The Hawaiian language, 'Ölelo Hawai'i, has been vulnerable to foreign influences, misplaced judgement, and replacement by Creole.
Every language has its own history and culture, yet worldwide, four languages become extinct every two months. Only 3000 of the 6000 languages known will be left by the end of the 21st century!
The Hawaiian language, 'Ölelo Hawai'i, has been vulnerable to foreign influences, misplaced judgement, and replacement by Creole, and has thus long been in danger of the same fate of extinction. But now, due to powerful revitalization programs over the past 20 years, we believe this language may now be one of the survivors.
The ‘Ölelo Hawaii Language
The 'Ölelo Hawai'i language belongs to the Polynesian languages. It was in 1778 when Captain Cook and his companions first recorded the Hawaiian language in Kaua'i.
There were immediately reminded of the similarities between Tahitian and Maori, and when communicating with the Hawaiians they used Tahitian gestures and words. Captain Cook believed they had discovered an innocent paradise, and described Hawaiian as childlike, primitive, effeminate, lilting, and simple. Re-duplication and the abundance of vowels sounded like baby-talk to them, and they had no idea how they should approach such a different language.
At the time, Hawaiian was an oral language; however, the missionaries that arrived in the 19th century were instructed to teach their converts how to read the Bible, and thus they created a writing system consisting of an alphabet of just 12 letters for words of indigenous Hawaiian origin. And so the Hawaiian language became the language of the government, and remained the most used language in daily life. It was also used between the various ethnic groups who had arrived on the island to work the plantations. It was only later that the alphabet was expanded to allow for two unique characteristics that the missionaries had omitted –
- To start with, there was a glottal stop, the unnoticed consonant. For example – the sound in the exclamation ‘Oh-oh’ is now indicated by the ‘okina symbol (‘); and
- Secondly, all five vowels were now able to function as longer sounds – this is symbolized with a short line above the vowel.
Now it was clear that the Hawaiian language was just as complete and as diversified as European languages. Sadly, the ever-increasing influence of the United States was pushing English as the language of choice, so eventually, in 1893 with the overthrow of the kingdom and the annexation in 1898, the Hawaiian language was completely banned from government and schools.
There are only approximately 1000 native speakers left today, with another 8000 people who are able to speak and understand Hawaiian: sad figures when you consider that during Cook’s years there were approximately 500,000 people speaking Hawaiian!
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