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.

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