In case you haven’t realized by now, I’m a big fan of the fascinating Hawaiian language. As with the Amerindian languages, the more I study Hawaiian the more intriguing it gets! No language deserves to die, and Hawaiian is a good example of a language whose many nuances of thought and expression would be lost to us forever if it went extinct. I’m very glad that Hawaiian (and its close cousin Māori of New Zealand) has a strong, successful revitalization program that serves as a poster-child for indigenous language revitalization efforts everywhere.
I’ll here give an example of a typical "professional" attitude expressed not all that long ago toward Hawaiian (and I could add other indigenous [Amerindian] languages) based on old European superiority and ethnocentrism:
"There is a great want of generic terms in the language. This is a peculiarity that distinguishes it from the English, but not from other uncultivated languages. No people have use for general terms until they begin to reason, and the language of the Hawaiians shows that they have never been a thinking people…." (italics mine)
Now how’s that for a dose of ethnocentrism?!
That was written by a missionary reverend, Lorrin Andrews, in 1838 while studying and composing a grammar of the language. He was definitely a product of his times, in that anything non-European was essentially "savage" and "barbaric." (It was not, after all, Latin or Greek.)
Anyway, I was reviewing some Hawaiian grammar and thought I’d blog about a few of the more interesting aspects of this intriguing language.
First, there’s an interesting syntactic change between positive and negative statements:
a. Ua hele ‘oia.
PERF go HON-3S
b. A’ole ‘oia i hele.
NEG HON-3S PERF go
He did not go.
Note that, in a negative sentence, the subject pronoun comes before the verb instead of after (the usual) with a particle inserted. (Hawaiian is a VSO language, by the way. Particles form an important part of Hawaiian grammar [the ‘glue’ that holds the language together], and they often cannot be translated into English.) Notice that the perfective particle ua becomes i in the negative.
I also came across an interesting example of a type of "semi-passive construction" (for lack of a better term), i.e., the sentence appears to be both passive and active at the same time!
Ua aloha ‘ia au iā Ka-lalau.
PERF love PASS 1S to Ka-lalau.
I love Ka-lalau.
This is instead of the full active form:
Ua* aloha au iā Ka-lalau.
I’m really not sure what the semantic difference is here between the active and this “semi-passive” form. If there are perchance any native speakers out there reading this, e kōkua mai! (help!)
This particle has been called a linking particle, anaphoric particle, or resumptive pronoun:
a. Ua holo mākou i laila.
PERF ride 1P-EXC to there
We rode there.
b. I laila mākou i holo ai.
to there 1P-EXC PERF ride AI
It was there that we rode to.
In sentence b, in order to topicalize the location ‘there’, the anaphoric or resumptive ai is used to refer back to the fronted topic i laila.
ka wā a Paka’a i ha’alele aku ai iā Waipi’o.
DET time of Paka’a PERF leave thither AI Waipi’o
The moment when Paka’a left Waipi’o.
There is a cognate ai in Tongan, another Polynesian language:
Ko e fefine na’e tokoni ‘a Sione ki ai.
PRED DEF woman PAST help ABS John to AI
It is the woman John helped (to her).
According to Christopher Baker (no date),
"Resumptive pronouns normally occur in ‘logical’ positions. For example, [the example above] from Tongan has the resumptive pronoun ai following the preposition ki ‘to’. In Hawaiian, though, the resumptive pronoun does not occur in its ‘logical’ position; it occurs after the verb in the post-verbal aspect marker position. The resumptive pronoun of Tongan and Hawaiian are indeed cognates. The positions in which they occur are simply not the same. The ai in Hawaiian is only found in one position, i.e., the same position as the post-verbal aspect marker; it is never found in nominal position as in Tongan."
Finally, here’s an example of a long, complex Hawaiian sentence:
Ā loa’a nā wa’a, he mau kaulua,
when get DEF-PL canoe, INDEF group double-outrigger
ho’i maila lākou ā pae ma Wai-kīkī
return here-then 3P and land at Wai-kīkī
ho’omākaukau ka holo ā holo nō ia lā;
prepare DEF sailing and sail indeed this day
ia wā ho’olā’au mai ‘o Kou, kekahi wahine
this time urge here HON Kou another woman
a Ka-welo e holo pū i Kaua’i
of Ka-welo to sail together to Kaua’i
hō’ole aku-la ‘o Ka-welo.
refuse there-then HON Ka-welo
‘When [they] had gotten the canoes, double-outriggers, they returned and landed at Wai-kīkī, made preparations for sailing, and sailed on this day; at this time Kou, another wife of Ka-welo, urged that she sail also to Kaua’i; Ka-welo refused [her].’
* Ua is glossed as perfective. Hawaiian is largely an aspectual language, often making no clear and definite distinction between present and past tense, though it does distinguish between whether an action is complete or incomplete.
Examples above from (1) Hawaiian Grammar by Elbert & Pukui, 1979 and (2) a paper titled Hawaiian Relative Clause Structure by Christopher Baker (online; no date).