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Chamorro Word Stress

Where you put the stress on a word in Chamorro will help you to be understood by native speakers. It’s important in many languages as it can change the meaning of the word. Take for instance the word desert. At first glance, your thoughts immediately go to a dry, barren expanse of land with lots of sand. That’s because you read the word as DEH-zehrt, with the stress on the first syllable. Now try reading it again with the stress on the second syllable and now your thoughts turn towards abandoning someone or something. With the stress on the first syllable, the word desert is the noun, but put the stress on the second syllable and you get desert as a verb. 

There aren’t a lot of words like this; that is words that change meaning depending on the stress. In fact, you need only to remember a few rules when it comes to understanding which syllable of a word to emphasize.

Which syllable has the stress?

For the most part, the stress is placed on the penultimate (a fancy term meaning “second to the last”) syllable of a word. For a two-syllable word that stress will be on the first syllable.

hågu – HUH-goo

tåya’ – TUH-dzah

go’te – GOH-tee

lepblo – LEHP-bloo

With three-syllable words:

kareta – kah-REH-tah

ga’lågu – gah-LUH-goo

kastigu – kahs-TEE-goo

This rule of placing the stress on the penultimate syllable is still followed when adding a possessive determiner (i.e. -hu, -ku, -mu, etc.). The possessive determiner is considered part of the word.

lepblo – LEHP-bloo → lepblo-ku – lep-BLOH-koo

kareta – kah-REH-tah → karetå-hu – kah-reh-TUH-hoo

Please note that the possessive determiners -måmi, -miyu and -ñiha have two syllables, so the stress will lie on the first syllable

karetan-måmi – kah-reh-tahn-MUH-mee

lugåt-miyu – loo-gaht-MEE-dzoo

gima’-ñiha – gee-mah-NYEE-hah

Chamorro Word Stress in Words Derived from Prefixes

There are words in Chamorro derived by using a prefix. When this happens, the stress is usually on the prefix.

Prefix a – reciprocal prefix (i.e. to do an action to “each other” )

atungo’ – AH-too-ngoo 

asodda’ – AH-sohd-dah 

Prefix e – Prefix meaning “to hunt for”

epånglao – EH-pahng-lah-oh

esalåpe’ – EH-sah-lah-pee 

Prefix acha – Prefix denoting equality

achamaolek – a-CHA-mah-oh-lick    (maolek = good)

achametgot – a-CHA-met-goot    (metgot = strong)

Prefix hat – Prefix denoting movement towards or away from a subject

hatmagi – HAHT-mah-gee

hatguatu – HAHT-gwah-too

When attaching a possessive determiner in the case of the a-derived nouns, it reverts back to stress on the penultimate syllable.

atungo’-hu – ah-too-NGOH-hoo

asodda’-hu – ah-sohd-DAH-hoo

Chamorro Word Stress in Words Borrowed from Spanish

Of course, there had to be exceptions, but fortunately, there are not too many of these. Most of these words have come from Spanish and have retained their original pronunciations.

interes (n. interest) – een-teh-REHS

mamadot (n. baby’s bottle)  – mah-mah-DOHT

kulot (n. color) – koo-LOHT

tason (n. bowl) – tah-SOHN

prinsipi (n. prince) – PRIN-see-pee

åtbot (n. type of tree) – UHT-boot

 

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