The State of Hawaii has two official languages recognized in its constitution adopted at the 1978 constitutional convention: English and Hawaiian. Article XV, Section 4, specifies that "Hawaiian shall be required for public acts and transactions only as provided by law". Hawaii Creole English (locally referred to as ‘Pidgin’) is the native dialect of many born-and-raised residents and is a second dialect for many other residents.
According to the 2008 American Community Survey, 74.6% of Hawaii’s residents over the age of five speak only English at home. In addition, 2.6% of the state’s residents speak Spanish; 1.6% speak other Indo-European languages; 21.0% speak an Asian language; and 0.2% speak a different language at home.
After English, the second-, third- and fourth-most spoken individual languages are Tagalog (most are bilingual in Filipino language), Japanese, and Ilokano respectively. Significant European immigrants and descendants also speak their native languages; the most numerous are Spanish, German, Portuguese and French.
As of the 2000 Census, 73.44% of Hawaii residents age 5 and older speak only English at home. Tagalog speakers make up 5.37% (which includes non-native speakers of Filipino language, the national co-official Tagalog-based language), followed by Japanese at 4.96%, Ilokano at 4.05%, Chinese at 1.92%, Hawaiian at 1.68%, Spanish at 1.66%, Korean at 1.61%, and Samoan at 1.01%.
Hawaiian is a member of the Polynesian branch of the Austronesian family. It began to develop around 1000 A.D., when Marquesans or Tahitians of that era colonized Hawaii. Those Polynesians remained in the islands, thereby becoming the Hawaiian people. Consequently, their language developed into the Hawaiian language. Before the arrival of Captain James Cook, the Hawaiian language was never written. The written form of Hawaiian was developed mainly by American Protestant missionaries during 1820–1826. They assigned letters from the Latin alphabet that corresponded to the Hawaiian sounds.
Interest in the Hawaiian language increased significantly in the late 20th century. With the help of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, created by the 1978 constitutional convention, specially designated Hawaiian language immersion schools were established where students would be taught in all subjects using Hawaiian. Also, the University of Hawaii developed a Hawaiian language graduate studies program. Municipal codes were altered in favor of Hawaiian place and street names for new civic developments.
Hawaiian distinguishes between long and short vowels. In modern written Hawaiian, vowel length can be indicated with a macron (kahakō). Also, Hawaiian has the glottal stop as a consonant. In writing, it can be indicated with the apostrophe, with the opening single quote, or with the (ʻokina).
In Hawaiian-language newspapers published from 1834–1948, the spelling Hawaii was used. However, in texts written mainly for Hawaiian-language pedagogy, especially since 1950, the modern Hawaiian-language spelling used is Hawaiʻi, with an okina written between the final two vowels. The modern spelling is pushed mainly by teachers of Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii. However, traditional native speakers of Hawaiian generally never use okinas nor kahakos in their own writing. For this reason, some teachers of Hawaiian language, such as NeSmith, are advocating greater appreciation for the traditional native spellings with no okinas nor kahakos.
Some locals speak Hawaii Creole English (HCE), often called "pidgin". The lexicon of HCE derives mainly from English but also has words from Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese, Ilocano and Tagalog from the Philippines and Portuguese. During the 19th century, there was a great increase in immigration from foreign countries (mainly China, Japan, Portugal especially from the Azores archipelago and Spain), and a pidgin English developed which by the early 20th century became a creole English, as pidgin speakers had children who acquired the pidgin as their own native language. HCE speakers can use some Hawaiian words without those words being considered archaic. Most place names are retained from Hawaiian, as are some names for plants or animals. For example, tuna fish are often called "ahi". HCE speakers have modified the meanings of certain English words. For example, the terms "aunty" and "uncle" can be used to refer to any adult who is a friend, or a friend to the family. It is also used as a sign of respect for elders. Throughout the surfing boom in Hawaii, HCE has influenced surfer slang. Some HCE expressions, such as brah and da kine, have found their way to other places.
Certain words can be dropped if their meaning is implicit. For example, instead of saying "It is hot today, isn’t it?", an HCE speaker is likely to say simply "stay hot, eh?" When a word does not come to mind quickly, the slang term is "Da Kine" which refers to any word you can’t think of.
Spelling of state name
A somewhat divisive political issue that has arisen since the constitution of the State of Hawaii added Hawaiian as a second official state language is the exact spelling of the state’s name in official documents. As prescribed in the Hawaii Admission Act that granted Hawaiian statehood, the federal government recognizes Hawaii to be the official state name. Official government publications, as well as department and office titles, use the traditional Hawaiian spelling, that is, with no symbols for glottal stops or vowel length. In contrast, some private entities, including a local newspaper, are using such symbols.
The title of the state constitution is "The Constitution of the State of Hawaii". In Article XV therein, Section 1 uses "The State of Hawaii", Section 2 "the island of Oahu", Section 3 "The Hawaiian flag", and Section 5 specifies the state motto as "Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono". Since these documents predate the modern use of the ʻokina and the kahakō in Hawaiian orthography, the disputed spelling conventions were not used in these cases.
The nuances in the Hawaiian language debate are often not obvious or well-appreciated among English speakers outside Hawaii. The issue has often been a source of friction in situations where correct naming conventions are mandated, as people frequently disagree over which spelling is correct or incorrect, and where it is correctly or incorrectly applied.
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