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Mamaka Kaiao

New Hawaiian Language Dictionary


What does it take to create a Hawaiian-language dictionary with nearly 6,000 new words that facilitate conversations about Nintendo games, the latest discoveries in astronomy, hydroponics and the Internet? Eight dedicated volunteers, 17 years and plenty of patience.

To understand the significance of the recently published Mämaka Kaiao, A Modern Hawaiian Vocabulary, one must appreciate the Hawaiian language immersion program that began 21 years ago.

Students who were immersed in Hawaiian from the time they were in preschool are now in college, and require a new vocabulary to match advancements in science and technology. So do the pupils progressing through the 22 DOE schools in the state that are currently instructing primarily in Hawaiian.

"The major impetus for this work came from that need," says Larry Kimura, an assistant professor in the College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo, co-founder of the immersion program and chairman of the committee that created the lexicon. "The world moves very quickly."

Established in 1987, the first Hawaiian Lexicon Committee (Komike Hua'olelo) was made up of native speakers creating words for ideas that were unknown to their ancestors. Providing an essential tool for the contemporary Hawaiian language speaker was so important to these committee members that they volunteered their time to fly to O'ahu bimonthly, meet all day to discuss new suggestions from group members and work through their differences. "It's been bumpy," Kimura says of the process, which he describes as long and tedious.

However, Kimura also says that everyone came to the table with one essential ingredient: the desire to help "make sense of things," and keep the language alive in a changing world.

Some new Hawaiian words from Ma-maka Kaiao, A Modern Hawaiian Vocabulary, University of Hawai‘i Press, Honolulu, $15.95.

ATM: Mïkini panakö
Biodegradable: Pehapopopo
Disk brake: Peleki pa
Desktop (on a computer): ‘Oneki
Hydroponics: Kamahuaola
Sexual harassment: Kekohala
Software (for a computer): Lako polokalamu
Turbo button (as in Nintendo games): Pihi pïna‘i
World Wide Web: Pünaewele Puni Honua

{clipping service}

An impression of Hawai'i from writer Will Leitch's online column, "Life As a Loser No. 194: 'Greetings from Hawai'i.'" Posted Feb. 16, 2004, at http://www.blacktable.com/loser040216.htm.

The Hawaiian word for "thank you" is "mahalo." I am finding this word to be incredibly passive-aggressive. We're staying in a condo here, and it is covered in signs like "Do Not Smoke Here. Mahalo!" or "Dispose of your trash in an orderly fashion. Your mother does not work here. Mahalo!" Mahalo is a word that the locals use so that they do not sound like Lumbergh in Office Space. But I'm not buying it. …

I am however, beginning to understand the ethos of the Hawaiian shirt. I just bought my first one. It has a woman at a lu'au dancing and watching a cargo plane drift past mountains overhead, and it has pastel prints surrounding the picture, like a gay frame. It is a ridiculous shirt. And I love it. I find myself wanting to wear a Tigers hat, grow a mustache and start having Vietnam flashbacks as a prim and proper English butler follows alongside, supporting my quest and cracking wise. The Hawaiian shirt sums up all that is great and terrible about Hawai'i. It's comfortable, loopy and can only be worn here. At home, if I wore it walking down the street, I would be justifiably beaten.

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Honolulu Magazine July 2020
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