Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Hafa Na Liberasion #7: Language and Liberation

Last week I posted an newspaper advertisment written and published by the Organization of People for Indigenous Rights (OPI-R) in the Pacific Daily News in 1985. The ad, titled Kao Magåhet Na Manlibre Hit? was written in Chamorro and discussed briefly the minagahet and chatminagahet of the yearly celebration of "Liberation Day" on Guam.

For me, these sorts of writings, which are absolutely political and absolutely written in the Chamorro language, are important because they break that stupid stereotype which so many Chamorros, even those who are interested in or at least say they are interested in protecting and perpetuating the language, are stuck in believing. Namely the "socialness" of the language, or that the language is primarily a means of communicating relaxation, kicking back, family business, gossip, and other fun, but generally unimportant things. To believe that there are things, such as politics, history, activism, which Chamorro is not intrinsically or suitably meant to describe or articulate, means to condemn the Chamorro and his or her language, to that same destitute state of needing constant and perpetual liberation, in this instance by the language of the colonizer.

I remember this hitting me most surprisingly during a presentation of one of Guam's fiercest and dedicated language activists. While speaking to a group of Chamorro teachers, she said that although teaching the language to our children is important, it must never get in the way of their learning English. First off, for anyone who knows the way language actually works and how language works on Guam in particular, this idea is silly because English needs no help from anyone to be learned or taught. A child growing up on Guam today, no matter if they are Chamorro, Chuukese, Filipino or Chinese will learn functional English, they might pick up another language along the way, but they will learn English as well. Second and more importantly, if this is the base assumption that this activist works from in her efforts to revitalize the Chamorro language, then her efforts are worthless from the very beginning. Desde i tinituhun, esta taibåli i kinalamten-ña.

Its very important to note here that what this activist is saying is not that children should learn both English and Chamorro, but rather that English will be a central and necessary part of their lives, and therefore their learning of Chamorro is by definition secondary and must not get in the way of what is truly important.

The healthy revitalization of the Chamorro language however, by definition means contesting the dominance of English in Guam, its prominence and its perceived position as the language that binds all the different people in the island together, in history, in the present and into the future (as the language of globalization, commerce, etc.) To have Chamorro be a healthy and vital language on Guam again, means that the proposition that English "liberates" us from the local, the parochial, the squalor and isolation, limitedness of Guam be rejected.

To return to the socialiness of the language, whenever we say, even in jest or just in everyday speech that Chamorro isn't a language which can speak about economics, about governing the island, about feminism, about modernization, technology, globalization or anything else which seem important today or will be important in the future, we hand over our lives and the order of things to the United States. Thus, the learning and using of the English language isn't simply an issue of practicality, but one of perpetual and eternal liberation. As the lowly Chamorro from Guam moves forward in time, their language falls by the wayside, unable to keep up, unable to grasp and capture the ever-shifting and evolving world around them. As new things arrive, as new words and concepts emerge the Chamorro language cannot keep up, its too simple, too limited, too backwards, meant not for the world as Joe Murphy stated of "K-Mart and terrorism." The Chamorro therefore needs to constantly be liberated from the limits of his or her language, and saved through the primacy of the English language in Guam, from the inability to progress, to change, to evolve.

Hassuyi este i otro na biahi na un sångan na “ti pula’yon este gi fino’ Chamoru.” (ti sina ma translada)” Tåya Yu’us pat espiritu ni’ dumisisidi i chi-ña i lenguåhi-ta. Hita la’mon, Hita ni’ muna’sesetbe i lenguåhi.

Yanggen pon ko’lat i lenguåhi-ta, yanggen pon fa’sahnge gui’ gi un banda ni’ “mismo iyo-ña” hun, un pupuno’guan i lenguåhi. Buente ti un hasngon chumo’gue este, lao pon puno’ ha’ gui’ sinembatgo. Yanggen pon kebense i pumalu siha na “ti nahong i lenguåhi-ta” pat “ti mafa’tinas gui’ para i kosas på’go” mismo un sasångan na “ti kabåles i lenguåhi-ta” yan “ti magåhet na lenguahi i fino’ Chamoru-ta.” Lao gi minagahet, maseha na “ti kabåles” gi fino’ Chamoru, Hågu fuma’titinas. Nahong ha’ i lenguåhi-ta, kontat ki sigi ha’ ta tulaika gui’ ya dinuebu gui’.

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