Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Tan Etbin

Chamorro has more than one word to express the idea "old."


The interesting thing is that only one of them is not borrowed from the Spanish.  That word is åmko'. And åmko', at least in today's Chamorro, can only refer to the age of a person, not a thing.

If someone is old, one can say that he or she is amko'.

But even a ten-year-old is åmko'-ña (older) than a five-year-old.

If Juan is the oldest of the children, even is he is just 11, he is the mååmko' (oldest).

Some Chamorros even refer to a person of high status as "i amko'," (the "old man") even if the man is 30 years old, as in the case of a young priest.

Perhaps in the Chamorro spoken before the Spaniards, åmko' could also refer to inanimate objects, since we don't know (yet) if there was a separate Chamorro word "old" when applied to things.


All the other ways of describing something old are borrowed from the Spanish, and can sometimes refer to persons as well as things.


An old man is a biho and an old woman is a biha.  These are borrowed from the Spanish viejo and vieja.

These two words can also refer to one's grandparents.  Si bihå-ho means "my grandmother."

There are actual words to refer to one's grandparents and great-grandparents, but biho and biha are perhaps the most common way.  They are actually a short version of Tåtan Biho (old father) and Nånan Biha (old mother).

When applied to objects, biho is used.  I biho na lepblo.  The old book.  I biho na magågo.  The old clothes.


Borrowed from the Spanish antiguo, this means "old" and is applied to things from the past.

I antigo na kostumbre.  The old custom.

I antigo na songsong.  The old village.

There is a sense that something antigo is an object of respect, whereas biho carries the connotation of something of no use anymore.

If someone has "old values" or "old ideas," one would prefer the word antigo and not biho.

I antigo na hinasso-ña.  His old way of thinking.


Not heard much nowadays, but older Chamorros knew and used this term, meaning "old."

With age comes wisdom, they say, so ansiåno can also mean "wise" from experience.


Åntes means "before," but that can also infer old age.  Again, a Spanish word.

åntes na kostumbre.  The custom from before.


Something can be "old" in the sense that it is worn out.  Gastådo comes from the Spanish, meaning "spent."

Gastådo ayo na sapåtos.  That shoe is worn out.


Hagas is purely Chamorro, and not from the Spanish, and can denote something old, but its more precise meaning is "past."

It can mean something existing even today, but which had started sometime in the past.

~ Na'bubu ayo na taotao. (That person is irritating.)
~ Hagas ha! (Ever since!)

But there are times that hagas can include the idea that it is old.

I hagas guma'.  "The old house," but more accurately "the house from the past."  The prior house could actually be just a few years old, but it still is the house prior to the present house.  So it doesn't specifically mean "old."

Something hagas can be from the past and still remaining, but also something from the past that remains no more.

I hagas guinaiya-ña.  Her old love (crush).


This matter arose when someone asked me to help them translate this English phrase into Chamorro :

Our old roots.

His first thought was : I man åmko' na hale'-ta.

But åmko' can only refer to people, not things.

So, his choices are :

I man antigo na hale'-ta.

I man biho na hale'-ta.

I hagas na hale'-ta.

åntes na hale'-ta.

So basic rule of thumb is åmko' refers to only a person's age, not an inanimate object.

I've even heard God referred to as "I amko'"  The "old man."  How old?  Without beginning.

No comments:

Post a Comment