Wednesday, March 5, 2014



Today I was asking our worker where he put the ashes which we will use tomorrow for Ash Wednesday.

I said, "Måno un po'lo i apo?"  "Where did you put the ashes?"

I was simultaneously conscious of the fact that our word for ash or ashes - åpo - sounds dangerously close to apo', which means "to lean."

Thank goodness, therefore, for two little improvements to our Chamorro alphabet that weren't always there.

The first is the glota, which came into common usage in the 1970s.  Though it is often misused, when it is properly used, it makes a big difference.  As I have often mentioned, when you see a glota, cut off the sound of the vowel at the back of your throat, as if you are choking.  In English, the closest we can mimic the glota is to say, "Uh oh!"  You notice the way we close the back of the throat after we say "Uh."

So our word apo' includes the glota.  That's one way we know we're talking about leaning, and not about ashes.

The second recent addition to our spelling system is the A with the little, open circle on top - Å.  This distinguishes two A sounds in Chamorro.  There is the Å that is open or rounded, sounding like the A in "father" in English.  Without the little, open circle, the A in Chamorro would sound like the A in "fat."

When we use the definite article I (the), it changes the Å to A.  Åpo becomes "i apo," taking on the A sound of "fat."  But, thanks to the glota, when I asked the worker, "Måno un po'lo i apo?" he knew I was talking about ashes, because he didn't hear a glota at the end, and also because of context.


1 comment:

  1. Interesting, never realized apo was used for ashes. Growing up in a chamorro-speaking household in Saipan in the 90s, we always used sinisu, as in "mietkoles sinisu."