‘Ōlelo Hawai’i ‘oe?

According to a couple of articles (here and here) I found today, a new PhD program focusing on the Hawaiian language and culture has recently been set up at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. This is apparently the first doctorate in the United States in a Native language. Five students are undertaking research into Hawaiian and indigenous language and culture revitalization. One the things they’re working on is to come up with Hawaiian versions of scientific and technological terms, such as World Wide Web – Punaewele puni honua (network around the world) and photosynthesis – ka’ama’ai (acting through light to produce food).

When people are bilingual in a ‘large’ language like English and a ‘small’ one like Hawaiian, they might be tempted to simply use English words to fill in any gaps in their Hawaiian vocabulary, rather than coining new Hawaiian words. The new terms being created by the PhD students should help with this problem.

Did you know that wiki, as in Wikipedia comes from the Hawaiian word wiki-wiki, which means quick?

15 thoughts on “‘Ōlelo Hawai’i ‘oe?

  1. Being a Chinese-American and not living in a predominant Chinese region of the country, it is sometimes difficult to speak “purely” in Chinese. But personally I find it much easier to speak “purely” in Chinese when talking about everyday topics but much more difficult when it comes to technical topics.

    For example, while most of my clients are American, a few are Chinese and they came to me mostly because they don’t speak English so I must communicate with them in Chinese. Many times I find it difficult to translate words and phrases like “web hosting”, “search engine optimization” and “bandwidth” into Chinese on the go.

  2. I’m not totally sold on the “let’s invent a new word when one already exists” thing. After all, how many foreign words did English take on? We didn’t have to come up with Anglicized versions of “karma”, “schadenfreude”, “wigwam”, and “hors d’oeuvre”. It almost smacks of insecurity, like a language is somehow less by absorbing outside words. Where would Japanese be without absorption of Chinese words? How about Farsi absorption of Arabic words? I know some languages work hard at this — French, of course, but even Icelandic (keeping out Danishisms, apparently). I’m sure there are plenty more. It sometimes feels like over-nationalistic keeping-out-the-invaders.

    To use one of the interjections noted in a previous blog comment, my feeling is, “meh”…

  3. BnB, actually in some languages, such as Chinese for example, it makes more sense to “Sinicize” a new word rather than to take a foreign word phonetically.

    For example, “website” in Chinese is 网站 wangzhan, which literally means “Internet Station/Spot”, anyone who knows the character 网 and 站, which is almost every literal Chinese, will know what it means or at least have a clue if they are Internet-ignorant. However, if we imported the word phonetically, we’d get something like 外卜塞特 waibusaite, which means nothing and makes absolutely no sense to anyone. Point is, in this case, it’s practical and efficient.

  4. Adaptation makes sense… especially phonetically. Japanese using “wapuro” for “word processor”, for example. The Japanese are a good example of phonetic integration without having to give it meaning. As we say, say any word 20 times straight and the word loses all meaning. 🙂 Having characters that also have meaning makes it tougher. And yet even there, the Japanese have done it. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the annoyingly infectious Romanian song that was all the rage a year or two ago, but I saw a Japanese version, and while I mostly couldn’t come close to keeping up with the subtitles they used, I noticed that the “nomi nomi hai” line was written with the kanji character for “nomu”, to drink, leading me to think that the song was actually Japanese. But in fact, they assigned characters for sound only, without worrying about meaning.

    But, for instance, “television” means no more to us than to the Germans (how many Americans can identify the Latin root meanings?), yet the Germans intentionally replaced the Latin roots with Germanic ones (“fern” for “tele”, distant, and “seher” for “vision”, versions of “seeing”) to give “fernseher” as the proudly German version. Likewise the need for the French to avoid an obvious latinate cognate for “computer”, deciding on “ordinateur” instead. It’s that sort of thing about which I’m more circumspect.

  5. Well you’re entitled to your opinions.

    The Japanese language having most of its “newer” vocabulary being imported from English may seem “cool” to you but not everyone shares your views. The same is happening, to a certain extend, to Koreans. I personally am glad that Chinese is not affected nearly as much.

    Bottom line is, languages are tools. If “fernseher” makes more sense to a German than “television” or “ordinateur” more to French than “computer”, then why force them to adopt the latter?

  6. I didn’t know about the origins of the word WIKI but someone used it as a verb….

    “I wiki’d it for you” and quoted something from wikipedia..

    Hawaiian is very interesting. I had a guest blogger from there and she blogged about Hawaiian Pidgin for my blog. If you are interested in, you can see it here; http://www.lingulangu.org/?p=21

  7. About German, BnB, I certainly don’t know this as a fact, but it seems to me that the German tendency to create compound words may just make them more comfortable with the idea of just coming up with their own term for something. They’re not snotty about the influence of English that I know of, not like the French, anyway. I almost think the Germans like to play word games, as some of their finer inventions like “Blechlawine” to describe an multicar pileup on the interstate–literally a “metal avalanche.” THAT, my friends, is genius. 🙂

  8. I dunno… to me words are words… at some point people stop worrying about their etymologies. They just use the word.

    Which is kinda nice, because then those of us curious enough to peek into the history of a word can get nice surprises when we find out where they came from and what they used to mean.

    And in case anyone is keeping score, I’ll be English has absorbed far more foreign words than it’s given out…

  9. BnB: Actually, “tele” comes from Greek, not Latin. I would agree that English has borrowed more words than it has loaned, but that the margin is probably getting smaller. I like the sound of the German “das Fernsehgerät”.

  10. The question of whether a language should or should not absorb words from another language is both interesting and a long-standing subject of debate. The points of concern range from the profound to the frivolous. In the end, however, we all know there is no way to legislate speech. With all due respect to L’Académie Française, “les Immortels” can protest the use of “le weekend” and insist on “fin de la semaine,” but as a practical matter even they must appreciate that their pronouncements will not stop people from using “le weekend,” or “e-mail” instead of “courier électronique.” So, we can—not without good reason—debate this ‘til the cows come home,’ but it will not make an iota of difference [question: where did the expression “not making an iota of difference” come from? How did the 9th letter of the Greek alphabet come to connote this?!]. As BnB points out, the spectacle of “gatekeepers” points to the futility of the effort.

    That said, let me be clear that I am not suggesting a voice of protest cannot be directed to those in charge of the organs of media. Their power to set a standard of usage and style is formidable, and that standard of language affects the standard of and capacity for thinking in society. Muddled language can only result in muddled thinking. But I hasten to add that the introduction of a foreign word does not corrupt the host language. It is the misuse of language and the intentional use of clichés and hackneyed speech that corrupt language. Words, foreign or otherwise, can be used to bring clarity to meaning or to obfuscate. Indeed I would make the argument that far from corrupting a language, the infusion of other languages, in the main, enriches the host language. The history of English is a case in point. What makes English a rich language—and one with a vocabulary significantly greater than other European languages—is its indebtedness to both its Germanic roots and the infusion of the Latinate after the Norman Invasion.

    It’s inevitable when speakers of different languages interact that their respective tongues will co-mingle. This has been true of human beings since our hominid ancestors uttered the first primordial grunts. As such I fail to understand the alarm expressed by those who apparently feel threatened or uneasy about the introduction of a word that is not born of their native tongue, though I understand BnB‘s objection to the needless and gratuitous invention of words when an altogether adequate one exists. Indeed it seems to me that for some this alarm has its roots in xenophobia. [c.f. Dostoevsky: “…men are most afraid of…A new departure, and especially a new word…”]

    What has not been discussed here is the role politics has played and continues to play in regard of how language is used. I have often been struck by how different the French attitude to the use of English is from their fellow Europeans. But their historical position is also unique in this regard. Prior to the ascendancy of the English—both the people and the language—as a dominant power in Europe, the French were preeminent. French was both the language of diplomacy and commerce. Indeed this is still reflected in the custom among nations to have passports in both the native tongue and in French. The slowly creeping influence of the Anglophone (and Protestant) world must have played a part in Cardinal Richelieu’s decision to found “L’Académie Française.” The preeminence of France and the French language were under attack. The French language may have enriched English starting in the 11th century, but the French were not looking for any reciprocal “enrichment” from across the channel.

    Today we also see the sad and dangerous spectacle of politics not only influencing language, but attempting to actually prescribe (hence proscribe) speech in the form of what is known as “political correctness.” No citizen in the US is immune to its influence. A friend of mine who teaches at a State University in the Eastern US told me that faculty members were all given a manual that was nearly as thick as a phone book. The manual was, among other things, a near exhaustive list of things or names of things that could not be said. These lists also prescribed new names for these verboten appellations. In short, this manual was nothing less than an attempt to restrict speech. That it was unabashedly proscriptive and prescriptive—yet seemingly banal—was positively Orwellian! After perusing the official tome, my friend consigned it to its rightful place: the trashcan.

    The language of political propaganda presents a far greater threat than the introduction of foreign words or unnecessary neologisms. Political propaganda is the real Trojan Horse. While the guards keep vigilant watch for foreign words, the mass media (who largely serve as the mouthpiece for the current political ideology) are busy manufacturing the opinions that the unsuspecting will adopt and insist—as “free” people—they have arrived at of their own accord.

  11. I spent a semester at Hilo, and took an introductory language class there. While I personally don’t think that introducing foreign words to a language should be offensive (except where the written language makes it difficult), Hawaii is probably a special case.

    Many Hawai’ians resent, to some extent, their inclusion in the United States. (There are some places in Hawai’i where people from the mainland are told that it’s too dangerous to travel – at least on the non-commercialized islands). Hawai’i was actually an independent monarchy recognized by European countries, and showing trends towards democracy before America essentially invaded and took over to establish a Pacific base and to use the sugar plantations.

    Afterwards, the Hawai’ian language was made illegal, and remained so for about 75 years or so. It was only recently that it was made legal and immersion schools started popping up.

    So I think it’s a sensitive issue in Hawai’i. Since adopting foreign words basically means adopting English words at this point, they probably want to keep the language pure and separate from that of the people who dominated their country (and still do).

    Just food for thought.

  12. I am preparing a speech for Effective Public Speaking. I would like to do my speech on the Hawaiian language. Can someone help me with the history of the Hawwaiian language? Any assistance would be greatly appreciated.

  13. The title of this is not correct Hawaiian grammar. It should be just:

    ‘Ōlelo Hawai’i ‘oe?

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