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Hawaiian language is handicapped today for lack of a strong Hawaiian-language media and an official language planning office (as exists in many other parts of the Pacific Basin) that can disseminate new vocabulary developments. The secular Hawaiian newspapers went out of business after World War II and neither the potential of radio nor of television has ever been fully applied toward benefiting the Hawaiian-speaking community. Without the dissemination of vocabulary, those speakers of Hawaiian still active today are linguistically deprived. The reason for this situation is the development of English dominance at the expense of Hawaiian.

The English dominance of Hawaiian parallels Norman French subjection of English between 1066 and 1200. Whether Hawaiian can be revived, as was English, after the current trial period is a matter of conjecture. At present, the language has a single native-speaking community of some 150 individuals located on the island of Ni'ihau. There are less than 2,000 native speakers, all above the age of 60, scattered throughout the other six inhabited islands, who must function within an English-speaking environment. Another one thousand or so English speakers are actively trying to learn Hawaiian. There are also many in the community who can understand some Hawaiian, but cannot speak it, and the majority of Hawaiians who speak a form of English heavily influenced by Hawaiian. The life and death of the Hawaiian language rests primarily with these people, but the success of their efforts to assure the life of their language depends in large part on the cessation of hostile and senseless measures emanating from the dominant English-speaking groups. Perhaps if the English speakers were more aware of how their own language almost suffered death at the hands of the Normans, who considered English primitive and inferior, their attitudes and actions presently so detrimental to the survival of Hawaiian would change.

The Rise of English

Much of the early communication in Hawai'i between Hawaiians and foreigners from various linguistic groups was through a form of broken or simplified Hawaiian. This broken Hawaiian was carried by Hawaiian sailors aboard Western vessels and traces of it are found in Eskimo trading language and a Kamchatka trading language of the Asian Soviet Union. Simplified Hawaiian survived as a means of communicating with foreigners and gradually developed in to what is called pidgin English, in the early twentieth century.

The existence of a form of broken Hawaiian is testimony of the cultural and linguistic strength of the language at the early period of contact with other cultures. From earliest contact, however, there were also Hawaiians who learned foreign languages by working around foreigners, especially aboard their vessels, and through extended stays in foreign ports. Hawaiians were reputed to be quick language learners and were hired to serve as interpreters in the Northwest coast of the North American continent. Bilingual Hawaiians were important to all the Hawaiian people as a direct means of understanding other cultures and introducing new ideas at home. One strength of the early Hawaiian government lay in the fact that there were a number of Hawaiians and assimilated Europeans who understood foreign languages and thinking well enough to assist the country in avoiding early loss of sovereignty.


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