Hawaiian language has gained, but mispronunciations abound


POSTED: Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Sometimes we feel like we are making great strides in the perpetuation and correct usage of the Hawaiian language. We look at the success of the Punana Leo and state Department of Education's immersion schools programs and the increase in the number of young people who not only read, write and speak Hawaiian fluently, but for whom it is a “;first”; language. They are manaleo, native speakers.

One of the most exciting days in my life was when the Board of Education voted to extend the Hawaiian language immersion program through grade 12, instead of just adding another grade level each year. Another exciting day was at the first high school graduation ceremony at 'Anuenue School (Ke Kula Kaiapuni 'O 'Anuenue). It was a chickenskin moment, all in Hawaiian.

We see the increase in the number of students who are learning the Hawaiian language in all grade levels from preschool and elementary, through middle school, high school, and at all of our institutions of higher learning, all of the two- and four-year college and university campuses in Hawai'i nei.

And the work that is being done by scholars in cataloging, translating and publishing volumes of material previously published only in Hawaiian, is truly amazing.

Now, we see and hear Hawaiian language on television, radio, and, more correctly than before, on recordings. And thanks to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, we have Kauakukalahale, a column written in Hawaiian. (The column runs Saturdays.)

It was not too many years ago that it was possible to live your entire life in Hawai'i and never hear the spoken Hawaiian language. Now, it is everywhere. And folks are proud to be correct in the usage of the first language of our island home. For example, Maui folks who grew up saying Kahumanu, Kaholawe and Punene, are now correctly saying Ka'ahumanu, Kaho'olawe, Pu'unene.

But more needs to be done.

We turned on the television recently and heard reporters and those being interviewed in Rome and on Molokai talking about Kalapapa, instead of Kalaupapa. And on our favorite radio station, we heard Hanalulu for Honolulu, Milalani for Mililani, and on and on and on. One day last week, it seemed that almost every Hawaiian name was mispronounced on that leading radio station - by both guests and station personnel, including management.

All but the simplest of Hawaiian names and words are regularly mispronounced in both radio and television commercials, and often by newscasters, deejays, talk show hosts and others.

At Honolulu Airport, we heard an announcement from an airline concerning a flight to Kahalui, instead of Kahului. Then we watched the Stan Sheriff Center ceremony honoring our favorite volleyball coach only to hear representatives of our own university - where so many of us earned our credentials in the language - saying wahini, for wahine.

If I moved to California, the first thing I would do is to learn how to pronounce the beautiful Spanish and Native American (Indian) names that are so common in that state. Can we expect less from those who move here? Or those who were born and raised here?

You don't have to speak Hawaiian to correctly pronounce the beautiful names and words that are all around us. You just need to care.


C. Keith Haugen is a Hawaiian language teacher, a writer and composer; he started “;Ke Aolama,”; the first Hawaiian-language radio news program in 1994, and “;Hawaiian Word of the Day”; in 1995, both of which are still heard daily on Hawaii Public Radio.