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Spoken in Guam, Northern Mariana Islands
Region Western Pacific Ocean
Total speakers First language: more than 60,000
Language family Austronesian
Official status
Official language in Guam, Northern Mariana Islands
Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ch
ISO 639-2 cha
ISO 639-3 cha
Chamorro language spread in the United States

Chamorro (natively known as Chamoru) is a Malayo-Polynesian (Austronesian) language, spoken on the Mariana islands (Guam, Rota, Tinian, and Saipan) by about 47,000 people (about 35,000 people on Guam and about 12,000 in the N. Marianas).[1]


Chamorro speakers

The numbers of Chamorro speakers have declined in recent years, and the younger generations are less likely to know the language. The influence of English has caused the language to become endangered. On Guam (called "Guåhan" by Chamorro speakers, from the word guaha, meaning "have", but its English meaning is, "We Have", from the idea that they had everything they needed), the number of native Chamorro speakers has dwindled in the last decade or so, while in the Northern Mariana Islands, young Chamorros still speak the language fluently. Various representatives from Guam have unsuccessfully lobbied the United States to take action to promote and protect the language.[citation needed]

It is still common among Chamorro households in the Northern Marianas, but fluency has greatly decreased among Guamanian Chamorros during the years of American rule in favor of (a largely pidginized) American English, which is commonplace throughout the inhabited Marianas.


Unlike most of its neighbors, Chamorro is not a Micronesian or Polynesian language. Rather, like Palauan, it constitutes a possibly independent branch of the Malayo-Polynesian languages. Its origins are thus somewhat obscure. A 2008 analysis of the Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database[2] suggested at 85% confidence level that it is closest to the Central-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian languages.

Modern and contemporary Chamorro has also been studied as related to Spanish language. Many Chamorro nouns, adjectives, prepositions, numerals, and verbs are of Spanish origin, as a result of the Spanish rule/colonization for over 500 years. Under a historical point of view, it may be considered a mixed language, even if it is now an independent and unique language[3]. Chamorro was in the pre-stage of being transformed into a Spanish-based creole when Guam was converted into a US colony, so it never reached that point.[citation needed]


Letter pronunciation
[ʔ] (glottal stop)
A [æ]
Å [ɑ]
B [b]
Ch [ts]
D [d]
E [e]
F [f]
G [ɡ]
Gu [ɡʷ]
H [h]
I [i]
K [k]
L [l]
M [m]
N [n]
Ñ [ɲ]
Ng [ŋ]
O [o]
P [p]
R [ɾ]
Rr [r]
S [s]
T [t]
U [u]
Y [dz]

Note that the letter Y is pronounced more like 'dz' (an approximation of the regional Spanish pronunciation of "Y"/"LL" as [dʒ]); nor are N and Ñ always distinguished. Thus the Guamanian place name spelled Yona is pronounced 'dzo-nia', not 'yo-na' as might be expected. Note also that Ch is usually pronounced like 'ts' rather than 'tsh' and that A and Å are not always distinguished in written Chamorro (often being written simply as 'A'). R in Chamorro is pronounced like [ɾ] like Spanish, and Chamorro also has a trill [r] which is spelled RR.

Chamorro has geminate consonants which are written double (GG, DD, KK, MM, NGNG, PP, RR, SS, TT), native diphthongs AI and AO, plus OI, OE, IA, IU, IE in loanwords; penultimate stress, except where marked otherwise with an acute accent, as in asút "blue" or dángkulo "big". Unstressed vowels are limited to /ə i u/, though they are often spelled A E O. Syllables may be consonant-vowel-consonant, as in che’lu "sibling", diskatga "unload", mamahlao "shy", or oppop "lie face down", gatus (old word for 100), Hagåtña (Chamorrised spelling of the capital Agana); B, D, and G are not distinguished from P, T, and K in that position.

Chamorro grammar

Chamorro is an agglutinative language, grammatically allowing root words to be modified by a number of affixes. For example, masanganenñaihon "talked awhile (with/to)", passivizing prefix ma-, root verb sangan, directional suffix i "to" (forced morphophonemically to change to e) with excrescent consonant n, and suffix ñaihon "a short amount of time". Thus Masanganenñaihon gue' "He/she was told (something) for a while".

Chamorro has many Spanish loanwords and other words have Spanish etymological roots (e.g. tenda "shop/store" from Spanish tienda), which may lead some to mistakenly conclude that the language is a Spanish Creole: Chamorro very much uses its loan words in a Micronesian way (eg: bumobola "playing ball" from bola "ball, play ball" with verbalizing infix -um- and reduplication of first syllable of root).

Chamorro is predicate-initial, head-marking language. It has a rich agreement system both in the nominal and in the verbal domains. The following table gives the possessor-noun agreement suffixes:[4]

Person/Number Suffix
1 sg -hu / -ku
2 sg -mu
3 sg -ña
1 incl du/pl -ta
1 excl du/pl -(n)mami
2 du/pl -(n)miyu
3 du/pl -(n)ñiha

Chamorro is also known for its wh-agreement in the verb: these agreement morphemes agree with features (roughly, the Grammatical case feature) of the question phrase, and replace the regular subject-verb agreement:[5]

(1) Ha-fa'gasi si Juan i kareta.
3sSA[6]-wash PND[7] Juan the car

'Juan washed the car.'

(2) Hayi fuma'gasi i kareta?
who? WH[nom][8].wash the car

'Who washed the car?'

Chamorro basic phrases

Håfa Adai Hello. [informal]
Memorias Greetings
Kao mamaolek ha' hao? How are you? [lit.: Are you doing well?][informal]
Håfa tatatmånu hao? How are you?[formal]
Håyi nå'ån-mu? What is your name?
Nå'ån-hu si Chris My name is Chris.
Ñålang yo' I'm hungry.
Må'o yo' I'm thirsty.
Ådios [Spanish introduced] Good bye.
Put Fabot [Spanish introduced] please
Fanatåtte[Indigenous] Good bye (lit.: And so you will follow.)
Buenas dias [Spanish introduced] Good morning.
Buenas tåtdes [Spanish introduced] Good afternoon.
Buenas noches [Spanish introduced] Good night.
Esta ågupa' Until tomorrow
Si Yu'us ma'åse' Thank you (lit: God have mercy)
Buen probecho [Spanish introduced] "You're Welcome"


Current common Chamorro uses only number words of Spanish origin: unu, dos, tres, etc. Old Chamorro used different number words based on categories: "Basic numbers" (for date, time, etc), "living things", "inanimate things", and "long objects".

English Modern Chamorro Old Chamorro: Basic Numbers Old Chamorro: Living Things Old Chamorro: Inanimate Things Old Chamorro: Long Objects
one unu/una (time) hacha maisa hachiyai takhachun
two dos hugua hugua hugiyai takhuguan
three tres tulu tato to'giyai taktulun
four kuåttro' fatfat fatfat fatfatai takfatun
five singko' lima lalima limiyai takliman
six sais gunum guagunum gonmiyai ta'gunum
seven sietti fiti fafiti fitgiyai takfitun
eight ocho' gualu guagualu guatgiyai ta'gualun
nine nuebi sigua sasigua sigiyai taksiguan
ten dies manot maonot manutai takmaonton
hundred siento gatus gatus gatus gatus/manapo
  • The number 10 and its multiples up to 90 are: dies(10), benti(20), trenta(30), kuårenta(40), sinkuenta(50), sisenta(60), sitenta(70), ochenta(80), nubenta(90)
  • Similar to Spanish terms: diez(10), veinte(20), treinta(30), cuarenta(40), cincuenta(50), sesenta(60), setenta(70), ochenta(80), noventa(90).

See also


  1. ^ Chung, Sandra. 1998. The design of agreement: Evidence from Chamorro. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
  2. ^ Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database
  3. ^ Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga, Del español al chamorro: Lenguas en contacto en el Pacífico. Madrid, Ediciones Gondo, 2009,
  4. ^ Chung 1998:49
  5. ^ Chung 1998:236 and passim
  6. ^ '3sSA' stands for 3rd singular Subject Agreement.
  7. ^ 'PND' stands for Proper Noun Determiner, a special article used with names in Chamorro.
  8. ^ The '-um-' in 'fumagasi' is an infix, glossed as WH[nom], meaning that it is a WH-agreement morpheme for nominative question phrases.
  • Aguon, K. B. (1995). Chamorro: a complete course of study. Agana, Guam: K.B. Aguon.
  • Chung, Sandra. 1998. The design of agreement: Evidence from Chamorro. University of Chicago Press: Chicago.
  • Rodríguez-Ponga, Rafael (2003). El elemento español en la lengua chamorra. Madrid: Servicio de Publicaciones, Universidad Complutense.
  • Topping, Donald M. (1973). Chamorro reference grammar. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Topping, Donald M., Pedro M. Ogo, and Bernadita C. Dungca (1975). Chamorro-English dictionary. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Topping, Donald M. (1980). Spoken Chamorro: with grammatical notes and glossary, rev. ed. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Hunt, Mike (2008). "Speaking Chamoru Moru Moru". San Roque, Saipan.

External links



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