U of A student thought she was preserving her native language. Turns out it's thriving

·2 min read
Mikaela Yeo is a student at the University of Alberta in the bachelor of design program.  (University of Alberta - image credit)
Mikaela Yeo is a student at the University of Alberta in the bachelor of design program. (University of Alberta - image credit)

University of Alberta student Mikaela Yeo thought her native language was dying. She hoped to help save it only to learn it was far from disappearing.

Yeo moved to Canada several years ago from Zamboanga City in the Philippines, where Chavacano, a type of Spanish-based Creole is spoken by about one million people.

"It sounds like music when people are speaking it," she said. "It's mostly used in everyday conversation and never in an academic way."

The Philippines was a Spanish colony from 1565 to 1898. Chavacano is one of the only Spanish-based languages in Asia.

For an undergraduate design class at the University of Alberta, Yeo was tasked with redesigning a book to make it more visually appealing and easier to use. She decided to make a mock-design of a Chavacano dictionary.

However, when Yeo reached out to the author of one of the only online dictionaries she could find, she was asked if she would help publish an updated Chavacano dictionary.

"I was shocked," Yeo said. "How crazy!"

Yeo agreed and is now working with Gefilloyd L. De Castro, from Zamboanga State College of Marine Sciences and Technology, on a dictionary that will be available online and in print.

Submitted by Mikaela Yeo
Submitted by Mikaela Yeo

Growing up, Yeo thought her language was disappearing.

Ironically, she became a better Chavacano speaker after she moved to Canada.

"I found how unique it was and how important it is to have your own language."

Yeo said she was motivated to work on the dictionary so she could present it to her grandmother, Julia "Titang" Jaldon, who is locally famous in Zamboanga City as one of the only Chavacano song composers and singers in the country.

"I wanted to preserve the language that she loves," she said.

However, while researching her project, she learned Chavacano was just changing, "from being Hispanic back to Filipino ... which I think is amazing," Yeo said on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active.

"It's a natural phenomenon in language where the language transforms along with the people."

Otherwise, Chavacano is thriving, she said.

Yeo hopes the dictionary will be completed in the next few years.

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