Chamorro (/əˈmɔːr/)[3] (Chamorro: Finu' Chamoru) is an Austronesian language spoken by about 58,000 people (about 25,800 people on Guam and about 32,200 in the Northern Mariana Islands and the rest of the United States).[4] It is the native and spoken language of the Chamorro people who are the indigenous people of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, US territories.


"Hafa Adai" sign at Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport in Guam

The Chamorro language is threatened, with a precipitous drop in language fluency over the past century. It is estimated that 75% of the population of Guam was literate in the Chamorro language around the time the United States captured the island during the Spanish–American War[5] (there are no similar language fluency estimates for other areas of the Mariana Islands during this time). A century later, the 2000 U.S. Census showed that fewer than 20% of Chamorros living in Guam speak their heritage language fluently, and the vast majority of those were over the age of 55.

A number of forces have contributed to the steep, post-World War II decline of Chamorro language fluency. A colonial legacy, beginning with the Spanish colonization of Guam in 1668, and eventually the American acquisition of the islands (whose power continues to this day), imposed power structures privileging the language of the region's colonizers. It is of worthy note that according to estimates, a large majority, as stated above (75%), maintained active knowledge of the Chamorro language even during the Spanish colonial era, but this was all to change with advent of American imperialism and enforcement of the English language.

In Guam, the language suffered additional suppression when the U.S. government banned the Chamorro language in schools in 1922. They collected and burned all Chamorro dictionaries.[6] Similar policies were undertaken by the Japanese government when they controlled the region during World War II. After World War II, when Guam was ceded back to the United States, the American administrators of the island continued to impose “no Chamorro” language restrictions in local schools, teaching only English and disciplining students for speaking their indigenous tongue.[7]

Even though these oppressive language policies were progressively lifted, the damage had been done. Subsequent generations were often raised in households where only the oldest family members were fluent. Lack of exposure made it increasingly difficult to pick up Chamorro as a second language. Within a few generations, English replaced Chamorro as the language of daily life.[citation needed]

There is a difference in the rate of Chamorro language fluency between Guam and the other Mariana Islands. On Guam (called Guåhan by Chamorro speakers, from the word guaha, meaning "have"; its English meaning is "We have" from the idea that they had everything they needed[8][9]) the number of native Chamorro speakers has dwindled in the last decade or so. In the Northern Mariana Islands (NMI), young Chamorros speak the language fluently. Chamorro is 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 American English, which is commonplace throughout the inhabited Marianas.

Today, the NMI Chamorros and Guamanian Chamorros disagree strongly on each other's linguistic fluency. An NMI Chamorro would say that Guamanian Chamorros do not speak the language correctly (or speak "broken Chamorro"), whereas the Guamanian Chamorros believe that the NMI Chamorros are using an archaic form of the language.

Revitalization efforts

Representatives from Guam have unsuccessfully lobbied the United States to take action to promote and protect the language.[citation needed]

In 2013, "Guam will be instituting Public Law 31-45, which increases the teaching of the Chamorro language and culture in Guam schools," extending instruction to include grades 7–10.[10]

Other efforts have been made in recent times, most notably Chamorro immersion schools. One example is the Huråo Guåhan Academy, at the Chamorro Village in Hagåtña, GU. This program is led by Ann Marie Arceo and her husband, Ray Arceo. According to Huråo's official YouTube page, "Huråo Academy is one if not the first Chamoru Immersion Schools that focus on the teaching of Chamoru language and Self-identity on Guam. Huråo was founded as a non-profit in June 2005." [11] The academy has been praised by many for the continuity of the Chamoru language.

Other creative ways to incorporate and promote the Chamorro language have been found in the use of applications for smartphones, internet videos and television. From Chamorro dictionaries,[12] to the most recent "Speak Chamorro" app,[13] efforts are growing and expanding in ways to preserve and protect the Chamorro language and identity.

On YouTube, a popular Chamorro soap opera Siha[14] has received mostly positive feedback from native Chamorro speakers on its ability to weave dramatics, the Chamorro language, and island culture into an entertaining program. On TV, Nihi! Kids is a first-of-its-kind show, because it is targeted "for Guam’s nenis that aims to perpetuate Chamoru language and culture while encouraging environmental stewardship, healthy choices and character development."[15]


Unlike most of its neighbors, Chamorro is not classified as a Micronesian or Polynesian language. Rather, like Palauan, it constitutes a possibly independent branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language family. Its indigenous origins are thus somewhat obscure.

At the time the Spanish rule over Guam ended, it was thought that Chamorro was a semi-Creole language, with a substantial amount of the vocabulary of Spanish origin and beginning to have a high level of mutual intelligibility with Spanish. It is reported that even in the early 1920s Spanish was reported to be a living language in Guam for commercial transactions, but the use of Spanish and Chamorro was rapidly declining as a result of English pressure.

Spanish influences in the language exist due to three centuries of Spanish colonial rule. Many words in the Chamorro lexicon are of Latin etymological origin via Spanish, but their use conforms with indigenous grammatical structures. Furthermore, indigenous pronunciation has "nativized" most words of foreign origin that haven't conformed to the ways that indigenous speakers of the language are accustomed to making sounds. By some it may be considered a mixed language[16] under a historical point of view, even though it remains independent and unique. In his Chamorro Reference Grammar, Donald M. Topping states:

"The most notable influence on Chamorro language and culture came from the Spanish. ... There was wholesale borrowing of Spanish words and phrases into Chamorro, and there was even some borrowing from the Spanish sound system. But this borrowing was linguistically superficial. The bones of the Chamorro language remained intact. ... In virtually all cases of borrowing, Spanish words were forced to conform to the Chamorro sound system. ... While Spanish may have left a lasting mark on Chamorro vocabulary, as it did on many Philippine and South American languages, it had virtually no effect on Chamorro grammar. ... Japanese influence on Chamorro was much greater than that of German, but much less than Spanish. Once again, the linguistic influence was restricted exclusively to vocabulary items, many of which refer to manufactured objects...[17]

In contrast, in the essays found in Del español al chamorro. Lenguas en contacto en el Pacífico (2009), Dr. Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga—the Complutense-trained linguist and Secretary-General of Spain's Instituto Cervantes—refers to modern Chamorro as a "mixed language" of "Hispanic-Austronesian" origins, while estimating that approximately 50% of the Chamorro lexicon comes from the Spanish language and that the contribution of this language goes far beyond loanwords.

Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga considers Chamorro a Spanish-Austronesian or a Spanish-Austronesian mixed language or at least a language that has emerged from a process of contact and creolization on the island of Guam, since modern Chamorro is influenced in vocabulary, and it has in its grammar many elements of Spanish origin: verbs, articles, prepositions, numerals, conjunctions, etc.[18]

This process, which began in the 17th century and ended in the early 20th century, meant a profound change from the old Chamorro (paleo-Chamorro) to modern Chamorro (neo-Chamorro) in its grammar, phonology and vocabulary.[19]


Chamorro has 24 phonemes: 18 are consonants and 6 are vowels.


Chamorro has at least 6 vowels, which include:


Below is a chart of Chamorro consonants; all are unaspirated.

Table of consonant phonemes of Chamorro
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p b t d k ɡ ɡʷ ʔ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Fricative f s h
Affricate t̪͡s̪ d̪͡z̪
Tap ɾ~ɻ
Approximant l


Chamorro Alphabet

' Aa Åå Bb Chch Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Kk Ll Mm Nn Ññ Ngng Oo Pp Rr Ss Tt Uu Yy
/ʔ/ (glottal stop) /æ/ /ɑ/ /b/ /ts/ and /tʃ/ /d/ /e/ /f/ /ɡ/ /h/ /i/ /k/ /l/ /m/ /n/ / ɲ/ /ŋ/ /o/ /p/ /ɾ/ ~ /ɻ / /s/ /t/ /u/ /dz/, /z/ and /dʒ/

Additionally, some letter combinations in Chamoru sometimes represent single phonemes. For instance, "ci+[vowel]" and "ti+[vowel]" are both pronounced [ʃ], as in "hustisia" (justice) and the surname Concepcion (Spanish influence).

The letter ⟨y⟩ is usually (though not always) pronounced more like dz (an approximation of the regional Spanish pronunciation of y as [dʒ]); it is also sometimes used to represent the same sound as the letter i by Guamanian speakers. The phonemes represented by ⟨n⟩ and ⟨ñ⟩ as well as ⟨a⟩ and ⟨å⟩ are not always distinguished in print. Thus the Guamanian place name spelled Yona is pronounced "Dzonia"/[dzoɲa], not *[jona] as might be expected. ⟨Ch⟩ is usually pronounced like ts rather than like English ch. Chamorro ⟨r⟩ is usually a flap [ɾ], like Spanish r between vowels, and a retroflex approximant [ɻ ], like English r, at the beginning of words.

Chamorro has geminate consonants which are written double (GG, DD, KK, MM, NGNG, PP, SS, TT), native diphthongs AI and AO, plus OI, OE, IA, IU, IE in loanwords; penultimate stress, except where marked otherwise, if marked at all in writing, usually 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 (Capital of Guam); B, D, and G are not distinguished from P, T, and K in that position.[vague].

Today, there is an ongoing issue on the Chamorro language orthography (example: Mt. Tapochau vs. Mt. Tapochao). Also note that "Ññ" and "Åå" are not always used, leading to further confusion for modern learners of the language.


Chamorro is a VSO or verb–subject–object language. However, the word order can be very flexible and so change to SVO (subject-verb-object), like English, if necessary to convey different types of relative clauses depending on context and stressing parts of what someone is trying to say or convey. Again, this is subject to debate as those on Guam believe the language is flexible whereas those in the CNMI do not.

Chamorro is also an agglutinative language, grammatically allowing root words to be modified by a number of affixes. For example, masanganenñaihon "talked awhile (with/to)", passive marking prefix ma-, root verb sangan, referential 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 loanwords in a Micronesian way (e.g., bumobola "playing ball" from bola "ball, play ball" with verbalizing infix -um- and reduplication of first syllable of root).

Chamorro is a predicate-initial, head-marking language. It has a rich agreement system in the nominal and in the verbal domains. The following table gives the possessor-noun agreement suffixes:[20]

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:[21]

(1) Ha-fa'gasi si Juan i kareta.
3sSA[22]-wash PND[23] Juan the car

'Juan washed the car.'

(2) Hayi fuma'gasi i kareta?
who? WH[nom].[24] wash the car

'Who washed the car?'

Basic phrases


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 Living Things Inanimate Things Long Objects
one unu/una (time) håcha maisa hachiyai takhachun
two dos hugua hugua hugiyai takhuguan
three tres tulu tatu 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' guålu' guagualu guatgiyai ta'gualun
nine nuebi sigua sasigua sigiyai taksiguan
ten dies månot maonot manutai takmaonton
hundred siento gåtus gåtus gåtus gåtus/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).


Before the Spanish-based 12-month calendar became predominant, the Chamoru 13-month lunar calendar was commonly used. The first month in the left column below corresponds with January. On the right are the Spanish-based months.

Chamorro studies

Chamorro is studied at the University of Guam and in several academic institutions of Guam and the Northern Marianas.

Researchers in several countries are studying aspects of Chamorro. In 2009, the Chamorro Linguistics International Network (CHIN) was established in Bremen, Germany. CHiN was founded on occasion of the Chamorro Day (27 September 2009) which was part of the programme of the Festival of Languages. The foundation ceremony was attended by people from Germany, Guam, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States of America.[26]

See also



  1. ^ Chamorro at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Chamorro". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  3. ^ "chamorro". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House. Retrieved 2017-08-11. 
  4. ^ Chamorro at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  5. ^ Carano, Paul and Sanchez, Pedro A Complete History of Guam. Tokyo and Rutland, VT: Charles Tuttle Co., 1964.
  6. ^ Skutnabb-Kangas 2000: 206; Mühlhäusler 1996: 109; Benton 1981: 122
  7. ^ "Education during the US Naval Era Guampedia: The Encyclopedia of Guam". Guampedia. Retrieved 2013-04-22. 
  8. ^ Tamondong, Dionesis (16 February 2010). "Camacho: Name change will affirm identity". Pacific Daily News. Retrieved 2010-02-18. [dead link]
  9. ^ José Antonio Saco. Colección de papeles científicos, históricos, políticos y de otros ramos sobre la isla de Cuba. 1859.
  10. ^ "Guam to Increase Education in Indigenous Language and Culture". Open Equal Free. Education. Development. 29 August 2012. Retrieved 2012-09-06. 
  11. ^ https://www.youtube.com/user/HuraoGuahan/about
  12. ^ https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.chamorrodictionary
  13. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 April 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 19 April 2015. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  15. ^ http://nihikids.org/
  16. ^ Rafael Rodriguez-Ponga Salamanca, Del español al chamorro: Lenguas en contacto en el Pacífico. Madrid, Ediciones Gondo, 2009, www.edicionesgondo.com
  17. ^ Topping, Donald (1973). Chamorro Reference Grammar. University Press of Hawaii. pp. 6 and 7. ISBN 978-0-8248-0269-1. 
  18. ^ Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga, The Spanish element in the Chamorro language, CD-Rom, Madrid, Publishing Service of the Complutense University, 2003. eprints.ucm [1]
  19. ^ Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga, Of Spanish to Chamorro: Language in contact in the Pacific. Madrid, Ediciones Gondo, 2009, www.edicionesgondo.com [2][3]
  20. ^ Chung 1998:49
  21. ^ Chung 1998:236 and passim
  22. ^ '3sSA' stands for 3rd singular Subject Agreement.
  23. ^ 'PND' stands for Proper Noun Determiner, a special article used with names in Chamorro.
  24. ^ The '-um-' in 'fumagasi' is an infix, glossed as WH[nom], meaning that it is a WH-agreement morpheme for nominative question phrases.
  25. ^ Cunningham, Lawrence J. (1992). Ancient Chamorro Society. Honolulu, Hawaii: The Bess Press. p. 144. ISBN 1-880188-05-8. 
  26. ^ The Maga’låhi (president) is Dr. Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga Salamanca (Madrid, Spain); Maga’låhi ni onrao (honorary president): Dr. Robert A. Underwood (president, University of Guam); Teniente maga’låhi (vice-president): Prof. Dr. Thomas Stolz (Universität Bremen).

General references

  • 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 (Complutense University of Madrid). http://eprints.ucm.es/3664/
  • Rodríguez-Ponga, Rafael (2009). Del español al chamorro. Lenguas en contacto en el Pacífico. Madrid: Ediciones Gondo.
  • 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