Act of Decolonization #11: Fino' Chamoru

There is little doubt that this world is presently an unfriendly place for the Chamorro language, since although there is in Guam an acceptance of people's right to speak Chamorro, there is still very little effort to revitalize the language, ensuring its survival and making it the language of general instruction and communication. For school and college age Chamorros who have grown up speaking English only, this environment can be surprisingly impossible and hostile as well, as you seem at times to be pushing against the flow of history, since many who do speak Chamorro seem indifferent to passing it on, don't see any value in passing it on, or would rather spend their team teasing you instead of teaching you. I've compiled below, for those interested in learning Chamorro, a series of basic tips to help you cope with this unfriendly or indifferent environment.

But first, let me quote a little bit from the draft philosophy I wrote for Famoksaiyan last year, to stress the importance of learning and speaking Chamorro in the context of decolonization.

"Famoksaiyan is meant to be a space where the creativity, passion and political commitment of Chamorros can come together to reverse these trends and work to forge new means of connecting Chamorros to their islands, their histories and each other, by actively participating in the processes of cultural preservation and re-vitalization. To this end, it is the task of Famoksaiyan to promote Chamorro creativity in theatre, visual arts, music, poetry, fiction, traditional arts, etc. which refuses to accept the themes of cultural death and anthropological loss which have long haunted our people, and instead paint the long history of our people in vibrant and lively tones that testify to our strength, our struggles, our endurance and our persistence in the face of three different empires.

Central to this aesthetic impetus is a commitment to the revitalization of Chamorro language. The process of decolonization is the re-invention of a form, an identity, or a place in relationship to something once conceived of as lost or gone. Over the past two generations the language loss amongst Chamorros on Guam has been terrifying. Anti-Chamorro language policies propagated by both emissaries of the United States and Chamorros themselves have both linked speaking perfect English and ridding of the Chamorro language and accent to better chances at economic prosperity and therefore happiness. As Chamorros of the most recent generation contend with their own language loss, which was either forced from their mouths when they were children or kept hidden from them entirely, what is to be the relationship we define to that loss? Do we accept this loss as American education planners perceived it, as natural death and the only route to progress and the future? Or is decolonization the reversing or the disrupting of this very natural flow by which the path forward is followed? A redefining of what the future can and should be, based on in this instance, what language we will use to meet it, to describe it, to live it?

As the importance of language goes beyond communication alone and extends into the realm of expression and beauty of a world view, the overall process of decolonization is not complete without a revitalizing of Chamorro language, whether in public discourse, everyday conversations, or the arts."

In this spirit, here are 7 tips to help those interested in learning Chamorro. Ti kumekeilek-hu na nahong ha' este na siete na punto, ya kontat ki un dalalalaki yu' siempre kapas hao na fumino' Chamomoru. Guaha otro na manera, guaha otro na inabisa yan tiningo', lao ginnen i masusedi-ku, este na siete na punto un gof maolek na tinituhun (fondashun).

1. Get as many books or texts which utilize the Chamorro language as possible. Dictionaries, children’s books, newspaper articles, song lyrics, etc. These will be good for references, help with words, give you a sense of how sentences are made and just general tips on how the language might flow. A good exercise for learning these basic structures is to take an article, speech or song written in Chamorro, and then work to translate it into English. As you become more fluent, you can work the other way, translating English into Chamorro.

2. Find someone who you feel comfortable working with, who is fluent in the Chamorro language and is willing to help you learn it. This will be your fluent language partner who you should speak Chamorro to as much as you can, and only switching into English if things are completely unclear.

3. Early on, establish a series of simple sentences which can be used to correct things, ask questions about how to say things, so that if there is confusion or a mistake is made, you can continue to speak in Chamorro and not switch to English. At the beginning of learning Chamorro, ask a fluent speaker how to say sentences such as this, “How do you say _____ Chamorro?” “What does ______ mean in English?” “Can I say _____, like this?” “Is this correct?”

4. Create either in person, over the phone or online a language learning community which you will practice making sentences with and also help support each other through difficulties. It is ideal if the people who make up a language circle such as this be at roughly the same level of fluency. If there are members who are either much more fluent than the rest or much less fluent than the rest, then the dynamics of the group will most likely shift in a way where whoever is more fluent will dominate the group and the way the group speaks, or that people will use the less fluent speaker’s problems to inflate or exaggerate their own capabilities.

5. Speak Chamorro as much as possible!

6. Do not simply take anyone’s word for granted when they correct you. Like in any language, there are many different ways to say things and often times people will correct you if say a word they haven’t heard, or create a sentence they haven’t heard before. Since you’re learning of the language comes as an adult and not through immersion, you will often end up conflicting with informal and irregular patterns in Chamorro, which conflict with the logical ways you will understand Chamorro grammar. Do not become discouraged if you make sentences which makes sense to you, but other people claim that its incorrect, this will happen because of the ways you will be forced to manipulate and be creative with the language in order to communicate and make clear what you want to say.

7. Do not ever give up! If people make fun of you or tell you to just quit and give up, remind them that it takes at least two people to kill a language. Those who don’t want to or refuse to learn it, and those who don’t want to or refuse to teach it. People will tease you and then most likely tell you to toughen up, because teasing and joking around is part of our culture. If this happens (and it will) just tell them that they can tease you, only if they decide to teach you as well! So many fluent Chamorros would rather tease those learning instead of helping and so its important to remind them of their obligation as fluent language speakers to make sure the language is passed on. They can’t expect others to teach you and them to simply get away with making fun of you, as the number of Chamorro language speakers dwindles and the spaces where the language is spoken radically decrease, everyone who speaks Chamorro is responsible for teaching the language, all the time, there can be no breaks to simply make fun of people, and anyone who claims otherwise either doesn’t actually know the language as well as they claim, is lazy, doesn’t take the preservation or revitalization of Chamorro language seriously, or enjoys the privilege of being someone who can speak the language and actually wants to protect that privilege.


Angela said…
I have been reading your blog for quite sometime. In the last year, I have started taking courses in Pacific Island Studies at UH Manoa. The urge to learn our language is great. I will practice your tips. At this point I have no one to speak to, except my grandma. I will try with her too.

Chaggi i fino Chamorro.
Hafa Adai Angela. Si Yu'us Ma'ase for your comment.

College courses can give you the foundation, but it'll ultimately be up to you to actually ensure you learn the language. I say this because nearly all college courses that I've seen for Chamorro aren't very good. They aren't as serious about teaching the language as they should be, and most classes end up being just discussions about the Chamorro language and Chamorro culture and not sessions where its being learned.

This is my opinion, having taking these classes in Guam and sitting in them at UH, and having seen hundreds of others go through them and not even pick up or remember the basics for the language. I wish that we as a people took this more seriously, especially those who actually get paid to teach it!

Sorry to ramble on, as someone who learned the language as an adult and who is now speaking it my young daughter, I take these things very seriously and wish that our people made it easier for us to speak and learn our language.

Working with your grandmother will be key, form a group of people that you can practice regularly with, over the phone, over email, in person.

If you have any questions as you're learning let me know. Email or leave comments and I'll answer any grammar or vocabulary questions, or if you'd just like to practice writing in Chamorro.

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