Friday, August 4, 2023

Hawaiian Language -- Should I Give Up?

On this trip I came to an important crossroad. I hate to say it, but I have almost given up on my dream of one day becoming fluent in the Hawaiian language. It's not that I don't love Hawaiian. I do. It's full of beauty, meaning, and respect. And I believe that the language could serve as a power for strengthening cultural identity. But the fact is that there are only a few thousand native speakers of Hawaiian, many of them on the isolated island of Niihau. The University of Hawaii now offers an immersion program in Hawaiian at their Hilo campus, but I'm too much of an Oahu-ite to spend several months on the Big Island (there's no surf there.) 

Wednesday, at the airport, I noticed for the first time Hawaiian language announcements, which were then given in English. How lovely. Talk about a sonorous language. But let's be honest. How many people in the airport could understand the Hawaiian? Probably close to zero. And that includes the locals. On the other hand, Hawaiian Pidgin is now an official language of Hawaii. Among those who were born and raised in Hawaii, there's a continuum between those who speak English only and those who speak Pidgin only. Most people fall somewhere between those two points. Oddly enough, Pidgin is not waning despite the tendency toward a more standard form of English. If anything, Pidgin is more common because of the new Bible in the language. I seriously doubt that there are any truly monolingual Hawaiian speakers in Hawaii (other than on Niihau). Native Hawaiians speak English as well as 'Olelo Hawai'i. Of course, all of them can speak Pidgin -- which is why I think perhaps Pidgin should be used at the airport since all locals can understand it. I can hear it now:

Brah, no make pilikia in da airport, eh. Dis our hale, not you guyses. So no talk stink about da airlines or da concessions hea. You carry one gun in da airport, you going make us huhu for reals. Ho, we going false crack you so hahd you going be all hemajang!

I would ask this. Why learn to speak a language if you can't speak it with anyone? I have a friend who considers himself fluent in Koine Greek. I mean, he speaks the language and not only reads it. When I asked him, "Who do you converse with?" he answered, "Well, nobody." I would learn conversational Koine Greek in a heartbeat if I could find people to speak it with. But that's never going to happen. See my dilemma? With German, I found that speaking the language was the best way to learn it. Ditto with Spanish and French. Speaking is an essential language learning skill. Speaking works because it moves the language from the back of your mind to the front. As with sports, the more you play the more you improve. 

On this trip I found zero people who knew more than a few words of Hawaiian. I only heard the language spoken once -- at the airport. The one place where you WILL hear Hawaiian is on the local Hawaiian music station, which I listened to in the car while driving. Many Hawaiian songs feature falsetto, or leo ki'eki'e. So lovely. I guess if I learned to speak Hawaiian fluently I could listen to music with greater understanding, right? Then again, I only spend one week per year in the islands. Is that worth it? I hate having to postpone decisions. But I'm going to sit on this one for a while.

All pau.