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Reliance on English squeezing out indigenous tongues

By Emmanuel T. Erediano SAIPAN, CNMI Islands (Marianas Variety, April 29, 2011) – The Chamorro and Carolinian languages are "dying" because of the success of the English language, according to former Education Superintendent Henry I. Sablan.

The Education Commissioner, Rita Sablan and other Public School System (PSS) officials were joined by Congressman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, students, principals and teachers in proclaiming May as Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) -PSS Chamorro and Refaluwasch Language and Heritage Studies Month on Wednesday.

Some students took turns in reading the proclamation in Chamorro and Refaluwasch or Carolinian.

Henry I. Sablan said majority of young students, especially those in the elementary school, are not fluent in Chamorro or Carolinian.

The children’s knowledge about their native languages, he added, "has declined a lot."

The former education official said "the success of English is the biggest factor" in the decline of the students’ proficiency in the local languages.

English, he said, has produced a lot of "elitist parents" who no longer teach their children the Chamorro or Carolinian languages.

But he said most students are doing well academically.

It is unfortunate, however, that they can barely speak their native tongues, he added.

The challenge now for the CNMI education system is to continue what has been developed already: strategies to enhance the Chamorro and Carolinian study program both in terms of materials, staff, certification, facilities and, most importantly, parental and community involvement.

According to the proclamation, "Our debt to our forebears is immense as is our responsibility to ensure and honor our commitments. To serve as stewards of ancestral heritage, actively promoting the Chamorro and Refaluwasch languages and culture for the benefit of our children and for generations to come, it added. We celebrate the ancestry and time-honored traditions of all Chamorro and Refaluwasch throughout the world," it stated.

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