Monday, February 3, 2003

House panel
approves okina bill

Diacritical marks would be
mandated in official documents

By B.J. Reyes
Associated Press

To Keiki Kawai'ae'a, the kahako and the okina are more than just incidental punctuation marks for Hawaiian words and names.

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Including the diacritical marks in copy using the Hawaiian language is important "because that's the way we will continue to perpetuate the correct pronunciation of our language," said Kawai'ae'a, director of Hale Kuamo'o-Hawaiian Language Center at the University of Hawaii-Hilo. "By doing that, we support the continuation of good language practices."

Though Hawaiian names and words are used frequently in government documents, they do not always include the diacritical marks. Bills introduced in both the House and the Senate aim to change that.

The proposals would require the use of the diacritical marks when Hawaiian words are included in county and state documents.

"It's just to bring correctness to the language," said Rep. Sol Kaho'ohalahala (D, Lanai-Molokai), author of the House measure, which passed unanimously out of the House Water, Land Use and Hawaiian Affairs Committee on Friday. A companion measure in the Senate was introduced by Sen. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Lanai-Molokai).

Aside from affecting the pronunciation of words, misplacement or omission of the marks also can change the meaning of a Hawaiian word.

It "would bring more correct pronunciation, so no matter who was here ... everyone will be saying the same word," Kaho'ohalahala said. "Without them there may be an opportunity for mispronunciation and therefore having different context or different meanings to the same word."

The kahako -- the little dash appearing over vowels -- signifies a stressed vowel sound. The okina, or glottal stop, signals a halting of breath between vowel sounds.

Evidence of the language and the proper use of diacritical marks can be seen in both of Honolulu's daily newspapers. The Honolulu Advertiser includes the marks in daily copy, while the Honolulu Star-Bulletin publishes a Sunday column written entirely in Hawaiian.

Adding the marks to government documents should not be too difficult, Kawai'ae'a said, thanks to computer software developed by the Hawaiian Language Center that allows for the insertion of the marks with just a few extra keystrokes.

"Definitely we would support having the okina and kahako used in any place where Hawaiian language is printed, be it street names or building names or documents," she said.

Efforts to preserve the Hawaiian language began statewide in the early 1980s. The language nearly became extinct when the United States banned schools from teaching students in Hawaiian after annexing the then-independent country in 1898.

Hale Kuamo'o-Hawaiian Language Center

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