Friday, August 21, 2015


Some people were wondering about the Chamorro used in this sign.

My first comment is to say that Chamorro, like perhaps most languages, does not always operate in just two colors, black and white. There are many shades of meaning, and different Chamorros will appreciate some of them and other Chamorros will find them disturbing.


First of all, let us examine the use of the word kaohao for box.

Kaohao probably meant any box-like container but in time, among the majority of Chamorros, kaohao has come to mean, exclusively, a chest where special material things are stored and only rarely to be touched. Things like wedding dresses, special fabrics yet to be sewn, documents and so on.

This is why, when Påle' Román on Guam translated the phrase "Ark of the Covenant" as "Kaohao i Inadingan," the Chamorros of Saipan found it strange. The Ark of the Covenant was indeed a box, richly ornamented. Chamorros on Guam just went with the flow of Påle' Román's translation and people can get used to just about anything. But the Chamorros of Saipan, who had their own translation (Åtkan i Aliånsa, which uses Spanish loan words which Påle' Román always tried to avoid), to this day find the use of the word kaohao in this way strange. To them, and most Guam Chamorros, kaohao is that wooden chest in the bedroom where nåna hides special things, seen once a year at most.

Instead, Chamorros adopted two Spanish loan words for other kinds of boxes. Kåhon (from cajón) is usually a large box while kahita (from cajita, or "little caja") is a small box or a box made of cardboard. Even the refrigerator is a kåhon ais (ice box).

So, although kaohao is certainly correct, most older Chamorro ears will find it strange to use it for a drop box.


The Chamorro translation above does not translate the English word "drop." This is probably because it's an idea not normally expressed in Chamorro.

In Chamorro, we rarely say, "I dropped something." Instead, we say, "It dropped." Poddong. Maybe it's a verbal way we distance ourselves from guilt!

You could say, though, "Na' poddong ayo!" "Make that thing drop!"

It could be that to "drop" money is not a Chamorro way of thinking. Instead, one places or puts money somewhere. So perhaps "pine'lo" or "placement" could work here for "drop."

"Kaohao pine'lo" or "Kåhon pine'lo" might work for "drop box," but more precisely "placement box."


Åpas is the Chamorro word for "payment."

Åpas isao is "payment for sin."

Åpas madåsai is "payment for a hair cut."

Åpas ha'åne is "daily wage."

Åpas kåndet is "payment for the electrical light." It really includes all the electricity used in the house, but the light is the most obvious use, to most people. So when a Chamorro says he needs to pay the kåndet, he means the power bill.

Inapåse (payment) and ma apåse (to pay) can also be used.

But the older Chamorros find the simple form åpas sufficient. It means "payment."


Elektrisidå is a perfectly fine and correct word. It specifically means "electricity."

But, as mentioned, kåndet can also mean "electrical power." It is the first way older Chamorros think when wanting to refer to "electrical power," because the first you notice when the power goes out is that the light dies (måtai i kandet). There were no TVs or air conditioners in those days.


No question here. It means "water."

So, there are options  besides the one seen in the sign above :





and there are still other possibilities.


The reckoning of time into seconds, minutes and hours is a Western construct, dependent on (in our case) Spanish words. But the sign above seems to want to avoid Spanish loan words as much as possible.

So "g.e." stands for "gi ega'an" which means "in the morning."

And "g.p." means "gi pupuenge" which means "in the evening."

Notice that the usual introduction "a las" meaning "at" is missing. A las siette gi ega'an. At seven in the morning.

Now the description of 5PM as "in the evening" creates a debate right there.

Some Chamorros will contest that 5PM is "in the evening." To them, "evening" starts at 6PM and not a second earlier.

So they will say "a las singko gi despues de talo'åne." "At five after noon."

I suppose one could abbreviate that into : g.d.t. Gi despues de talo'åne. If you don't mind something longer, g.d.d.t.


Finally, there is this use of the word taka', which means "to reach, to obtain."

The creator of this sign above wants to avoid the Spanish loan word asta, which modern Chamorros often render esta. But the original Spanish word is hasta, the H not being voiced. It means "until."

Asta ke måtai yo', bai hu gofli'e hao.
Until I die, I will love you.

So the creator tried to find a way of expressing "until" without resorting to the Spanish-based asta or esta.

He or she chose the word taka', "to reach," as in, "from seven in the morning it reaches five in the afternoon."

This is a new way of using the word taka'.

A usual way of using it would be, for example, "Ti ha tataka' las onse ya esta yo' måpos." "It wouldn't even reach 11 o'clock and I will already be gone."

But tumaka', which uses the -um infix,  is an actor-focused verb form. -Um verbs answer the question, "WHO did it?"

Si Juan tumaka' i langet. Juan reached (obtained) heaven.

Perhaps tinaka' would be a better verb form.

For example, "Na' tinaka' agupa'," means "let it reach tomorrow." Keep doing your work 'till tomorrow comes. Your work lasted all the way till the next day.

7:00 g.e. tinaka' 5:00 g.d.d.t.

I suppose one way to avoid asta/esta is to say :

Ma tutuhon gi a las siette gi ega'an ya måtto chi-ña gi a las singko gi despues de talo'åne.
It begins at 7 in the morning and it comes to its completed distance at five in the afternoon.

As you can see, that's a mouthful.

And there are several more ways one can try to express a beginning and an end time without using the Spanish loan word asta/esta.

Others will reason, "Well, there's no way to avoid Spanish loan words because this time scheme is not indigenous in the first place." They have no problem borrowing the word hasta which became our asta/esta.

As you can see, there is more than one way to express things in Chamorro, as in perhaps any other language.

Many times, it boils down to "that's just the way we say it."

Others are more willing to invent and create new uses of old words. But not everyone will join the band wagon, as they are not used to these new phrases created by individuals or committees, and because there may in fact be older, indigenous ways of expressing the idea, but the loss of fluency among modern speakers has pushed them to re-invent the wheel.

No comments:

Post a Comment