Chamorro origins

Robert Blust blust at
Tue Feb 16 00:11:19 UTC 1999


That was a long question.

I think you've oversimplied several things.  First, the degree of
linguistic diversity in the Philippines today is not what we would expect
of an area settled by an Austronesian population movement out of Taiwan
around 3,000 BC (the earliest radiocarbon dates that are generally
accepted by archaeologists for Neolithic sites in the Philippines are
currently in the range 2500-2800 BC).  The overall closeness of Philippine
languages suggests a period of differentiation not much in excess of 3,000
years.  In 1991 I published a paper called `The Greater Central Philippines
hypothesis' (Oceanic Linguistics), which argued that one group of
Philippine languages (the one that includes Tagalog) expanded at the
expense of other Austronesian languages, moving both south and north from
the general region of the Bisayas, probably during the first few centuries
BC.  The result was a leveling of linguistic diversity in the central
Philippines.  The overall picture in the Philippines suggests that another
expansion must have taken place earlier, leveling the diversity which
existed at that time.  If the Marianas were settled from the Philippines
then I would suggest that the settlement took place before the expansion
of Proto-Philippines.

Chamorro does not appear to subgroup closely with ANY other Austronesian
language.  The linguistic indications are consistent with the
archaeological indications --- that Chamorro has been developing in
relative isolation for at least 3,500 years.  Earlier writers compared it
with Philippine languages on typological grounds (general similarities in
the system of verbal `focus').  But the generic syntactic typology of
Chamorro and Philippine languages (there are many differences of detail)
is a shared conservatism from Proto-Austronesian, and says nothing about
subgrouping connection.

As for closer connections with Indonesia, they do not exist (at least I
have looked for years without finding them).  Don't place your hopes on
the labiovelar phoneme, which I think you have misunderstood.  It
developed from earlier *w, and is clearly secondary (and parallel to the
fortition of *y).  Since this has so often been misunderstood I am writing
up a description of Chamorro historical phonology now for publication in
the hope of finally putting the record straight.

I hope this helps in some small way.

Bob Blust

 On Sun, 14 Feb 1999, david benson wrote:

> Hello,
> I am writing to everyone in the AnLang mailing list
> to ask for some help.  I am interested in learning
> more about the affinities of Chamorro to other
> Austronesian languages.
> I suppose you could say that I have an "ax to grind"
> here.  I am a proponent of the now unpopular theory
> that there were two waves of immigration to the
> Marianas—the first coming from the Philippines about
> 3,500 years ago and a second coming from Indonesia
> about 800 to 1000 years ago.  I believe that it was
> this second migration that brought the Chamorro
> language and the essential elements of Chamorro
> culture here.  The indigenous people were conquered
> and their descendants became the Manachang, the
> lowest of the three social classes in Chamorro
> society—a group of such degraded status that I think
> it could be properly classed as an out caste group.
> (The word Chamorro was never applied to them.  It
> referred only to the two higher classes.)
> I think that there is ample evidence in the material
> culture for this second migration, and I am wondering
> if there is any linguistic evidence which could be
> brought to bear on the argument.  I know of at least
> anecdotal evidence.  It is said that Magellan when he
> visited the Marianas had a Moluccan slave aboard his
> ship who found he could speak with the Chamorros in
> their own language.  Unfortunately, I know it is not
> going to be that easy.  I am sure that if the were
> presently an Indonesian language which would be
> mutually intelligible with pre-Spanish Chamorro, it
> would not have escaped the notice of the linguists.
> Never-the-less, Chamorro has some peculiarities which
> set it apart from the Philippine languages, and I am
> wondering if anyone has noticed these in Indonesian
> languages.
> For example, Chamorro has the phoneme "gw" spelled gu
> before a vowel.  Topping states that none of the
> languages of the Philippines or Micronesia has this
> phoneme.  But there are many Chamorro words which
> begin with "gw" which have close cognates in the
> Philippine languages where it is usually changed to a
> glottal stop before the vowel.  Examples are the word
> for I which is guihan in Chamorro and either ako or
> aku in all the major Philippine languages; or the
> word for fire which is guafi in Chamorro and apoy in
> Tagalog, api in Kampampangan and apuy in Ilocano; the
> word for fish which is guihan in Chamorro, isda in
> Tagalog and Cebuano, and ikkan in Ilocano.  Sometimes
> it is only the "g" which is dropped and the "w" sound
> is retained as in the word for eight, gualo, which
> becomes walo; or the word for spouse asagua which
> becomes asawa in Tagalog, Cebuano, Kampampangan and
> Ilocano.
> I could be wrong, but I believe that the "gw' phoneme
> is an archaic feature in the Chamorro language and
> not, as Topping calls it, a "Chamorro invention."
> It just makes more sense to me to believe that this
> phoneme was dropped by the Philippine languages and
> replaced by a glottal stop than to believe that the
> Chamorros in a burst of inventiveness began
> vocalizing a glottal stop as a phoneme hitherto
> unknown in their language.  If I am correct, it makes
> a very strong argument for the case that Chamorro is
> not derived from any Philippine language but from a
> language ancestral to them--because it alone among
> them has retained this archaic feature.  Does anyone
> out there reading this know of Indonesian languages
> which have a "gw" phoneme?  How about a "kw" phoneme?
> Another word which has caught my attention is the
> word for you (pl.) in Chamorro which is hamyo.
> Notice that it contains both an "m" and "y".   All
> the languages of the Philippines have a cognate for
> this word, and all of them have one or the other of
> these letters—but not both.  Thus in Tagalog and
> Ilocano we have "kayo" and in Kampampangan "kayu";
> but in Bicolano and Cebuano, "kamo".  From this one
> word alone, I think one could argue plausibly that
> Chamorro cannot derive from any one of the Philippine
> languages because it alone among them retains a
> feature from a common ancestral language.  Does
> anyone know of an Indonesian language which has a
> word similar to hamyo for you (plural)?
> Finally, I would like to argue against the assumption
> that just because it is known that the Marianas were
> settled first by people from the Philippines that
> Chamorro is a member of the Philippine family of
> languages. The very antiquity of this settlement
> argues against such an assumption.  I don't know much
> about the prehistory of Asia, but two dates that I
> have encountered in my reading have stuck in my
> memory.  One is that the Austronesian languages
> evolved in South China about 6,000 years ago; and the
> other is that about 5000 years ago there was a major
> migration from this area to the Philippines and
> Indonesia.  Now, we know from archeology that the
> Marianas were settled at least 3,500 years ago.  (We
> have probably not found the earliest settlements.)
> We know by their material culture that they were
> identical to a people living on Masbate island in the
> Central Philippines about this time.  I have no dates
> for the Masbate Island culture, but one would presume
> that it was on Philippine soil for some time before
> the Marianas were discovered and colonized.  In other
> words, we can push back the prehistory of the people
> who initially settled the Marianas to a time fairly
> close to that first wave of migration from South
> China.  Even if we assume that these people were a
> part of that migration—and not an aboriginal people
> not yet assimilated by it—we still have to ask
> ourselves, "How likely is it that these people spoke
> a language closely related to those presently spoken
> in the Philippines?"  I think the answer is, "Not
> likely at all."  I think it more likely that they
> spoke a language closer to Proto-Austronesian than to
> any spoken today.  Perhaps it was even a tonal
> language.  To imagine that such an early offshoot of
> the Austronesian Language Phylum then migrated to the
> Marianas and remained there in relative isolation for
> 3,000 years at the end of which time it had many
> recognizable cognates and many similarities of
> grammar with modern Philippine languages is, I think,
> absurd on the face of it.  (I believe it is now
> generally accepted that the languages spoken in the
> Philippines belong to the Indonesian/Malaysian group
> and were presumably brought there by much later
> migrations.)
> If one posits another migration to the Marianas about
> 1000 a.d. from Indonesia, (or from anyplace where
> languages of the Western branch of the Austronesian
> system were spoken) then all these difficulties
> disappear.  I believe that such a migration did take
> place and that the language brought by it to the
> Marianas was essentially Chamorro.  I don't believe
> that the original inhabitants of the Marianas—because
> of their low status in Chamorro society—had much
> influence on this language.  One possible exception
> might be the elaborate and unique tone-stress pattern
> of spoken Chamorro.  If the original inhabitants of
> the Marianas, the ancestors of the Manachang, spoke a
> tonal language, then it is likely that when they
> began to speak Chamorro they did so with a pronounced
> "accent". Because theirs was a tonal language, it
> would be natural for them to put extra tones on words
> and phrases even when these carried no semantic
> meaning.  Because it is instinctive for a person to
> adapt his accent to those around him, these would
> spread through the entire language until they became
> systematized into the present patterns.  (Even a
> person who is prevented from speaking another
> language by racial pride, is not immune to this
> unconscious mimicry.  The Protestants of Northern
> Ireland who pride themselves on their pure English
> ancestry now speak English with a strong Irish
> Brogue.)  Anyway……I don't say that this happened, but
> it is something fun to think about, aye?
> Well, thank you for listening to me.  I know that it
> was presumptuous of me to have spent so much time
> talking about my own opinions to people who are
> undoubtedly better informed on the subject, but I
> hope this will not prevent you from sharing any
> information you have which might help me.  I am
> living on Rota, an island in the Northern Marianas,
> and trying to write a term paper without a library or
> any facilities for research other than the Internet.
> Any help you could give me, would be greatly
> appreciated.
> Sincerely,
> David Benson
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