Vowel Harmony, also referred to as vowel fronting, is a linguistic term that refers to the constraints that certain vowels have on what other vowels may be next to them. In Chamorro, the constraint is on the vowel i, which is also the definite object marker.
The following sound changes occur in the first syllable of a word when it is preceded by the object marker i.
When the first syllable of a word has an å:
tåsi (sea) → i tasi måta (eyes) → i mata låpes (pencil) → i lapes
When the first syllable of a word has an o:
kostat (sack) → i kestat tokcha’ (spear) → i tekcha’ donne’ (hot pepper) → i denne’
When the first syllable of a word has an u:
uchan (rain) → i ichan pulan (moon)→ i pilan gupot (party) → i gipot
The vowel/sound i also occurs when using the preposition gi, meaning “at/on/in”, the negator ti, or the pronouns in (“we”, excl.) or en (“you” plural). So if a word is preceded by gi, ti, in or en, the vowel harmony rules apply.
gupot → gi gipot (at the party)
mo’na (ahead, before) → gi me’nå-hu (in front of me)
gof (very) maolek → ti gef maolek (not too good)
chule’ (to take) → ti in chile’ i karetan-måmi (we didn’t take our car)
sodda’ (to find) → kåo en sedda’ i yabi? (did you guys find the key?)
Okay, so that’s it, right? These are all the cases? If you thought yes, then you’d be wrong, because just for kicks, we’re going to include one more way. (At least, until we discover another case then it’s REALLY over.)
The last way is when you use the affix in. (And yes, I realize it’s also the pronoun.) But no surprise that the rules also apply with this because it has an “ee” sound, so the sound that follows has to adjust.
tuge’ (to write) → tinige’ (writing)
tuhong (hat) → tinihong (to wear a hat)
konne’ (to take/catch) → kinenne’ (a catch)
sodda’ (to find) → sinedda’ (to be found by someone)
UM verbs are a class of verbs that use the Yo’-type pronouns as the Subject pronouns – when the pronoun is the subject of the sentence. They are called UM verbs here because the affix um is used to conjugate these verbs. There are actually two affixes that are used to conjugate UM verbs, the first is UM and the second is MAN. Both will be explained here.
To conjugate with UM, there are two cases you must look for:
1) If the verb begins with a vowel simply prefix the verb with um and you have your first conjugation.
Example: o’mak -> umo’mak to bathe
2) If the verb begins with a consonant, you insert um into the first Consonant-Vowel pair in the first syllable.
Example: kati -> kumati to cry
The forms umo’mak and kumati are the “completed” forms of the verbs.
Umo’mak yo’. I bathed. / I showered.
Kumati yo’. I cried.
To conjugate the “continuous” form of the verb, the verb needs to undergo reduplication. Reduplication is when we repeat a syllable in a word.
1) With vowel-initial words, we simply need to reduplicate the vowel, but separating the duplicates with a glottal stop.
Example: o’mak -> umo’mak -> umo’o’mak
2) If the word begins with a consonant, we take the syllable that is the second to the last syllable in the word.
Example: kånta -> kumånta -> kumakant. ; kanta (2 syllables) to sing hugåndo -> humugåndo -> humugagando ; hugando (3 syllables) to play
NOTE: If the syllable contains more than just a consonant and vowel pair (like GAN in hugando), you need to duplicate only the first consonant-vowel pair.
The forms umo’o’mak, kumakanta, and humugagando are the “continuous” forms of the verbs.
The Chamorro alphabet, or i atfabetu, is composed of 24 letters. The following table lists all the letters with their pronunciations.
NOTE: Those who grew up before the 1990s may have remembered the alphabet pronounced another way. This new way of pronouncing the alphabet was a shift away from the original pronunciations, which for some letters of the alphabet, was the exact same or close to the pronunciations of the Spanish alphabet. For example, the letters f, h, k, l and m, were pronounced eh-feh, ha-tsee, kah, eh-leh, and eh-meh, respectively.
The Vowels or I Buet
There are six vowels in the Chamorro alphabet.
a å e i o u
a – Pronounced like the a in tap or bat.
å – Pronounced like the a in father or papa.
e – Pronounced like the e in bed or test.
i – Pronounced like ee in feet.
o – Pronounced like the o in go, but shorter.
u – Pronounced like the oo in pool.
The Consonants or I Konsonante
There are eighteen consonants in the Chamorro alphabet including two semi-consonants: Ch, Ng .
ʹ b ch, d, f, g, h, k, l, m, n, ñ, ng, p, r, s, t, y
‘ – The glota, or glottal stop, can only be defined as a sudden stop. It’s that sound you hear when you say uh oh. The glota only follows a vowel and the addition not only changes the sound but the word’s meaning. Example: måta – eye, måta’ – raw, uncooked.
b – The letter b in Chamorro is slightly softer than its more aspirated English counterpart.
ch – The letter ch is described as a semi-consonant because it looks like two letters next to each other. However, the letter c in Chamorro does not exist. The letter ch in Chamorro is pronounced like the “ts” sound at the end of the word bats. So the word chålek, meaning to laugh, is pronounced tsah-lick, not tchah-lick.
d – Pronounced like the English d, but less aspirated.
f – Pronounced like the English f
g – Pronounced like the English g.
h – Pronounced like the English h.
k – Pronounced like the English k, but less aspirated.
l – Pronounced like the English l, but your tongue should be closer to the roof of your mouth (rather than the ridge).
m – Pronounced like the Eglish m.
n – Pronounced like the English n.
ñ – The letter ñ is pronounced like the ny in the English word “canyon.” The letter ñ was taken from the Spanish alphabet and easily adopted as many Chamorro words already had this sound (e.g. låña, meaning “oil”; danña’, meaning “to gather”).
ng – The letter ng is pronounced like the sound at the end of the word song. This may not seem so bad at first until you learn that there are Chamorro words that begin with ng. For example, the words nginge’, meaning “to smell,” and ngångas, meaning “to chew,” are pronounced NGEE-ngeeh and NGAH-ngass, respectively.
p – The letter p in Chamorro is slightly softer than its more aspirated English counterpart.
r – The letter r sounds like the Spanish trilled rr. At the beginning of words, the r may be pronounced like the English r, but trilled by other Chamorro speakers. To do this trilled sound, the back of your tongue will be widened so that it touches your molars and the tip of your tongue will be touching the ridge of your mouth as you exhale and attempt to vibrate the tip of your tongue. Or, you can just watch this How to Roll your R’s tutorial on YouTube.
s – Pronounced like the English s.
t – Pronounced like the English t, but less aspirated.
y – The letter y in Chamorro can also be considered a semi-consonant, because it is pronounced more like “dz” rather than a “yuh” sound in English.
Notes on Chamorro Letters
With the exception of foreign words that have been Chamorrocized, most words in Chamorro generally do not end in the letters B, CH, D, G, H, L, Ñ, R, and Y.
If a word sounds like it ends in a B, the word will be written as ending with a P. Same with the following letters: D as T, G as K. If you come across words that are written ending with these letters, then it is likely they were written with an older orthography. For example, the word for good maolek was often written as mauleg in older texts.
Because a lot of Chamorro letters are softer than their English counterparts, there are some pairs of letters that may sound alike and may be interchanged by speakers. These sound pairs are the letters B and P, T and D, CH and Y, and G and K.
The letters R and L are also often interchanged by native Chamorro speakers that you may hear different variations of the same word spoken. For example, the word arekla, meaning “to fix or put in order”, may sometimes be heard as alekla or even alegra.
The letter glota is never at the start of a word and always follows a vowel.
The pronoun “we” in English can sometimes be ambiguous if the sentence is not constructed carefully. When it is used in conversation sometimes it is unclear if the person being spoken to is included in this mention of “we.” This ambiguity does not exist in Chamorro as there are two versions of “we”, defined as inclusive, meaning the addressee is included, and exclusive, the addressee is excluded.
The Inclusive/Exclusive “we” in Chamorro
Look at the sentence below and then look at the diagrams.
Speaker: Para ta fanhånao para i tasi! / We’re going to beach!
In Figure 1, the speaker is letting the other person know they’re included in the activity.
Figure 1. The Inclusive WE
Speaker: Para bai in hanao para i tasi! / We’re going to the beach!
In Figure 2, the speaker is letting the other person know his plans.
Figure 2. The Exclusive WE
A “We” for every situation
Once you’ve learned and are able to distinguish between the two “we”s in Chamorro, you can start learning the different words for them. The word for we changes depending on what you want to say.
Stative / Intransitive Sentence
A stative sentence is a basic sentence consisting of a subject and a predicate and is usually a descriptive sentence. For example, “We are happy” is a stative sentence. An intransitive sentence in Chamorro is one where there is no definite object involved. The Chamorro words for we here are inclusive hit and exclusive ham.
Chamorro ham. We are Chamorro.
Chamorro hit. We are Chamorro.
Chumocho ham. We ate.
Mañocho hit gi resturan.
We ate at the restaurant.
Transitive Sentence with Definite Object
You may have noticed that the above sentence examples have the subject pronoun AFTER the verb. When a definite (specific) object is involved, the sentence structure changes to a structure familiar to English speakers: Subject Verb Object.
For example, in the sentence “He ate the apple”, the word “he” is the subject, “ate” is the verb, and “the apple” is the object. In Chamorro, the structure will be exactly the same. Except, here’s the catch, this only applies if the object is a definite object, that is, the object is specific. Our example works because the object “the apple” is specific; the apple refers to a specific apple located somewhere or bought by someone. If our example had been “He ate an apple,” then our sentence structure would revert back to Verb Subject, since there is no definite object involved.
The words for we in this sentence construction are inclusive ta and exclusive in.
In faisen si George. We asked George.
Ta faisen si George. We asked George.
In English, the way someone emphasizes that the subject is responsible for an action is by adding the words “is the one who” or by putting stress on the subject when mentioning them verbally.
We ate the pizza. vs. We (were the ones who) ate the pizza OR We at the pizza.
To achieve the same thing in Chamorro, we use Actor-focus constructions and Emphatic pronouns. By themselves, the pronouns for the first-person plural are understood as US instead of WE, but are understood as WE in Actor-focus constructions. The emphatic we are the inclusive hita and exclusive hami.
Hami! Us! (Not you!)
Hita! Us! (Including you!)
Hami chumule’ i lamasa siha.
We (are the ones who) brought the tables.
Now that you’ve figured out there’s more to “WE” in Chamorro, you’re probably thinking you’re done, right? Well, not so fast. If you haven’t checked it out already, here’s how to say the singular and plural “you” in Chamorro.
In Chamorro, there are five ways to say you, and they differ according to whether or not you’re addressing a single person or a group and what you’re trying to say. The word you in English is used to refer to one person or a group of people. In Chamorro, you have five different ways to say you and they are grouped below according to how you use them.
The English “You”
Before we go into the different categories, here is a quick example of the two types of you in English:
1. You (singular): How are you?
2. You (plural): How are you (all) doing?
Unlike English, the word for you in Chamorro is different for the singular and the plural. The word also changes according to the pronoun category, which are: Emphatic Pronouns, Yo’-Type Pronouns and Hu-Type Pronouns.
These pronouns are called emphatic because they place emphasis on the subject. Sometimes referred to as stressed pronouns, they are often used after prepositions like yan (and/with), para (for) and sin (without).
Hågu – You (singular) – Para hågu este! This is for you!
Hamyo – You (plural) – Para hamyo este! This is for you all!
Maria: Håyi para u na’gasgas i kusina?
Who is going to clean the kitchen?
Daniel: Hågu yan si Dolores. You and Dolores.
Yo’-Type pronouns are subject pronouns and they’re used in stative sentences, or descriptive sentences. They’re also used in intransitive sentences where the action is done to a non-specific object.
Hao – You (singular)
Hamyo – You (plural)
Magof hao. You are hapy.
Magof hamyo. You (both) are happy.
Manmagof hamyo. You (all) are happy.
Bumaila hao. You danced.
Kao manestudia hao? Did you study?
These pronouns are the subject pronouns in transitive sentences involving specific objects.