Friday, February 14, 2020


Language tells more than just literal meaning.

Guma' for house and chålan for road.

Language also gives us clues into the psychology of the people speaking that language.

In English, we say, "What's his problem?" when someone seems upset for no reason, or who is in need of attitude adjustment.

While we can say, and often do say, "Håfa problemå-ña?" in Chamorro, which means "What is his or her problem?" we also hear, and among older people I think even more so, "Håfa chetnot-ña?" which translates "What is his or her disease or illness?"

Here we see that the literal meaning of a physical illness or disease is not usually meant. Negative moods do sometimes come from a physical (or even mental) condition. But generally speaking this is not what is meant when someone asks what disease someone has who is throwing out a negative attitude.

We can psychologize why Chamorros call a bad attitude a disease. And our theories are probably right for some people, some of the time.

Maybe we are saying that a bad attitude hurts the person having it, more than it hurts others, just as any disease would. People with bad attitudes are often avoided, and they isolate themselves from others, bringing them added frustrations in life.

Maybe we are saying that a bad attitude has to be cured, just as we would want to cure any disease.

Maybe we are saying that a bad attitude isn't attractive, pleasing or enjoyable, just as any disease would be considered something unpleasant to dread and to avoid. This is why the opposite of a bad attitude, a good attitude, is called månnge' by Chamorros. Good things are "delicious." They taste good and smell good.

Maybe we are saying that something is not right, something is "broken" in your way of thinking when we ask, "Håfa chetnot-mo?" What is wrong with you? Why are you thinking or feeling that way? That is a broken way of thinking, an inappropriate way to feel. Something is wrong with you, just like a disease means something's not working properly in your body.

This is also why we say in Chamorro that a car with engine trouble also has a chetnot. "Guaha chetnot-ña i karetå-ho." "My car has a problem." There is something not right, something wrong, something broken with it. So chetnot can also mean injury, defect, wound and similar things, besides disease or illness. And just as a car might need fixing, some people's attitudes may also need fixing.

I wonder if other cultures have something similar. Instead of asking, "What is his problem?" they ask "What is his disease?" Or "What is wrong with him?"

No matter the answer, it is a very Chamorro way of thinking and talking, among the older generations.

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