Chamorro (//; Chamorro: Finuʼ Chamoru (CNMI), Finoʼ CHamoru (Guam)) is an Austronesian language spoken by about 58,000 people (about 25,800 people on Guam and about 32,200 in the rest of the Mariana Islands and elsewhere). It is the native and spoken language of the Chamorro people, the indigenous people of the Marianas (Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which are both US territories).
|Native to||Mariana Islands|
Official language in
| Guam |
Northern Mariana Islands
Unlike most of its neighbors, Chamorro is not classified as a Micronesian or Polynesian language. Rather, like Palauan, it possibly constitutes an independent branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language family.
At the time the Spanish rule over Guam ended, it was thought that Chamorro was a semi-creole language, with a substantial amount of the vocabulary of Spanish origin and beginning to have a high level of mutual intelligibility with Spanish. It is reported that even in the early 1920s, Spanish was reported to be a living language in Guam for commercial transactions, but the use of Spanish and Chamorro was rapidly declining as a result of English pressure.
Spanish influences in Chamorro exist due to three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Many words in the Chamorro lexicon are of Latin etymological origin via Spanish, but their use conforms with indigenous grammatical structures. Furthermore, indigenous pronunciation has "nativized" most words of foreign origin that have not conformed to the ways that indigenous speakers of the language are accustomed to making sounds. By some, it may be considered a mixed language under a historical point of view even though it remains independent and unique. In his Chamorro Reference Grammar, Donald M. Topping states:
"The most notable influence on Chamorro language and culture came from the Spanish.... There was wholesale borrowing of Spanish words and phrases into Chamorro, and there was even some borrowing from the Spanish sound system. But this borrowing was linguistically superficial. The bones of the Chamorro language remained intact.... In virtually all cases of borrowing, Spanish words were forced to conform to the Chamorro sound system.... While Spanish may have left a lasting mark on Chamorro vocabulary, as it did on many Philippine and South American languages, it had virtually no effect on Chamorro grammar.... Japanese influence on Chamorro was much greater than that of German but much less than Spanish. Once again, the linguistic influence was restricted exclusively to vocabulary items, many of which refer to manufactured objects....
In contrast, in the essays found in Del español al chamorro. Lenguas en contacto en el Pacífico (2009), Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga refers to modern Chamorro as a "mixed language" of "Hispanic-Austronesian" origins and estimates that approximately 50% of the Chamorro lexicon comes from Spanish, whose contribution goes far beyond loanwords.
Rodríguez-Ponga (1995) considers Chamorro to be a Spanish-Austronesian or a Spanish-Austronesian mixed language or at least a language that has emerged from a process of contact and creolization on the island of Guam since modern Chamorro is influenced in vocabulary and has in its grammar many elements of Spanish origin: verbs, articles, prepositions, numerals, conjunctions, etc.
The process, which began in the 17th century and ended in the early 20th century, meant a profound change from the old Chamorro (paleo-Chamorro) to modern Chamorro (neo-Chamorro) in its grammar, phonology, and vocabulary.
The Chamorro language is threatened, with a precipitous drop in language fluency over the past century. It is estimated that 75% of the population of Guam was literate in the Chamorro language around the time the United States captured the island during the Spanish–American War (there are no similar language fluency estimates for other areas of the Mariana Islands during this time). A century later, the 2000 U.S. Census showed that fewer than 20% of Chamorros living in Guam speak their heritage language fluently, and the vast majority of those were over the age of 55.
A number of forces have contributed to the steep, post-World War II decline of Chamorro language fluency. There is a long history of colonization in the Marianas, beginning with the Spanish colonization in 1668 and, eventually, the American acquisition of the islands in 1898 (whose hegemony continues to this day). This imposed power structures privileging the language of the region's colonizers. According to estimates, a large majority, as stated above (75%), maintained active knowledge of the Chamorro language even during the Spanish colonial era, but this was all to change with the advent of American imperialism and enforcement of the English language.
In Guam, the language suffered additional suppression when the U.S. government banned the Chamorro language in schools and workplaces in 1922. They collected and burned all Chamorro dictionaries. Similar policies were undertaken by the Japanese government when they controlled the region during World War II. After World War II, when Guam was recaptured by the United States, the American administrators of the island continued to impose "no Chamorro" language restrictions in local schools, teaching only English and disciplining students for speaking their indigenous tongue.
Even though these oppressive language policies were progressively lifted, Chamorro usage had substantially decreased. Subsequent generations were often raised in households where only the oldest family members were fluent. Lack of exposure made it increasingly difficult to pick up Chamorro as a second language. Within a few generations, English replaced Chamorro as the language of daily life.
There is a difference in the rate of Chamorro language fluency between Guam and the rest of the Marianas. On Guam (called Guåhan by Chamorro speakers, from the word guaha, meaning "have"; its English gloss "We have" references the island's providing everything needed to live) the number of native Chamorro speakers has dwindled in the last decade or so. In the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI), young Chamorros speak the language fluently. Chamorro is common among Chamorro households in the Northern Marianas, but fluency has greatly decreased among Guamanian Chamorros during the years of American rule in favor of American English, which is commonplace throughout the inhabited Marianas.
Today, NMI Chamorros and Guamanian Chamorros disagree strongly on each other's linguistic fluency. An NMI Chamorro would say that Guamanian Chamorros speak the language incorrectly or speak "broken Chamorro", whereas a Guamanian Chamorro might consider the form used by NMI Chamorros to be archaic.
Representatives from Guam have unsuccessfully lobbied the United States to take action to promote and protect the language.
In 2013, "Guam will be instituting Public Law 31-45, which increases the teaching of the Chamorro language and culture in Guam schools," extending instruction to include grades 7–10.
Other efforts have been made in recent times, most notably Chamorro immersion schools. One example is the Huråo Guåhan Academy, at the Chamorro Village in Hagåtña, GU. This program is led by Ann Marie Arceo and her husband, Ray Arceo. According to Huråo's official YouTube page, "Huråo Academy is one if not the first Chamoru Immersion Schools that focus on the teaching of Chamoru language and Self-identity on Guam. Huråo was founded as a non-profit in June 2005." The academy has been praised by many for the continuity of the Chamoru language.
Other creative ways to incorporate and promote the Chamorro language have been found in the use of applications for smartphones, internet videos and television. From Chamorro dictionaries, to the most recent "Speak Chamorro" app, efforts are growing and expanding in ways to preserve and protect the Chamorro language and identity.
On YouTube, a popular Chamorro soap opera Siha has received mostly positive feedback from native Chamorro speakers on its ability to weave dramatics, the Chamorro language, and island culture into an entertaining program. On TV, Nihi! Kids is a first-of-its-kind show, because it is targeted "for Guam’s nenis that aims to perpetuate Chamoru language and culture while encouraging environmental stewardship, healthy choices and character development."
Chamorro has at least 6 vowels, which include:
- /ɑ/, open back unrounded vowel equivalent to the "a" in "father."
- /æ/, near-open front unrounded vowel equivalent to the "a" in "cat."
- /e/, close-mid front unrounded vowel equivalent to the "e" in the Received Pronunciation of "met".
- /i/, close front unrounded vowel equivalent to the "ee" in "sleep."
- /o/, close-mid back unrounded vowel equivalent to the "o" in "corn."
- /u/, close back rounded vowel equivalent to the "u" in "flu."
Below is a chart of Chamorro consonants; all are unaspirated.
|Stop||p b||t d||k ɡ ɡʷ||ʔ|
- /w/ does not occur initially.
Chamorro is a VSO or verb–subject–object language. However, the word order can be very flexible and change to SVO (subject-verb-object), like English, if necessary to convey different types of relative clauses depending on context and to stress parts of what someone is trying to say or convey. Again, that is subject to debate as those on Guam believe the language is flexible, but those in the CNMI do not.
Chamorro is also an agglutinative language, whose grammar allows root words to be modified by a number of affixes. For example, masanganenñaihon "talked a while (with/to)", passive marking prefix ma-, root verb sangan, referential suffix i "to" (forced morphophonemically to change to e) with excrescent consonant n, and suffix ñaihon "a short amount of time". Thus Masanganenñaihon guiʼ "He/she was told (something) for a while".
Chamorro has many Spanish loanwords and other words have Spanish etymological roots (such as tenda "shop/store" from Spanish tienda), which may lead some to mistakenly conclude that the language is a Spanish creole, but Chamorro very much uses its loanwords in a Micronesian way (bumobola "playing ball" from bola "ball, play ball" with verbalizing infix -um- and reduplication of the first syllable of root).
Chamorro is a predicate-initial head-marking language. It has a rich agreement system in the nominal and in the verbal domains.
Chamorro is also known for its wh-agreement in the verb. Thw agreement morphemes agree with features (roughly the grammatical case feature) of the question phrase and replace the regular subject–verb agreement in transitive realis clauses:
'Juan washed the car.'
'Who washed the car?
|1st person singular||guåhu||yuʼ||hu||(bai) hu||-hu/-ku|
|2nd person singular||hågu||hao||un||un||-mu|
|3rd person singular||guiya||guiʼ||ha||u||-ña|
|1st person plural inclusive||hita||hit||ta||(u) ta||-ta|
|1st person plural exclusive||hami||ham||in||(bai) in||-mami|
|2nd person plural||hamyu||hamyu||en||en||-miyu|
|3rd person plural||siha||siha||ma||uha/u/uma||-ñiha|
|ʼ||A a||Å å||B b||Ch ch||D d||E e||F f||G g||H h||I i||K k||L l||M m||N n||Ñ ñ||Ng ng||O o||P p||R r||S s||T t||U u||Y y|
|/ʔ/ (glottal stop)||/æ/||/ɑ/||/b/||/ts/ and /tʃ/||/d/||/e/||/f/||/ɡ/||/h/||/i/||/k/||/l/||/m/||/n/||/ ɲ/||/ŋ/||/o/||/p/||/ɾ/ ~ /ɻ /||/s/||/t/||/u/||/dz/, /z/ and /dʒ/|
Additionally, some letter combinations in Chamorro sometimes represent single phonemes. For instance, "ci+[vowel]" and "ti+[vowel]" are both pronounced [ʃ], as in hustisia ('justice') and the surname Concepcion (Spanish influence).
The letter ⟨y⟩ is usually (though not always) pronounced more like dz (an approximation of the regional Spanish pronunciation of y as [dʒ]); it is also sometimes used to represent the same sound as the letter i by Guamanian speakers. The phonemes represented by ⟨n⟩ and ⟨ñ⟩ as well as ⟨a⟩ and ⟨å⟩ are not always distinguished in print. Thus the Guamanian place name spelled Yona is pronounced "Dzonia"/[dzoɲa], not *[jona] as might be expected. ⟨Ch⟩ is usually pronounced like ts rather than like English ch. Chamorro ⟨r⟩ is usually a flap [ɾ], like Spanish r between vowels, and a retroflex approximant [ɻ], like English r, at the beginning of words.
Chamorro has geminate consonants which are written double (GG, DD, KK, MM, NGNG, PP, SS, TT), native diphthongs AI and AO, plus OI, OE, IA, IU, IE in loanwords; penultimate stress, except where marked otherwise, if marked at all in writing, usually with an acute accent, as in asút 'blue' or dángkulu 'big'. Unstressed vowels are limited to /ə i u/, though they are often spelled A E O. Syllables may be consonant-vowel-consonant, as in che’lu 'sibling', diskåtga 'unload', mamåhlåo 'shy', or oppop 'lie face down', gåtus (Old Chamorro word for 100), Hagåtña (capital of Guam); B, D, and G are not distinguished from P, T, and K in that position..
Today, there is an ongoing issue on the Chamorro language orthography between NMI Chamorros and Guamanian Chamorros (example: Mt. Tapochau vs. Mt. Tapochao). As of 2021, the Guamanian Chamorros have come out with an official orthography for the Guamanian dialect, whereas the NMI Chamorros have yet to develop an official orthography. Rather, the NMI Chamorros spell their words based on how it sounds.
Current common Chamorro uses only the number words of Spanish origin: uno, dos, tres, etc. Old Chamorro used different number words based on categories: basic numbers (for date, time, etc.), living things, inanimate things, and long objects.
|English||Modern Chamorro||Old Chamorro|
|Basic Numbers||Living Things||Inanimate Things||Long Objects|
- The number 10 and its multiples up to 90 are dies (10), benti (20), trenta (30), kuårenta (40), sinkuenta (50), sisenta (60), sitenta (70), ochenta (80), nubenta (90). These are similar to the corresponding Spanish terms diez (10), veinte (20), treinta (30), cuarenta (40), cincuenta (50), sesenta (60), setenta (70), ochenta (80), noventa (90).
Before the Spanish-based 12-month calendar became predominant, the Chamoru 13-month lunar calendar was commonly used. The first month in the left column below corresponds with January. In the right column are the Spanish-based months.
Chamorro is studied at the University of Guam and in several academic institutions of Guam and the Northern Marianas.
Researchers in several countries are studying aspects of Chamorro. In 2009, the Chamorro Linguistics International Network (CHIN) was established in Bremen, Germany. CHiN was founded on the occasion of the Chamorro Day (27 September 2009) which was part of the programme of the Festival of Languages. The foundation ceremony was attended by people from Germany, Guam, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States of America.
- Language portal
- 3rd singular Subject Agreement
- "Proper Noun Determiner", a special article used with names in Chamorro.
- Here, the infix -um- is a WH-agreement morpheme for nominative question phrases.
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- The Maga’låhi (president) is Dr. Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga Salamanca (Madrid, Spain); Maga’låhi ni onrao (honorary president): Dr. Robert A. Underwood (president, University of Guam); Teniente maga’låhi (vice-president): Prof. Dr. Thomas Stolz (Universität Bremen).
- Blust, Robert. (2000). Chamorro Historical Phonology. University of Hawaii Press.
- Chung, Sandra. (1983). Transderivational Relationships in Chamorro Phonology. University of California, San Diego.
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|Chamorro language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|Wikivoyage has an entry for Chamorro phrasebook.|
- Chamorro-English Online Dictionary
- Chamorro-English dictionary, partially available at Google Books.
- A Chamorro Reference Grammar, partially available at Google Books.
- Chamorro Wordlist at the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database
- https://web.archive.org/web/20110716095102/http://www.fb10.uni-bremen.de/chin/ Chamorro Linguistics International Network (CHIN).
- Text and software files from "Chamorro-English Dictionary (PALI Language Texts: Micronesia)" by Donald M. Topping, Pedro M. Ogo, and Bernadita C. Dungca, published in 1975 by University of Hawaii Press archived at Kaipuleohone.
- Index cards of plant and animal names in Chamorro language in Kaipuleohone.