Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Another ōlelo no’eau

Okay, so I've been listening to Mark Keali'i Ho'omalu's CD "Call It What You Like" in the car lately driving around Lawrence and it's definitely got me in a Hawaiian mood. As any of you who've followed my blog know, I occasionally try to find tidbits of wisdom, proverbs, or stories from the languages I'm studying. (Notice I don't use the past tense "studied." I mean, do we ever really finish "studying" a language, whether it's a new foreign language or our own mother tongue? I think learning a language is a lifelong process and a lifelong endeavor. I point that out to my students of Spanish who think they'll "study" Spanish for one or two semesters and then they'll know it and be done with it. That just makes me want to quote Nelson on the Simpsons and say, "Ha ha!")

Anyhow, Hawaiian. Here is the latest ōlelo no’eau ("important saying" or proverb) from Hawai'i:

Maka'ala ke kanaka kahea manu.
alert DEF man call bird

A man who calls birds should always be alert.

The ancient Hawaiian ali'i, chiefs, wore capes and headdresses crafted by weaving in thousands of tiny bird feathers. The Kanaka Kahea Manu, bird-caller, would imitate bird calls to attract birds to him. When they approached, he would pluck out a small number of their feathers and let the birds go. Once he called the birds, he had to stay alert and be prepared to move quickly to catch them when they came near. This proverb advises one who wishes to succeed to be alert to opportunities and seize them when they arise.

By the way, that definite article ke reminds me of something. Do any ōlelo Hawai'i kine out there know the answer to this question? It appears other Polynesian languages have only one form of the definite article, such as Tahitian and Māori te. Hawaiian, however, has two: ke and ka. I know ke is used most often before nouns beginning with a vowel or the letter k (e.g., ke ala, ke kanaka) and ka is used before nouns beginning with all other consonants, including glottal stops (e.g., ka hula, ka 'aina). But why do a few words beginning with p (e.g., , dish and po'o, head) require ke instead of ka before them? So far I've found no good answers in the dictionaries or grammar books I have. Has this phenomenon even been studied? (Aw, it must have been!)

Ā hui hou.


Anonymous said...

There are a lot of Pacific Islanders in Salt Lake. Among the people from Hawaii, I've heard that few to no people speak Hawaiian anymore and that Tongan, Samoan and Enlgish have [nearly] completely overtaken it.

How many speakers of Hawaiian do we have left?

Dave said...

I guess this largely depends on whom you ask. Around about the early 80s there were only about 200 actual native speakers left on the privately owned island of Ni'ihau (the northernmost of the 9 major islands of the Hawaiian chain just west of Kaua'i). However I have to say that Hawaiian has, in the last 20 years, made quite an impressive resurgence with a very successful revitalization program. Hawaiian revitalization is often the "poster child" of what revitalization should be and is a model to be emulated by other peoples around the world who want to revive their languages and cultures. It's my understanding that with the adults and children who've learned the language or are in the process of learning it in new immersion programs, there are now thousands of speakers, although I'm not sure of the exact number.

I was in a Hawaiian language class in Sacramento, CA, by the way, taught by a native Hawaiian woman who lived in the Bay Area. I find it a fascinating language, and I'm a chief proponent of its revitalization.