Proper CHamoru spelling

The development of an orthography for any language is a difficult and lengthy process. It involves the making of choices in areas where historians, linguists and educators may legitimately disagree. The preparation of an orthography for the CHamoru language was no exception and, in fact, generated numerous discussions, some of which were emotionally-charged.

The CHamoru language has been written in a variety of ways in the 300+ years it has been in print. In that time, there have been changes in the sound system, varying colonial administrations and several studies of the language. While we can all argue that CHamoru may be written in various ways, we must all agree that it should follow only one system if it is to survive in the future. The Kumision I Fino Chamorro after five years of discussion, countless meetings, several consultants and numerous public hearings presents this orthography as the official system to be used when writing CHamoru. By law, all agencies of the Government of Guam are enjoined to follow it. Hopefully, out of a desire to see the language prosper, all individuals and organizations on Guam will seek to use it voluntarily.

Two points must be made clear about orthographies. The first is that an orthography only organizes how a language is spelled. It does not change the language nor does it recommend to individuals how a language should be used. It only explains how words are spelled. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, is that having an orthography is useless if it is not used. If CHamoru is to be preserved, it must be seen in print and it must be written in a uniform fashion.

Ginen hami gi Kumision yan todu siha i petsonas ni’ hagas manayuda gi fotmasion i utugrafiha, en prisesenta este na dokumentu para i usun-miyu ni’ pupbliku. Yanggen guaha hafa na kuestion pat puntu ni para u malaknos put este na asunto, pot fabot a’agang hami gi Kumision. Mansetbienten i pupbliku yan i fino’ CHamoru ham.

By Robert A. Underwood, EdD

Editor’s note:This entry was adapted and reprinted with permission from the Department of CHamoru Affairs, Government of Guam. Hale’ta: CHamoru Heritage, 1983 CHamoru Orthography.

Rule 1: Proper Names

  1. Names of people will retain their spelling.
  2. Family names which have never been written before will be CHamoruized in spelling.
  3. Proper names will not conform to Rule 9 and 10.
  4. Place names that are of CHamoru origin will be CHamoruized in spelling.
    • Example
      • Inarajan – Inalåhan
      • Ritidian – Litekyan
  5. Newly named places with no known CHamoru names will retain their written name.
    • Example
      • Banzai Cliff
  6. Months, days, and numerals shall conform to CHamoru spelling rules.

Rule 2: Capitalization

  1. Proper names of people, places, animals, things, institutions and organizations, titles, days of the week, months of the year and the beginning of sentences will be capitalized.
  2. The affixed forms of proper names shall be capitalized.
    • Example
      • um + Sablan = Sumablan
      • in + Sablan = Sinablan
      • um + Afaisen = UmAfaisen
      • in + Afaisen = InAfaisen
      • um + Angoco = UmAngoco
      • in + Angoco = InAngoco
    • N.B. The affixed forms of proper nouns beginning with vowels will have both affix and the name capitalized.
  3. When the plural subject marker (man – is affixed to a proper name, m will also be capitalized.
    • Example
      • man– + CHamoru = ManCHamoru
      • man– + Juan = ManJuan
  4. The conventional practice of capitalizing pronouns relating to the divinity itself will be followed.

Rule 3: Choice of Alphabetic Symbols and Corresponding Sound

  1. The following list of consonants and vowel symbols and their corresponding sounds will be used in CHamoru spelling. They are given here in alphabetical order. Example words are given to illustrate the phonetic value of each of the spelling symbols.
SymbolSoundExample wordEnglish Meaning
/ ? /haga’blood
a /ae/babaopen (note: the same symbol a is used to represent two sounds.)
i/i/hitawe (inclusive)

2. The letter c, j, q, v, w, x, z, ll, and rr will be used in the spelling of proper names only.


SymbolProper Names
CCarmen Cecilia
JJose John
XXavier Xena
rrCHamoru Barrigada

3. The glottal stop will be used in alphabetizing words.


ex. 1ex. 2ex. 3

Rule 4: Diphthongs

  1. The diphthongs in the writing system will be treated as sequence of vowels.

The most common diphthongs are as follows:

DiphthongsCHamoru wordEnglish meaning
ai taitairead

2. All the letter combinations of the above listed diphthongs shall be treated as diphthongs, unles the glottal stop is distinctively heard between the two vowels.


Letter CombinationDiphthongsNot Diphthongs

A sure text of diphthong is when both vowels reduplicate.

3. The letter h rather than the glottal stop ´ shall be used in spelling of non-diphthong combinations of io, ie, ia, and iu, which are sometimes confused with diphthongs.


fihunot fi’u
pasehunot pase’u
manehanot mane’a

Rule 5: Consonant Symbols in Final Position

  1. The following consonants will not appear at the end of a word: b, ch, d, g, h, l, ñ, r, y
  2. The consonants—b, d, g, and l—may appear at the end of a syllable only when the consonant is geminate, i.e., when the following syllable of the same word begins with the same sound.


CHamoru wordEnglish meaning
goddeto tie

N.B. CHamoru and Barrigada are not geminate. Rule 1 applies.

Rule 6: Unstressed Vowels in Open Syllables in CVCV and CVC

  1. The letters i and u will be used to represent unstressed vowels in open syllables (where C = consonant, V = vowel).


CHamoru wordEnglish meaning

The same rule applies to unstressed vowels in open syllables of poly-syllabic words except when the preceding is o or e.


CHamoru wordEnglish meaning
sangånitell how


CHamoru wordEnglish meaning
triångoloa triangle

In the case of dångkolo, etc. the first o results from the preceding consonant cluster ngk (cf, Rule,6B); the final o results from the preceding o through vowel harmony.

2. The unstressed vowels in open syllables following a sequence of consonants will be represented by e and o.


  • tatte, listo, ho’ye, halla, hamyo

N.B. The sounds represented by some of the vowels above may appear to be misrepresented (i.e., tatte instead tatti). However, all of the examples under Rule 6 are unstressed vowels when their pronunciation may vary. The “true” sounds are assumed to exist thus the vowels are stressed as in tatte-ku.*

3. The letter a (ae) will be used in unstressed open syllables in both the CVCV and CVCCV constructions.


  • måta

4. The following blends/digraphs will be considered as one consonant for spelling purposes.



Rule 7: Unstressed Vowels in Closed Syllables

The vowels, e, o and a, will be used to represent the unstressed vowels in closed syllables, i.e., syllables which end with a consonant.

CHamoru wordEnglish meaning
huyonggo out
halomgo in

Rule 8: Stressed Vowels

All vowels will be used to represent stressed vowels in both closed and opened syllables when the quality of the sound in the word is clearly that which is associated with the vowels.


CHamoru wordEnglish meaning

Rule 9: Spelling of Borrowed Words

  1. English, Spanish and Japanese words which have been assimilated into CHamoru will be spelled according to the general rules for CHamoru spelling. The spelling will reflect the changes in pronunciation.
    • Example
zoriyore ́thongs
dengkedengkke ́light
ice creamaiskrim

2. Recently borrowed English words will retain their English spelling and will be placed in single quotation when in print. When an English word contains CHamoru affixes, then it will be spelled according to the general rules for CHamoru spelling. Examples of the latter type are:

CHamoru wordEnglish meaning
pumipiknikon a picnic
bumabasketbo´playing basketball

Rule 10: Consonant Alternation

  1. When the pronunciation of consonants changes due to affixation, the spelling will be changed accordingly to represent the change in pronunciation. Most of the changes in consonants are used by the affixation of the prefix man–
    • Example
CHamoruEnglish meaning
man– + po´lo = mamo´loto put
man– + taña = manaña´to taste
man– + kåti = mangatito cry
man– + såga = mañågato stay
man– + chålek = mañalekto laugh
man– + fegge’ = mamegge’to make a footprint

N.B. In some dialects of CHamoru the sounds are not assimilated. For example, in Rota, it is usually mansaga instead of mañaga.

2. The following are examples of poly–syllabic words in which the initial consonant of the baseword is not deleted:

  • man– + pachakåti = manpachakåti
  • man– + pagamento = manpagamento
  • man– + pendehu = manpendehu
  • man– + pentura = manpentura
  • man– + piligru = manpiligru

3. The pronunciation of the first person singular possessive pronoun hu is determined by the stem to which it is attached. For example, it is pronounced tu when it follows a stem ending with t, as in pachot–tu, my mouth. It is pronounced su when it follows a stem ending with s, as in lassas–su, my skin. And, it is pronounced ku when it follows a stem that ends withh a vowel preceded by two consonants, as in leblu–ku, my book. However, for purposes of spelling, only hu and ku will be used.

Rule 11: Excresent Consonants

  1. When additional consonants are added through affixation, they will be represented in the spelling system. The underlined in the following are examples of excrescent consonants.
    • n – elepblo –måmi = lepblo n + måmi = lepblon–måmi, our book
    • n – såga ñaihon = såga n + ñaihon = såganñaihon, stay a while
    • g – hånao –i = håna g u –i = hanågue, for someone’s behalf
    • y – sångan –i = sågan i y –i = sanganiyi, tell for someone
    • ´– a ågang = å ´ + ågang = å’ågang, be calling

Note: Rule 6 applies here

Rule 12: Superfluous Consonants

When the pronunciation of the consonant t before ch is predictable, and a mid-vowel follows ch, only ch will be written.



Rule 13: Geminate Consonants and syllable-final h

Although the pronunciation of geminate consonants and syllable-final h varies among different speakers of CHamoru, they will be included in the spelling.


CHamoru wordEnglish meaning
lågguaparrot fish
mamåhlaobe bashful
mohmochew for

Rule 14: Vowel Harmony

  1. Vowel Fronting

When the pronunciation of a vowel is changed due to vowel fronting, this change will be reflected in the spelling


CHamoru word+vowelEnglish meaning
foggoni feggonthe stove
guma´i gima´the house
sunii sunithe taro

2. Vowel Raising

When the syllable construction (cvc) of a word is changed through affixation, the vowel changed – raising – will be reflected in the spelling in consistence with Rule 8.


CVC – CVCV – Rule 8

  • fugo’ –i = fugu´i
  • toktok –i = toktuki

3. Vowel Lowering

When the syllable construction of a word is changed through semantics construction the vowels change – lowering – will be reflected in the spelling in consistence with Rule 7.


CVCV – CVCVC – Rule 7

  • suni + n = sunen–måmi
  • låhi + n = låhen Maria

N.B. Vowel lowering occurs when excrescent consonant n is added to words that have CV structure at the end. (see above).*

Rule 15: Free Words

  1. All content words (adjectives, verbs, nouns) will be written as a separate word in CHamoru.
    • Example
Content wordEnglish meaning

2. The following function words (articles, particles, etc.) will be written as separate words in CHamoru:

Function WordExample PhraseEnglish Meaning
ii palao´anthe woman
ni’ni’ palao´anfrom, which (relational term) woman
sisi Juan(honorific) John
asas Juan(located at) John
nunu guahome
nadångkolo na taotaobig man
ha’hu tungo´ ha´i already know
fannangga fan, un råtuwait a minute, please
nini håyino one
upara u hånaohe will go
baipara bai hu hånaoi will go

3. Exceptions: The word gof functions as an intensifier and derivational prefix.

  • Example: gof
Ha gof li´e´i patgon.He/ She sees the child very well.
Ha gofli´e i patgon.He/She loves the child very much.

The words gai and tai function both as derivational prefixes and as a function words.

  • Example: tai
Tai taiguenao macho’gue-ña i che’cho’.That’s not the way to do the work.
(function word)
Tai magagu i patgon.The child does not have clothes.
  • gai
Gai’ase´nu guaho.Have mercy on me.
(function word)
Gai salape´ i palao’an.The woman has money.

4. Function words sen, sin, tai, and gai. The spelling of these words change when they are infixized with –um – and prefixed with man–.

  • Example
  • sen + –um– = sumen = sumen dångkolo
  • sin + –um– = sumin = sumin magågu
  • tai + –um– = tumai = tuimai salape´
  • gai + –um– = gumai = gumai salape´
  • man– + sen = mansen = mansen dångkolo
  • man– + sin = mansin = mansin maga´gu
  • man– + tai = mantai = mantai salape´
  • man– + gai = manggai = manggai salape´

For the purpose of spelling, these function words should not be combined with any other content word.


manggai kareta – – prefixed function manggai, content word, kareta

Rule 16: Affixes

  1. The following list contains prefixes of CHamoru which will be written as part of the word to which they are attached:
CHamoruEnglish meaning
a– umapachatouch each other
acha– achalokka’same height
an– ansopblaleft over
chat– chatbunitaslightly pretty
e– & o –esapataosshop for shoes
otendago shopping
fa’ – fa´na´an´to name
ga’ – ga´maigo´likes to sleep
ge’ ge´papafurther down
ha – hapoddongprone to falling
hat – hattalommove in
ka – kama’gashaving some authority
ke – kehatsaabout to lift
la– lage´hilo´further up
ma – mataitaiwas read (passive marker only)
man – manaitai yu´I prayed ( Indirect object marker)
man – manhaspokThey are full (plural subject marker)
mi – misalape´lots of money
mina’– mina’tresthird
na’– na’gasgasto make clean
san – sanme´natoward the front
tai – taiguenaolike that
tak – takhilo´way up high
talak – talakhiyonglook towards the outside
ya yamo´nanaway up front

Note: The classifiers na´, ga´, gimen and iyo will be written as separate words or with a clitic when used with a possessive pronoun.


CHamoruEnglish meaning
na´galågudog food
ga´–ña guakahis/her cow
gimen – hu kafemy coffee
iyon påtgonthing belonging to a child

2. Infixes

  • The following infixes –um– and –in– will be written as part of the word:
    • hugåndo = humugåndo
    • huyong = humuyong
    • na´i = nina´i
    • magof = minagof
  • Reduplicated syllables and infixes will be written as a part of the word even though the resulting words may contain an unusually large number of letters. Words will be divided on the basis of the rules presented in this paper, not on the basis of length. Some examples of the long words resulting from multiple affixation and reduplication are given here:
    • ma’añao = manachachama’ñao
    • ge’hilo’ = na’lage’hilulu’i
    • guaiya = manmangguaguaiya
  • The syllable, la is frequently inserted into CHamoru words that represent sounds as in kalaskas –pangpang–,´palångpang påkpak, paspas–palaspas.

3. Suffixes

The following list contains the suffixes of CHamoru which will be written as part of a word to which they are attached. The first item on the list is called discontinuous affix. The prefix fan– is dependent upon the suffix –yan to give a complete meaning of the word.

  • Example
CHamoruEnglish meaning
fan– –yan = fanbinaduyanplace of deer
–yan = fama’gasiyanplace for washing
–on = guaså’onsharpener
–yon = guaiyayonlovable
–ñaihon = såganñaihonstay for a while
–guan = pinalakse’guanslip of the tongue
–ña = bunitañaprettier
–i = sanganito tell to someone
–yi = sanganiyito tell to someone for someone’s behalf
–an = minigu’anhaving secretions from the eye

N.B. The –an suffix has an allomorph variant –guan as in paguan ( from pao + –a) This is not the same as the –guan suffix. Other suffixes also have allomorphs variants. The most common is –gue for the suffix –i as in hanågue.

Rule 17: Clitics

The clitics are used to show the special relationship that possessive pronoun directional words and others have with the stem to which they are attached.



CHamoruEnglish meaning
rilos–humy watch
rilos–muyour watch
rilos–ñahis/her watch
rilos–taour (ind.) watch
rilos–mamiour (exc.) watch
rilos–miyuyour (plural) watch
rilos–nihatheir watch


CHamoruEnglish meaning
hanao–guatoon your way over go to
chule´–magibring it on your way over here
po’lon-guatodrop it on your way there

N.B. The same mark used to represent a clitic will also be used to hyphenate syllables when breaking a word.