Tuesday, June 6, 2017


My favorite beach in all the Marianas

I came across a Chamorro phrase the other day that I never heard of before.

Chopchop unai.

When I first saw it, I already knew what both words meant separately. But I didn't know what those two words were doing together.

Chopchop means "to suck, to absorb." As when you suck on an orange, or when the sponge sucks up (absorbs) whatever liquid has spilled.

Unai means "sand."

So I learned that chopchop unai means "beach."

Some say chopchop i inai. And if one started by saying "the beach" then it would be "i chepchop i inai" or "i chepchop unai."

I wonder how our ancestors came up with this phrase. A beach is covered in sand. Is it chopchop unai because it's as if the land soaked up (chopchop) the sand (unai).  

What other reason might there be?

A reader mentioned that it can be observed at times that the water filters through the sand. It is as if the sand is sucking up or absorbing the water. Thus, the name. 

The more common way of saying "beach" in Chamorro is kånton tåsi, meaning "sea side."

Some readers say that chopchop unai refers specifically to the area where the sea water reaches the sand, not the dry sand area.

You see how language is not just a long list of words for this or that. It shows the way a group of people (who speak that language) see the world.

Just make sure that you don't say the Chamorro word chopchop the same way you say the English word "chop." The Chamorro O is different at times from the English O, which has more than one sound. Have a listen :