Monday, April 16, 2007

Weekend in Paradise - @ AAV News

Asian American Village News: "Weekend Focus: Hawai'i Culture"

As regular Villagers know, the editors have been spending a lot of time in the islands over the past few years, a series of readings from the AP got us in an island mood this weekend. Many of them are following up on the Merrie Monarch festival, the annual fest for "the perpetuation, preservation, and promotion of the art of hula and the Hawaiian culture through education." But another one got us to thinking -- the good, thorough article by the AP's JAYMES SONG, "Once near extinction, Hawaiian language making strong comeback".

Richly annotated with a historical timeline sidebar and list of "fast facts," the piece gives a good sense of how community, academic and public partnership can work to preserve what would otherwise be lost.

It's an important lesson. Very, very often, preparing the news for our sister site, The Native American Village, we see disheartening reports of indigenous languages fizzling out with the passing of elders -- usually an especially long-lived woman -- known to be the last speaker of various tribal languages. Across the country, dedicated linguists and academics are working at saving such languages, but the efforts are likely doomed without the support and particpation of local families.

As Song observes, for example, the parents of children in an immersion school for Hawaiian language must out of necessity actively participate in their kids' study: "With very few children's books available in Hawaiian, parents paste translations on top of the English text. So, for example, Shel Silverstein's popular book, The Giving Tree, becomes O Kumula'au Aloha."

Of the criticism that such immersion schools will put students at a disadvantage because their focus on an "unviable" language would presumably detract from their learning English, Song cites studies that suggest that "highly bilingual students tend to have higher cognitive abilities."

More at the article here.

More resources elsewhere at:

Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library
Hawaiian Dictionary
'Aha Punana Leo language program
University of Hawai'i at Hilo's College of Hawaiian Language