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Extinct Language Essay

1198 words - 5 pages

Courtney Tavares
Professor Johnson
English 1111-18
20 October 14
The Hawaiian Language
What happens when a language dies? Is it possible to create a community of new speakers without altering the language in any way? Language evolution is a natural process among native speakers. A wide variety of languages are slowly becoming extinct as their speakers begin to die out or assimilate to other cultures. Of the 6,000 spoken today, it is said that approximately 50% of those will have become forgotten by the year of 2100. The history of each and every one is a part of each speaker’s culture, values, and traditions. As the voice of the people is lost, so is their identity. The loss of ...view middle of the document...

Basic words such as “water”, “face”, “eye”, and “the”, are used because they are universally spoken words. For example, Hawaiian and Tahitian have about 152 cognates (of the 200 words on the so-called “basic vocabulary” list). This means they are estimated to be 76 percent genetically related.
Hawaii is found in the in the tropical North Pacific archipelago. British explorer James Cook officially named the island in English in 1778. It was written as “Owhyhee”. In Hawaiian, the name of the island is spoken as “O Hawai’i’”, meaning “This is Hawaii.” Hawaiian began to be written for the first time when European explorers and businessmen were brought to the Hawaiian islands to learn the language. The sounds of Spanish, Russian, French, and German arrived in Hawaii over approximately 40 years. Although there were not enough of these Hawaiian-speaking explorers, they still maintained a pronounced existence. One boy in his teens, Obookiah, had a major impact on the development of Hawaiian. He traveled to New England where he inspired others to partake in a Christian Mission to Hawaii.
With help from Obookiah, protestant missionaries from New England went to Hawaii and began to learn the language in 1820. They were eventually able to form relationships with the locals, become familiar with the native tongue, and even publish a Hawaiian Bible. They were successful in creating an alphabet by 1826, teaching Hawaiians to read and write their language, and publishing many educational books. These books included a vocabulary in 1836, grammar in 1854, and dictionary in 1865. Although the language was at it’s peak in 1881, some still worried of extinction.
As the increase in travel to and from Hawaii took place in the 19th century, a number of fatal illnesses killed many native speakers of Hawaiian. These diseases include smallpox, influenza, and leprosy. Speakers of English, Chinese, Japanese, and Portuguese continued to immigrate to Hawaii causing the percentage of Hawaiian speakers to decrease. Many of Hawaiian’s native speakers played a roll in the diminishment of the language as well; they wanted their children to speak English so that they could become successful in their continuously changing environment. In 1885, schools in Hawaii began to instruct children in English only. After Hawaii became a territory of the United States in 1898, Hawaiian was officially banned from schools and the government. Students were punished for speaking the language in both public and private schools. Some teachers would arrive to the offending childs’ homes and advise parents to stop speaking their language altogether....

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