Mamaka Kaiao

New Hawaiian Language Dictionary

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.

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

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

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


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

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.