Tuesday, October 11, 2016


There are at least half a dozen Chamorro dictionaries, both published and unpublished, from before World War II. Some were written by Spaniards, others by Americans, others by Germans and now we have evidence of one put together by a Japanese named D. Kikuchi.

It was published in Japan in 1915, just a year after the Japanese took over the Northern Marianas from the Germans. Kikuchi got to work right away, then, providing the new masters with a guide to Chamorro vocabulary.

It was 64 pages long, and just four by six inches in size. Not very thick of a book, I would say. So it wasn't a very extensive dictionary, but it wasn't just a short word list either.

The dictionary was published by a private commercial company, the Nanyo Boeki Kaisha (South Seas Trading Company) which dominated Saipan during the Japanese era. The NBK leased huge amounts of land and turned them into sugar cane fields. In those early days (1915), the NBK probably had to deal with Chamorros a lot more then than later, when Chamorros became Japanese speaking and a tiny minority in their own land. By 1935, for example, the population of Saipan was 95% non-Chamorro/Carolinian. Japanese, Koreans and Okinawans formed 95% of the island population. A Chamorro dictionary was not of much use by then.

The title of the dictionary was just as is seen at the top. Fino' Japones yan Chamorro. Japonés is the Spanish word for "Japanese," and the J is pronounced like the English H, as in Sinajaña and Joaquín. Chamorros said japonés for "Japanese" in those days. It was only later, under American influence, that Chamorro started to say Chapanis.

The problem is I have never seen a copy of it. I only know it existed because it is mentioned in another book dated 1918.

Perhaps someone in Japan or with Japan connections can search the various leading academic libraries in the government and in the universities of Japan to see if we can find a copy of it.

It is very beneficial to have all the dictionaries that ever existed, even those written out by hand. Sometimes we find an old Chamorro word, no longer used, in just one of six Chamorro dictionaries. If it weren't for that one dictionary that included the word, we would never have known otherwise that the word even existed.

1 comment:

  1. Ben Meno from Inalahan is compiling a list of words not currently in the Chamorro Dictionaries that he has.