[Historiographia Linguistica 42:2/3] 2015
► pp. 261–313
The Chamorro Verb according to Diego Luis de Sanvitores (1627–1672)
In 1668, enroute from Mexico to the Mariana islands, Father Diego Luis de Sanvitores, S.J. (1627–1672) wrote a description of Chamorro, assisted by a Filipino who had lived on the islands for 17 years. This ‘grammar’ has never been studied, primarily because it was written in Latin in a complicated style and because it has received unjustified criticism for applying Latin case names to a language without case. However, a thorough analysis of this treatise is of great historical interest, for several reasons. In the paper the author, after offering a sketch of the origin of Sanvitores’ mission and some details about the manuscript, places the text in its historical context and discusses its reception. After a description of the general structure the focus is on the main part of the grammar, the section treating the verb. It is shown that Sanvitores has, overall, an accurate understanding of the Chamorro verb, including its tense-less structure, the central role of the root, the pragmatic effect of affixes, and antipassive and ergative constructions. Sanvitores also takes a clear stand with regard to the current debate about word classes in Chamorro. The analysis demonstrates that Sanvitores did not stick to Nebrija’s grammatical template, but rather tapped concepts and terminology from contemporary sources known as the Grammaticae Proverbiandi. Furthermore, the article attends to changes in forms and meanings of Chamorro words and closely analyzes Sanvitores’ dissection of the roots and affixes for clues to help us understand the language’s complex system of affixation, which even today is still not fully understood.