A great advertisement for a product is one that lures you into buying or using the product. Several interested readers contacted me after my column on CHamoru literacy to let me know that I caught their interest. They asked me to unpack the contents of the orthographic rules a little more. “Point out what we should look for,” a friend and high school classmate urged. Another person emailed me with the question, “If we got along without spelling rules in the past, why bother now?” I was asked, “Does the Guam Orthography apply universally?” I really do appreciate the feedback. It gives me insight into what might be of interest.
First, the Guam CHamoru Orthography is slightly different from the orthography utilized by the CNMI since 2009. Both spelling systems derive from the Marianas Orthography adopted by Guam and the Northern Marianas in the 1970s. The differences reflect regional variation; in our case, one language with two distinct dialects. This is normal. British and American English canons are a case in point. The Guam Orthography applies to the Hagåtña dialect, which we speak here in Guam.
So, why bother? Children are learning CHamoru as a second language at school. They use written tools, textbooks, online platforms and other instructional materials to acquire vocabulary and develop their skills for dialogue, writing and reading in CHamoru. The spelling rules contained in the Guam CHamoru Orthography provide a coherent framework.
Anyone who has tried to read CHamoru tracts, like novenas and prayers, that were printed before the orthography was established, knows how daunting the pronunciation of words can be when spelling is not standardized. Nor do the major CHamoru dictionaries referenced today reflect a consistent application of the orthographic rules. This has added to our uncertainty about how to spell. People writing in the past have done their best. While not using standardized spelling, such efforts have nonetheless been extremely valuable for documenting the language. Now going forward, we can eliminate confusion by being consistent in our spelling.
If you are a CHamoru speaker, abiding by standard spelling rules is one of the changes we have to adapt to. Utilizing the Orthography is a very important way we can contribute to the resiliency and revitalization of our Mother Tongue.
Now, how can the CHamoru Orthography be unpacked to invite you to delve further into rules that may sound like linguistic jargon? My advice, take on the rules one at a time, slow and easy. Practice using each rule till you feel comfortable moving forward.
If you are curious about the symbols used in writing CHamoru, you will find Rule 1 helpful. Did you know that the glota ( ' ) is a consonant in the CHamoru language? Most people think it is a symbol that can be used “here and there,” not quite. It’s the first letter of the CHamoru alphabet. It always follows a vowel and shortens the sound of the vowel in the syllable it closes. The glota is written as a', e', i', o', and u'. The glota is often confused with the accent mark above a vowel signifying a stressed sound, which is written as á, ǻ, é, í, ó, and ú.
There are two other often misunderstood symbols. The lonnat or dot that appears above the å, is part of the way this vowel is written. It is an entirely different vowel than a without the dot. The titda which appears over the ñ is an integral part of this consonant and is different from the consonant n without the titda. The dollan or hyphen/dash is used to connect possessive pronouns to words, for example, nanå-hu (my mother).
CHamoru also has two consonants that are written as two combined letters to represent one sound. CH and ng are each single consonants. Unlike English, the CHamoru alphabet does not have the letters c, j, q, v, w, x, and z. When these letters appear, they are part of the spelling of a proper noun, as in the name of a person (Cruz, Villagomez, Quintanilla) or place (Jonestown.)
More to come. You can download a copy of the Orthography at www.kumisionchamoru.guam.gov.