Island Speak (language)

Andre Cramblit andrekar at NCIDC.ORG
Fri Nov 7 17:49:17 UTC 2003

Posted on: Sunday, November 2, 2003

Hawaiian immersion saved the language

Unique in the nation, Hawai'i has two official state languages: English
and Hawaiian.

The latter was pulled back from the brink of extinction two decades ago,
thanks to Hawaiian-speaking kupuna, University of Hawai'i language
students and the 'Aha Punana Leo Hawaiian-immersion program.

Only a fraction of Hawai'i residents speak fluent Hawaiian, but the number
of children being educated in Hawaiian is growing and creating a
generation of bilingual citizens. This is a standard that is common and
accepted in Europe but is relatively rare in the United States.

And we all have to admire an effort that strives for educated literacy in
two languages at a time when a troubling number of Island residents have a
hard time speaking English competently as a first language, let alone a

This week, the 'Aha Punana Leo celebrates "20 years of living through
Hawaiian," and will honor Sens. Daniel Akaka and Dan Inouye for their
contributions to Hawaiian language and culture. A fund-raiser honoring the
two senators is set for this Sunday ( a week from today) at the Hilton
Hawaiian Village.

The 'Aha Punana Leo is a private, nonprofit corporation supported by
federal and charitable grants.

According to the 'Aha Punana Leo, nearly 2,000 children have been educated
in Hawaiian, and some have gone on to attend such prestigious institutions
as Punahou, Stanford and Oxford University.

That said, the program is not for everyone. The 'Aha's curriculum requires
that students learn only in Hawaiian through the fourth grade, based on
the premise that children should gain a firm grasp of Hawaiian before
adding English in the fifth grade.

The controversy of when to introduce English contributed to a split at Ke
Kula Ni'ihau O Kekaha on Kaua'i in 1999. Some parents and teachers felt
the children, who were raised speaking Ni'ihau Hawaiian, should learn
English earlier, and started their own charter school in Waimea.

It took courage to make a move they felt was best for their children.

The bottom line is, whether you wish to learn Hawaiian as a first language
or simultaneously with English, the state Department of Education, the
University of Hawai'i and the 'Aha Punana Leo offer these options, and
that's what keeps the Hawaiian language alive.

This is more than an interesting academic exercise, as important as that
alone might be. It is also a critical part of the effort to keep the
entire Hawaiian culture vibrant and real.

That is a direct benefit to everyone in these Islands.

More information about the Endangered-languages-l mailing list