Chamorro (/tʃəˈmɒroʊ/) (Chamorro: Finu' Chamoru) is an Austronesian language spoken by about 58,000 people (about 25,800 people on Guam and about 32,200 in the Northern Mariana Islands and the rest of the United States). It is the native and spoken language of the Chamorro people who are the indigenous people of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, both US territories.
|Native to||Mariana Islands|
Official language in
| Guam |
Northern Mariana Islands
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. A colonial legacy, beginning with the Spanish colonization of Guam in 1668, and eventually, the American acquisition of the islands (whose power continues to this day), imposed power structures privileging the language of the region's colonizers. It is of worthy note that 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 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 ceded back to 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, the damage had been done. 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 as archaic.
Representatives from Guam have unsuccessfully lobbied the United States to take action to promote and protect the language.
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."
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 the language 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 haven't 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), Dr. Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga—the Complutense-trained linguist and Secretary-General of Spain's Instituto Cervantes—refers to modern Chamorro as a "mixed language" of "Hispanic-Austronesian" origins, while estimating that approximately 50% of the Chamorro lexicon comes from the Spanish language and that the contribution of this language goes far beyond loanwords.
Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga considers Chamorro 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 it has in its grammar many elements of Spanish origin: verbs, articles, prepositions, numerals, conjunctions, etc.
This 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.
Chamorro has at least 6 vowels, which include:
Below is a chart of Chamorro consonants; all are unaspirated.
|Stop||p b||t d||k ɡ ɡʷ||ʔ|
|'||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 Chamoru 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). There is also a movement on Guam to capitalize both letters in a digraph such as “CH” in words like “CHamoru” (Guamanian spelling) or “CHe’lu”, which NMI Chamorros find silly.
Chamorro is a VSO or verb–subject–object language. However, the word order can be very flexible and so change to SVO (subject-verb-object), like English, if necessary to convey different types of relative clauses depending on context and stressing parts of what someone is trying to say or convey. Again, this is subject to debate as those on Guam believe the language is flexible whereas those in the CNMI do not.
Chamorro is also an agglutinative language, grammatically allowing root words to be modified by a number of affixes. For example, masanganenñaihon "talked awhile (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 gui' "He/she was told (something) for a while".
Chamorro has many Spanish loanwords and other words have Spanish etymological roots (e.g., tenda "shop/store" from Spanish tienda), which may lead some to mistakenly conclude that the language is a Spanish Creole: Chamorro very much uses its loanwords in a Micronesian way (e.g., bumobola "playing ball" from bola "ball, play ball" with verbalizing infix -um- and reduplication of the first syllable of root).
|1 sg||-hu / -ku|
|1 incl du/pl||-ta|
|1 excl du/pl||-(n)mami|
Chamorro is also known for its wh-agreement in the verb: These agreement morphemes agree with features (roughly, the grammatical case feature) of the question phrase, and 'replace' the regular subject–verb agreement:
'Juan washed the car.'
'Who washed the car?'
Current common Chamorro uses only the number of 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|
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. On the right 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.
Agana Heights (Chamorro: Tutuhan) is one of the nineteen villages in the United States territory of Guam. It is located in the hills south of Hagåtña (formerly Agana), in the central part of the island. The United States Naval Hospital is located in this largely residential village.Agat, Guam
Agat (Chamorro: Hagat) is a village in the United States territory of Guam. It is located south of Apra Harbor on the island's western shore. The village's population has decreased since the island's 2000 census.The village is 10 miles (16 km) southwest of Hagåtña, with most of the residents ethnic Chamorros, the indigenous people of Guam. Some of Agat's most notable sites are Mount Alifan, the Agat Marina, the Spanish Bridge, and War In The Pacific National Historical Park.Asan, Guam
Asan (Chamorro: Assan) is a village located on the western shore of the United States territory of Guam. The municipality of Asan-Maina combines Asan with Maina, a community in the hills to the east. It was a primary landing site for United States Marines during Guam's liberation from the Japanese during World War II. Asan Beach Park is part of the War in the Pacific National Historic Park. Asan and Maina are located in the Luchan (Western) District.Chalan Piao
Chalan Piao is a village on the southwestern area of Saipan. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. It is bordered on the north by Chalan Kanoa, on the east by As Perdido village and on the south by San Antonio village. To the west is the Pacific Ocean.
"Chalan Piao" translated from the Chamorro language means bamboo road. Chalan means road and piao means bamboo. The Chamorro language is spoken by the indigenous inhabitants of Saipan and the rest of the Mariana Islands, mainly Rota/Luta, Tinian and Guahan/Guam.Chicharrón
Chicharrón (Spanish pronunciation: [tʃitʃaˈron], Andalusian pronunciation: [ʃiʃaˈron], plural chicharrones; Portuguese: torresmo [tuˈʁeʒmu] or [toˈʁezmu]; Filipino: chicharon; Chamorro: chachalon) is a dish generally consisting of fried pork belly or fried pork rinds. Chicharrón may also be made from chicken, mutton or beef.Dededo
Dededo (Chamorro: Dedidu) is the most populated village in the United States territory of Guam. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Dededo's population was just under 45,000 in 2010. The village is located on the coral plateau of Northern Guam.Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis is a bastion fort in George Town, Penang, Malaysia, built by the British East India Company in the late 18th century. Fort Cornwallis is the largest standing fort in Malaysia. The fort never engaged in combat during its operational history.
It is named after the then Governor-General of Bengal, Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, who had also been involved in the American War of Independence.Guam Department of Youth Affairs
The Guam Department of Youth Affairs (Chamorro: Depåttamenton Asunton Manhoben) is the youth corrections agency of the United States territory of Guam. The department has its headquarters in the village of Mangilao. The Guam Youth Correctional Facility, operated by the department, is in Mangilao. The agency also operates the Cottage Homes, located in the village Talofofo. The Liheng Famaguon School provides educational services to inmates of the department.Guam Police Department
The Guam Police Department (Chamorro: Dipåttamenton Polisian Guåhan) is the law enforcement agency in the United States territory of Guam. The department has jurisdiction across the entire territory, except for areas covered by the port, airport and military bases; the Guam Police Department has authority over military dependents on base, as civilians cannot be charged under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The police department is headquartered in the Guam Police Department Building in the Tiyan area of Barrigada, and operates four precincts.Hagåtña, Guam
Hagåtña (; Chamorro pronunciation: [hæˈɡɑtɲæ], formerly in English: Agana and in Spanish: Agaña) is the capital village of the United States territory of Guam. From the 18th through mid-20th century, it was Guam's population center, but today it is the second smallest of the island's 19 villages in both area and population. However, it remains one of the island's major commercial districts in addition to being the seat of government.Inarajan, Guam
Inarajan (Chamorro: Inalåhan) is a village located on the southeastern coast of the United States territory of Guam. The village's original Chamoru name, Inalåhan, was altered when transliterated during Spanish control of the island.Legislature of Guam
The Legislature of Guam (Chamorro: Liheslaturan Guåhan) is the law-making body for the United States territory of Guam. The unicameral legislative branch consists of fifteen senators, each serving for a two-year term. All members of the legislature are elected at-large with the island under one whole district. After the enactment of the Guam Organic Act in 1950, the First Guam Legislature was elected composing of 21 elected members. Today, the current fifteen-member 35th Guam Legislature (Chamorro: I Mina' Trentai Singko Na Liheslaturan Guåhan) was elected in November 2018.Mongmong-Toto-Maite, Guam
Mongmong-Toto-Maite (Chamorro: Mong Mong-Totu-Maiti) is a municipality in the United States territory of Guam composed of three separate villages east of Hagåtña that experienced development after the Second World War.
Mongmong is adjacent to the Hagåtña Swamp; Toto is situated to the north-east near Barrigada; Maite is located on the cliffs overlooking Agana Bay and the Philippine Sea. The village's population has increased slightly following the island's 2000 census.Santa Rita, Guam
Santa Rita (Chamorro: Sånta Rita) is a village located on the southwest coast of the United States territory of Guam with hills overlooking Apra Harbor. According to the 2000 census it has a population of 7,500, down from 11,857 in 1990. Santa Rita is the newest village in Guam, having been established after the Second World War.Talofofo, Guam
Talofofo (Chamorro: Talo fo' fo') is a village located in the southern part of the United States territory of Guam, on the east coast. The village center is located in the hills above the coast, while the smaller coastal community below the cliff is known as Ipan.
The village contains two golf courses. Other tourist attractions include Jeff's Pirate's Cove Restaurant and Museum, Talofofo Caves, Talofofo Falls Resort Park, Ipan Beach Resort and a Talofofo River boat cruise to an ancient Chamorro village. Japanese holdout from World War II Shoichi Yokoi was discovered by Jesus Duenas and Manuel DeGracia near Talofofo on January 24, 1972 A recreation of his hide out cave is included at the Talofofo Falls Resort Park.
The village is located south of Yona and north of Inarajan.Tamuning, Guam
Tamuning, also known as Tamuning-Tumon-Harmon (Chamorro: Tamuneng) is a Municipality/Town/City or village located on the western shore of the United States territory of Guam. The village of Tamuning can be viewed as the economic center of Guam, containing Tumon (the center of Guam's tourist industry), Harmon Industrial Park, and commercial districts in other parts of the municipality. Its central location along Marine Corps Drive (the island's main thoroughfare) has aided in its development.
Tamuning is the site of the access roads and the old passenger terminal of Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, the passenger airport for Guam. Fort Juan Muña, in Harmon, is a facility for the Guam Army National Guard.
The present and former locations of Guam Memorial Hospital, Guam's only civilian and government operated hospital, are in Tamuning. With Guam's only private birthing center also in the village, most modern civilian births on Guam take place in Tamuning.Umatac, Guam
Umatac (Chamorro: Humåtak), formerly called Umata, is a village on the southwestern coast of the United States territory of Guam. The month of March in the Chamorro language is "Umatalaf," or "to catch guatafi," which is believed to be the root word of Umatac. The village's population has decreased since the island's 2000 census.Mount Bolanos, at an elevation of 368 m (1,207 ft), is the 3rd highest peak of Guam and lies 4.5 km (2.8 mi) away.Yigo, Guam
Yigo, Guam (Chamorro: Yigu; pronounced ) is the northernmost village of the United States territory of Guam, and is the location of Andersen Air Force Base. The municipality of Yigo is larger than any other village on the island in terms of area. It contains a number of populated places, including Asatdas and Agafo Gumas.
Yigo is historically one of Guam's richest farming areas. During World War II, the village was the site of a concentration camp during Japanese occupation of the island. It was also the site of the island's final battle during the war. The South Pacific Memorial Peace Park was built by the Japanese Government and is dedicated to the many Japanese and American soldiers who died in the battle of Guam.Yona, Guam
Yona (Chamorro: Yoña [d͡zoˈɲa]) is a village in the United States territory of Guam.
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