Saturday, November 26, 2011

Adelbert von Chamisso

As mentioned earlier, Chamisso was part of the Kotzebue expedition that visited Guam in 1817.  Chamisso wrote a list of Chamorro words which was later published.  Chamisso wrote in German, and spelled these Chamorro words in the way it would sound to his ear, and an ear influenced by the German language.  So, the Chamorro Y sound (Yigo, Yu'us) he spelled DJ - the way Germans would spell that sound.  Our CH sound he spelled TJ.  Just think of the word "champagne."  We say it with an SH sound because, in French, CH is our SH sound.

Keep in mind that people hear a sound, then have to think of how to represent that sound with letters.  Believe it or not, people don't always hear exactly the sound somebody speaks.  We make those errors even when two people are speaking the same language; imagine when one is hearing an unfamiliar language.  So, "mistakes" are bound to happen, in the sense that the speller did not hear the spoken sound accurately.  Secondly, we, the reader, are "hearing" written sounds the way we are accustomed to interpreting the letters, so that adds to the puzzle.

Most of the words Chamisso listed are completely identical to the words we use today :

Addau (atdao) : sun
Amku (åmko') : old
Dankulu (dångkulo) : big
Dikiki (dikkike') : small
Guafi (guåfe) : fire
Tjodha (chotda) : banana

Some of the words have changed in meaning over the years :

"Sahadjan" is almost positively sahyan, which today means any type of mode of transportation, but in Chamisso's time it meant only a "boat" or a "ship."  Sahyan, by the way, is hardly ever used in Guam but in Saipan I heard it frequently when speaking about a car.

Poksai today means "to raise" as in to raise a child, or animals or even to grow a beard!  But in Chamisso's time it meant "to suck."  I suppose one can see how raising a child, or a young mammal, includes nursing at the breast.

Some of the words we no longer use at all, but take us back perhaps to the original Chamorro word.

For example, for "milk," everybody now borrows the Spanish word leche.  But Chamisso says the Chamorro word for "milk" is tschugususu (chugo' susu) or "juice from the teet."

Chamisso says that the Chamorro word for "tree" is uddunhadju.  Today, we say trongko, which is borrowed from the Spanish word troncoUddunhadju seems to be a combination of uddu (unkown meaning) and hadju or håyo (wood).

"North, south, east and west" in Chamorro are timi, seplun, manuu, faniipan respectively, which are not used anymore in Chamorro.  It makes for a great discussion, if these words really indicated compass points.  Our terms san lago, san lichan, san haya and san kattan refer to directions towards, away from and to either side of the sea (not true compass points).

Chamisso confirms what earlier explorers said, that chamorro referred to the chiefs or nobles.

Finally, keep in mind that Chamisso, like all of us, could have made mistakes in hearing, remembering what he heard, and writing it down.  Even the printers could have made typos.

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