The past decade has seen tremendous change to the world of Hawaiian language speakers. `Olelo Hawai`i, as it is known, was perilously close to becoming extinct. Studies in the early 1980`s determined that there were less than fifty speakers of `Olelo Hawai`i under the age of twenty, and that the vast majority of native speakers were elderly people, who did not pass on their native tongue to their children as it was deemed dangerous to their development as Americans.
In 1984 an immersion preschool program called Punana Leo brought our native tongue back to the young. Preschoolers between the ages of three and five were raised in the language, hearing nothing but `Olelo Hawai`i through their entire school day. As this first Hawaiian language immersion class moved on to elementary school, an immersion elementary school program was begun, entitled "Kula Kaiapuni." Here also children receive their education completely through the medium of Hawaiian language. Currently there are close to 1,000 children enrolled in Kula Kaiapuni programs at eight sites on five of the major Hawaiian Islands, attending grades kindergarten through eight grade. Approximately 240 preschool children currently attend the Punana Leo Preschools.
Technology and `Olelo Hawai`i
One of the most basic problems that the Kula Kaiapuni program faced was how to address the issue of technology. The goal of the program is to provide as complete an education as possible in Hawaiian, but this was impossible in computer education as there were no programs that supported diacritical markings that are unique to Hawaiian language, and no programs that the children could use that were in Hawaiian as well. Also, there was a lack of vocabulary to address all of the new terminology that is used in describing technology.
Hale Kuamo`o has worked very diligently to overcome these problems. We now have fonts, word processors, drawing programs, and telecommunications programs which support Hawaiian. Not only do they allow the children to properly use the language on the computer, but all interaction between child and machine (menus, dialog boxes, etc.) is in Hawaiian as well.
Hale Kuamo`o also directs a committee known as the Komike Hua `Olelo - The Hawaiian Language Lexicon committee. This is made up of Hawaiian language instructors and experts from around the state, who meet several times a year to coin new terminology to address shortcomings in the language, such as in the area of technology. The Hale Kuamo`o publishes a dictionary that includes these terms, as well as most of the Hawaiian langauge vocabulary that has been in use for centuries.
In April of 1994, Hale Kuamo`o established Leoki, a FirstClass (Macintosh) based telecommunication system that was entirely in Hawaiian. It allows for private email, public discussion areas, file transfers, real-time chats, database access - all through the medium of Hawaiian. FirstClass uses a very intuitive Graphical User Interface that is very much like the Macintosh finder. Leoki was accessible at this time through Hawai`i FYI, a state funded X.25 network that provided for access to Leoki to all schools with a local call on each island. As interisland phone rates in Hawai`i are higher than calling rates to the US mainland, this type of access was essential.
Leoki has been moved from Maui to Hilo, and is currently being reconfigured to allow access both through Hawai`i FYI, and directly through the Internet, using FirstClass' new TCP/IP support.
In the Fall of 1994, Hale Kuamo`o established Kualono, a World Wide Web server, using MacHTTP server sofware (http://:www.olelo.hawaii.edu). Kualono supports Hawaiian language diacriticals exactly as Leoki does, and fonts that allow for proper display of these diacriticals are avaible for download on the system.
Telecommunications and the Internet is beginning to play a major roll in the future of the Hawaiian language. Through the work of Hale Kuamo`o people no longer have to abandon `olelo Hawai`i when they sit in front of a computer to correspond with other speakers of the langauge.