The life and death of the Spanish language in the Philippines

I remember that a Latin American scholar — I do not know from which country — angrily claimed at an academic congress that because of the Spanish conquest, many indigenous languages went into extinction. That kept me thinking a lot about the strong connection between language and identity and why the scholar — using plain Spanish — was so angry about the issue. Maybe he thought his identity was blurred given his incapacity to speak Quechua, Aymara, Guarani or any other language. I answered that if he really felt that the loss was so big, he was still on time to learn the indigenous language of his birthplace and then give it to his children. But clearly he was not willing to do that: depriving his children from connecting with a community of more than 500 million speakers would undoubtedly affect their chances to prosper.

The Philippines has the opposite situation. After 333 years of Spanish presence, the language is almost totally gone. When I first asked some Filipinos why that happened, I was told “Spaniards did not want us to learn it.” The answer did not satisfy me: that would be quite unuseful even from the point of view of the colonizers. Other people gave me a more elaborate answer: “The only Spanish figure in many provinces was the Spanish friar and he did not want the people to learn so he could keep power being the middle person between the government and the natives.” That sounded more logical, but it actually ignores one very important factor: how languages are learned and spread.

Read more: Manila Times

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