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7. Overheard on the Web

Talking a Language Back From the Brink. Hawaiian professors band together to revive the islands' dying native tongue

Richard Monastersky,
Chronicle of Higher Education
The Faculty, Volume 51, Issue 16, Page A8
Hilo, Hawaii, December 10, 2004

On the first day of "Hawaiian Studies 474," a dozen students line up just inside a classroom doorway, open their mouths in unison, and breathe life into an ailing culture. Under a bank of fluorescent lights, young men and women wearing T-shirts and shorts chant an old Hawaiian poem asking permission to enter a place of learning.

"Kunihi ka mauna i ka la'i e," they intone without stopping for breath, voices blending in a melody that hovers around a single ancient note. Kalena Silva, a professor of Hawaiian language and studies at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, asks his students to repeat the entrance poem several times before he chants a response, ending in a drawn-out tremolo that fades to silence. Then he begins his traditional-hula class, starting with a lecture on the history of the dance.

As he asks questions, tells jokes, and keeps the students engaged, not a word of English passes his lips. This upper-level course, like others offered by the department, is taught entirely in the Hawaiian language. In the early 1970s, when Mr. Silva was in college, he could not have taken a class like this one. The University of Hawaii-Manoa, which he attended, treated Hawaiian as a foreign language, and a relatively unpopular one at that. Few professors and even fewer students had any fluency in the state's native tongue.

State law actually prohibited teachers from using Hawaiian as the classroom language in elementary and secondary school -- a holdover from the colonial rules imposed by Americans after they wrested control of the islands from the original Polynesian inhabitants in 1893. That law and the cultural dominance of the United States nearly succeeded in killing off the native language. But over the past 25 years, Mr. Silva and a trio of other professors at Hilo have given Hawaiian a second chance. Since their days together in college, Mr. Silva and his friends have made it their mission to resuscitate the language and the culture.

Along the way, they have established language-immersion schools reaching from pre-kindergarten all the way through to a master's degree. They have testified before Congress, changed state laws, and are now establishing the country's first doctoral program in indigenous languages. And they have created a small but burgeoning community of fluent Hawaiian speakers, some of whom are becoming the next generation of educators. "It's been an inspiration to a lot of other groups in the United States," says Suzanne Romaine, a professor of English at the University of Oxford, in England, who has studied threatened languages. Representatives of the Blackfoot nation and other American Indian groups have visited Hilo to study the college's programs. When the Hawaiian professors started their work, only 32 people under the age of 18 spoke the language at home. Now some 2,000 children are enrolled in Hawaiian-immersion schools, and as many as 6,000 people have some fluency in the language. "It's now secured a foothold," Ms. Romaine, who has advised the Hilo professors on their doctoral-program proposal. "I don't think anybody would have predicted that possibility 30 or 40 years ago."

The Spam Invasion
Through much of the 20th century, native Hawaiian culture was spiraling downward. American sugar- plantation owners, who had overthrown the sovereign Hawaiian nation at the turn of the 20th century, suppressed the native language so successfully that few people born after 1920 spoke Hawaiian at home. Then World War II brought thousands of American GI's to the islands, and with them came a tsunami of cultural influences that drowned out the existing heritage. Spam became a staple on Hawaiian tables. By the 1960s, many Hawaiians in the newly minted state -- which spells its name Hawai'i -- were looking outside the islands for an identity. "It wasn't a prideful thing to be Hawaiian," says Clayton Hee, a state senator who was in high school with Mr. Silva. "I'm half Chinese, and when I was younger, if anybody asked me, I would say I was Chinese-Hawaiian."

Mr. Hee and Mr. Silva attended an elite private academy called the Kamehameha School, which is financed by a bequest from a Hawaiian princess descended from King Kamehameha. The school accepted only students with native Hawaiian ancestry. Despite its namesake, though, the academy did not encourage students to study the language of Kamehameha. Mr. Hee took Spanish there. But Mr. Silva was drawn to a course in Hawaiian because he wanted to connect with his grandmother and others of her generation. "There was a lot of aloha -- warmth and love," he says. "The way they interacted was so beautiful, and I wanted to be like that."

Later, at the University of Hawaii, Mr. Silva studied the language under Larry L. Kimura, who had graduated from Kamehameha a few years ahead of him. Later another graduate of the school, Kauanoe Kamana, arrived on the Manoa campus, on the island of O'ahu. She also became a student of Mr. Kimura's. The cadre from Kamehameha formed a lasting bond. Now, Mr. Silva, Mr. Kimura, and Ms. Kamana are all faculty members in the College of Hawaiian Language, at the state university system's Hilo campus, on the Big Island of Hawaii. A fourth professor in the college, William (Pila) Wilson, also studied Hawaiian under Mr. Kimura on the Manoa campus and later married Ms. Kamana.

Together in the 1970s, the four started a revolution by reaching toward the past. At the time, most students of Hawaiian were learning it for quiet academic purposes: so they could comb through documents from the unified Hawaiian kingdom of the 1800s and read the many Hawaiian-language newspapers that sprang up during that time. But Mr. Kimura and his students had a different, more vocal, idea. "The main contribution that they made is to get people to think this could be a viable language to serve your everyday needs," says Kerry Laiana Wong, an acting assistant professor of Hawaiian language on the Manoa campus. "They tried to make it a living language again. That's where the movement, at least in the language, really got its impetus."

Family Values
At the dinner table, it's clear that the Hilo professors have made their point. Mr. Wilson, Mr. Silva, and Ms. Kamana are so used to conversing in Hawaiian that they laugh when they hear one another talk during a meal with a mainlander. "It's really strange to speak English with these people," says Mr. Wilson, who grew up in Honolulu in a family that hailed from Kansas. Mr. Wilson was hired by Hilo in the late 1970s to set up a B.A. program in Hawaiian studies. As part of the hire, he stipulated that upper-level courses in the program would be taught entirely in Hawaiian. From classroom to bedroom, he brought those lessons home. After Mr. Wilson married Ms. Kamana, they started using Hawaiian as their primary language before the birth of their first child, in 1981. "You make the decision to do it," she explains. After rearing their son in Hawaiian at home, they faced a challenge when it was time for preschool and they couldn't find any where Hawaiian was spoken. So, out of necessity, they banded together with other families and started their own.

Along with their friends and colleagues, Ms. Kamana and Mr. Wilson set up a nonprofit corporation, the 'Aha Punana Leo (language-nest gathering), in 1983 to run Hawaiian-language preschools. They based their program on a successful one pioneered by Maori activists in New Zealand. The nonprofit group created its first preschool, on the island of Kaua'i, to serve a small community of Hawaiian speakers from the nearby island of Ni'ihau.

That privately owned island has a population of some 200 people, who, to this day, use Hawaiian as their first language. The second Punana Leo, in Hilo, attracted families like that of Mr. Wilson and Ms. Kamana, second-language learners rearing their children in Hawaiian.

When it was time for their son to enter kindergarten, Ms. Kamana and Mr. Wilson started one of those, too, without authorization from the state. (A longstanding Hawaiian law prohibited educators from teaching in the native language.) They were prepared to go to jail for their actions. But they managed to get the law changed and to establish a full elementary school. Then came a laboratory school for middle and high school, called Nawahi, which is run jointly by their college, the nonprofit corporation, and the state department of education.

Their efforts extend far beyond the usual activities of college professors. "We had to train the teachers and change the law," says Mr. Wilson. "We had to make the curricular materials, and we even had to create words for things that hadn't existed in the lives of the older people." They brought Hawaiian into the modern world by inventing words such as huna hohoki, for neutron, and wikio, for video.

Sink or Speak
On the first day of school this year Ms. Kamana, who serves as principal of Nawahi, lined up more than 100 students to greet Mr. Silva and a visitor. The children stood at attention, arms straight down at their sides, chanting a Hawaiian poem together. Those students are but a small fraction of the nearly 2,000 children enrolled in Hawaiian-immersion programs around the state. From the modest beginning of one preschool, 20 years ago, the list has grown to include more than a dozen private preschools and 20 Hawaiian-immersion schools, all using materials developed by the Hilo college.

Many other students enter the language stream at the university level. In a section of Hawaiian 101 at Hilo, Haunani Bernardino leads her 20 students at a gallop through their first week of instruction. Every action is a teachable moment. When someone sneezes, she asks, "How do we say, 'Bless you?'" The class calls out in chorus, "E ola." The path these students are taking is much easier now than it was a generation ago, when Mr. Wilson and his cohorts faced countless roadblocks.

In the early 1980s, Mr. Wilson learned that he was breaking the law by setting up immersion schools, so he took the matter to the state capital. There he spoke with Mr. Hee, a former student, who at the time was serving in the State House of Representatives. Together they led an effort that by 1986 repealed the law. Since that success, Mr. Wilson and Mr. Hee have joined forces many times to plow through the state bureaucracy in order to start other immersion programs, the Hawaiian- language college, and the master's-degree program.

Mr. Wilson's efforts haven't stopped at the state's borders. In 1990 he and others at the Hawaiian-language college worked with Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii, to help draft the Native American Language Act, which supports efforts to preserve the indigenous languages of the United States. Last month he visited the senator in Washington, D.C., to drum up support for S 575, an amendment to the act, which would help export the language-immersion program used in Hawaii to other regions of the United States where indigenous languages are vanishing. The effort was unsuccessful this term, but Mr. Wilson will try again next session.

Campus Rivalry
Now Mr. Wilson is back in Hawaii, asking for more from the state. The Hawaiian-language college this year submitted a proposal to start a doctoral program in Hawaiian and indigenous-language studies, which would be the first of its kind anywhere in the world, says Oxford's Ms. Romaine. One branch of the program would focus on Hawaiian, while another would cater to scholars and educators from other cultures who want to learn how to revitalize or study threatened languages elsewhere. "There is a need for this because now there's a great deal of interest in the problem of language extinction and language revitalization around the world, and there isn't any place where people can go to receive training," says Ms. Romaine, who might play a role in the program.

Once again, Mr. Wilson's former student, Mr. Hee, is in a position to help. Last month he was re-elected to the State Senate, where he will serve as chairman of the higher-education committee, which oversees the University of Hawaii System. The Board of Regents met in October and approved the plan in concept, as long as there is sufficient coordination between Hilo and the flagship Manoa campus, which houses all of the university's current doctoral programs.

There is a bit of a rivalry between the two campuses when it comes to teaching the Hawaiian language. Although it has more students and more faculty members, Manoa is a step behind Hilo and is now trying to establish its own master's program in Hawaiian-language studies. Some professors at Manoa have wondered whether Hilo has sufficient qualifications to run a graduate program. They note that Mr. Silva and Mr. Wilson have the only Ph.D.'s in the faculty of the Hawaiian-language college there.

Mr. Wilson responds that it's a Catch-22 of sorts. "Since there are no graduate degrees in our area, it's a problem," he says. "We fought really strongly to ensure that the hiring in our program would be based on actual knowledge of Hawaiian language and culture." The college can point to some recent academic successes. It has turned out four graduates with master's degrees in Hawaiian language. And Mr. Silva is editing a two-year-old journal of Hawaiian-language sources, called Ka Ho'Oilina, which is translated as The Legacy.

"We're finally at the graduate level, at the truly academic level," says Mr. Silva. Hawaiians have watched for decades as non-native scholars studied Hawaiian historical documents indirectly through translations. But now, students fluent in the language are starting to mine the hundreds of thousands of historical sources written in Hawaiian. "We are able to look at Hawaiian cultural material in our own language," he says. "It gives us added weight and insight into this material."

Nonetheless, the academic advances are only a small step toward the professors' main goal of bringing Hawaiian back into people's lives. "I'm looking forward to a time -- I'm not sure I'll see it in my lifetime -- when there is a large enough community of speakers" to sustain the language, says Mr. Silva, while driving on the outskirts of Hilo. Linguists estimate that it might take as many as 100,000 speakers to put Hawaiian on that solid a foundation. Only about 5,000 or 6,000 speak the language now, but schools and colleges are training more every year, says Mr. Silva as he pulls into the parking lot at Nawahi, where faculty members and students are, day by day, resurrecting the language of Kamehameha. "We're not there yet," Mr. Silva says. "But maybe in 50 years."

Text: Basics of speaking Hawaiian
Hawaiian is part of a family of eastern Polynesian languages and is closely related to the languages of Tahiti, Easter Island, and the Marquesas Islands. It also shares many similarities with the Maori language of New Zealand natives. When American missionaries arrived in Hawaii in the 1820s, they established a spelling system consisting of five vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and seven consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, W).

Modern Hawaiian includes two features not present in English. An 'okino, written as a single open quotation mark, represents a glottal stop, which is made by closing off the back of the throat as in the English expression "uh-oh." A second feature, the kahako, is an accent bar over vowels that are elongated.

Vowels are pronounced separately unless they form the complex vowel sounds known as diphthongs, such as "au," which sounds like "ou," and "oi," as in "choice." Stress in Hawaiian words falls on the diphthong or on the vowel with the kahako. If a word has neither, the stress falls on the penultimate syllable.

Common mistakes:
aloha (ah-LOH-ha): Accent falls on the syllable "loh" instead of others. Hawai'i (ha-VIE ee or ha-WHY ee): The correct spelling uses an 'okino. Manoa (MAH-NO-ah): The kahako over the first "a" elongates that vowel, and the second syllable is stressed.
mu'umu'u (moo oo-MOO oo): a type of dress, often mispronounced as "moo-moo." O'ahu (o AH hoo): The glottal stop is often left out. Hawaiian Chants:
At the start of each session of his traditional hula class, Kalena Silva has his students chant a mele or poem asking permission to enter a place of learning and then he responds with a chant.

The entrance poem begins "Kunihi ka mauna i ka la'i e." It means "The mountain Wai'ale'ale stands steep in the calm above the place called Wailua." According to Mr. Silva, director of the College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, "Mt. Wai'ale'ale is used here as a metaphor to express the chanter's wish to make an ascent, no matter how difficult, to a higher level of understanding and knowledge."

Copyright (c)2004 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

Microsoft will translate Windows into Quechua and Mapudungun for Andean markets By Luis Jaime Cisneros

LIMA, Nov 11 (AFP) - Microsoft will translate its blockbuster computer software Windows and Office into Quechua, the Inca language still spoken in six South American countries, told AFP a company representative in Lima. In the 15th-16th century Peru was the cradle of the Inca empire, which stretched from Colombia to Ecuador, Bolivia and down to northen Chile and Argentina.

Microsoft will incorporate Quechua to its two popular programs as it is the most widely spoken indigenous language in Latin America, numbering some 10 million speakers, said Marushka Chocobar, the educational liaison of its Peruvian branch.

Windows XP and Office 2003 Quechua version will be available in spring 2005.

"This is the first time that Microsoft has used an indigenous language in Latin America. Next year we will do something similiar in Chile, where we plan to translate the indigenous Chilean language Mapudungun", he explained. Chile having a highly developed informatic market, Microsoft will translate the same programs into Mapudungun, the language of Mapuches, who are the most populous ethnic group in the country, representing 8% of the total population of 15 million.

Translation to Quechua will be done in Peru, the country where the indigenous population is most highly concentrated. Some 3.2 million indigenous Peruvians speak the language.

One of the goals of the project is to promote literacy among these indigenous people most of whom are on low incomes. According to Microsoft Peru "The project's goals aren't oriented to commerce but to social improvement, aiming to bring technology to marginal sectors and fill the digital divide between the countryside and the city through new pedagogical tools".

The translation project was presented two years ago by the Peruvian branch to the US head office. The study was accepted and last Monday in Lima an agreement was signed with the Peruvian Ministry of Education. This is Microsoft's first experience of having the translation made in the country where the language is spoken rather than in the USA. According to a Microsoft representative, poor people will be able to access technology using a familiar language "by means of Internet boots", which are very popular in Peru. The Quechua project will also be used in Andean schools and universities where Peruvian Educational authorities will allow this technology. "The multilingual version with Quechua will cost the Peruvian authorities 2.50 dollars per copy, comparing to the usual cost for a private school of 70 dollars", said a Microsoft educational spokesperson in Peru. The Quechua version is part of a global agreement signed by the Peruvian government and Microsoft in 2001, when President Alejandro Toledo visited Bill Gates' headquarters in Seattle WA.

Bambi Speaks Arapaho
From Allison Maher Admisnistrative Assistant of the Wyoming Council for the Humanities

Disney's classic "Bambi" has been released in the Arapaho language to help preserve a fading Arapaho language and culture. The Wyoming Council for the Humanities, a non-profit, state-based educational program of the National Endowment for the Humanities, has a limited number of videotapes of "Bambi" in Arapaho--the first feature length children's animated movie ever dubbed into a Native American language available for linguists, anthropologists, educators, and other interested persons.

The videotape is the result of a total immersion language project for children in grades K-3 conducted on the Wind River reservation and supported with funds from the Wyoming Council for the Humanities.

In the Arapaho version of the fifty-two year old Disney classic, the voices are provided by Arapaho children and adults who participated in the language project in the small Arapaho community of Ethete, Wyoming. Proceeds from the videotape are earmarked for Native American language preservation projects.

We currently have over 1,000 copies left and need to sell them so that more projects within the language preservation fund can be done. If you are interested in purchasing copies (copies are $20 plus $8 shipping) please contact me at the information below, or if you have any ideas on how to sell these videos please let me know. We are in need of any help, if you are willing to add our link to your website that would be absolutely wonderful. Please feel free to pass this email on to anyone who may be interested.

Our Voices - Omushkego Oral History (N. Manitoba & Ontario)

The Our Voices website presents the work of the Omushkego Oral History Project. The project has been devoted to the transcription, digitization, and preservation on CD-ROMs of a large portion of Louis Bird's extensive collection of audiotapes documenting the legends and oral history of the "Swampy Cree" people of the Hudson and James Bay Lowlands of northern Manitoba and Ontario.

Alutiiq Revitalization

The Anchorage Daily News reports that an Alaska master-apprentice program aimed at preserving the Alutiiq language will be expanded with the help of a $171, 000 grant from the US government. The grant will enhance a three-year Alutiiq language revitalization project at the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak, Alaska. The program is modeled after a master-apprentice program developed by Leanne Hinton, a linguist at the University of California Berkeley, for a language preservation project involving ten native languages in California.

Records for Community Multilingualism

Richard Hudson
from Linguist-list: 19 Jan 2005

A couple of weeks ago I asked for information about communities where everyone speaks a lot of languages, with a view to establishing the highest number known - i.e. which community belongs in the Guinness Book of Records as having the largest shared verbal repertoire (counted in languages). This may sound a trivial query, but it's relevant to the question of the general human capacity for language learning, on the assumption that these communities are genetically typical of all humans. My guess was that the answer would be around five. Here are my results, with many thanks to those who took part in this pre-scientific survey.

A. Results
As you can imagine, it depends somewhat on how you define 'community'.

A1. If you mean 'group of people who live together', then the record seems to be 6. This was reported by Hilaire Valiquette who writes: I was in Wirrimanu (Balgo), Western Australia writing a dictionary of Kukatja (a dialect of Western Desert) in '91. There were five languages in the community, and people seemed to be comfortable in all of them. A sixth language was English, and people could handle that well too. My best consultant in Kukatja was a Ngardi speaker!

A2. But if you mean 'group of people based on something other than language and covering a wide social and intellectual range', then the record is 7. Sangeeta Bagga-Gupta writes: I conducted fieldwork for my doctoral thesis primarily in western India (in present day Mumbai and Pune) where I followed the work of a national NGO (the Mobile Creches) that served migrant construction workers and their families. At one point during the fieldwork phase the NGO was serving ca 20,000 children. One of the main interests of that study was literacies in everyday life. The predominantly women dominated NGO represented class structures in urban society in western India (during the late 80's early 90's) in an exceptional manner. In addition (and to my frustration) the members in the NGO spoke at least 7 languages and used at least 4 written languages in their everyday working lives in Mumbai. These included: Bambaiya hindi, Marathi, English, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati, Konkani and Parsi. I documented and analysed the complexities and fluidity of multiliteracies in these settings where women with post graduate degrees worked together with women who had dropped out of primary grade vernacular schools. I may have a few copies of my thesis and could share this in case someone is interested.

A3. As expected, there were also several reports of communities where everyone speaks 3, 4 or even 5 languages in one of two patterns: A3a.
Everyone shares the same range of languages. (There are N languages such that every member speaks all these languages.)

Everyone shares the same social system which requires multiple languages because members have to marry from an external group which speaks a different language. (For every member there are N languages that they speak - but not necessarily the same languages for all members.)

B. People and places

B1. I received messages from: Claire Bowern, Jean-Christophe Verstraete, Baden Hughes, Aone (Thomas) van Engelenhoven, Donald Osborn,Chris Beckwith, James L. Fidelholtz, Hal Schiffman, Jim Wilce, Sangeeta Bagga-Gupta, Hilaire Valiquette, Juliet Tembe, Jean-Christophe Verstraete.

B2. Communities with large shared language inventories were reported from: Northern and Western Australia, Papua New Guinea, the inland Niger delta of Mali (Mopti region), the North-West Amazon, India (and in particular, western India, in present day Mumbai and Pune), Cameroon.