit of weight) of rice; it is, hereby, ordered that the alcalde-mayor (mayor), with the help of the curas (priests) and missionaries, readjust the teachers’ salaries in proportion to the tributes, and inform the Superior Government and the royal accountancy on this matter so that better teachers may be appointed. (DS 6.134).


The law stated one of reforms in teacher’s financial problems.  Due to the small salary, it was hard to recruit capable teachers.

In general, compare to the royal decrees, most of these laws were more concrete and try to follow the demand by the home government.


2.9. Education Act in 1863

The issuance of the decrees or laws paved the way for the Education Act in 1863, which marked a watershed for education system in the Philippines.  In 1839 a commission was formed to draft a set of regulations for the establishment of a system of primary education in the Philippines.  At that commission there were long discussions as to whether the medium  of instruction be Spanish or not.  A friar named Gainza opposed the use of Spanish and argued that “the scheme would give the Filipinos a common language and it would eventually undermine the Spanish regime.” (Bernabe 1987: 15).  Anyway the commission finally reported that Spanish should be used as the medium of instruction in the primary schools.  This reports prepared the basis for the educational decree of 1863.

In 1863 the Educational Act was issued which stated that in every town a primary school should be established.  For boys and girls aged 6-12, primary education became compulsory.  Tuition should be free and equipment should be provided to the poor,

The educational decree prescribed that Spanish was to be the sole medium of instruction in order to facilitate the need to learn Spanish, so that literacy in Spanish appeared to be the major purpose of the curriculum.  To this end, the decree provided that natives who could not speak, read and write Spanish five years after its issuance were not to be permitted to hold salaried government positions.  This was the major motivation to induce the Filipinos to study the language (B&R 46.85).

We cannot underestimate the significance of this educational act.  Because “with the decree of 1863, new life is put into education, and that all the many decrees and orders issued later by the government are harmonious in effect and purpose.” (B&R 46.15).

But the Spanish language education was not successful.  Of all its provisions, that on the requirement to use Spanish as medium of instruction was most openly violated by being ignored by the friars.  As before, the native languages continued to be used throughout the primary schools.  The promulgation of fourteen decrees in all between 1867 and 1889 (within the space of twenty-two years) concerning the use and teaching of Spanish attests to the dubious manner and lack of success in the implementation of the laws (Bernabe 1987: 17).


3. Failure of the Spanish Language Education

As we have seen, the most decrees were not observed: that is the reason why the similar decrees were issued one after another.  As Alizona (1932:21) mentioned, “the decrees suffered a natural death upon their receipt here.”

Remarks by Le Gentil, a French tourist, objectively estimated the Spanish language education, saying “according to one of the King’s ordinances, renewed perhaps a hundred times, the friars have been instructed to teach Spanish to the young natives.  But his Majesty … has not yet succeeded in making himself obeyed, and his ordinance is still a dead letter.” (Corpuz 1989: 357).

Some schools managed to introduce the Spanish language education into teaching.  But even in such schools, it was hard to say that language education was successful.  A Friar named Eladio Zamora described the school education in 1901 as follows:


In the schools the children read and wrote in Castilian, learned the grammar by heart, and some teachers gave the explanation in Castilian also.  The teacher asked questions in Castilian, and the scholars replied in certain dialogues, which they learned by heart.  But what was the result?  The children did not understand one iota of the master’s explanation.  They answered in the dialogue like parrots, and the few phrases which they learned in the harmonious language of Cervantes , they forgot before they reached home, if not in the very school itself, because they did not again hear either when playing with their comrades or in their homes, or in the school itself.” (B&R 46.328-9).


The reasons of the failure of the Spanish language education was multifaceted, some of them being enumerated as follows:

(1) The Philippines is geographically distant from Spain, so royal decrees was not so forceful as in the homeland.

(2) In order to prevent the impact of independence of Latin Americans, the authority wanted the natives to be barred from news form outside, therefore, being hesitant to spread the Spanish language.

(3) The decrees being originally oriented for Americans, it did not fit the realities in the Philippines (B&R 46.285).

(4) A lack of funds was another reason.  It was said that funds were not available very often and this hampered the hiring of teachers”. (B&R 46.282-4).  Bernabe (1987: 13) commented that “except in the later part of the Spanish regime, education was not a critical item in the finances of the government.”  Therefore, expenses for education were largely defrayed by the clergy, not by the national treasury.

(5) There were generally no incentives for natives to learn Spanish.   As Bernabe (1987:14) mentioned, “the sheer lack of need to use the language was enough reason for its unattractiveness to the people.”

(6) The Spaniards were forbidden to live in the native village except friars, therefore, natives had few chances to practice Spanish.

(7) Even though the colonial government planned to spread the Spanish language, the friars in villages and towns wanted to monopoly the tools of communication and ensure their own power base.  The friars were categorically opposed the spread of Spanish.


4. Viewpoints from Friars

4.1. Criticism against Friars

In the earlier days of colonization, friars criticized the colonial system (such as encomenderos system) which abused natives and showed sympathy with natives, but gradually they themselves became recipients of benefits of that system and they became involved in the system.  Later they became the target of harsh criticism (Corpuz 1989: 95).  For example, a jurist-soldier, Don Simon Anda y Salazar exposed the abuses committed by the friars in his famous “Memorial” published in 1768 (DS.6: 169ff).

The revolt against the Spanish regime and the Philippine Revolution, and the severance of the Philippines from Spain were generally thought to be caused by the friars’ abuses of power.  The friars were regarded as responsible for the fall of the Spanish regime in the Philippines.

In terms of language policy, they became the target of criticism for negligence of Spanish education to natives.  Many complains were charged against friars for not implementing the Spanish language education.  But according to Corpuz (1989: 220-1), the friars simply ignored these charges.   It was not until the 19th century that the friar orders had ever issued a written justification of their position on the issue.


4.2. Justification by Friars

Toward the end of Spanish regime, friars began to justify their position.  The friars’ justification based chiefly on two excuses: (1) The friars, in fact,  made efforts to spread Spanish contrary to the general belief.  Consequently, others, be it the colonial government or the home government or whatever might be responsible.  (2) The natives were not able to understand the Spanish language. They asserted that they could not overcome inablity of natives to understand the sophisticated language such as Spanish.


4.2.1. Friars’ Eagerness to Teach Spanish

It was claimed by many friars that they, in fact, were serious to propagate Spanish, which might not be supported by the general belief.  Friars presented various evidence that their educational activities were far-sighted and superior to others in terms of language education.

A friar named Eduardo Navarro claimed this assertion in his book Estudio de Algunos Asuntos de Actualidal.  He referred to a historical fact that in 1596, among the Augustinian order, the resolution was established, which were capitular laws, compulsory on all the religious of the province.  The resolution was that “it is enjoined upon all the ministers of Indians, that just as the schoolboys are taught to read and write, they be taught also to speak our Spanish language, because of the great culture and profit which follow therefrom.” (B&R 46.288).

Another friar named Eladio Zamora claimed, after the transfer of education from friars to the municipalities, the standard of education declined.  He asserted “while the normal teachers remained under the immediate supervision of the parish priests, authorized by the official rules to suspend them and fashion them suitably, education made excellent progress.  But when they were emancipated from the supervision of the parish-priest religious by the decree of sad memory countersigned by Senor Maura in 1893, creating the municipalities to which passed the supervision and management of the schools and the teachers, education went into a decline.” (B&R 46.327)

He also asserted that the village under friars ruling enjoyed a higher Spanish prevalence than those under secular priests. “To accuse the religious of being the reason why Castilian is not popular in Filipinas when we have the most eloquent data that in the villages ruled by secular priests of the country, there is less Castilian spoken than in the parishes ruled over by the friars.” (F&R 46.339).


4.2.2. Natives’ Inability to Understand Spanish

In general friars underestimated Filipinos and occasionally showed their racial prejudice.  The prejudice was openly presented by even a well-known friars.

A famous missionary and historian, Gaspar de San Agustin, wrote a letter to his friend in 1720, in which he depicted the Filipinos as an inferior race — cowardly, lazy, liar, ungrateful, dishonest, devoid of honor, thievish, imbecile, treacherous, ignorant, rude, etc. (DS Vol.5.209).  A Jesuit priest, erudite scholar and historian, Muillo Velarde showed in an addendum to San Agustin’s letter his racial prejudice, “What is the Indian?  Reply – The lowest degree of rational animal.” (DS vol.5. 250).

Friars believed in their racial superiority and that their language was beyond Filipinos’ capacity.  They sneered at Filipinos’ efforts to learn Spanish and get education.  A friar named Miguel Lucio Bustamante showed his despise toward Philippine natives.  He “ridiculed the efforts of the Filipinos to acquire the same education as that possessed by the Spaniards, and stated that all a Filipino needed to enable him to go to heaven was to learn how to pray, to plow, and to be obedient to his superiors, especially to the parish priests…. The author’s conclusion was that to teach the indios Spanish and give him a little education was fatal.  The indio was destined to tend carabaos (water buffalo), and not to live like Spaniards.” (Quoted in Alzona 1932: 96-7).


5.  The Attitude of Natives towards Spanish

As we have seen, there were two conflicting groups on ruler’s side: one group was eager to teach Spanish and the other reluctant to spread Spanish.  We are interested to know how natives responded to the Spanish language.  Looking at various documents, we have an impression that Filipinos were generally curious to know a new language.

In earlier colonial days, ”they have learned our language, pronouncing and writing it as well as we and even better, because they are quite skilled so that they can learn anything with great facility.” (Chirino, quoted in Rafael 1988:56).  Alizona (1932: 19) analyzed Chirino’s book and judged that “the Filipinos showed great interest in learning the new language. Old men, and even women, flocked to the mission schools eager to study the new faith and the strange language.”

In the 19th century, as the colonial society developed and new industry arose, some Filipinos became interested in social advancement, seeking for their fortune.  To get a job in bureaucracy or professional jobs such as priests or lawyers, the knowledge of Spanish was absolutely necessary.  Spanish became the symbol of advancement and affluence.  Most educated Filipinos wanted to learn how to speak Spanish because it was considered a status symbol in Philippine society (Bernabe 1987: 128).  In general, the educated Filipinos strongly advocated the teaching of the Castilian language to the masses, for the purposes of establishing a common language.  As Alzona (1932: 170) mentioned, the Filipinos expressed their desire to learn the Castilian language and their regret at the failure of the public schools to spread the language.


6.  Impact of the Spanish Language on the Philippine Mentality

For three centuries Spanish was the language of the ruling class.  By the end of its regime, it was reported that 2.46% of the adult population could speak Spanish (1870 Census, quoted in Gonzalez 1980: 26).  As the strongest impact of the Spanish language on the sociolinguistic situations in the Philippines, we can refer to the fact that Spanish language education led to the rise of Tagalog and the unified consciousness as a Tagalog-speaking race.


6.1. Unified Consciousness of Filipino People

The Philippine nationalism was the first in the Southeast Asia (Steinberg 1987:170).  Its nationalism was developed during the Propaganda Movement and the Philippine Revolution.

In the middle of the 19th century, in Spain, the liberal movement arose in Barcelona then moved to Madrid.  Those days a great number of Filipino students were studying there and they were influenced by this movement.  They began to campaign for the liberation of the Philippines, but it did not mean they aimed at the independence from Spain but the assimilation into Spain with Filipinos’ rights fully recognized.

In 1882 Del Pilar founded the nationalist newspaper Diariong Tagalog, through which he propagated his idea.  In 1892 José Rizal founded an organization Liga Filipina and started his campaign.

José Rizal played an important role in the history of the consciousness of the Philippines.  He studied Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas and “found” that the Philippines had a great language and culture.  He re-found there were a great race and culture in the ancient Philippine islands.  He explained to his fellows that they all belonged to this great race.  He insisted that before the arrival of Spaniards, there was no abuse, no exploitation , people live fruitful and prosperous life.  Also a revolutionist, Andres Bonifacio wrote, “these islands were governed by our own compatriots who were then living in the greatest abundance and prosperity.”  He wrote about their linguistic situations, “young and old, the women included, knew how to read and write, using their own alphabet.” (DS 8:201).

The nation “Filipinas” and the people “Filipinos” were conceptualized and Spain and the Philippines came to be recognized as separate beings.  Filipinos began to understand their motherland was not Spain but the Philippines.  This finding was quickly spread to other intelligentsia in the Philippines.

But one of the characteristics of the Propaganda Movement is that it was done through the Spanish language.  In general, the propaganda movement was done through the Spanish language.  Therefore, the limit of the propaganda movement was that this movement mainly depended on Spanish, not on the public language, Tagalog.  Due to this, the movement could not spread to the masses.  Constantino (1975:157) clearly stated that “… an important factor limiting the influence of the propagandists was the fact that they wrote in Spanish, a language virtually unknown among the masses.”


6.2. Philippine Revolution

In 1896 the Filipinos finally took up arms, campaigning for independence.  Here we cannot go into the details of the Revolution, but simply take note of some linguistic significance.  During the Philippine Revolution, the language for revolution seemed to gradually shift from Spanish to Tagalog.  We should look into the language of the constitution. At least two draft constitutions of the period made Tagalog the official language (Biac-na-Bato and Programma Constitutional de la Republica Filipinas ,Cavite).  One of them, prepared by Mabini, provided “ that Tagalog should be the language of elementary instruction and that two courses of English and two of French should be taught in the higher grades.  When English have become ‘sufficiently diffused through the whole archipelago, it should be declared the official language.” ( Frei 1959:29; Hayden 1955: 588-9).

At first there was few consciousness of tie between language and ethnic identity.  But during a relatively short period of Revolution, the tie was found and at the last stage of Revolution, the importance of indigenous language was found.  During the revolution they found their true language was not Spanish.


7. Conclusions (From Spanish to Tagalog)

This paper has described how the language policies shifted from the religious concern to more practical concern.  Religious concern and the existence were characteristics of Philippine language policies during the Philippine rule.  As time went by, the colonial government tried to spread Spanish but it did not succeed enough even after the education act of 1863.  Policies became more and more concrete and began to discuss financial sources, the quality of teachers, the administration.  In a sense it became more and more realistic.  After the education act of 1863, the school education began to spread.  Eventually Spanish became the symbol of advancement and civilization.

Paradoxically the spread of Spanish gave Filipino intellectuals a thought of liberalism and a concern for their own past and current situations.  Tagalog became the symbol of ethnic identity.  At the time when they have to unite to resist the Spanish regime, they appealed to symbolic function of Tagalog. In order to mobilize the consciousness of the masses, the symbolic aspect of language is capitalized on.  They had two identity as Spanish and Filipinos, former developed by the Spanish language and latter developed by the Tagalog language.

Thus the 300 years colonization by Spain was long enough to deprive Philippine people of its Malay identity, but was not long enough to get rid of identity as Filipino people. That is a problem remaining still today.



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