Wednesday, August 17, 2016


A "false friend" is a word that looks the same, or similar, in two different languages but means two different things in those two languages.

For example, in Spanish embarazada looks like it means "embarrassed" but in reality it means "pregnant." A false friend indeed, because if you asked a blushing woman in Spain if she is embarazada , you could insult her. You think the word "embarrassed" is your friend, helping you communicate with a Spaniard, when in truth it is betraying you and getting you into trouble. A false friend.

Today we consider two words that are false friends. Almost twins.

Asiste and atiende do not mean what they look like.

Both are words borrowed from the Spanish, so their original meanings come from the Spanish way of defining them.

ASISTE means "to be physically present." In other words, "to attend" in the same sense as saying, "I will attend the program."

Bai hu fan asiste gi progråma. I will attend the program.

Ha tungo' na a las ocho i lisåyo, lao ti man asiste. S/he knew the rosary was at 8 o'clock, but s/he didn't attend.

ATIENDE looks like it should mean "attend" as in to be physically present.

But the original Spanish and Chamorro meaning of atiende is "to attend to" as in "to look after, deal with, help, listen to."

Atiende i che'cho'-mo! Pay attention to your work!

Ti u lache bidå-ña i patgon komo ha atiende i dos saina-ña. The child wouldn't have made a mistake if s/he had only listened to his/her parents.


This explains the cartoon above.

The doctor is telling the new nurse, "Because you are a new nurse, don't help but come and attend."

The doctor doesn't want a new and inexperienced nurse to be involved in the surgery or procedure, but he wants her to attend and learn from watching the others.


But languages are always changing and evolving.

Today, and for many years now, the words asiste and atiende have indeed acquired additional meanings.

People (nowadays) do say asiste and mean "assisting, helping."

And people (nowadays) do say atiende and mean "to be physically present."

Kao siña hu asiste hao gi gualo'? May I help you in the farm?

Bai atiende i entiero agupa'. I will attend the funeral tomorrow.

Even in Spanish, asistir can mean the original "to be physically present" but also now "to help."

But, in Spanish, atender still means "to look after, pay attention to" but never "to be physically present."


Because of these additions to the original meaning, Chamorro speakers and learners have to be careful when using asiste and atiende.

You could be using those words in one way, and the other person is understanding them in another way.

That's why the nurse in the cartoon is befuddled.

The doctor meant, "Don't help, but attend."

She understood, "Don't help, but assist."

Knowledge is power. Know these details and you'll be OK.

But if you use asiste and mean "be physically present," and if you use atiende and mean "to look after, to pay attention to, to heed," then I will know that you know the older meanings our great grandparents understood.

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