Tuesday, November 22, 2016


(A story from the 1930s. The names have been changed to protect the guilty and the innocent.)

Many times in the old days, when a man and woman had a child out of wedlock, the secret was often safely guarded. Many children went to their graves never knowing who their biological father was. But, once in a while, there were clues. One of them was the following. When your family always included another family in enjoying good things from the farm or sea, and there was no obvious reason why this should be, one could always wonder if there was some prior romance involved. In those days, one could only wonder, because you were quickly shut down if you dared to ask.

Un tungo' si bihu-ho as Jose? Annai sottetero ha' trabia si bihu-ho, 
(You know my grandfather Jose? When my grandfather was still single,)

guaha patgon-ña påtgon sanhiyong ginen as Ana.
(he had a child out of wedlock with Ana.)

Lao hame ni famagu'on, tåya' håfa in tingo' pot este.
(But we kids didn't know anything about this.)

Despues, umassagua si Jose yan si bihå-ho as Dolores. Si Ana, tåya' na umassagua.
(Later, Jose married my grandmother Dolores. Ana never married.)

Lao kada mamuno' gå'ga' gi lanchon-måme, 
(But whenever he killed an animal in our ranch,)

siempre ha tågo' yo' si bihu-ho para in na'e si Tan Ana pietnan kåtne pat håfa.
(my grandfather would surely tell me to give Tan Ana a leg of meat or something.)

Ha na' manman yo' sa' tåya' na man a'bisita ham yan si Tan Ana, solo an guaha 
(It surprised me because we never visited Tan Ana, only when)

ma puno' gå'ga' ya ma tågo' uno gi famagu'on para u nå'e si Tan Ana.
(an animal was killed and one of the kids was sent to give Tan Ana.)

Pues hu faisen si bihu-ho, "Håfa tåta na ta nånå'e håfa hit na komo pumarientes hit?"
(So I asked my grandfather, "Why, grandpa, do we give whatever as if we were relatives?")

Ilek-ña, "Ti guailaye un kuentos pat un famaisen. Cho'gue ha' håfa ma tåtågo' hao.
(He said, "It isn't necessary for you to talk or ask. Just do what you're told to do.



  1. Påli Eric, thank you for spreading the language of Chamorro to those like myself - late bloomers/learners of the language.
    I have a few questions about the orthography, if I may? I hope I do not come across as ignorant or rude, but these questions have been bothering me since I first started actively teaching myself.
    Growing up, I was always taught that the Chamorro language was as phonetic as Hawaiian or other Austronesian languages. Yet I noticed that in some Chamorro words, it is pronounced differently than the orthography. The most glaring example would be the Chamorro greeting of "Håfa adai". We pronounce it as "HAW-fuh day" rather than how the orthography suggests it should be pronounced (HAW-fuh a-dye). Should our greeting not be spelled "Håfa dei"?
    Second (and this is more of a minor issue), why do we add an "h" in certain words where it is silent - example: "tohge/tohgi"? If it is to add stress to the "o", could we not add a macron (tōge/tōgi) like they do in Hawaiian or Māori (the same would apply to other vowels)?
    On top of that, we have virtually interchangeable letters (both in written form and oral) - "i" sometimes replaces "e" ("songge" is pronounced "SONG-gi" rather than "SONG-ge") / "u" sometimes replaces "o" (Hulo' is pronounced "HU-lu'" rather than "HU-lo'") / "n" almost always replaces "ñ" (Muna vs. Muña) / "a" almost always replaces "å" (ha'ani vs hå'åni). Should we not be stricter in our pronunciation & writing? I apologize if I am overstepping my bounds by asking these questions, but I am genuinely confused whenever I am trying to learn the language both orally and in written form.
    Again, thank you very much for spreading your knowledge of the Chamorro language & culture.

    1. Thank you for your questions!

      Spelling is a matter of convention, not law. I mean, just look at English! Through, tough, though. The same four-letter combination, OUGH, is pronounced three different ways! But we, as an English-speaking society, have agreed to go with the others and pronounce them as we do. Convention. In an informal way, we all agree that this spelling of this word sounds like this, and that spelling of that other word sounds like that.

      In English, this is accomplished by long-standing written custom, and it is passed down in the schools.

      It took a long time for the English-speaking world to come to a consensus how to spell words. Three hundred years ago, people spelled the same word in many ways. One just had to figure it out. Then, more and more, especially with the introduction of dictionaries and more uniform spelling in schools, which more and more people went to (300 years ago, classroom education was very limited), people started spelling words more or less the same way.

      And yet, to this day, the British spell it colour, and Americans spell it color.

      And spelling in English continues to change with time. A hundred years ago, one could only spell it doughnut. Recently, donut has become an acceptable alternate spelling.

      Now in the case of Chamorro, we have not reached yet a point of general consensus about spelling. Government-appointed boards come up with an "official" orthography, but it has yet to achieve wide public agreement, and for more than one reason. First, many people are not aware of the official orthography. Second, most speakers of Chamorro are too old to be in classrooms learning the official orthography. Third, most speakers of Chamorro rarely need to write in Chamorro (they speak it). Fourth, many speakers do not agree with the official orthography in all cases. So, the reality is that people spell the word as it makes sense to them. So, we're all over the map on this one.

      As to some of your specific questions. The adai in Hafa Adai is thought to be a contraction of ADAHE/ADAHI, just as the word LAI is thought to be a contraction of LAHE/LAHI. So, it could have been pronounced ADAI (as in English a - dye) in the beginning. As a matter of fact, the EI soung (as in English day or say) is foreign to Chamorro. This is why we say SAIS and RAINA instead of the Spanish SEIS and REINA.

      But, for whatever reason (these things happen just because), people began saying ADEI instead of ADAI. I remember Ricky Bordallo always said Hafa Adai using the DYE pronunciation. But most everyone else said Hafa Adai using the DEI (day) pronunciation.

      I try to spell it as I hear it sounded. So I spell it Adei.

      I also try to use the Ñ when it is needed. Muña, Sinajaña, etc.

      The H in those words you mentioned are not silent. But modern speakers tend not to say the H anymore in those words, but older speakers did really say mamaHlao and toHge. One could really hear the H said in them.

      As for the -e/-i and -o/-u, it is true that it depends on the speaker. Older speakers do retain the -e and -o ending more than younger speakers.

      The lonnat (the circle over the A) really should only be used when the A is an open A, like the rounded A sound in the English word fAther, as opposed to the flat A sound in the English word fAt.

      Five Chamorros, 8 ways of spelling. But, I find that in 98% of the time, I can understand what he or she is trying to spell. And the differences in spelling do not interfere with my comprehension. We are today in Chamorro spelling what the English-speaking world was in the year 1600. It will take some time and a lot of debate in the meantime.

    2. Si Yu'us ma'åsi, Påli.
      Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions as best you can.
      God bless.