Friday, September 02, 2005

chacha' Chamorro

I just had a really really great laugh, and you'll never guess why.

Someone actually said that I'm chacha' or picky about Chamorro language. hahahahahaha.

It was so ridiculously stupid that I'm actually having trouble typing right now.

But I guess that given what he said and others have said, it would probably be a good idea for me to clarify my ideas on language. And to start, chinacha' is probably worst term to use.

The only thing I am picky about in language is that people be open to different forms.

Opposed to what most people think, where language fluency has to do with learning a particular grammar really really well, I think of fluency as being able to move between different registers or types of a single language. So fluency for me isn't that you know the "proper" way of speaking Chamorro as best as you can, but more so that when different types of Chamorro come along, you have no trouble speaking or understanding them as well. For the most part Chamorros are open to different forms of Chamorro, with the largest exception being Chamorro spoken by people who are learning it as a second language. It is in this regard that Chamorro is hardly open, but instead becomes a very rigid language.

Here's one example from a young boy who emailed me and who has been slowly trying to learn. While out in the yard with an older cousin who speaks fairly good Chamorro, they saw some fruit on a tree. The boy asked his cousin to get some fruit for him using the verb "ayek" or "chose." The cousin told him that this was wrong and that he should use the word tife' not ayek. Sounds simple enough right? Ayek and tife' refer to different types of "picking." But its not that simple, what should have also been communicated is that ayek might be right, if he meant "select one," and not "pick one (off the tree)." But so often what happens in these situations where the language is being taught is that a simple correction takes place, not providing a real lesson in the language. The boy emailed me asking me if his cousin was correct and I told him what I wrote above, that you might have been correct depending on what you meant, and so when people are teaching you, you should try to get them past the simple correction and get them to actually teach you the language in a more fuller way.

As time has gone on Chamorro has become a more and more narrow language, this is evidenced by the ways in which existing prefixes and suffixes in the language are resisted when they are applied in ways that the fluent speaker hasn't hear before. Chamorro is full of a wide array of these add ons, which allow us to form incredible words, but when language learners attempt to do this, they are often told that that is not correct, or that you don't use them like that.

Examples that language learners have brought to my attention are prefixes such as e-, chat-, ha-, and la-, and suffixes such as -i and -yi. E- for those who don't know is the prefix used for designating the hunting or pursuing of something. So a recognized word in the language is epanglao or so hunt for crabs. This prefix is recognized commonly with a few words, but in reality could be used to refer to anything, yet when learners have attempted to attach it to different words to try and say things, (such as epalao'an for hunting or searching for women or ebinadu) they are told that its wrong and given a more commonly accepted way of saying it. This is what I mean when I speak of preferences being imposed. According to the grammar rules for Chamorro epalao'an or ebunita are appropriate terms, and they should be allowed, or at least discussed. People who are helping others speak Chamorro shouldn't just dimiss things which they aren't familiar with, which is what too commonly takes place. If its is incomprehensible then correct it, but if it is just unfamiliar then don't be in such a hurry, you might find that this strange new form might improve your Chamorro as well.

This creativity should not be stifled, because if it is allowed and nurtured it will lead to the revitalization of Chamorro. Our people were mighty poets, yet with the emphasis on speaking properly Chamorro, the variety within Chamorro has slowly been disappearing. Today, you can see sparks of that vitality and life, but too often when those learning Chamorro attempt to be creative with the language, they are told to just use the common ways of saying things.

Let me reiterate once again, that I'm not saying that people shouldn't learn the language well, but more so that whatever you teach as a fluent speaker IS NOT as simple as "I am just teaching Chamorro." How you teach it means the life or death of Chamorro.

It was my grandmother who made this clear to me when she was teaching me. She taught vastly different then anyone else, because she was always open to different ways of saying things and always offered different ways of saying things. When I would ask he if something was correct, or if I said something incorrect she would correct me, but then offer me several different ways of saying the same thing. When I would try to use different forms, she enjoyed it, she enjoyed it because it made our minds move and keep them fresh and alive.

Now, I've already been "accused" of trying to impose my beliefs on how Chamorro language should be taught on others. But am I really imposing anything? All I am offering is a perspective on why Chamorro isn't a vital and energetic language, and for those who want it to survive, it might be good to listen to me. I don't know everything or have all the answers, but I don't mind discussing things which others don't like. I don't mind saying that its not only the fault of those who can't speak Chamorro, its just that amongst Chamorro speakers, they are the ones who are always blamed.

Preserving a language as in the rules of speech won't revitalize Chamorro. It will make our language ready for a museum but it won't keep it alive. Only by allowing it to be an open language, where unfamiliar speech is understood and accepted will it survive. Only when we focus on comprehension and not abstract rule preservation will it survive.

If you don't like what I'm saying, please feel free to ignore me. I am not imposing anything on you. I am not commanding you to be sensitive. To not tease people. To not correct people. If you read my last few posts on this then you'll see I'm not saying anything like that.

4 comments:

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Anonymous said...

Then your grandmother has a gift for teaching language. Most people don't give the full explanantions as to the reasons you do or don't say certain phrases for particular meanings.

I think you don't realize that most Chamorro speakers don't have an education in Chamorro. Most of them learned it growing up. They only know what they have heard. So they don't explain it as well as you would like them to. That doesn't mean that they over critisize people, it means they're bad language teachers...

As to the use of Chamorro's prefixes and suffixes, you're absolutely right, you can use them on most things to make a specific meaning. It's just that it's not part of the venacular, and people don't know all of the precise functions of all the prefixes and suffixes in Chamorro, regardless if they use them day in and day out. It's the same in English... If you were to negate the word "prudent" in English, most people would say "imprudent." That doesn't mean that a word like "unprudent" or "inprudent" wouldn't carry the same meaning. What I'm trying to say is that while all of the words would carry the same connotation, only one of them would be acceptable by the majority of the people. They might have no problem with understanding the words, but it isn't within their own vocabulary to say "inprudent" or "unprudent." The same is the case in Chamorro speakers. The difference is that most English speakers have had the benifit of learning about the grammar of their language in school, so the English speaker might be better apt to explain why you don't use certain grammatic devices in certain places. That doesn't mean that the people who have taken Chamorro classes would be able to teach it well either.

Anyways, I agree with you that you should be creative in Chamorro. The only thing I would be wary about is trying to forego the subtle intricacies of the language for the sake of creativity. It would be a very sad thing to get lose any more of our beautiful lanaguage...

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