Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Leksion Chamoru: Pronunsiasion

Here is a chart that can hopefully help with pronunciation of the Chamorro letters. (the ' is called a glota in Chamorro, btw)

Chamorro alphabet and pronunciation

While most Chamorros are very forgiving when someone mispronounces the words, there are some cases where mispronunciation leads to confusion and miscommunication, so I'll try to give some pointers on pronunciation.

Most of the letters are pronounced almost exactly as you would say them in English, but the thing to remember is that a Chamorro consonant is not "voiced." That just means that there is no real "sound" to the consonant without a vowel following it. Here are the letters that will probably give an English speaker a hard time:
  • Just for clarification, the letter "å" in the chart above represents the open "a" in English. It's the "a" you say in "father."
  • The Chamorro letter "ch" is pronounced similar to a "ch" in English mixed with "ts." I know that's strange to think about, but ask a Chamorro speaker to say it, and you'll see what I'm trying to say.
  • The letter "ñ" is the sound you get in "onion," that "nya" sound.
  • "NG" is one that we all use, but don't consider a letter in English. It's the type of "ng" sound you get from the word "singing" or "hanging." (soft g, not hard g)
  • "Y" is not the same as in English at all. The best I can come up with in English is the sound "dz." If you know Spanish, think of the Castillian pronunciation of "y," but more pronounced.
  • The "glota" is represented by an apostrophe. It is a glottal stop, and the best example of one in English is in the expression "uh oh!" If you're familiar with the Cockney accent in British English, consider the word "bottle." In American English it's pronounced like "BAH-dol," whereas in the Cockney accent it's more like "BAH-ohl" with a stopped sound. The glota doesn't have a "sound" it simply stops the vowel sound preceding it.
Some people might think that slight mispronunciation isn't that big of a deal, but for certain letters, namely "a" vs "å", "h," and the glota, it is important to have the correct one. In particular, while the glota is not a letter in English per se, its inclusion, omission, or misplacement sometimes changes the meaning of a word completely.

Here are some examples:
  • Hulu = Thunder
    Hulo' = Up
    Ulu = Head
    Ulo' = Worm

  • Håga = Daughter
    Håga' = Blood
    Åga = Crow (bird)
    Aga' = Ripe banana

  • På'go = Now, today
    Pago' = To irritate, as in causing a rash
    Pågu = Wild hibiscus tree

  • Ta'lo = Again
    Talo' = Center, central point of something

Pretty much, if you can get your minds around the formation of each of the individual letters, you can pronounce any written word in Chamorro. There are a few nuances, but they're not so bad. Here are a few more tips on pronunciation:
  1. Pronounce the words as they are written, don't try to say it like you would in English, just refer to the chart, and you'll proabably say it just fine.
  2. The main stress of a word almost always falls on the penultimate (2nd to last) syllable. This even happens when we add suffixes to words.
    • Sångan (to say) comes out as SAW-ngan, but with the referential suffix "-i" attached to it, sångåni (to say to, to tell) comes out as saw-NGA-nee.
    • Tuge' (to write) comes out as TOO-ge', but with the referential suffix "-i" attached to it, tuge'i (to write to) comes out as too-GE'-ee.
  3. In general, consonants go with the vowel that follows them. There are times when there are geminate (duplicated, double) consonants, in those cases, split the consonants so one is with the preceding vowel and one is with the vowel that follows.
    • Tommo' (knee) is pronounced TOM-mo'.
    • Kånnai (hand) is pronounced KUHN-nai.
    • Hallom (to surmise, to perceive) is pronounced HAL-lom.
    Similarly, if there is more than one consonant between two vowels, split them up so one cosonant goes with the preceding vowel, and one goes with the vowel that follows. Remember than "CH" and "NG" are both single letters (consonants) in Chamorro.
    • Bongbong (bamboo tube used to carry liquid) is pronounced BONG-bong.
    • Takhilo' (high, lofty) is pronounced TACK-he-lu' (sorry, this one has a strange accentuation).
    • Tohge (to stand up) is pronounced TOH-gee (hard "g").
  4. Ask a Chamorro speaker to help you.
I should let you know that I'm giving you rules based on the Hågåtña dialect's way of pronouncing words. If you meet a person from southern Guam, Saipan, Rota, or Tinian, they'll most likely pronounce things slightly different, due to lack of geminate consonants and dialectical differences.


  1. Tadkilu na pusision ha manteteni. Ya takpapa' na estao na gaigi.

    Tohgi hulu' ya un ma rekognisa.

  2. Thank you for spreading the Chamorro language. I am a late bloomer Chamorro, myself.
    If I may, I have a few questions about the orthography of the Chamorro language.
    First, I noticed that when there is a glottal stop in certain words, it gets pronounced differently - example: "hulu (HU-lu)" vs. "hulo' (HU-lu')". Is this a purely dialectical occurrence?
    Also, why do we add an "h" in certain words such as "tohge/tohgi"? Could we not simplify it with a macron like the Hawaiians and have it written as "tōge/tōgi"? Just some thoughts. Again, thank you for spreading the language.

  3. Buenas Edward! Thanks for the questions.
    The glottal stop is a letter called "glota" which represents a closing of the preceding vowel and its placement can radically change the meaning of a word. Using your example hulu vs hulo' we can see just how different.
    hulu = thunder
    hulo' = up
    As to the syllable final "h", it's to represent an actual "h" sound. To the best of my knowledge the macron represents an elongation of the vowel rather than the voiceless aspirate.
    The differences in dialect sometimes do allow for adding or omission of consonants, especially "h" and geminate (double) consonats, but to a lesser extent the glota.
    I hope this helps!