Chamorro Language Project

Posted on: 22/12/2009

Since 1996, linguists at the University of Bremen have been successfully involved in research on Chamorro, the autochthonous language of the Marianas in the West Pacific.

During the first Festival of Languages (17 September –7 October, 2009),experts from ten countries founded CHIN (“Chamorro Linguistics International Network”) which is the first international Organization devoted to the study, the preservation and the development of Chamorro, a moderately endangered language.

CHIN is located at the University of Bremen (, Thomas Stolz, professor of general and comparative linguistics at the University of Bremen, is vice-president of the new network. The German Science Foundation (DFG) has given him a grant of 320,000.00 EURO (about 480,000.00 U$) as financial support for a three years project on Chamorro.

In English, the project title is “Chamorrica – the annotated (re-)editionand translation of the early non-English-based sources on and in Chamorro(1668-1950)”. From April 2010 onwards, Professor Stolz and two PhD candidates will edit, evaluate, translate and comment upon the many Chamorro-related texts of the times of Spanish, German and Japanese rule.

Some of these texts have never appeared in print before. In these texts, the Chamorro language is described from the vantage point of the colonial powers (e.g. in grammars,dictionaries) or (a non-native variety of) Chamorro is used to convey religious, philological and historical content.

Chamorro is currently experiencing massive pressure on the part of the dominant English.

Now a days, contemporary speakers of Chamorro do not usually know the languages of the former colonial powers such that they cannot access the bulk of the extant documents of the past. The project aims at making these texts accessible and thus gives back a cultural treasure to the Chamorro speech-community which otherwise has only a rather limited literary production in Chamorro.

On the one hand, the project investigates how the foreigners have perceived, understood or misunderstood Chamorro.

On the other hand, the edited sources may serve as a means for the development of Chamorro, because these sources contain long forgotten words, constructions, idioms, etc. which could be revitalized for the purposes of the modernization of Chamorro.

In this way, the project will contribute to the survival of the language. The project respects the interests of the Chamorro community and will be conducted with their consent. The Bremen linguists cooperate not only with the University of Guam and the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, but also with the University of California at Santa Cruz and the Asociación Espanola de Estudios del Pacífico in Madrid/Spain and other associates of CHIN.

With this project, the cooperation contract between the University of Guam and the University of Bremen has been put into practice in the realm of research. This is terrific news. In large part, this is a product of our collaborative efforts with the University of Bremen and the recent trip to Germany.

The key person in this is Thomas Stolz and our key people at the University are, of course, Peter Onedera and Rosa Palomo. While we were in Germany, we started the CHiN network.This is the international network of scholars interested in the Chamorro language. “For me, the really key point in this research is the fact that international sources are being used to study the first printed texts of Chamorro in order to make them available for further study.

The studies will be primarily historical in focus and have tremendous implications formodern linguistic studies and for Chamorro scholars trying to gauge the historical changes in the Chamorro language through the years,” said UOG President Robert A. Underwood.


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