Maui News

Lawmakers to Decide on use of Hawaiian Language in State Documentation

March 2, 2011, 3:05 PM HST
* Updated March 3, 10:02 AM
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By Wendy Osher

File image over state seal.

The Senate Ways & Means Committee will decide on a bill tomorrow (March 3, 2011) relating to the use of Hawaiian Language in state documentation. Senate Bill 1130 requires that all letterheads, documents, symbols, and emblems of the State and other political subdivision include both state languages—English and Hawaiian. The measure also establishes references for accurate, appropriate, and authentic Hawaiian names and words, spelling and punctuation.

Senator J. Kalani English of Maui testified in favor of the measure last month, noting that before the Hawaiian language was banned from schools and government in 1898, it was common to see documents written in the Hawaiian language. “Today, Hawaiian and English are the official languages of the state of Hawai’i and it is only fitting to allow the inclusion of the Hawaiian Language in all official documents,” said Sen. English.

Dr. Joel Fischer, a professor of social work at the University of Hawaii also testified in support of the measure saying, “It is an absolute disgrace that legislation is needed to require the State to spell correctly one of our official languages.” In written testimony, Dr. Fischer urged local media to follow suit in correctly pronouncing and spelling the official language utilizing the ‘okina (glottal stop) or kahakō (diacritic mark to indicate a long vowel) punctuation markers.

While the punctuation markers help many non-native speakers and students pronounce Hawaiian words correctly, some argue that the written punctuation is non-traditional, and is absent from decades worth of government documents and newspapers written by native speakers.


“The bill disrespects the traditions and customs of native writers of Hawaiian, and disrespects the history of native Hawaiian literature,” said Dr. Gregory Carter, Ph.D. in written testimony. He said, “The bill wrongfully ignores, and in effect insults, the people of Niiahu, because it passively categorizes their native usage as being not accurate, appropriate and authentic.”


In other testimony against the bill, Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle citied costs and implementation issues given the numerous documents processed by the city and county, and the amount of items that carry the county seal.

Brickwood Galuteria, the chair of the Senate Committee on Hawaiian affairs issued a report saying the intent of the measure is to ensure the preservation of the Hawaiian language and culture. He noted that even the federal government enacted the Hawaiian National Park Language Correction Act of 2000, which changed the names of several Hawai‘i national parks to observe the correct Hawaiian spelling.

The committee passed the measure on Second Reading and referred it to the Senate Ways and Means committee for further action. The measure will be part of a decision making meeting set to start at 10:25 a.m. March 3, 2011, at the State Capitol, Conference Room 211.

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