Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Death of the Chamorro Language

Ti siguro yu' håyi tumuge' este, lao interesånte. Guaha meggai na hestoria put i Chamorro gi Islas Sangkattan gi este na ti gof anakko' na tinige'. Hu sodda' este na tinige' ginen i gasetan Saipan, annai manespipiha yu' infotmasion put Fino' Chamorro gi halom i kottre gi Islas Sangkattan. Ti meggai na infotmasion humuyong, lao hu fakcha'i este. Ti hu tungo' i kilisyanu na fulånu ni' tumuge', lao ya-hu i milalåk-ña i hinasso-ña siha. Frihon yan botlon.


The Death of Chamorro Language
March 31, 1999
The Saipan Tribune

For many years, we were active participants in the death of our local vernacular. It started with the golden days in grammar school when speaking your language lands you some corporal punishment, a fine of five cents, scribbling several pages of “I will not speak Chamorro”; picking up trash outside the classroom after school, among others.

Well into high school, there’s the student monitors or JPOs who were authorized to arrest students for speaking their native tongue. At Hopwood, we even had a student court where defendants are brought in to justify why they spoke Chamorro. More often than not, it’s a textbook case and we giggle when the sentence is issued.

But I noticed too that dependents of TTG stateside employees were never arrested for speaking the local language. Of course, English is their first language spoken both at school and at home. But the use of our local and new lingo is divided: we brave use of conversational English at school, scrap the whole bag as we leave campus in the afternoon, return the next day pretending we’re all real Amerrrrican kids bluffing other students with our “Dick, Jane, Sally and Spot” vocabulary.

There were graceful moments too as we struggled to learn the English Language. Our sixth grade teacher, Mr. Frank M. Sablan, once asked the class to name the fruit right next to our classroom window known in Chamorro as “laguana”. There was a moment of silence when a tiny hand in the corner was raised. Declared my classmate: “Legueners!” Man, did the class broke out in laughter. Our wonderful teacher finally volunteered that it’s called “sour sop”.

I remember another classmate who contracted rashes known in the vernacular as “loglug haga`” (rash). He was sent to the main office for attention. At the office, the clerk asked what’s wrong with him. He said: “I have boiling blood”. For nearly five minutes, the clerk disappeared behind the counter trying to tame her laughter for it was the first time she’s heard a new allergy–boiling blood. Well, we were learning English the hard way, yeah? Remember when every male stateside here is named “Joe?”

Then there was my dad who one day admonished me for failing to fulfill my house chores. He asked me questions when I decided to answer in English. The next thing I heard was the loud and powerful slam of his mighty belt in my behind. He must have been offended for my use of English and probably thought I was cussing him. Man, one had to remember when to roll and hold on one of two lingo. A Saina!

Remember the use of the word “fire” when local workers in the old NTTU were warned that anybody caught using the dump truck for lunch in Chalan Kanoa will be fired? The interpreter related to everybody that the entire Chalan Kanoa Village was on fire. So each driver jumped on his truck and headed to the old village. The American boss stood there in awe why the guys are headed out with NTTU’s trucks. Yeah, sometimes it’s good volunteering as an interpreter!

Although I’ve learned to speak, read and write Chamorro (which I sometimes use in this newspaper) just to keep new local recruits (students) learn how to read in their native tongue, it is really a language that is good to know as an indigenous. But it is a completely useless language in my professional career and business dealings too. And it is really shameful that indigenous kids are being taught their native tongue at school rather than at home. We would have turned our vernacular into complete irrelevance in the not too distant future. Think about it if you wish to perpetuate your native tongue.

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