Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Hawaiian Language Vs. the DMV

Hawaiian isn't one of the languages we work with ourselves-- Hawaiian is a Polynesian language, not an Amerindian one, and it's a stretch to even call it a language of the Americas (Hawaii isn't anywhere near North America geographically, and is only associated with the Americas at all due to a quirk of historical colonialism.) Native Hawaiians have gone through many of the same struggles with preserving their language and culture that Native Americans have, though, so it was interesting to read this week's news about a Hawaiian man's ongoing quest to use his traditional Hawaiian language at the Kaneohe DMV:

This isn't just some random guy trying to use a loophole to get out of a ticket-- if you Google "Daniel Anthony" and "Hawaiian" you can see that he's been promoting traditional Hawaiian culture for a long time, and was pushing to use the Hawaiian language for official purposes previous to his arrest. This is undoubtedly a protest action on his part. And he seems to have a particularly valid point-- Hawaiian is actually one of the official state languages of Hawaii, the only US state to have an official language besides English. What's the point of having an official language, taught to children in schools, if people can't use it in state offices like the DMV or the courthouse the same way they can use unofficial languages like Spanish or Japanese?

One of the most important elements of successful language maintenance and revival is having practical opportunities to keep using the language. The DMV may be as good a place to start as any.

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