Friday, April 15, 2011

WHY SENGSONG : Or - Chamorro the American Way

For years it's been called WHY Sengsong Road.  Why oh why oh why?  Because for years we've had two or more generations of people who read everything, even Chamorro, through the lens of the English language.  It's being done in pronunciation, spelling and grammar.

First, pronunciation.  The Spanish were the first (that we know of) to write the Chamorro language, so they naturally used their version of the Roman alphabet.  In Spanish, "y" has two values; as a vowel identical to "i," just as in English (think of silly, syllable), and as a semi-vowel as in "yellow." 

In Spanish, Y and I are often interchangeable.  In California, one sees "San Ygnacio Street" in one town, and "San Ignacio Street" in another town.  "Santa Ysabel" and "Santa Isabel."  They both sound the same, because "y" often functions as an "i."

When the Spaniards (and Chamorros using their alphabet) wrote the Chamorro word "i," meaning "the," they sometimes used "y" and sometimes "i" since they both sounded the same.  "Y sengsong" (meaning "the village") sounds like "ee sengsong."  Not WHY sengsong.  Ipao Beach has also been spelled Ypao Beach; in Chamorro they both sound the same way.  No body goes to WHY Pao Beach; but many go to WHY Sengsong Road.

And many younger folks pronounce the "u" in Untalan and Unpingco like the "u" in "UNtil."  But in Chamorro, "u" sounds like "oo."  Younger folk see things through English lens.  UNderstandable.

Spelling.  I've seen "feenadenny" on a menu in a Chamorro food stall.  Chamorro word, English lens.  They mean "fina' denne'."

Grammar.  In Chamorro, one doesn't add an "s" to a word to make it plural, as we do in English.  One car, two cars.  But in Chamorro, "un kareta, dos na kareta."  But for years there's been a section of Yigo called Agafa Gumas; Agafa are the initials of something in English that escapes my mind at the moment, but I believe the military came up with it. "Gumas" is "housing," from the word "guma'" or "house."  But Chamorro doesn't add an "s" to a word to make it plural.

And we often hear of the "man amkos" and the "taotaomonas."  Throw in an English "s" and make a Chamorro word plural.  Ai ai ai.


  1. And the spelling of GUAHAN with an H is a result of the english influence. I brought this up with a Chamorro language teacher and he said its spelled that way because it is phonetically correct. But that is based on the phonetic use of the H in the english language. I think it should be spelled GUAJAN.