Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Always nice to get a letter or card entirely written in Chamorro; a rarity nowadays.  Perhaps this can be instructional for some.  I'll transcribe it here exactly as the writer penned it :

Puedi i Pasgua-mu pågu na såkkan inecha ni bendision i Niño Jesus, Santa Maria & Yu'us tåta, ya i nuebu na såkkan hinatmi ni gråsian Yu'us, bendision-ña, ma'åse'-ña yan minagof.  Si Yu'us Ma'åse' put i bonitun card Påsgua ni un hanågue ham kåda såkkan.

Rather than translate the card entirely, I'll explain most of the terms and see if you would like to render your own version.

Puedi - from the Spanish word "poder" which means "to be able to."  Chamorros use it to mean "may," "it may," even "hopefully."  And one Spanish informant tells me some Spaniards also use the word in this sense, as well as the principal meaning of "can, is able to."

Påsgua - from the Spanish.  Pascua was any one of several church feasts.  In the Marianas, Påsgua usually means Christmas, but it can also be used for Easter and Pentecost.  I have a post on this and can access that by searching the word on this blog.

På'go - now, this moment, today

Såkkan - year, but also harvest

Echa - for the Spanish "echar" which can mean many things but in this case Chamorros use it to mean "cast on, extend to, shower over."

Bendision - blessing; again, a Spanish loan word.

Niño Jesus - Child Jesus, Infant Jesus

Santa Maria - Blessed Virgin Mary

Yu'us tåta - God the Father

Nuebu - from the Spanish "nuevo," or "new"

Håtme - to be penetrated, filled with

Gråsia - from the Spanish "gracia" which we use to mean "grace"

Ma'åse' - can mean mercy, kindness, benevolence

Magof - happy, joyful

Put - from the Spanish "por" which can mean "on account of, through the agency of, by way of" and is used in many other ways.

Bonitu - from the Spanish "bonito," meaning "pretty, handsome."

Hanågue - from the root word hånao, meaning "to go."  Hanågue means "to send."


This is "modern" Chamorro.  Our pre-contact ancestors wouldn't be able to understand this card very much; it is full of Spanish loan words.  But a Spaniard also would scratch his or her head a bit, though s/he would recognize many, if not half, of the terms.  But a Spaniard who didn't speak Chamorro could not translate this; s/he could only point to the words and translate them, sometimes with difficulty.

Take inecha, for example.  The root word is echa, which we took from the Spanish echar.  But we use it employing our grammatical rules, in this case, using the IN infix.  A Spaniard would be clueless about this and would probably not even catch that inecha is actually a Chamorro form of their verb echar.

The writer also uses one English word, card.  She could have used kåtta, except that kåtta is understood to mean letter (on paper), not a card.  But the word kåtta is also from the Spanish carta, which can mean "letter" but also "card" as in poker.  We Chamorros could use kåtta also for card, but only if people pick up the usage.  Language is a matter of convention.

Even the language I am using now and which you are reading - English - has gone through several reincarnations.  Ever try listening to Shakespeare?  Or reading Chaucer?  Or, further back, the Old English which was largely built on a Germanic foundation?  We moderns can barely understand the English of 900 years ago.  English has borrowed heavily from a development of a Latin language, Norman French.  Yet, it remains the English language; i.e. the language of the people of England.

Yes, this is Chamorro; the language of the indigenous people of the Marianas, no matter how much it has borrowed from Spanish and now even from English.  But just as we differentiate between Old, Middle and Modern English (and many smaller categories besides), we have to differentiate between Chamorro as it is and was spoken in its different phases.

Lastly, one cannot assume that, even before contact with Europeans, the language spoken by our ancestors was frozen and static.  A Chamorro of the 500s CE may have had some difficulty understanding perfectly a Chamorro of the 1400s CE.   Human speech evolves, even without outside influence.


The writer spells in a way that differs from my way of spelling.  Did it really matter to me?  Not at all.  I understood what she was saying, as she would have understood me with my kind of spelling.

We're a long way off till the day we all spell Chamorro the same way, just as people spell in English differently.  Not convinced?  Read people's Facebook pages!

Right now, my opinion is we serve language preservation more by focusing on getting people to speak it. When we help form a new generation of fluent speakers, we might be able to get (some) uniform spelling accomplished; not by law, but by the proficiency of the speakers adopting a common orthography. Language is a matter of convention.

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