[lg policy] Rationale for making CHamoru a vibrant, spoken modern language

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Mon Oct 22 11:10:01 EDT 2018


 Rationale for making CHamoru a vibrant, spoken modern language

   - Laura M. Torres Souder
   - Oct 21, 2018 Updated 9 hrs ago
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Let’s continue to explore why we need a CHamoru orthography. Previously, I
wrote about a galvanizing event that brought the work of the Commission on
CHamoru Language and the Teaching of the History and Culture of the
Indigenous People of Guam, also known as I Kumisión I Fino’ CHamoru, into
focus at an orientation session on Sept. 28 to launch the newly revised
2018 CHamoru Orthography. Members of the Kumision provided an overview of
the history of the orthography and reviewed the first six rules. Two
subsequent events are scheduled in November and December respectively to
review the remaining 11 of 17 rules.

The CHamoru Orthography is first and foremost a spelling system designed to
standardize the way we write and read CHamoru. Linked with the body of
Pacific languages which are referred to as having Austronesian origins, the
speech patterns, pronunciation (articulation, elocution and intonation) and
linguistic structure associated with the CHamoru language form the basis of
the Utugrafihan CHamoru, Guåhan.

So, standardizing CHamoru in order that it be taught with consistency, not
just as a spoken language but as a modern, vibrant written language
requires that we establish and follow rules of spelling and grammar. These
rules are embedded in the spoken language itself. They are not arbitrary as
some may think. They often challenge our habitual practice. They have given
rise to controversy. As we discover more about the complexity and
linguistic secrets of our language, these rules are refined and revised.

The alarming reality is that so many of the world’s precolonial traditional
oral languages have become extinct at the rate of one every two weeks. The
truth is that when languages do not have the capacity to change, they cease
to exist. On the other hand, the CHamoru language, along with other
languages of Micronesia, continue to survive and modernize. Nonetheless,
this does not mean that continuity is assured. Developing a spelling and
writing code is key to continuity in the 21st century and beyond. Hence,
the focus of the Kumisión is to actively promote spoken CHamoru. To ensure
that CHamoru survives, we must grow the number of young speakers. Language
nesting or immersion programs offered by Hurao, the Guam Department of
Education’s CHamoru language and culture program in our public schools,
CHamoru classes at the University of Guam and Guam Community College all
need a standardized spelling and grammar in order to teach current and
future generations to speak, read and write our language alongside English.

Since CHamoru is spoken throughout the Marianas and there are noticeable
differences in pronunciation and preferences for sound representation, how
do we accommodate those regional differences? Robert Underwood, in his
historical overview of the development of the CHamoru Orthography presented
at the orientation session, pointed out that there are two CHamoru dialects
– the Rota or Gani dialect spoken in Luta and the Northern Mariana Islands,
and the Hagåtña dialect which is largely spoken in Guam, Saipan and Tinian.
Some traces of the Rota dialect are also detectable in southern villages on
Guam.

The first attempt to standardize written CHamoru resulted in the 1971
Marianas Orthography, which was based on an extensive study by Donald
Topping of the University of Hawaii and Bernadita Dungca of UOG. This first
orthography introduced the “glota” or glottal stop, hyphens and a
simplified spelling system. Underwood explained that CHamoru, when it was
first written, used Spanish language conventions such as Cruz, frijoles,
jafa. With the adoption of the 1971 Orthography, CHamoru began to look more
like English, as in hafa, maolek. He noted that there was a brief effort to
change the orthography in 1978 to align with Tagalog conventions especially
in diphthongs (two vowels having one sound) as in taytay (taitai) atdaw
(atdao). This was later rescinded and the original orthography was
re-adopted in 1983.

The 2018 CHamoru Orthography is a more user-friendly, updated revision of
the original 1971 Marianas Orthography and re-adopted in 1983. In 2009, the
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands established its own version
which departed from the original 1971 shared orthography. Guam’s Kumision
is committed to collaborating with the Northern Marianas once again to
standardize the orthography throughout the Marianas while recognizing
regional differences and preferences. To that end, we initiated a meeting
with CNMI’s Gov. Ralph Torres and the newly appointed members of the
revived Chamorro and Carolinian Language Policy Commission in June. Stay
tuned for future updates.


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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com
http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/~haroldfs/

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