The bill to boost the Hawaiian language in the state’s schools

‘Ōlelo Hawai’i (that is, the Hawaiian language) just might be getting a boost in the state of Hawaii’s public schools soon.

Last month, state representative Diamond Garcia introduced House Bill 157, which would drastically increase the number of students in Hawaiian schools studying the language by making it a mandatory subject.

“While proficiency in English is of unquestioned importance when living in Hawaii, basic understanding and knowledge of ‘Olelo Hawaii [sic] has lagged far behind,” the bill reads. “This is a slight to the heritage of Native Hawaiians, as well as a disservice to fostering a culture that reveres the past.”

The proposed bill would require the state’s public schools to teach the Hawaiian language as a mandatory subject for students in public schools from kindergarten all the way through to twelfth grade. The law also sets aside $5 million in funding to develop a standard curriculum for teaching the language in the state’s public schools.

Currently, public schools in the state are required to offer courses in Hawaiian culture and history, but the Hawaiian language is not a required subject in most Hawaiian schools, aside from language immersion schools, which have played a prominent role in revitalizing the language. And the language itself has a fairly limited population of speakers — only around 18,000 speak the language at home — meaning that more learners could breathe new life into the language.

As MultiLingual has reported, revitalizing a language is tough work that requires careful, coordinated efforts on the part of not just lawmakers, but educators, academics, and even language service providers (LSPs) alike. In a piece for MultiLingual magazine’s January issue, Malena Duchovny explores the small yet commendable role Akorbi has played in helping to preserve and revitalize the Hawaiian language. 

For instance, while working to translate medical documents into Hawaiian, Ke’alohi Reppun, a specialist in Hawaiian language and culture, told Duchovny that she found specific words and concepts like “ADHD” or “copay” simply didn’t exist in Hawaiian as they do in English. When conducting preservation projects like this, new terminology often has to be coined — LSPs can help store this terminology in databases, that can ultimately then be used not only among translators but also among educators teaching the language to a new generation of pupils.

“All these cultural things that evolved in the meantime — Hawaiian did not evolve alongside them,” Reppun told Duchovny, pointing to the importance of coining and saving new terminology.


Andrew Warner
Andrew Warner is a writer from Sacramento. He received his B.A. in linguistics and English from UCLA and is currently working toward an M.A. in applied linguistics at Columbia University. His writing has been published in Language Magazine, Sactown Magazine, and The Takeout.

Weekly Digest

Subscribe to stay updated

MultiLingual Media LLC