Acquisition and Maintenance of the Indigenous Chamorro Language in the Youngest Generation in Guam

Acquisition and Maintenance of the Indigenous Chamorro Language in the Youngest Generation in Guam

Masumi Kai, Michael Lujan Bevacqua
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2959-1.ch006
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This chapter first provides an overview as to the history and factors that have contributed to a marked decrease in the number of Chamorro language speakers in Guam. Although recent efforts by the Government of Guam as well as community groups have sought to reverse this decrease, there continues to be a decline in the number of Chamorro speakers, especially amongst the youngest generations. In a contemporary context, the chapter will focus on the acquisition, maintenance, and the attitudes toward the Chamorro language among the young generation in Guam. Data collected from 582 participants was statistically analyzed. The results show that 80.4% of participants claimed that they understand the Chamorro language, more or less. However, only 4.5% of them evaluated their speaking ability as very good. Among the participants in our study, only 2.6% acquired Chamorro as their mother language, and 9.8% regularly use the Chamorro language. These results show that the extent of the shift on Guam among the youngest generation to the use of English is statistically large.
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Guam is a U.S. territory in Micronesia, in the western Pacific. It has an area of 210 square miles (544 square km). Historically and culturally, it was part of a Chamorro archipelago, of which the other islands are now the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The current population is about 167,000. It is thought that the indigenous Chamorro (CHamoru1) people originally came from Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines around 3000-2000 BC on sailing canoes. The official languages in Guam are English and Chamorro. The Chamorro language belongs to the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Austronesian language family. The word order is SVO and VSO.

Guam is a multi-ethnic region. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (2019) calculates the proportion of Chamorros at 37.3% of the population as of 2010, and Chamorro-language speakers at 17.8% of the population2. Eberhard, Simons, and Fennig (2016) estimates that there are 58,000 speakers of Chamorro worldwide, with 26,000 of them living in Guam, and the rest residing in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and elsewhere. 26,000 people account for approximately 15.5% of Guam’s population. Many researchers have pointed out that the number of speakers of the Chamorro language decreased rapidly after World War II for numerous reasons, chiefly Americanization due to the impact of the U.S. military occupation (e.g., Odo, 1972; Riley, 1974; Underwood, 1984).

The local Government of Guam as well as community groups have been trying to promote the Chamorro language and culture and generally see the younger generations as key to its continuance. Yet, to our knowledge, there are no up-to-date studies investigating what percentage of young people today have acquired Chamorro as their mother language or can speak it frequently.

This chapter will analyze data collected from 582 students, ranging from 5 to 32 years old, and discuss indigenous Chamorro language acquisition, maintenance of Chamorro linguistic ability, and attitudes towards the Chamorro language among members of the youngest generation living in Guam.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Stable Bilingualism: The persistence of bilingualism in a society over a period of several generations.

Chamoru: In 2017, I Kumision i Fino’ CHamoru (Chamorro language commission) mandated the spelling of the word as “CHamoru” in order to follow Chamorro language orthography.

Reverse Language Shift (RLS): An attempt to halt or reverse the decline of a language or to revive an extinct one. RLS is an acronym coined by Fishman (1991) for the process of reversing language shift.

Mother Language: The first language that a person learns from the caregiver.

Diglossia: A language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language or a vernacular language variety (labeled L ), there is a very divergent, highly codified superposed language (labeled H ) in a single community.

Language Attrition: the loss of, or changes to, grammatical and other features of a language as a result of declining use by speakers.

Societal Bilingualism: The use two languages in a society.

Individual Bilingualism: Bilingual as the individual level. A person speaks two languages fluently.

L2: The second language. It is a language that is not learned during infancy but is learned later and is being used frequently now.

Language Revitalization: An attempt to halt or reverse the decline of a language.

Heritage Language: A language learned as children, not fully developed, but still used frequently now.

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