Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chamorro Hath Ten Thousand Several Doors

People take different approaches the language revitalization and preservation. You can often divide these interventions into either which segment of society they are focusing on, and whether their efforts deal with past, present or future forms of the language. For instance, when designing a language curriculum, which audience are you focusing the structure of your curriculum to satisfy or to appeal to? This is one thing that I have regularly been critical of in terms of how curriculum or language learning materials are created on Guam. As most people creating the curriculum are native speakers for whom Chamorro is their first language, they may struggle in understanding what it is like to learn Chamorro as a second language. Their interests in the language will be very different than someone who does not speak it but wants to learn. Their feel of the language will be drastically different than someone who is very unfamiliar with it. What will appeal to them or make them happy is not necessarily what would appeal to or interest a younger non-speaker. 


A case in point deals with words or sayings that have been recently conceived in order to capture the identity and cultural politics of today. Languages are always changing, although in some contexts the changes are more readily apparent than others. Language change because of "outside" influences, meaning a language may incorporate new vocabulary, new ways of saying things, new grammar in order to accommodate pressures from another language that is entering into a speech community. This is usually the way people see language shifts. For example, someone who speaks Chamorro today and someone who spoke Chamorro 100 years ago, will most likely be able to understand each other, but there were will various differences that may make things interesting to analyze. A Chamorro who speaks today will most likely use grammar that has been influenced by English and may not be immediately obvious to someone 100 years ago. The word choices may change as well. Someone today may use words someone 100 years ago might not. For instance, a Chamorro today might say very casaully "gof mata'pang hao!" but to someone 100 years ago this might be very offensive, since the word might have had a greater and more serious social stigma, than simply meaning "silly."

But languages also change, to a limited extent because people want them to change. Although in a general way you can point to languages being a structure, a system where changes take place at a level above human intervention. "Si Yu'us, Yu'us. I taotao, taotao ha'." is one way of communicating this conception of language. Languages shift at the "Yu'us" level, meaning we don't control it, it all takes place in some structural nexus, where you can see and understand things in a macro way, from a longview, but not really when you are in the thick of it. In other words, one can see the changes in a language when one looks back over time, but you cannot really detect them as they are happening. And furthermore, you can't really use any knowledge you would gain from analyzing language in the moment in order to change or shape things. 

This is only partially true however, as language shifts can be felt and detected all the time. In fact, if you speak to any Chamorro, you'll find plenty of theories about how the language is changing. Even people who don't speak Chamorro at all have plenty of theories. Many of these lamentations are tied to the external influencing the internal, or how people are using English influenced Chamorro or Chaminglish. But some of them are tied to the ways Chamorro is changing in order to conform to the changing of Chamorro identity and politics. For example, on Facebook there is a group called "Hinasso" which is a huge proponent of the Fino' Haya' movement, or an effort to return Chamorro to its Austronesian roots and use as little as Spanish as possible. People who are part of the Fino' Haya' movement propose that instead of using certain Spanish-derived words, we should use older, sometimes recovered or archaic terms. For example, "familia" is used by most Chamorros today, but an older term was recorded but lost long ago, and that is "mangafa." Mangafa is used by some nowadays, but has not received wide acceptance. Other reformulations are receiving more attention though, such as "Saina Ma'ase" which is used by very few older people, but is very very common amongst cultural artists and dance groups. 

Many people, as a structural understanding would dictate, resist these changes as being "invented" or "fake" and not part of the real natural flow of language. There is some truth to this, but the larger truth is that language, in its natural form always contains elements of invention. A language is a structure, it is a building, but it is a building which, to borrow a metaphor from Webster's The Duchess of Malfi, hath ten thousand several doors, through which people can use their language, and each door goes on such strange geometrical hinges, you can open them both ways. In other words, a language is a structure in which people have choices, regular, everyday choices. Doors to open, and choices over which way the doors will swing. 

The issue however is that spending too much time doing your own exploration can get you lost. People will have trouble understanding you, your pathways through the building will confusing, and in fact irritate others. You are still using the same doors, the same routes that others do, but the differences may be enough to make people doubt you are in the same building as they are. But, before we get too mired in this metaphor, the inverse of this is that sometimes you can create new pathways, open the doors in new ways, that eventually become the norm for everyone, even if within a generation no one realizes it. A case in point is two terms which were introduced just a generation or two ago, but have become so normalized in Chamorro culture that people both old and young use them, "inafa'maolek" and "taotao tano'." It is possible in both instances that these terms were used by Chamorros before, but we can actually trace their genesis and see how they were recently invented and introduced. You can saw this makes them not real, but the lack of invention and human intervention of language, the naturalness of it, is frankly not natural and not truth, there is plenty of invention and manipulation, the naturalness exists because of a lack of knowledge, not because of it reflecting reality.

Language is a tapestry of tradition, but every generation takes different breaths than the one before. Some things are lost, some things are not, there will always be change. In terms of designing curriculum, this question comes up because of the difference in conceptions and politics over the Chamorro language. For older people, for whom notions of tradition often seems to fuel them with authority and power, there are often feelings that language must be comfortable to them, what is normal to them, what they grew up with and what they expect. Even if throughout their life, they had participated in language shifts, created their own variations and adore the inventions that they accept, there is still an aura of appropriateness and naturalness which has to be defended. It is different for those who are younger and may not speak the language, for them, the politics of invention may be more important because the language is not something they are receiving "naturally" but rather through an "artificial" and "second hand" intervention. For them, the facets of tradition and appropriateness don't mean as much because they get very little identity from them. Of course very few people want to learn a language that they feel is "invented" or "fake" but at the same time, there can be more flexibility with new learners, because they are not looking back at a long list of choices they have made, but confronted with a new frontier that they are about to traverse and discover for themselves.

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