PhD thesis: The teaching and learning of Hawaiian in mainstream educational contexts: Time for change?
University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand, 2012.

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Tūtū’s Hawaiian and the Emergence of a Neo Hawaiian Language
"Tūtū" is a Traditional Hawaiian term meaning "grandma" or "grandpa".

Originally published in 'Ōiwi3—A Native Hawaiian Journal. Kuleana 'Ōiwi Press. Honolulu. 2003.

Other important links:
4. Reinvented Languages
5. Video conference lecture by Keao on Traditional Hawaiian and Neo Hawaiian, University of Waikato

Keao NeSmith's Master's thesis "Tūtū’s Hawaiian and the Emergence of a Neo Hawaiian Language," describes two types of Hawaiian language in existence today: Traditional Hawaiian and Neo Hawaiian.

Up to the time of Keao's thesis, Hawaiian language had been generally looked at as one language with an ancient history rooted in Proto Polynesian languages and experienced a period of decline due to legislation in 1896 by the illegal Provisional Government prohibiting its use in all schools in the Hawaiian Islands. As a result, most Hawaiian-speaking parents stopped speaking the language to their children in preference for Pidgin (Hawai‘i Creole English) or Standard American English which led to a rapid near-extinction of the language in a matter of less than one hundred years.

Since the mid-1980s, the interest among the general public in Hawai‘i in taking Hawaiian as a second language course in school has increased to the point where, in the first decade of the 2000s, it has become the most popular language course at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and Hilo as well as at community colleges throughout the islands.

At the time of Keao's MA thesis, second language speakers of Hawaiian had already outnumbered native speakers by perhaps 2000 or more. Native speakers probably number fewer than 1000 (no census has ever been taken, so this is an estimation).

Second language speech is fundamentally different from native speech due to the first-language background of second language speakers and the influence of that language and world view on them and the way they express themselves in the new language. This has led to the development of Neo Hawaiian, a language that is fundamentally different from that of native speakers of Hawaiian, and relatively consistent among its speakers. In general, the optimum conditions for creating a Neo Hawaiian speaking community are when there is no or very little involvement of native speakers in the second language acquisition process of learners of Hawaiian, and when second language speakers are the primary teachers or mentors of second language learners.

Traditional Hawaiian is identified in Keao's thesis as the language of native speakers of Hawaiian who acquired the language from other native speakers whose families have not lost the language from time immemorial to the present. This way, such native-like aspects as accent, word preference, expressions, intonation, and knowledge of language appropriateness for given situations, are continued. It is possible for a second language learner to acquire native-like proficiency and demonstrate native-like tendencies in their manner of speech if the learner acquires their skill in Hawaiian primarily from native speakers of Traditional Hawaiian.

Neo Hawaiian is a relexified form of Traditional Hawaiian (see Zuckermann's articles in 'Reinvented Languages' under 'Other important links' above for a description of relexification) and needs to be studied and described further by linguists. It is an inevitability in the absence of native speakers. It represents a dramatic shift in the language, an interruption and purposeful kick-start rather than a natural evolution of the language. Among the few native speakers who remain, intelligibility between their form of Hawaiian and that of Neo speakers is limited—a phenomenon that helps linguists describe dialects of a language. This is key in helping to describe the differences between the two forms of Hawaiian, Traditional and Neo.

The significance of Keao's MA thesis is that it highlights an interesting and controversial phenomenon in second language acquisition. What happens when a language dies? Is it truly possible to "create" a viable community of speakers of an endangered language if it is taught as a second language to a large number of people? Will that language truly become the first language of succeeding generations? Will the language be altered in some way? If so, what factors influence the change? Should the resulting language be described as something different from the langauge(s) on which it is based? Can the differences be charted and displayed graphically? These and more questions are generated by Keao's paper and a real discussion on Traditional and Neo Hawaiian is yet to be engaged.

Listen here to samples of other native speakers of Traditional Hawaiian collected by Clinton Kanahele of Lā‘ie, O‘ahu and archived by the Joseph F. Smith Library at Brigham Young University Hawai‘i.
Keao NeSmith and Elama Kanahele, native speaker of Traditional Hawaiian from Niihau.
Photo courtesy of Mahealani Wong.

Alice Namakelua, grand aunt of Keao, known as "Tūtū Alice" to the family. Born in 1892 (one year before the coup overthrowing the Hawaiian Kingdom government) in Kīhālani, Hawai‘i Island, she became well-known for her expertise in slack-key guitar, a uniquely Hawaiian art, and for her expertise in Hawaiian language and culture. Tūtū Alice became fluent in English having learned it in grade school. One of her noted accomplishments as a youngster is her performance of slack-key guitar for Queen Liliuokalani.
Annie Kealoha Kauhane (photo courtesy of Stephanie Feeney and Hella Hammid, in the book, A Is for Aloha, University of Hawai‘i Press, 1980), grandmother of Keao, a native speaker of Hawaiian who taught him to speak her language. Born Annie Kaaialii in 1912 in Honu‘apo, Hawai‘i Island and raised in a traditional grass house in Puna, Hawai‘i. Tūtū Kealoha learned English in grade school and became fluent in that language. Click here to listen to Tūtū Kealoha.
Elizabeth "Kapeka" Kakalia Kaaialii, mother of Tūtū Kealoha, known as "Kupuna" to the family. Born in 1892 in Ka‘ū, Hawai‘i Island, Kapeka was a native speaker of Hawaiian who spoke very little English through her adult years. Kapeka gave Keao his Hawaiian name and passed away when he was in grade school. Read more about Kapeka on the Kaaialii ‘Ohana page.