Thursday, July 27, 2017


How do you say "legend" in Chamorro?

Well, if you go to the spot where the legend of the Two Lovers supposedly happened, the people behind this marker state that "legend" in Chamorro is lihende. The marker announces "I Lihenden i Dos Umaguaiya." "The Legend of the Two Lovers."

No less than the Chamorro language people at the Department of Education, and esteemed Chamorro language teacher, the late Tona Castro, also use the word lihende for "legend." Here we see the "Legend of the Ifil Tree." "I Lihenden i Trongkon Ifit."

I wondered about the history of this word lihende. Can we find it in the pre-war Chamorro literature?

Apparently we can't.

Looking as far back as Ibáñez's 1865 Spanish-Chamorro dictionary, words used to denote a legend or myth would be fábula (fable) or kuentos tumåtnon. Tåtnon means "to entertain, to please" as in with some diversion. Kuentos means "speech," so kuentos tumåtnon means a story meant to entertain. The story isn't literally true. Its value is in its pleasant diversion.

A myth or legend can also be something instructive or educational, so the word ehemplo (example) can also be used.

A legend is a tale, so even estoria (story) can be used to denote a legend.

Valenzuela's 1967 dictionary even includes imbensión (invention) to point out the fictional character of myths and legends.

All these terms (fábula or fábulas, ehemplo, estoria, kuentos tumåtnon) can be found in Chamorro dictionaries prior to 1970.

Then comes lihende. It appears after 1970. Probably, I suspect, from Chamorro language teachers. How did they come about this word?

Well, it's no surprise to notice that lihende looks very much like the English word "legend."

Just change the G to an H, as we do with the English word "gigantic" which becomes Chamorro higånte (borrowed from the Spanish). Then add a vowel, in this case an -E, to the end of an English word which ends with a consonant, and it becomes Chamorro, right?

The morphing of the English word "legend" to a Chamorro-sounding word lihende looks like this :



What I'd really like to know is why the people who came up with lihende thought it was necessary, or desirable, to come up with a new word for "legend," when there were several options historically available.

Languages all over the world are always in a state of flux. Old words drop out of usage, and new ones are added. The difference today is that we can almost point to an actual person and time when new words are added whereas, in the past, much of that was never documented in any way. They remain mysteries.

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