Saving the Chamorro language
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.