CHamoru: Say it right, write it right

If there are CHamoru language police at every CHamoru karaoke night, they would be blowing the whistle many times. Or screaming.

“You’re not pronouncing the words right!” Or “The words are not spelled properly!” Even native speakers who know CHamoru by heart are unsure of the proper ways to write the language.

Even language scholars clash. CHamoru— derived from Chamorri or Chamoli, meaning “noble”— is an Austronesian language that has, over time come to incorporate many Spanish words. And the conflict between the CHamoru people of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands makes it even more confusing.

The word “CHamoru” itself has long been a subject of contention as it has had many spelling variations in accounts written in the post-European contact period. Tsamoru, Chamorru and Chamuru among others. “Chamorro” had come to be used in general practice until the Kumision I Fino' CHamoru officially adopted “CHamoru” last November.

The Kumision I Fino' CHamoru hopes to address this matter by creating a consistent spelling system between the Northern Marianas and Guam speakers.

“The collaborative process with the NMI began formally with this Kumision when we attended the PIBBA Conference in Saipan in 2018,” said Dr. Laura Souder, a member of the commission. “We had the opportunity to meet with our counterparts who were newly appointed by Governor Ralph Torres at a meeting he convened at his office.”

Souder is thankful that the CNMI’s government is aware of the urgency to protect the CHamoru language. “We expressed our interest to explore ways we can collaborate on a common orthography for CHamoru across the Marianas while recognizing regional and preferential differences between Guam and the Northern Marianas,” Souder said. “The governor assured us that he would support our future collaboration with a joint meeting between the two bodies charged with preserving and protecting our CHamoru language.”

The need to protect CHamoru is not a new issue.

Rosa Palomo, also a commission member, said the first orthography that was formalized for standardization was in 1971. Things seemed to be moving forward in 1983 with the formation of the commission but they had minimal progress. “For almost 20 years the commission didn't function. They said it had to do with the new law that created the Department of