More on the Hawaiian Language Ban

#181 in the Moʻolelo series

Writing about the period of Liliʻuokalani and the overthrow drew my attention to the “Hawaiian Language ban.” I put this in quotes because, while it absolutely had the effect of a ban, it was not technically an outright ban, but an “English-mainly policy” as some have called it (See Lucas and McDougall). Both in schools and the courts, the use of Hawaiian and English were burdened with practical considerations. Court proceedings shifted to English partly because non-Hawaiians had at times attempted to use the multi-layered meanings of Hawaiian words against Hawaiians in court! In a similar fashion, Hawaiian parents, never thinking that Hawaiian could become an extinct language, wanted their children to learn English in school, rezoning that they could teach them Hawaiian at home. There was a gradual decline in Hawaiian-medium schools for this reason, before the “ban.”

On the use of the two languages in Court, Justice Albert F. Judd remarked in 1892:

We are aware that, though the Hawaiian language is the original lan-

guage of this people and country, the English language is largely in use.

Of necessity the English language must be largely employed to record

transactions of the government in its various branches, because the

very ideas and principles adopted by the government come from coun-

tries where the English language is in use. Not that it is exclusively

employed, or that the use of the Hawaiian language in any instance

would not be perfectly regular and legal. The records of our courts

show pleadings of all kinds in the Hawaiian language received with as

much approval as those in English. Which language would be used

would depend upon the comparative familiarity of the writer with one

or the other.

Paul Nāhoa Lucas, “E Ola Mau Kakou I Ka ‘Olelo Makuahine:Hawaiian Language and the Courts” Hawaiian Journal of History

This attitude was part of a passive acceptance of the “inevitability” of Hawaiian decline, eventual exitinction and, in the meantime, inferiority. In contrast to this attitude, the Reverend Lorenzo Lyons, aka Laiana, perhaps because of an understanding of the nuance of Hawaiian language, remarked:

I’ve studied Hawaiian for 46 years but am by no means perfect. . . . It is an interminable language . . . it is one of the oldest living languages of the earth, as some conjecture, and may well be classed among the best. . . the thought to displace it, or to doom it to oblivion by substi- tuting the English language, ought not for a moment to be indulged. Long live the grand old, sonorous, poetical Hawaiian language

Paul Nāhoa Lucas, “E Ola Mau Kakou I Ka ‘Olelo Makuahine:Hawaiian Language and the Courts” Hawaiian Journal of History

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