Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Saving the Chamorro Language

Saving the Chamorro language
Monday, 3/11/13
by Joy White
Marianas Variety New Staff

OVER the past 30 years, the number of Chamorro speakers on Guam has declined steadily – from 35,000 in 1990 to 25,000 as of the last census in 2010.

Such decline, according to scholars and cultural activists, underscores the need to preserve the language that has been pushed to the periphery due to the pre-war ban on the language, coupled with Western influence and the influx of immigrants.

Saving the Chamorro language from the brink of death is the focus of this year’s Chamorro Month celebration with the theme “Learn the Language of Your Elders and Practice It Every Day.”

“It’s all about getting the language taught,” said Joseph Artero-Cameron, director of the Department of Chamorro Affairs. “The theme this year is to get that language to our children in any shape or form.”

The theme, according to Artero-Cameron, seeks to encourage the daily use of the Chamorro language, “whether it’s in the school system or at home.”

Language ban

According to linguists, Chamorro constitutes a possibly independent branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Unlike on Guam, the language is still common among Chamorro households in the Northern Marianas.

Chamorro language was suppressed on Guam in 1917, when the Naval Government Executive General issued Order No. 243, which banned speaking Chamorro and designated English as the only official language of Guam and ordered that “Chamorro must not be spoken except for official interpreting.”

According to Guampedia, speaking Chamorro was also forbidden on baseball fields, a sport growing in popularity, to encourage English use. “In the early 1920s, ‘No Chamorro’ policies were implemented and enforced within the schools and playgrounds. Public school students were reprimanded or penalized for speaking their native language. This policy continued after World War II.”

In recent years, Guam is seeing a cultural resurgence to learn the language.

School setting

Artero-Cameron believes the key to promoting the language is through the Department of Education’s Chamorro Language Curriculum.

“Students need to be able to use the Chamorro language for real communication by speaking; understanding what others are saying; reading; and interpreting written materials – all in the Chamorro language,” Artero-Cameron said.

“For too long, Chamorro language students in Guam have been judged by the number of years they have spent in the classroom rather than by their actual performance in the Chamorro language,” he said, adding elementary, middle, high school, and higher education instruction programs must be better articulated.

In 2011, Public Law 31-45 introduced by former Sen. Mana Silva Taijeron expanded previous legislation requiring Chamorro language instruction for elementary schools and one year at each level of education, to all grade levels in elementary and middle school and two years in high school. The law also mandates a reformation of the curriculum to incorporate a new curriculum for Beginning Chamorro (Introduction to Chamorro Language), Intermediate Chamorro (Basic Usage and Application of the Chamorro Language), and Advanced Chamorro (Conversational Chamorro).

By the new school year, 2013 to 2014 course work in the 7th grade should start and by the following school year, 2014 to 2015, the course will be included in the 8th grade. High schools should start the required course work by 9th grade, with the 10th grade mandated program starting in school year 2014 to 2015.

In addition, the law requires a Chamorro Language Department and department chair for all programs to be created at all schools to develop and implement the curriculum.


Rosa Salas Palomo, educator and coordinator of the University of Guam’s Chamorro language competition, stresses that oral competency must come hand-in-hand with social or cultural literacy.

The competition, themed “The Chamorro Language: Learn, Use, and Show,” starts at 3 p.m. today

“Aside from the language, we also have the linguistic competency, where they can speak the language but we also need to focus on the cultural or social competence, because sometimes we have someone who is using Chamorro but behaving like a mainlander and they contradict each other. Sometimes it’s difficult for children to grasp this, but there are mannerisms associated with individual languages. You need to make sure they are intact, that they match,” Palomo said.

“It’s our obligation as teachers to teach this, as well as the language because they go together. Why teach a language if you're not going to teach how to use it competently?” Palomo added.

Private efforts

Private individuals are also trying to create venues to learning the language more accessible.

For example, Troy Aguon created the Learn Chamorru! DVD and website for children.

Born and raised on Guam, Aguon worked in Las Vegas for about 13 years. When he returned with his two young children, he found there were no kid-friendly learning tools for Chamorro.

After being away for so long, he promised he would learn to be more fluent in the language and teach his children.

“My desire is to put as much Chamorro lessons, games, trivia and challenges on the LearnChamorro.com website for mom and dad to learn with their children in a fun and interactive new media resource tool (Internet audio/video, SMS, email, and smart phone). We believe teaching the language must start in the home and reinforced at home. Without language, there is no culture,” said Aguon, who is also partnering with Pay-Less Supermarkets to promote the Chamorro language.

The partnership promotes the language by identifying grocery items in the store and providing interactive activities, such as a scavenger hunter promotion that will be tied in with the website.

In addition, Aguon is working on volume two of the Learn Chamorro DVD and other technological tools, such as mobile friendly website software that will help children learn the language.

Monday, July 13, 2015

New Testament in the Chamorro Language


By Haidee V. Eugenio
Marianas Variety

The Northern Marianas marks a cultural and religious milestone with the publication of the first complete New Testament Bible in the Chamorro language, 100 years since the arrival of two priests on the islands who translated biblical texts from German to Chamorro.

Bishop Tomas A. Camacho of the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa yesterday presented copies of the "Nuebu Testament" (The Chamorro New Testament), which he dedicates in honor of Father Callistus Lopinot and Father Corbiniano Madre who arrived on Saipan and Rota in 1907 and 1908, respectively.

The bishop initiated his own translations of the readings for the Holy Mass when he was appointed in 1976 as the first native pastor in the then Bithen de Carmen parish in Chalan Kanoa.

He moved on to translate other religious materials in the Chamorro language with the help of other individuals.

"It was 31 years in the making," the bishop told Variety.

What also makes the 486-page Bible special is its use of the contemporary Chamorro language, making it a tool for the preservation of the local culture, according to Father Isaac M. Ayuyu and Rita C. Guerrero, who helped in the review of the translation, along with Carmen S. Taimanao and others.
"This is the newly sanctioned way of writing the Chamorro language. This is how children at school are being taught now," Guerrero said, adding that those who are 35 years old and younger are the focus of teaching the language.

While there have been recent religious publications that included a Chamorro translation of some gospels in the Bible, none of them included a complete translation of the 27 books in the New Testament.

Copies of the new Chamorro language Bible are available at the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa for US$15 each.

The bishop said they also provided copies to the Joeten-Kiyu Public Library.
Besides the publication of the new Bible in Chamorro, the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa has also completed translating the New Testament’s Gospels of St. Mark and St. John in the Carolinian language.

In yesterday’s presentation, the bishop said during the Spanish administration of the Marianas, prayers were said in Latin except the homily. When the Germans came, they translated some of the religious texts in Chamorro.

He said Father Callistus translated Dr. D.I. Schuster’s writing of the Bible history into Chamorro. He also gave the Northern Marianas a Chamorro-German dictionary, a copy of which is still intact.
About a hundred years ago, Father Corbiano also taught the local people Christmas songs in Chamorro, and some of them are still sung on Rota each year.

The bishop also acknowledged the help of the following in correcting and reviewing the translations: the late Father Roger T. Tenorio, Father Isaac M. Ayuyu, and Dr. Anthony Abela, as well as Dr. Anicia del Corro, Carmen Fruit, Lolita Babauta, Carmen S. Taimanao, Rita C. Guerrero, the late Dolores I. Marciano, Maria C. Deleon Guerrero, Ina S. Taimanao, Emilia C. Sablan, Lorenzo DLG. Cabrera, the late Rita C. Cabrera, and the United Bible Society.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Learning Chamorro Outside of a Classroom

“Learning Chamorro Outside of a Classroom”
by Sandy Uslander
February 24, 2013
Guam PDN

In the previous weeks I have shared current efforts to teach the Chamorro language outside of the islands.  While it has been inspiring to learn about these opportunities, obviously many aspiring Chamorro speakers do not have access to study in this type of formal setting.  This sent me on a quest to find the best resources for learning the language on your own.

The start of this investigation was where many of us go when we want to make connections across the miles: Facebook.  I asked the question, “What is the best resource you have found to learn or brush up on your Chamorro language”? I also did my own online searches and inquired from knowledgeable individuals.

The Facebook discussion did not provide any help at first, mostly one guy I’ll call “J” who said I would never learn the real Chamorro because it was essentially gone.   That was not what I wanted to hear.

From my individual inquiries I did get recommendations for two sites, www.LearnChamorro.com, and www.Guampedia.com  (you need to look for “Chamorro” under “Lesson Plans”).

Later, Facebook came back with a recommendation for www.Chamoru.info/dictionary, which is helpful and widely used.  There was also mention of a closed Facebook group dedicated to the use of the Chamorro language.  The discussion here included many of the news and resources that I had seen in other places, including www.Paleric.blogspot.com, and www.minagahet.blogspot.com.

There was also another post from “J” who said my best hope of learning the language was to find a group of old Chamorro speakers at a barbecue and ask them to teach me.  Again, he wasn’t encouraging.

In my own research, I came upon lessons on www.OffIsland.com.  There is also a government site at www.ns.gov.gu that provides an almost overwhelming number of Chamorro cultural resources.  Scrolling down the home page you can find a link to “Learn the Chamorro Language”, which takes you to lists of vocabulary and phrases at www.uog2.uog.edu.lessonz/.

Some of my favorite video resources are the Word of the Day and Chagi Chamorro produced by the Hurao Academy on Guam and available on their YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/user/huraoguahan.  I must also mention the most useful dictionary that I have found, the Chamorro-English Dictionary by Topping, Ogo and Dungca, a standard, first published in 1975.
As great as all these resources are, I have to wonder if they alone can really teach you the language.  You have to learn so much about pronunciation and what is common usage, and you just have to get into the habit of speaking it.  Recently, Dr. Robert Underwood wrote an opinion in the PDN entitled, “Preserve the Chamorro language by using it,” and in it he says, “If we are going to create a Chamorro-speaking community, we must have Chamorro language immersion programs…” This is a prominent educator involved in the Chamorro language discussion for three decades.  It occurs to me that these language tools need to work together with actual use of the language.

Back to Facebook, I find a message from a kind stranger I’ll call “D”: “Sandy, I’ll teach you.  Where do you live? Or better yet, am just a phone call away”.   Then “J” again chimes in. As I get ready for another of his discouraging posts, I’m pleased to read his response:  “And THAT is how you learn Chamorro”, he says.  Maybe he has a point after all.