decolonization / fino' chamoru

Notes from Dr. Souder

We all just finished the Indigenous Languages Conference at UOG.  I’m sure my fellow bloggers may post about it more in depth.  For now, a few quick posts.

Today I got to sneak in for a bit to famed Chamorro scholar Dr. Laura Torres Souder’s presentation, in between finding buses for delegates and counting folding chairs.  Below, a few notes:

You can’t speak a language well until you speak it badly.  Got to stop teasing our children for speaking badly.   We didn’t speak it perfectly when we came out of our mothers wombs.  We must stop making younger people mamahlao about speaking their native language.
Challenged to bridge island-global divide (as indigenous Pacific Islanders).  One language dies every fourteen days.  By the end of this century it’s likely than over half the world’s languages will have died, including many pacific languages.  But if a community of only 1000 people would transmit the language to their children 100%, so that everyone learns it fully, then the language may be able to come back from the brink.  (National Geographic’s Enduring Voices Project)
People have the most power, not politicians.  People in families have power to change the trajectory of language.
Language is the umbilical cord of culture.  Culture is the mother; people are the baby.  Unique social construction of language.  Mo’na framework for looking at history, a circular, not linear, view of history.  That means a lot when you’re thinking about who’s important in the now.  Taotao mo’na.  Taotao tåtte?  (?)  Taotao tåno’.  Fino’, Taotao, Tåno’.
Only 14% of graduating seniors in Guam high schools were at grade level in terms of literacy or language arts proficiency.  22% only were at high school level proficiency, tenth or ninth grade.  64%, or the remainder, were at middle school or elementary school level.  Support authentic literacy development.  Literacy can be learned in any language.  Learning skills in another language will reflect back and improve your native language skills.  Skills transfer from one language to another…  If we marginalize the teaching of Chamorro (only 20-30 minutes a day), how much time is actually spent on language development?
[Dr. Souder polled Chamorro teachers in the audience at this point on how much time they spent actually teaching Chamorro language.]
Maybe ten minutes total per day?  That’s not prioritizing.  That’s marginalizing.  That’s not real.  That’s kado’, make believe, on steroids.  We’re telling kids not to prioritize Chamorro language, we’re telling them we really don’t care.
You know why our grandkids don’t speak Chamorro?  Because we don’t speak to them in Chamorro.  We learned in the home.  From everybody.  Exposure, immersion.
We have to get over the idea that we don’t like learning Chamorro as a second language.  There should be no stigma in that.  We have to get over that, the idea that somehow that’s not desirable.  It’s not only desirable, it’s necessary, if we are to be able to teach Chamorro to the next generation.
Another obstacle — nostalgia, wanting to go back to the past.  We’re not latte builders, we can never be, we aren’t in the 1500s.  But. We can be modern Chamorros, modern Pacific Island peoples.  Seven thousand new words in the Hawai’ian language on the website of a presenter here.  The Hawai’ian language is alive, well, viable in the twenty-first century. The ancient Chamorros were probably constantly borrowing words.
We must get over these ideas of purity.  Purity is a colonizing word, a colonizing mindset.  Authenticity too.  Who are we to say if one person is more authentic?  If their spelling is more accurate, Peter’s or another person’s?  We have to be kinder to each other, in this discussion, rather than alienating each other and shutting each other down.
(At this point I had to sneak out again to make sure the lecture hall was set up for the final keynote address.  Great talk by Dr. Souder.)

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