Chamorro (Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands)

Chamorro language

Chamorro is an Austronesian language, and is considered an independent branch of the Malayo-Polynesian language family. It is spoken by the Chamorro people, a group indigenous to the Mariana Islands. 


Many words in Chamorro (around 50-70%) are of Spanish origin. Chamorro likely emerged from the creolization of languages on the island of Guam, and therefore is sometimes referred to as a Spanish-Austronesian language. 

Morphology & Syntax

 The sentence structure of Chamorro often places verbs first, using a VSO (verb-subject-object) word order. However, Chamorro word order is flexible and can be modified to place emphasis on specific words within a sentence.

While much of the Chamorro lexicon is derived from Spanish, Chamorro grammar appears to be more heavily influenced by Japanese, Micronesian, and German. 

Chamorro is an agglutinative language, meaning that morphemes have consistent spelling and pronunciation, and each morpheme denotes a single meaning, as opposed to a fusional language such as English in which a single morpheme can denote multiple semantic or syntactic changes (e.g., the morpheme -s added to a verb in English conveys both that the subject is singular and that the sentence is in present tense). 

Chamorro also features wh-agreement, in which verb agreement morphemes match the wh- question phrase.


Chamorro first started to appear in writing in 1668 when Father San Vitores, a missionary, devised a spelling system the Chamorro language using the Latin alphabet. The spelling system is similar to Spanish. Chamorro's geminate consonants are written as double letters (GG, TT, SS). 

Chamorro Phonology

Chamorro has the vowel sounds /ɑ/, /æ/, /e/, /i/, /o/, u/, /ɑ͡ɪ/, and /ɑ͡ʊ/, and the following consonant sounds:



Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p b t d   k g ʔ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ  
Fricative f s     h
Affricate   ͡ts ͡dz      
Tap   ɾ ɻ      
Approximant   l      

Chamorro has geminate consonants (consonants pronounced for a longer period of time), which are a distinctive feature of the language. 

SLP Considerations

Language Considerations:

 Most older adult Chamorro are monolingual in Chamorro. Their children tend to be either monolingual or bilingual in Chamorro and English. Younger adults still and children oftentimes are multilingual in Chamorro, English, and the language of the Filipino maid (which is usually Tagalog) or any other language of the various non-Chamorro with whom they come into contact. Therefore, it may be difficult to determine the client’s primary language. SLP assessment procedures should rely upon “informal, naturalistic testing procedures, and on parent and teacher reports”. Many Chamorro on Guam believe that the indigenous people should return to their native language. As a result, there is a cultural bias to speak Chamorro.

Non-verbal Considerations:

 In contrast to the dominant US culture, the Chamorro use eye contact less often and sustain it for shorter periods of time. A raised eyebrow can be used as a greeting, affirmation, negation, or just an acknowledgment of a statement. The word “yes” may be used as an affirmation to a statement or only that the listener perceives the statement and really means “no.” When compared with US English speakers, Chamorro have more and longer moments of silence in their conversations in which much talk may not be appreciated.