Monday, August 12, 2019


If you ever wonder how languages change over time, just keep your eyes opened.

It's happening right now, in our own times.

It's just a fact of life. Languages change over time. The English spoken today is not exactly the same English spoken 500 years ago. And neither is Chamorro.

It doesn't happen because the government changes it. It doesn't happen because a committee changes it. It happens because people change it. Without planning it, without intending it. It just happens.

Someone just starts saying something different, or someone gives an old word a new meaning, and it spreads, like the flu or cold.

We have had for several hundreds now two Spanish loan words with different meanings, and happening right now before our eyes (or ears) is that one of those words is taking on both meanings.

The first word is ÅSTA.

It comes from the Spanish word hasta, which means "until." In Spanish, the H is silent. It sounds like asta. So we can say the following in Chamorro using the word åsta :

Åsta a las dos. Until two o'clock.

Åsta ke måtai yo'. Until I die.

The second word is ESTA.

We know it comes from Spanish, but there are two Spanish words. One is esta, which means "this." And the other is está, which means "it is." Most people think the Chamorro word esta comes from the second Spanish word, está. Some even think the Chamorro word esta comes from the Spanish phrase está ya, which means "it is already there" or "it already is."

This would make sense because the Chamorro word esta means "already." So we use like this :

Esta måtto. He or she already came.

Kao måsa esta? Is it cooked already?


But now, many Chamorros have dropped asta and say esta when they mean asta.

Listen to this short clip of two different singers singing the exact same line. One singer says asta and the second says esta, even though the singer means asta. The line they sing is "asta/esta i finatai-ho," "until my death."


When languages change, there is hardly anything anyone can do about it. We probably won't be able to stop people from abandoning asta and saying esta when they mean asta.

But now we have a harder time telling if they mean asta or esta. If esta can mean both "until" and "already," we now have to look for more information to know if they mean one or the other, because nowadays, "Esta a las dos" can mean EITHER "until two o'clock" or "it is already two o'clock."

Before, when asta clearly meant "until" and when esta clearly meant "already," we could easily tell the difference.

Now that esta can mean both words for many people, we have a harder time seeing the difference between "until" and "already."

So some of us old-fashioned people continue to say asta when we mean "until," and we say "esta" when we mean "already."

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