Friday, March 4, 2016


A father and his teenage son were at their ranch, tending to their small herd of six cows.

The father turned to his son and said, "Onse i guaka."

The boy was puzzled. He looked at the cows and counted six, not eleven (onse).

The father looked again at the boy and said, "Onse i guaka."

The boy said, "Lao, tåta. Hu tufong siha ya åhe' ti onse sino sais ha' na guaka."

"But, dad. I counted them and there aren't eleven but only six cows."

The boy's confusion can't be pinned on him alone.

The fact is that Chamorro has two different words that sound exactly the same.

Onse is the Chamorro word for the number eleven which we borrowed from Spanish.

But the Spanish word meaning to place a yoke on an animal is uncir, and unce means "s/he places, or you place, a yoke" on an animal. From there, Chamorros borrowed the word as unse.

Chamorros broadened the meaning of the word to also mean to harness an animal or hitch it to a cart or wagon.

But, in time, people altered the sound from unse to onse, making it sound identical to the word for the number eleven.

So that one could also say in Chamorro,

Onse i onse na guaka.
Harness the eleven cows.

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