Proper Chamorro spelling

Chamorro Orthography rulesThe 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 Chamorro language was no exception and, in fact, generated numerous discussions, some of which were emotionally-charged.

The Chamorro 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 Chamorro 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 Chamorro. 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 Chamorro 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’ Chamorro ham.

By Robert A. Underwood, EdD

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

Rule 1: Proper Names

A. Names of people will retain their spelling.
B. Family names which have never been written before will be Chamorroized in spelling.
C. Proper names will not conform to Rule 9 and 10.
D. Place names that are of Chamorro origin will be Chamorroized in spelling.

For example:

  • Inarajan – Inalahan
  • Ritidian – Litekyan
E. Newly named places with no known Chamorro names will retain their written name.

For example:

  • Banzai Cliff
F. Months, days, and numerals shall conform to Chamorro spelling rules.

Rule 2: Capitalization

A. 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.
B. The affixed forms of proper names shall be capitalized.

For 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.

C. When the plural subject marker (man – is affixed to a proper name, m will also be capitalized.

For example:

man– + Chamorro = ManChamorro
man– + Juan = ManJuan
D. The conventional practice of capitalizing pronouns relating to the divinity itself will be followed.

Rule 3: Choice of Alphabetic Symbols and Corresponding Sound

A. The following list of consonants and vowel symbols and their corresponding sounds will be used in Chamorro spelling. They are given here in alphabetical order. Example words are given to illustrate the phonetic value of each of the spelling symbols.
Symbol Sound Example word English Meaning
/ ? / haga’ blood
a /ae/ baba open (note: the same symbol a is used to represent two sounds.)
å /å/ båba bad
b /be/ båba bad
ch /che/ chålan road
d /de/ dåggao throw
e /g/ ekungok listen
f /fe/ fugo’ squeeze
g /ge/ ga’chong friend
h /he/ håtsa lift
i /i/ hita we (inclusive)
k /ke/ kada each
l /le/ litråtu picture
m /me/ malago’ want
n /ne/ nåna mother
ñ /ñe/ ñåmu mosquito
ng /ng/ nginge’ sniff
o /o/ oppe answer
p /pe/ påchot mouth
r /rre/ råmas branch
s /se/ såddok river
t /te/ tåya’ nothing
u /u/ uchan rain
y /ye/ yan and
B. The letter c, j, q, v, w, x, z, ll, and rr will be used in the spelling of proper names only.

For example:

Symbol Proper Names
C Carmen Cecilia
J Jose John
Q Quichocho
V Vicente
W Wilfred
X Xavier Xena
ll Quintanilla
rr Chamorro Barrigada
C. The glottal stop will be used in alphabetizing words.

For example:

ex. 1 ex. 2 ex. 3
gua’gua’ nå’na’ ba’ba’
guagua’ nåna bå’ba’

Rule 4: Diphthongs

A. The diphthongs in the writing system will be treated as sequence of vowels.
The most common diphthongs are as follows:
Diphthongs Chamorro word English meaning
ao taotao person
ai taitai read
oi boi boy
io baksion vacation
ie siette seven
ia estoria story
iu presiu prices
B. 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.

For example:

Letter Combination Diphthongs Not Diphthongs
ie siette li’e’
io adios fi’on
ia estoria esphiha
iu presiu fihu

A sure text of diphthong is when both vowels reduplicate.

C. 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.

For example:

h ´
fihu not fi’u
pasehu not pase’u
maneha not mane’a

Rule 5: Consonant Symbols in Final Position

A. The following consonants will not appear at the end of a word: b, ch, d, g, h, l, ñ, r, y
B. 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.

For example:

Chamorro word English meaning
yabboa slash
godde to tie
hålle pull
meggai many

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

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

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

For example:

Chamorro word English meaning
låhi man
hågu you
nå’i give
lågu north

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

For example:

Chamorro word English meaning
sangåni tell how
dalalaki follow


Chamorro word English meaning
triångolo a triangle
dångkolo big
proksemo approximate

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.

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

For example:

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.*

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

For example:

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

For example:

br dr pl
brongko prensa pluma
brohas preba platu
bruha prugrama planta
bl fl tr
blangko aflitu trosu
tapbla gofli’e’ trangka
misirapble flecha trongko
fr kl
fresko chångkletas
fruta klasifika
fritada mesklao

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.

For example:

Chamorro word English meaning
huyong go out
halom go in
lapes pencil
li’e’ see
hakmang eel

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.

For example:

Chamorro word English meaning
asut blue
tisu stiff
hatdin garden
tubu tube
yu’ l
leche milk
hotno oven
boti boat
tåta father
båtsala pull

Rule 9: Spelling of Borrowed Words

A. English, Spanish and Japanese words which have been assimilated into Chamorro will be spelled according to the general rules for Chamorro spelling. The spelling will reflect the changes in pronunciation.

For example:

Spanish Chamorro English
lavador labadot sink
verde betde green
paloma paluma dove
caballo kabayu horse
Japanese Chamorro English
zori yore ́ thongs
dengke dengkke ́ light
English Chamorro
ice cream aiskrim
cake kek
chaser chesa
B. Recently borrowed English words will retain their English spelling and will be placed in single quotation when in print. When an English word contains Chamorro affixes, then it will be spelled according to the general rules for Chamorro spelling. Examples of the latter type are:
Chamorro word English meaning
pumipiknik on a picnic
bumabasketbo´ playing basketball
manekspleplen explaining

Rule 10: Consonant Alternation

A. 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–

For example:

Chamorro English meaning
man– + po´lo = mamo´lo to put
man– + taña = manaña´ to taste
man– + kåti = mangati to cry
man– + såga = mañåga to stay
man– + chålek = mañalek to laugh
man– + fegge’ = mamegge’ to make a footprint

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

B. 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
C. 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

A. 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.

For example:

leche eskabeche ganggoche pacha noche ocho

Rule 13: Geminate Consonants and syllable-final h

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

For example:

Chamorro word English meaning
tommo knee
sahnge strange
låggua parrot fish
mamåhlao be bashful
fåtto come
hålla pull
meggai many
mohmo chew for

Rule 14: Vowel Harmony

A. Vowel Fronting

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

For example:

Chamorro word +vowel English meaning
foggon i feggon the stove
guma´ i gima´ the house
suni i suni the taro
B. 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.

For example:

CVC – CVCV – Rule 8

fugo’ –i = fugu´i
toktok –i = toktuki
C. 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.

For example:

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

A. All content words (adjectives, verbs, nouns) will be written as a separate word in Chamorro.

For example:

Content word English meaning
kareta car
dångkolo big
fugo’ squeeze
B. The following function words (articles, particles, etc.) will be written as separate words in Chamorro:
Function Word Example Phrase English Meaning
i i palao´an the woman
ni’ ni’ palao´an from, which (relational term) woman
si si Juan (honorific) John
as as Juan (located at) John
nu nu guaho me
na dångkolo na taotao big man
ha’ hu tungo´ ha´ i already know
fan nangga fan, un råtu wait a minute, please
ni ni håyi no one
u para u hånao he will go
bai para bai hu hånao i will go
C. Exceptions: The word gof functions as an intensifier and derivational prefix.

For example:



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.

For example:



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’ase´nu guaho. Have mercy on me.

(function word)

Gai salape´ i palao’an. The woman has money.
D. Function words sen, sin, tai, and gai. The spelling of these words change when they are infixized with –um – and prefixed with man–.

For 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.

For example:

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

Rule 16: Affixes

A. The following list contains prefixes of Chamorro which will be written as part of the word to which they are attached:
Chamorro English meaning
a– umapacha touch each other
acha– achalokka’ same height
an– ansopbla left over
chat– chatbunita slightly pretty
e– & o –esapataos shop for shoes
otenda go shopping
fa’ – fa´na´an´ to name
ga’ – ga´maigo´ likes to sleep
ge’ ge´papa further down
ha – hapoddong prone to falling
hat – hattalom move in
ka – kama’gas having some authority
ke – kehatsa about to lift
la– lage´hilo´ further up
ma – mataitai was read (passive marker only)
man – manaitai yu´ I prayed ( Indirect object marker)
man – manhaspok They are full (plural subject marker)
mi – misalape´ lots of money
mina’– mina’tres third
na’– na’gasgas to make clean
san – sanme´na toward the front
tai – taiguenao like that
tak – takhilo´ way up high
talak – talakhiyong look towards the outside
ya yamo´nana way 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.

For example:

Chamorro English meaning
na´galågu dog food
ga´–ña guaka his/her cow
gimen – hu kafe my coffee
iyon påtgon thing belonging to a child
B. Infixes
1. The following infixes –um– and –in– will be written as part of the word:
hugåndo = humugåndo
huyong = humuyong
na´i = nina´i
magof = minagof
2. 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
3. The syllable, la is frequently inserted into Chamorro words that represent sounds as in kalaskas –pangpang–,´palångpang påkpak, paspas–palaspas.
C. Suffixes

The following list contains the suffixes of Chamorro 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.

For example:

Chamorro English meaning
fan– –yan = fanbinaduyan place of deer
–yan = fama’gasiyan place for washing
–on = guaså’on sharpener
–yon = guaiyayon lovable
–ñaihon = såganñaihon stay for a while
–guan = pinalakse’guan slip of the tongue
–ña = bunitaña prettier
–i = sangani to tell to someone
–yi = sanganiyi to tell to someone for someone’s behalf
–an = minigu’an having 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 will be used to show the special relationship that possessive pronoun directional words and others have with the stem to which they are attached.

For example:


Chamorro English meaning
rilos–hu my watch
rilos–mu your watch
rilos–ña his/her watch
rilos–ta our (ind.) watch
rilos–mami our (exc.) watch
rilos–miyu your (plural) watch
rilos–niha their watch


Chamorro English meaning
hanao–guato on your way over go to
chule´–magi bring it on your way over here
po’lon-guato drop 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.