Importance of CHamoru language project explained

Dr. Robert Underwood, a Kumision member, emphasized its purpose of providing consistency in the language learning process.

With the CHamoru language no longer being transmitted inter-generationally, the University of Guam will embark on a project to formally document and create a repository for the language.

During a press conference Thursday, university officials and project proponents announced that the National Science Foundation has awarded a $275,000 grant for the project — which will provide an in-depth understanding of the underpinnings of the CHamoru language as spoken by remaining first-language CHamoru speakers.

Dr. Robert Underwood, one of the co-principal investigators, said the project seeks to develop a CHamoru cadre of language documenters drawn from university students and language educators in Guam.

“I am pleased to announce that we have been awarded this 3-year grant pursuant to a proposal that we wrote from the National Science Foundation. This is documenting endangered languages grant. The purpose of this grant is — as we wrote in the proposal — to document the CHamoru language’s grammatical features from first-language users of CHamoru,” Underwood said.

The project will select 10 individuals for whom CHamoru is their first language and who are acknowledged experts in the language. Over the course of three years, these individuals will identify traditional terms and cultural practices related to five specific cultural areas. They will also be asked to produce speech samples to be archived.

Dr. David A. Ruskin, Co-Principal Investigator underscored the importance of the project.

“In linguistic terms when you start to lose a group of speakers, when you are starting to have diminishing numbers of those, that generally spells ill health for the language. And so, specifically on Guam, the number of first-language speakers of CHamoru has been dwindling and has been difficult to find,” Ruskin said.

According to UOG, the project documentation will be accessible to the community through an archive created at the Micronesian Area Research Center at the University as well as through a YouTube channel, podcast, and social media.