Na: Kai ‘Ewalu and Hawaiian Linguistics Terminology

“Na: Kai ‘Ewalu” (the eight seas i.e. the eight seas that join the Islands of Hawaii) is a great resource for learning Hawaiian produced by Ka Haka ‘Ula O Ke’eliko:lani College of Hawaiian Language, accompanied by a free podcast. It has become very popular reading in Native language revitalization circles due to the success of ‘Aha Pu:nana Leo (language nest) immersion schools that have successfully increased the number of fluent Hawaiian speakers. It was written in 1979 (revised in 1991) by Kauanoe Kamana: (one of the founders and current president of ‘Aha Pu:nana Leo) and William H. Wilson, who did his thesis on Hawaiian possession (Polynesian languages make a distinction between two different types of possession that is very difficult to define), thus it contains a lot of good information on possession in Hawaiian.

Unlike other works, it uses Hawaiian terms to refer to parts of speech, which enables students to discuss the Hawaiian language in Hawaiian without resorting to loan words (which are often seen as a form of colonization). These terms were coined using traditional methods of naming foreign concepts such as broadening the definition of an related word to encompass the new concept, shortening existing words related to that concept, and so forth (The Hawaiian Lexicon Committee listed these strategies in “Ma:maka Kaiao: A Modern Hawaiian Vocabulary”). For instance, the sentence (called pepeke after an old Polynesian word for squid) is likened to the anatomy of a squid in that it is divided into po’o (head), piko (place where the head and a tentacle meet), ‘awe (tentacle) from ‘awe’awe (tentacles) sections. Since Hawaiian’s canonical word order is Verb-Subject-Object, like squids, sentences typically have one verb/head and one subject/midsection, but can take on several tentacles/objects, or survive without any (unlike if a squid were to lose its head/verb or midsection/subject).

The Hawaiian taxonomy for parts of speech differs from conventional linguistics terminology in some respects. For instance, determiners are called ka’i after alaka’i (to lead) because they directly precede nouns, but under this definition possessive pronouns are also classified as ka’i. While conventional linguistics terminology is objective in the sense it is modeled on the behavior of languages from all over the world – no longer just European languages – the Hawaiian terminology makes learning Hawaiian easier for the laymen by condensing grammatical information. For example, just by knowing what a ka’i is, and that possessive pronouns are ka’i, you don’t need to be told “determiners and possessive pronouns precede nouns” (needlessly exposing the student to intimidating linguistics jargon). In other words, the definitions of Hawaiian terms for parts of speech are more basic and easier to grasp than the standard terminology due to the fact the taxonomy of concepts needed to discuss the behavior of the Hawaiian language is far less ornate than what’s needed to discuss multiple languages.

Na: Kai ‘Ewalu was designed for classroom use, but with supplemental materials, can be used for self study. You can request a copy using this order form. They used to request donation of 5$ per book, but today (Jan 1, 2011) they started mandating double: 10$ per book. It is still pretty inexpensive and the money goes to supporting the department, however, if you’re a distance learner, you better know which book is right for you before you purchase the complete set.

• book 1 (Lesson 1: Chapters 1-10) provides a basic-intermediate introduction to Hawaiian that is intended for the student’s first semester.

• book 2 (Lesson 2: Chapters 11-20) delves deeply into the complexities of the language, intended for the student’s second semester.

• book 3 (a continuation of Lesson 2) is a very thin book intended for the student’s whole second year. It is written entirely in Hawaiian, thus it is of no use to linguists not fluent in Hawaiian.

Although vol 3. is meant to be used year round and deals with the most complicated subject matter, it is the least meaty. The authors’ strategy is immersion; to wean students off textbooks and get them practicing, practicing, practicing. Therefore, it is of least value to the home student.

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7 Responses to “Na: Kai ‘Ewalu and Hawaiian Linguistics Terminology”

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