The Chamorro Alphabet
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.