Repository for CHamoru language to be created

Dr. Robert A. Underwood is a Co-Principal Investigator for the project titled “Developing CHamoru Language Infrastructure: Goggue Yan Chachalani Mo’na I Fino’-ta (Embrace and Make a Way Forward for Our Language).”

The University of Guam has won a grant to formally document and create a repository for the CHamoru language.

The grant was awarded this week to the UOG College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The Documenting Endangered Languages grant is the first-ever grant awarded to the liberal arts college and will fund a project titled “Developing CHamoru Language Infrastructure: Goggue Yan Chachalani Mo’na I Fino’-ta (Embrace and Make a Way Forward for Our Language).”

The following will help oversee the project:

Dr. Robert A. Underwood, Co-Principal Investigator
Dr. David A. Ruskin, Co-Principal Investigator
Francine Naputi, Project Coordinator, Kumision i Fino’ CHamoru
Dr. Andrea Berez-Kroeker, Consultant, University of Hawaii Kapiolani Language Archive

As of 2017, 70% of CHamoru speakers are currently over 55 years of age and less than 5% are younger than 30 years of age. The language is no longer being transmitted inter-generationally, NSF stated.

“Complicated features of the language and unique cultural knowledge and practices are being lost. Most of these features and practices are undocumented, including the use of specialized language for traditional practices. Since these parts of the language are sparsely documented, this knowledge repository is exclusively held in the minds of older speakers. In addition, the indigenous CHamoru people, along with other Pacific Islanders, face major disparities in educational advancement and are underrepresented in all of the sciences quite significantly,” NSF stated.

The project seeks to address both the scientific and educational challenges and will document the expanse of CHamoru knowledge and produce a lasting record of this knowledge, simultaneously useful for scholars and the CHamoru community itself.

According to NSF, this archive of recordings (audio and video) will be the only one of its kind on CHamoru and will facilitate further scholarship on the language and broader impacts include broadening participation of underrepresented U.S. citizens in the social sciences, specifically linguistics.

The data will be archived at Kaipuleohone UH Digital Language Archive at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa, as well as archived at the Micronesian Area Research Center (MARC) on Guam to develop a local repository.

The name of the project is Developing CHamoru Language Infrastructure: Goggue Yan Chachalani Mo’na I Fino’-ta [Embrace and Make a Way Forward for Our Language].

It seeks to provide an in-depth understanding of the underpinnings of the CHamoru language as spoken by remaining first language speakers and to develop a cadre of language documenters drawn from university students and language educators in Guam.

Under the project, carefully selected first language speakers, who are acknowledged experts, will identify traditional terms and cultural practices related to five specific cultural areas (fishing, agricultural, spirituality, medicinal plants, and artisanal crafts).

The first language speakers will also be asked to produce speech samples in open-ended and guided interviews to document unique linguistic features which are rapidly disappearing or significantly altered in second language speakers. These include intonation, vowel harmony, consonant assimilation, derivational affixation, and use of CHamoru’s focus system.

Finally, the project will develop a repository of marked and tagged interviews and elicitations. It will simultaneously generate new information and collect existing data and in a way that is useful for linguists, the community, and academics studying endangered languages.

This project is jointly funded by the Documenting Endangered Languages Program and the Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR).