Chamorro Public Service Post #13: Baby Vocabulary

For the past two years now I've been speaking to i hagga-hu Sumåhi , almost entirely in Chamorro. For a long time I wasn't sure if this was paying off, and if she was retaining anything, as more and more of the words she started using or started understanding were either English or Cantonese. Fihu estaba annai hu kuentusi gui' gi fino' Chamoru, ha atan yu' kulang langga' yan taikinemprende. In order to make sure she understood me sometimes, I would even resort to using certain Cantonese words.

In the past few weeks however all of this has changed, and at last she is starting to both use and understand some basic Chamorro words. At this age, learning words for Sumåhi is actually an exciting activity, because while all around her live to see her face light up and smile, she is actually always on the search as well for ways that she can make our faces light up. Using certain words is one of the ways that Sumåhi can get everyone around her laughing or happy. Which is why once she sees certain responses, she'll keep using the word and slowly try to find out what it means. Sometimes she right on.

For instance baila or "dance" is a word I always use with her because of her love for dancing to fast music. You can see plenty of videos on Youtube chronicling este na hoben na guinaiya. For the longest time though Sumåhi would never ever say "baila" back to me, although she eventually learned what I meant when I would say "baila ha'" or "fambaila!" But just last week she actually started saying "baila, baila, baila!" over and over again while she would dance. And whenever she hears a song which make her want to na'chaole i daggån-ña, or shake her hips, she screams "baila! baila!" and then gets really excited at her use of language to master or describe reality!

But, of course as she is just learning, she doesn't always get things right. But that doesn't make it any less cute. While my sister Alina was on island last week, she taught Sumåhi how to say "Kuri sucks," in reference to our brother Jeremy and the all around poor quality of his being her brother. Sumåhi, being a good niece immediately picked up the phrase and now constantly says "Kuri sucks!" But while for everyone else its insanely cute because Sumåhi is eagerly and cutely saying a phrase which is very mean to her uncle, for Sumåhi she doesn't quite get the nastiness of the phrase she's yelling. In fact, its pretty clear that she thinks its a phrase of guinaiya pat ginefli'e. She thinks she's saying that "Kuri is cool!" when she says it or expressing her love for her uncle!

Her Chamorro language vocabulary now rivals both her Cantonese and English omes. She now regularly uses words like, gimen, me'me', kanno', dakdak, fongfong, chichi, nene, na'i, nganga' and babui.

While this is incredibly exciting for me, my excitment was marred this weekend, by an exchange with an old Chamorro language foe, who after several years, still has no idea what it will take to bring back the Chamorro language, and still doesn't realize that lecturing and being condescending to people trying to learn the language is one of the worst things you can do.

On one of my posts on the website Guamology this person freaked out, let his ego burst and bleed all over the comment section, and ended up passionately writing for all to see, so many of the problems I have with him and alot of other people who I would call, after Marie's suggestion, "wardens of language/culture." According to him and many others, properness is what matters in revitalizing the Chamorro language, that we must be vigilante and defend the language from those who would change its grammar or use it incorrectly. At one point this person became so ridiculously self-righteous, he even made himself sound like some stupid super-hero or knight in shiny armor who will swoop in whenever he sees anyone misusing the language and eviscerate them! According to this person's logic, people who translate from English to Chamorro in their heads don't really speak Chamorro, people who learn Chamorro in schools or learn Chamorro as adults, and not naturally speak a lower class of Chamorro, because they constantly are influenced by the English language. And worst of all in this person's mind, if you have any problems with his attitude or his tone, its all your fault. And in his own words, you need to get over yourself.

I am not making this up, someone please explain to me how someone can convince themselves that any of this attitude helps anyone who doesn't already speak Chamorro, want to take it up? Over the course of his commenting in the post, I received 14 emails from mainly young Chamorros who don't speak the language, but would like to try. All of these emails were tied together with the question "why is this person allowed to dominate this post?" "Who does this guy think he is?" One Chamorro in particular complained to me that we need role models for young people to try and take up the language, and this "asshole" (her word) thinks he is that, but who is going to get inspired by someone who is so egotistical and seems to relish in talking down to people? To be fair, both her and myself have had debates with this individual before and so that leaks into both this blog post and her response.

Returning to the paragraph before last, all of his points might make sense from the perspective of someone who already speaks the language, fluently and comfortably, but for those who don't, this is an assertion of pure ego, and a very unhelpful one which makes it far more difficult for people to take on the task of learning and speaking the language. This person, has for years come across as someone who is absolutely acting as a warden of language, who inserts himself into any conversation on the internet or in public dealing with Chamorro language, and if people don't agree with him or graciously thank him for his wisdom, he works to dominate the forum. I have asked him for years to please change his approach for engaging with people who are trying to learn the language and he always refuses to, arguing that he is the way he is, and he has too much "passion" to change.

If you want to know how incredibly unproductive this person's attitude is, according to his logic, I shouldn't be speaking Chamorro to my own child. And most people shouldn't either. I don't speak the proper real Chamorro, but instead I'm heavily influenced by English and so I should learn the proper way to speak before I start using and passing on the language. Can you believe this? How have we come to this point, where after finally overcoming generations of language discrimination, where there were clear social stigma's attached to using Chamorro, we have to deal with yet another form of discrimination such as this? Where those of us who speak Chamorro just fine and want to perpetuate it, shouldn't pass it on because there is a warden who says we don't speak it correctly or properly?

I know that the issue of properness sounds very appealing and correct, in the abstract, but what does it actually mean? Who dictates what is proper and what point is this whole discussion if it repels everyone else from even trying to speak the language?

And this is where the issue of ego comes back in. For this person I am complaining about, regardless of what he intends or thinks, all of his interactions come across as "speak like me," and therefore "if you don't speak like me, you aren't speaking correctly." This is a perfect position for a language warden, but a horrible one for a language role model. Talking endlessly and lecturing about the correctness of language and offering yourself as the epitome of the language helps nothing, does nothing. Stories about how fantastic your Chamorro is, or how people laud your Chamorro because of the older grammatical forms or vocabulary you use are stupid and just make clear that you are in this whole language discussion for your ego, to polish it off and fatta it for everyone. If you want your "proper" form to be the way people speak, do not lecture to them endlessly about it, simply use it!

Part of the argument for obsessing about properness in language is that if you don't, people will speak jibberish. This is frankly a moronic argument, that again doesn't even think about the real world and how people learn languages. If someone is learning a language by themselves, shut away from the world in a room, simply making up rules and words, then this might happen. But if they are reading, writing, speaking and listening in Chamorro, then they will join the rest of us speaking the same language. There might be small differences, shortcuts that people make up in order to express themselves, but these shortcuts are rarely ever grammatically incorrect, and if they are, they usually get replaced with something more grammatical along the way. This is the way language learning works, at the beginning, you translate alot in your head from English to Chamorro, you make plenty of mistakes, you use your growing grammatical and vocabulary knowledge to try to communicate, and sometimes you'll make up things which are not grammatically wrong, but simply aren't the way people are used to hearing something said. But if you are supported and if you keep persisting, than alot of the things you made up in order to get started, in order to feel ownership over the language, will get replaced or becoming enhanced. And whatever small mistakes or grammatical changes people do make are far less important than the simple fact that they are speaking Chamorro!

I often ask people who obsess about properness in language, to stop treating those who want to learn Chamorro like they are adults who should already know everything or Keanu Reeves from The Matrix and just have the ability to know everything proper instantly. It doesn't work like that. You have to think about this from the perspective of a child learning a language, and also in the specific case of Chamorro, imagine that the child has another language already at its disposal that it can resort to.

Can you imagine trying to teach a child from the moment a child says its first few words to speak correctly? To order them or mandate them to speak correctly? To admonish them and criticize them for not speaking correctly? Although the intent may be good in the abstract, but its pretty damn useless in the real world. Now imagine if the child already knows another language fluently? Which one do you think they’d rather speak, the one they already know and are comfortable with and use with just about everyone? Or the one where people make lists of the mistakes they make and constantly complain that they are hurting their ears with their terrible Chamorro? I think every single time the other language would win, don’t you? And isn’t this the sad pathetic story of our language today? Most people simply aren’t taught the language and the rest who try to learn it give up or don’t try very hard because most people out there are either content to tease, lecture or pontificate, and never bother to actually help anyone learn the language.

So my response again for those who like to have wet dreams at night about "proper Chamorro" is that don't simply lecture about it, use it, actually speak in your "perfect" and "authentic" Chamorro to those trying to learn, influence them that way. That is the best possible way of doing it.

So its quite possible that my child will speak terrible Chamorro, because her teacher, myself speaks terrible inauthentic Chamorro. But so what? For me what's at stake is the survival of the language, and languages either survive in many ways, or they die in one way. And someone who is truly committed to the survival of our language would speak to my child in Chamorro, instead of just yelling or lecturing at her or her father in English.

I got a little carried away, but the initial intent of this post was to share, for those others who are interested in helping revitalize the Chamorro language, by speaking it to their own children, a list of commonly used words, and some sample sentences that you might use alot when speaking to a baby. One thing I might suggest is learning along with your children, it will be very difficult, but the results are worth it. The knowledge that you are helping to turn the tide, to bring back a language which generations of Chamorros and American Naval Governors were determined to destroy, it is very fulfilling. It is doing a small thing, which eventually can result in our language being a vibrant and vital part of life on Guam and in the world.


ketu: keep still, be quiet.
Sa’ hafa ti siña kumetu hao?
Why can you keep still?
Keep still!

Hulos: stroke gently, rub (some erotic connotations so be careful who hears you say this)
Hulos i nene.
Stroke gently the baby
Kao malago bei hulos hao?
Do you want me to pet you?

Dakngås: bald, no hair
Ai i dakngås na nene-hu.
Oh, my bald baby.
Hunggan dakngås hao, manu na gaige i gapotulu’-mu?
Yes, you are bald, where is your hair?

Denka’: to nibble, to eat just a tiny bit
Denka’ ha’!
Just nibble or try it!
Dumenka ha’ i nene.
She just nibbled it.

Tamtam: To try or taste something
Tamtam ha’ nene.
Just try it nene.
Sa’ ti malago hao tumamtam este?
Why don’t you want to try this?

ñangñang: smiley or cooing baby.
Ñangñang i nene.
The baby is smiley or happy.
Håyi i mas ñangñang na nene? Hågu!
Who is the most smiley baby? You!

To’to’: To lie on one’s back
Tumo’to’to’ i nene.
The baby is lying on its back.
Bei hu na’to’to’ hao nene.
I will put you on your back.

Oppop: To lie on one’s stomach.
Umoppop i nene.
The baby is lying on its belly.
Kao malago hao bai hu na’oppop hao nene?
Do you want me to put you on your belly?

Kåte, tånges, kasao: To cry, to scream, to cry out
Kumåkate i nene.
The baby is crying.
Sa’ hafa kumakåte hao nene?
Why are you crying nene?

Essalao: To shout.
Ya-ña i nene umessalao.
The baby likes to shout.
Sa’ hafa ume’essalao hao nene?
Why are you shouting?
Hafa un essalaolaogue nene?
What are you shouting at nene?

Ohlo’: Stooped over, a slouched person.
Gof ohlo’ hao nene, kulang bihu.
You are very stooped over nene, like an old man.
Ohlo’ hao sa’ tåya’ aga’ga’-mu.
You are stooped over because you have no neck.

Puhot: To squeeze hands together as if pressing something into a ball.
Kulang mamumuhot hao nene.
Its like your pressing something together into a ball nene.
Hafa un pupuhot nene?
What are you squeezing in your hands nene?

Malulok: To be satisfied, to have as much of something as one wanted.
Kao malulok hao gumimen susu nene?
Did you have as much susu as you wanted nene?
Mungga matånges nene, bai hu na’malulok hao gumimen lechen susu.
Don’t cry nene, I’ll let you drink as much susu as you want.

Sufa’: To tunnel, to root around like a pig
Mañuñufa’ i nene gi i pecho’-ku.
The baby is tunneling for something in my chest.
Hafa un susufa’ nene?
What are you tunneling/searching for nene?

Chålek: smile, laugh
Ga’chumålek i nene.
The baby loves to smile/laugh.
Sa’ hafa chumachålek hao nene?
What are you laughing about nene?

Chaleki: Smile at, laugh at
Kao un chaleleki yu’ nene?
Are you smiling at my nene?
Ha chaleleki hao i patgon.
The child is smiling at you.

Uchon: Grunt, like a pig, or when constipated or exerting pressure to do something.
Umu’uchon i nene.
The baby is grunting.
Sa’ hafa umu’uchon hao nene?
Why are you grunting nene?
Ga’umuchon i nene, kulang babui.
The baby likes to grunt, just like a pig!

Ma’åksom: Sour
Ma’åksom i te’lå-mu nene.
Your drool is sour.
Pao ma’åksom i magagu-hu.
My clothes smell sour.

Machålek: Wild
Machålek hao na nene.
You are a wild baby.
Ai adai, gof machålek este na patgon.
Ai adai, this child is very wild.

Mågap: Yawn
Mumamågap i nene.
The baby is yawning.

Tugap: Burp
Bai hu na’tugap hao nene.
I will burp you nene.
Sa’ hafa ti tumutugap hao nene?
Why aren’t you burping nene?

Macheng: Monkey
Sa’ hafa mumamancheng hao?
Why are you acting like a monkey?
Ai adai, kulang macheng hao!
Ai adai, you are like a monkey.

Chichigua’: Babysitter

Hogue: Hold, carry something
Ya-ña mahogue i nene.
The baby likes to be held.
Kao ya-mu bai hu hogue hao?
Do you want me to hold you?

Turoru: swing or rock to sleep
Kao malago hao bai hu turoru hao?
Do you want me to rock you?
Ya-ña maturoru Si Sumåhi
Sumåhi likes to be rocked to sleep

Kumekemaigo’: About to sleep
Kao kumekemaigo’ hao nene?
Are you about to fall asleep nene?
Sa’ hafa ti kumekemaigo’ hao nene?
Why aren’t you about to sleep?

Asi’i/ despensa: sorry or be sorry, be excused, forgive
Despensa yu’ nene.
I’m sorry nene.
Asi’i yu’ nene, ti hu hasngon chumo’gue enao.
Forgive me nene, I didn’t mean to do that.

Tokktok: to hug or embrace.
Toktok yu’ nene.
Hug me nene.
Bai hu toktok hao nene, hu guaiya hao.
I’ll hug you nene, I love you.

To’la: spit, saliva.
Milalak i te’lan i nene.
The baby’s spit is flowing.
Ai atan i te’la’-mu!
Ai look at your spit!

To’lå’i: spit at or spit on
Tine’lå’i yu’ ni i nene.
I was spit on by the baby.
Un to’lå’i yu’ nene.
You spat on me nene.

Fongfong: to pound or smack, to hit
Sa’ hafa un fongfongfong yu’ nene?
Why are you pounding me nene?
Ya’ña fumongong.
She likes to pound!

Foffo: to breathe loudly through one’s nose.
Fumoffo Si Sumåhi sa’ hokkok i lechen susu.
Sumåhi breathed loudly because the breast milk was through.
Sa’ hafa fumoffoffo hao nene?
Why are you breathing loudly through your nose nene?

Makmåta’: awake.
Makmåta’ i nene.
The baby woke up.
Ai adai, makmåta hao!
Ai adai, you’re awake!

Chopchop: Suck, for some people has a sexual meaning to it
Chopchop i sisu nene.
Suck the susu nene.

Chigåndo’: thumb sucker, sucking thumb
Chumigagando’ i nene.
The baby is sucking its thumb.
Basta chumigagando’!
Stop sucking your thumb.

Boyok: spit up, spit out a mouthful.
Bumoyok i nene ni’ lechen susu.
The baby spat out the breast milk.
Bumuyok hao ta’lo!
You spat up again!

Lechen susu: breast milk.

Påpada: jowls, flesh of the lower face.
Gof yommok i papadå-mu nene.
Your jowls are very fat nene.
Gof ya-hu dume’on i papadå-mu!
I really like to pinch you jowls!

Daggua: sunburned
Ma’å’ñao yu’ na para un daggua nene.
I’m afraid that you’ll get sunburned nene.

Muta’: throw up, spit up.
Ai mumuta’ hao ta’lo!
You threw up again!


charissa said…
I just recently read the string of comments on Guamology and I am not surprised by that persons attitude about the language, it is something that I myself have encountered- this arrogance- in one way or another by fluent speakers when I make the effort to try to speak. I am so glad that you stood your ground and didn't lower yourself to such pettiness. It is people like you that inspire and help to encourage us Chamoru illiterates to jump over the psychological barriers that keep us from learning the language. Sainan Ma'ase Miget.Keep doing what you are doing.
Drea said…
Your daughter is beautiful. It's really great that she'll be able to speak 3 languages. I wish my parents weren't so afraid of confusing my brother and I. We'd be able to speak Japanese and Chamorro, if they hadn't been.

As far as speaking the language properly. I think that man's view is kind of funny. Every language has a proper and a comfortable slang. I see the proper way as being something learned from text books and the comfortable way being something learned from life and culture. I'd prefer the latter.
Si Yu'us Ma'ase Charissa. It pains how so many fluent speakers let their egos keep them from helping those who don't speak the language. For so many of them it is a power issue, and so long as the majority of Chamorros don't speak the language, they have the power to silence everyone else or dominate them. That's why I hope more Chamorros who want to learn, find their own ways of standing up against that ego or that pressure to silence or submit.

To Drea, Si Yu'us Ma'ase for the daughter being beautiful comment. And on the language issue, young kids are so creative and have such fantastic minds, especially for languages. You could teach them five languages as kids and their brains will organize it and make it work (maybe with a little bit of confusion). I don't look forward to the day though when she starts cussing me out in Cantonese. I'll at least have to learn the Cantonese swear words, to keep her from pulling that on me.
words and steel said…
your baby and I have the exact same hairstyle, btw :)
Sorry to reject your comment Chamoruboy, but your voice is unproductive and unhelpful here as well. Until I see a change in your attitude and approach, then I'll do my best to keep you out of any discussion I am in charge of. You repel people from learning the language, you have done this for years, and I still don't understand why you can't see it? You are making it more difficult for the language to come back because of your tone and your egotism and your inability to think about this issue from the perspective of people learning the language today. And your excuse of they need to toughen up, or they need to get over themselves is one of the most defensive, egotistical responses I've ever heard. You need to change in order to be effective in this, you need to get off your high horse and get out of my discussions and work on your own ways of outreach or engaging.

And I really hope that soon you realize that none of your longwinded, egotistical discussions do any good. They don't inspire people, they don't teach them anything. When will you learn this? The gap between what you think you are doing and what you are actually doing is so MASSIVE! You really should take my advice and re-read your comments on the Guamology thread, how was that helpful to anyone but yourself? You really displayed your true feelings and true nature there, your ego and how you use Chamorro language discussions to dominate others and recharge your ego.

I encourage you to find a way to transform your knowledge of the language and your passion into something that is useful and helpful.
Angela said…

Thank you for your post and your inspiration. One of your earlier posts on the Chamoru language has inpsired me to use it in my poetry and as often as I can when calling home. It was the day after reading your post on how to change language so that it fits the youth of today motivated me to call home and begin the conversation in Chamoru. My uncle was laughing so hard and teased me. I then spoke with my nana and explained to her how I felt I was being teased. She said, verbatim, "Ai adai, that is why our young people don't want to learn, because us who can speak it tease them. She and I struggled through the rest of our conversation in broken Chamoru. I have not read the Guamology post, but, I have experienced the emabarrassment and the defeat when teased either by attmepting to use the accent or speak in Chamoru. I can is better to have fragments to piece together, than nothing at all. Your work and encouragement is greatly appreciated. And good job with Sumahi. I too am trying to share the language with my 3 year old.

Si Yu'uos Ma'ase! Ma'olek'a your work:>) And please forgive my broken Chamoru.
Hafa Adai Mata'pang. Si Yu'us Ma'ase for your kinds words. I'm glad that sometimes my rambling and ranting can inspire some people, and put fabot mungga hinalang, konsigi mo'na sigi ha' fumino' Chamomoru! Keep speaking Chamorro! I'm glad that you are persisting in using Chamorro in your poetry and in your conversations, so many people stop when they encounter resistance, teasing or taya' support. I'm glad that you are continuing and that your Nana understands and is willing to help you.

If you ever need any help as your speaking and practicing. Questions about words, sentences, or would like to share some of your poetry let me know. You can contact me through my blog or through my email at
Victoria said…
gof mames este na post, che'lu. and i really like the new design at the top of your blog. keep up the great work.
Anonymous said…
Hafa and si yu us ma asi for the baby vocabulary. I want to re-learn the language and I also want to pass it on to my son so thank you.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for the baby vocabulary.
Gil said…
Hi, Michael. Kudos to your efforts in teaching your child the language. Your decision to start her early works well for her. But for us grown ups, it would a little hard. But with a little determination and daily exposure it could be done. I think Juan Malimanga translated into English (in fine print) would be another effective way of teaching the Chamorro language, not only to our children but to the grown ups like me. I know some phrases in Chamorro, but I'd be learning more if Juan Malimanga, Kikay & Nano's (and the occasional Police Officer) dialogues are printed at the bottom of boxes in fine print English. I will not only be learning the language but also the Culture. What do you say?

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