Monday, July 16, 2012

The English Supremacy

Here are some of my thoughts on the Chamorro language today.

Fihu ma faisen yu' put i hinasso-ku siha gi este na klasin asunto, pues pine'lo-ku maolek na para bai hu pegga siha guini para u mali'e' yan mataitai.

Ti hu kekesangan na impottante yu' gi i diniskuti put este, lao guaha inimpottante gi i sinangan-hu siha. Ko'lo'lo'na ayu nai put i lenguahi ni' i pumalu siha ti ma admimite.

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1. Chamorro is an official language of Guam along with English. This is something people often forget.

2. It is important to teach, practice and preserve the Chamorro language because it is part of the unique heritage of Guam and the Marianas. If Chamorros and non-Chamorros allow the Chamorro language to disappear then it means (gi minagahet) that we are a sad and pathetic community. This island likes to say that respect is important here, but the majority of people on Guam (and this includes Chamorros) have little to no respect for the language of this island. Manairespetu i meggaina na taotao put i mismo na lenguahin este na isla. The pervasiveness and the power of English has brought us to the point where we don’t take that part of our heritage seriously and actually attack people who try to preserve or revitalize it. That is a symptom of a society which is denial about its past and would probably rather erase its history than accept it. The power of the United States in Guam, over the minds and the identities of people is clear in the way English has become so dominant and been infused with far more social and economic value than it actually has. As a result Guam has become a terribly disrespectful place where in the name of Americanization and the elevation of English, we constantly decide to trash what actually makes this island unique.

3.     A common issue that holds the language back is the question of whether it is tairespetu or not to use the Chamorro language in front of people who can't speak it. How tairespetu and disgusting was it to prohibit a language? How disgust and reprehensible was it for families to then believe the lies of Americanization and actively prevent their children from learning the language? It is surreal as a Chamorro speaker to look at Chamorros today and see how just two generations ago the majority of Chamorros spoke the language fluently, and English was a second language for only about half. Today, all Chamorros speak English and Chamorro is a language which is only spoken by about 20% of the people. So much has changed, to the point where Chamorros can actually advocate for the language which helped bring their own language to the point of near death. They have come to accept that language more than their own. Such is the power of English, that it even brings people to the point where they believe the most ridiculous lies about monolingualism and English as guaranteeing your dreams or the dreams of your children come true. English opens doorways but it guarantees nothing. It is not a golden ticket. As I like to remind people, there are plenty of poor people who speak English and there are plenty of unhappy people who speak English. The colonial promise has never been real, and it is so sad that Chamorros at one point believed it so fervently.

4.    Do others on Guam act so coyly and shyly about speaking their language in front of others? Not really. This happens all the time on Guam. In restaurants, in stores, simply walking from place to place. It doesn’t bother me at all. It doesn't bother most people, but should Chamorros be mansen delikao put este? Most people believe that communities are supposed to be monolingual, which has never ever been historically true of anywhere. Even communities which appear to be isolated have linguistic connections to other places and have their own forms of diversity. My problem with this issue is that somehow it is wrong in the minds of some people for Chamorro to be used as an official language of Guam. It is intriguing how because Chamorros are the indigenous people of Guam, they get to shoulder a different kind of racism. Migrants from other islands or countries who speak their language on Guam get a certain stigma, but a Chamorro who refuses to speak English becomes a more nefarious sort of racist conspiracy on the island.

5.     A practical question is of whether it would be more unifying or harmonious to share a single language together on the island and that should be English obviously. Part of the assumption of this topic stems from the old archaic never actually true nationalist assumption that unity is based on a single, simple means of communication. That is why in the making of many nations and empires there was an emphasis on smashing and destroying other languages. Nations which purport to speak a single language, despite having much ethnic diversity are not actually better off, and don’t actually have less problems than those that are bilingual or multilingual. Part of the reason that the Chamorro language is close to death is because the US had long exported the fantasy that it is an English-only-speaking nation (despite this never actually being true), and so in the case of Guam in order for it to fully follow the US example it had to kill off Chamorro to make sure English had no competition. Guam should nurture first a bilingualism, supporting both English and Chamorro and can also further down the road nurture a multilingual identity as well. But first that dominance of English must be challenged. 

6. This is not a Chamorro supremacy argument. I am not arguing that only Chamorro should be spoken and taught in schools. But if you want to know what is holding the Chamorro language back today, it is the notion of English supremacy. English is the most important international language today, but that value does not destroy all other value and doesn't mean that all things should be sacrificed in a feverish or passive way upon the altar of its supremacy! Bringing a language back to life requires work, but since Chamorros and others on Guam cannot let go of the supremacy of English, they can't bring themselves to invest their time and energy in something that while they may argue to your face is important, but truly feel in their hearts that it is pointless. The fact that Chamorros still accept that colonial fiction continues to hold us back. We can continue to speak English proudly, but why should that pride destroy what is actually ours? Why should that pride prevent us from reviving what has been here for thousands of years before American even existed?

1 comment:

Giancarlo said...

dall'Italia un caloroso saluto...ciao

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