The Inspiring Quest to Revive the Hawaiian Language

November 17th, 2020 by Pelehonuamea Suganuma and Kekoa Harman were bright-eyed high schoolers in Honolulu when they first crossed paths, in the 1990s. The two were paired for a performance—a ho‘ike, as such shows are known in Hawaiian. Both teenagers had a passion for hula and mele (Hawaiian songs and chants), and they liked performing at the school they’d chosen to attend—Kamehameha High School, part of a 133-year-old private network that gave admissions preference to students of Hawaiian Polynesian ancestry. Still, one part of Hawaiian culture remained frustratingly out of reach for Pele and Kekoa: the language. Over many generations, the native tongue of the islands had been systematically eliminated from everyday life, and even the Kamehameha Schools weren’t able to bring it back. Part of it was a lack of interest—students seemed to prefer learning Japanese, Spanish or French. But more important, Hawaii’s educators generally hadn’t yet figured out how to teach Hawaiian vocabulary and grammar, or give eager youngsters like Pele and Kekoa opportunities to immerse themselves in Hawaiian speech. A few years later, Pele and Kekoa found themselves together again. Both of them enrolled in a brand-new Hawaiian language program at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. The two former schoolmates became part of a pioneering cohort that was innovating ways to bring Hawaiian back to life. They helped develop some of the first truly successful Hawaiian language programs throughout the state’s islands. Along the way, they started dating, got married and had four children, and raised them to speak fluent Hawaiian. Today, Pele teaches at a Hawaiian-language K-12 school and Kekoa teaches Hawaiian language and culture at the college they both attended. At home, their family speaks almost exclusively Hawaiian. The Harmans are proud of the revival they helped carry out in just one generation. But Unesco still lists the language as critically endangered, and there’s a long way to go before it’s spoken again as a part of everyday life. “There’s a false sense of security sometimes,” says Pele, “that our language is coming back.” Read more: Smithsonian

Hawaiian Language Revival Used as Model for Other Indigenous Languages

March 19th, 2017 by Advocates of endangered languages gathered at the University of Hawaii at Manoa this month for the fifth International Conference on Language Documentation and Conservation. The conference included a field study of Hawaiian medium language schools — public schools where the curriculum is taught entirely in Hawaiian — in Hilo, Hawaii, to see what lessons can be applied to saving other languages. Advocates came from Okinawa, Japan; Singapore; Australia; New Zealand; Canada; and several states, according to the University of Hawaii. "The Pūnana Leo preschools continue until today based on the simple rule: If you speak only in Hawaiian to the children, they will begin to speak it back to you," Larry Kimura, associate professor of Hawaiian language and Hawaiian studies at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo, told NBC News. "When the [state Department of Education] allowed its first two probationary 'Hawaiian immersion' sites, the department was very frank in stating that they had no qualified teachers and no Hawaiian curriculum to support the program," he added. "The Pūnana Leo responded that we would take up that responsibility." Read more: NBC News

Can texting teens save a threatened Hawaiian language?

January 30th, 2016 by To stay alive, languages must be used. It helps if they are hip, too, says Amy Kalili, a native Hawaiian. Six decades ago, Hawaii's native tongue was close to vanishing with only a few dozen youngsters left speaking it. Scared of losing their lingo, islanders led a "cultural renaissance" in the 1970s and 1980s by teaching children the dying tongue, Kalili said. Nowadays, schools educate 3,000 students a year in Hawaiian. But to cement these gains it must keep up with the times. "For languages to survive, kids have to speak it. Therefore it needs to be cool. They have to be jazzed about it," Kalili, 44, told Al Jazeera. "They have to see it on television and use it on their iPhones and computers. It's important for their psyche that they speak a language of capacity." Read more: Al Jazeera‎