Chavacano or Chabacano, sometimes referred to by linguists as Philippine Creole Spanish, is a Spanish-based creole language spoken in the Philippines. The word "Chavacano" is derived from the Spanish word "chabacano", meaning "poor taste," "vulgar," "common," "of low quality," "tacky," or "coarse" for the chavacano language which was developed in Cavite City, Ternate and Ermita, and also derived from the word chavano which was coined by the people of Zamboanga. Six different dialects have developed: Zamboangueño in Zamboanga City, Davaeño in Davao, Ternateño in Ternate, Caviteño in Cavite City, Cotabateño in Cotabato City and Ermiteño in Ermita in Manila.
The Chavacano language is the only Spanish-based creole in Asia. It has survived for more than 400 years, making it one of the oldest creole languages in the world. It is the only language to have developed in the Philippines (a member of Philippine languages) which does not belong to the family of Austronesian languages, although it shows a characteristic common to the sub-classification of Malayo-Polynesian languages, the reduplication.
This creole has six dialects. Their classification is based on their substrate languages and the regions where they are commonly spoken. The three known dialects of Chavacano which have Tagalog as their substrate language are the Luzón-based creoles of which are Caviteño (spoken in Cavite City), Ternateño (spoken in Ternate, Cavite) and Ermiteño (once spoken in the old district of Ermita in Manila and is now extinct). Zamboangueño Chavacano emanated from Caviteño Chavacano as evidenced by prominent Zamboangueño families who descended from Spanish Army officers, primarily Caviteño mestizos, stationed at Fort Pilar in the 19th century. When these Caviteño officers recruited workers and technicians from Iloilo to man their sugar plantations and ricefields to reduce the local population's dependence on the Donativo de Zamboanga, taxes levied by the Spanish colonial government on the islands'inhabitants to support the fort's operations, and with the subsequent migration of Ilonggo traders to Zamboanga, the Zamboangueño Chavacano was infused with Ilonggo words as the previous migrant community was assimilated. Most of what appears to be Cebuano words in Zamboangueño Chavacano are actually Ilonggo. Although Zamboangueño Chavacano's contact with Cebuano began much earlier when Cebuano soldiers were stationed at Fort Pilar during the Spanish colonial period, however, it wasn't until closer to the middle of the 20th century that borrowings from Cebuano accelerated as a result of more migration from the Visayas as well as the current migration from other Visayan-speaking areas of the Zamboanga Peninsula. Zamboangueño is spoken in Zamboanga City, Basilan Province, parts of Sulu Province and Tawi-Tawi Province, and in Semporna-Sabah, Malaysia and the rest of the Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay and Zamboanga del Norte. The other dialects of Chavacano which have, primarily, Cebuano as their substrate language are the Mindanao-based creoles of which are Castellano Abakay (spoken in some areas of Davao), this dialect has an influence from Chinese and Japanese, also divided into two sub-dialects namelyCastellano Abakay Chino and Castellano Abakay Japon, and Cotabateño (spoken in Cotabato city).
Much of the words in the Chavacano vocabulary are mostly derived from the Spanish language, which almost to its entirety is made up of Andalucian Spanish spoken in the coastal and insular areas of the Americas, while its grammar is mostly based on other Philippine languages primarily, Ilonggo, Tagalog and Cebuano. Its vocabulary, especially the Zamboangueño dialect, has some minor influences from the Italian language, Portuguese and several Native American languages. The vocabulary of the Ternateño dialect, in particular, has a major influence from the Portuguese language and the language of Ternate in Indonesia since the speakers of the said dialect are the descendants of the Indonesian soldiers brought by the Spaniards in the area.
In contrast with the Luzon-based creoles, the Zamboangueño dialect has the most borrowings and/or influence from other Philippine Austronesian languages including Hiligaynon,Subanen/Subanon, Sama-Banguingui, Sama-lauan, Tausug, Yakan, Tagalog and Ilocano origin are present in Zamboangueño dialect.
The highest number of Chavacano speakers are found in Zamboanga City and in the island province of Basilan. A significant number of Chavacano speakers are found in Cavite City and Ternate. There are also speakers in some areas in the provinces of Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Zamboanga del Norte, Davao, and in Cotabato City. According to the official 2000 Philippine census, there were altogether 607,200 Chavacano speakers in the Philippines in that same year. The exact figure could be higher as the 2000 population of Zamboanga City, whose main language is Chavacano, far exceeded that census figure. Also, the figure does not include Chavacano speakers of the Filipino diaspora. Notwithstanding, Zamboangueño is the dialect with the most number of speakers, being the official language of Zamboanga City whose population is now believed to be over a million.
Speakers can also be found in the town of Semporna in the eastern coast of Sabah, Malaysia—not surprisingly—because this northern part of Borneo is close to the Sulu islands and the Zamboanga Peninsula. This region was once part of Spanish Philippines until the late 19th century.
A small number of Zamboanga's indigenous peoples, such as the Tausugs, the Samals, and of Basilan such as the Yakans also speak the language. In the close provinces of Sulu and Tawi-Tawi areas, there are Muslim speakers of the Chavacano de Zamboanga.