Aloha to native language

10th March 2000 at 00:00
POOR test results in Hawaii could spell the death of "pidgin English," spoken by many schoolchildren and adults.

Hawaii has managed to hold on to its own language, despite being banned from classrooms when the country was annexed by the United States in 1898.

Daily speech is peppered with native idioms and hybrid words such as "onolishious" for "delicious", and "all pau" for "finished", for example.

The dialect evolved from decades of contact between Hawaiians and mainland Americans, and the Asians, Puerto Ricans, and Portuguese brought to the islands as plantation labourers.

In an attempt to preserve the native culture, state and private "immersion" schools, from nursery up to graduate, have been opened during the past 15 years in which every subject is taught in Hawaiian.

But now a dismal showing on a national writing test is resulting in calls to prohibit the language. Only 15 per cent of Hawaiian 13-year-ods scored at or above proficiency levels in the National Assessment of Educational Progress - barely better than half the US average.

The state board of education has considered banning pidgin from classrooms, though it has yet to take a firm position, instead encouraging that standard English be spoken.

"If you speak pidgin, then you think pidgin and you write pidgin," said Mitsugi Nakashimiu, board chairman. "If your thinking is not in standard English, it's hard for you to write in standard English."

Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell, a Hawaiian cultural specialist in Maui, said endangered local traditions should be preserved. "I don't believe speaking Hawaiian prevents you from speaking any other language," he said.

Ann Marie Peters, a linguistics professor at the University of Hawaii, said there is no proof that classroom pidgin is a cause of low test scores - though that question was now being researched.

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