Hawaiian Language

The Importance of the Indigenous Language of Hawaii

Hawaiian is the only official state language in the US apart from English. Preserving it will go a long way towards preserving the rich cultural heritage of Hawaii.

The state of Hawaii recognizes both English and Hawaiian as official languages. Interestingly, out of all the 50 states in America, Hawaii is the only one to have its own official language.

The “Olelo Hawai’i”, which is the Hawaiian language, belongs to a family of languages from central and eastern Polynesia, which includes Hawaiian, Maori, Ratongan, Tahitian and Tumotuan. The arrival of the invaders and travelers from the Western world in Hawaii, marked major changes not only for the people in Hawaii, but also changed their language.

One of the first outsiders who reached the island of Hawaii was a group of missionaries. They were determined to teach and educate the Hawaiians. Ancient Hawaiian people didn’t know how to read and write, and thus, missionaries proposed a written form and alphabet letters for the Hawaiian language. However, missionaries were not well-trained in linguistic skills, which caused them to be unable to distinguish many of the verbal sounds in the Hawaiian language. Hence, after the implementation of the alphabet for Hawaiian language, they noticed that the language itself consisted of just 12 letters found in the English alphabet.

Linguists believe that when the Hawaiian language was given written and alphabet form, many Hawaiian words had sounds that were different from the original spoken form. Fortunately, because of the subsequent evolution of the Hawaiian language, it became the language used in the government, schools, and in the media.

However, because of the strong influence of the Western world during the early 19th and the 20th centuries on the Hawaiian Islands, the Hawaiian language has seen a decline over the years. Due to the determination that Hawaiian people showed in saving their mother tongue, in the last several years, the Hawaiian government imposed the compulsory enrollment of  Hawaiian children in Hawaiian language immersion schools. Thus, nowadays the Hawaiian language has been experiencing a good recovery in giving importance to their own language.

Truly, that Hawaiian people are capable of speaking the English language. However, they also firmly believe that saving their indigenous own language will help them save their culture and thereby treasure the heritage that their ancestors had given to them.

Loss of language carries with it a loss of culture and a loss of identity. Thus, saving and keeping indigenous languages like the Hawaiian language is significant. The importance of the Hawaiian language in Hawaiian schools has been validated over the years, and so, until now, there are several school and academic programs that are still implemented for students to further study the Hawaiian language. Revitalization and rejuvenation of an endangered language is another essential outcome for the community; it may be a bit too soon to tell that the Hawaiian language is in a stable state already at the moment, however, it is at least good to know that local people who own this language are concerned about saving their endangered language and with it, their rich cultural identity.

Author: Charlene Lacandazo

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