Saturday, January 14, 2012

Keep the Chamorro Language Alive

Keep the Chamorro Language Alive
by Mina Sablan
The Pacific Daily News

Just imagine this: If you were the last Chamorro speaker and you hold the experiences and knowledge of thousands of years of life here in Guam and the Mariana Islands ... and there is no one that understands who and what you carry in your inner self.

The Chamorro language is a world language given to the Chamorro people by our creator. It is our responsibility to keep the Chamorro language alive.

"Every 14 days a language dies. By 2100, more than half of the more than 7,000 languages spoken on Earth -- many of them not yet recorded -- may disappear, taking with them a wealth of knowledge about history, culture, the natural environment, and the human brain." (National Geographic).

Public Law 31-45 will help to address the need to revive the native Chamorro language. However, if the Chamorro language is to survive and not become extinct, transformation has to happen primarily within the native Chamorro population, collectively. Many have concentrated on protecting cultural perpetuation. However, language has been dormant within the native Chamorro population itself.

We, as Chamorro people, need to look within ourselves and decide whether we truly want to breathe life back into our Chamorro language. Public laws help, but collective, collaborative and committed actions within our communities will transform the dormant language. We cannot depend solely on the Chamorro teachers within our school system to educate our children. Language cannot live in books, documentaries and classrooms alone. Language is a living and breathing thing, it must be spoken in everyday experiences and settings in order for it to stay alive.

We can start to do certain things:

•In order for the Chamorro language to survive, we as Chamorro people must recognize that we have to take full responsibility for its survival. We must help each other to breathe life into the language and give it the prestige it once had in our islands. It requires concerted efforts and an abundance of dedicated labor to bring it back to its prestigious places and spaces within our communities. We have to believe that it is important; otherwise, it will become extinct.

•We have to recognize that learning the Chamorro language is not about making money, but about keeping a world language alive for generations to come, keeping knowledge of navigation, plants, animals and ocean life that have been perpetuated for thousands of years.

•We have to focus our full attention as to how we can bring back the Chamorro language within our families, clans and communities, collectively and collaboratively. There was so much pain, hurt and language loss in the past. Many have experienced trauma due to the language policies of the past. We can help each other going forward as we breathe life back into the Chamorro language and regain our self-identity as Chamorro peoples.

•We have to choose to be proactive and contribute in positive ways to breathe life back into our Chamorro language, apart from the classrooms.

•We have to incorporate qualitative and quantitative time and increase the familial and public spaces where we communicate in our native Chamorro language.

•The Chamorro and the English languages are the official languages of Guam, but Chamorro is hardly spoken in public settings. It is only when we consciously as Chamorro people take ownership and choose to speak our language as adults and teach our children that it is crucial for survival and self-identity of the Chamorro people, that we will be able to ensure that our children also will speak it.

•We who speak the language must help those who want to learn the language with enduring patience and perseverance. We who know the language must speak it when we are with other Chamorros who speak the language. For us who know the language, but are dormant and sleeping within our inner selves, let us make a conscious decision whether we will partake in the Chamorro language revival by awakening it in ourselves. For those who want to learn the Chamorro language, be persistent and don't give up; you are contributing to the revival and perpetuation of the Chamorro language.

•Reviving the Chamorro language is a huge undertaking; negative criticism is not welcome, only positive recommendations, actions and contributions from all who want to help, Chamorro or not.

•There are dialectic differences within the Chamorro language, let us honor those differences.

Let us retrieve the Chamorro language knowledge we have in us, sharpen it and speak it into the atmosphere in Guam and the Mariana Islands. Let us reclaim and awaken our beautiful Chamorro language and culture in our daily experiences; through positive actions. It truly has to start with us that know the language.

Mina Sablan is a resident of Chalan Pago.

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