Volume 77 1968 > Volume 77, No. 2 > Correspondence, p 191 - 192
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- 191


One wonders why the Journal published the September 1967 article by David B. Walch on the development of the Hawaiian alphabet. Most of the factual material is already available in Wise and Hervey 1952; Walch's treatment is so similar that bibliographic mention and four references seem scant acknowledgment. We find the same rather esoteric mentioning of Campbell's vocabulary and John Pickering's alphabet for writing American Indian languages, the same acknowledgment of the impact of the New Zealand Grammar and Vocabulary, and the same long mission quotations of June 20, 1825 and July 11, 1826, without credit to Wise and Hervey (Walch, pages 359-61; Wise-Hervey, page 322).

Aside from pointing out the injustice done Wise-Hervey, it seems worth while to question the validity of three statements and the revelance of a fourth in the article in question.

(1) Page 361: “Those few Hawaiians who today speak the native language pronounce it as it was originally transcribed during the early missionary days of 140 years ago.”

This statement is certainly not true. In the absence of sound recordings we cannot be certain of all the details of Hawaiian speech in 1826, but on the basis of comparative studies of related languages, we may be sure that the glottal stop and phonemic vowel length were present then as they are now, and that neither of these phonemes were marked in the orthography devised by the missionaries.

A phonemic change that may be post-mission has been ai to ei, as in ikaika ‘strong’, kaikaina ‘sibling of ego's sex’, and many other words. Other less common shifts are a'o to a'a, as in 'a'ole ‘not’ and mā'ona ‘satisfied after eating’, and au to ou, as in mau, plural marker. (These and other changes are discussed by Ruby Kawena Kinney on pages 282-6 of Volume 65 of your Journal.) Such changes as these have occurred in other Polynesian languages. Indications that they may be post-mission are the spelling, and that they do not occur in songs or traditional narratives gathered and published in the 1860's.

A morphophonemic change in fast speech, not indicated in the writing, is V1?V1 to ?V1: Hawai'i is usually [Hawa'i] or [Hava'i]; pua'a ‘pig’ is usually [pu'a].

We know from extensive quotations in Walch and in Wise-Hervey that there were allophonic variations between k and t, w and v, and l, r, and d. None of these variations, fortunately, are known in the spelling. The mission- - 192 aries anticipated linguistic theory of a hundred years later in their decision not to attempt indication of these nonsignificant variations. This, and the use of five vowels, are perhaps their greatest orthographic triumphs.

We mention these variations because it seems safe to say that no language is pronounced exactly as it is written, even if one ignores suprasegmental features such as junctures, stress, and pitch levels.

(2) Page 362: “Even the common terms, ‘faith’, ‘holiness’, ‘throne’, ‘dominion’, ‘angel’, ‘demoniac’ . . . cannot be expressed with precision by any terms in the Hawaiian language.” All of these words except the last are in the Pukui-Elbert English-Hawaiian Dictionary. Hawaiian equivalents of ‘faith’, ‘holiness’, and ‘dominion’ are common words; the others are not a part of the everyday vocabulary of most Hawaiians.

(3) Page 364: “Today the young person who can read, speak, or write the [Hawaiian] language is all but non-existent.”

Some 250 people on the island of Niihau speak Hawaiian as a mother tongue; they learn English as a foreign language in the schools. Probably about half of these 250 people, who come from large families, are children. Other speakers are scattered about in outlying areas of the other islands, and a few church services are still conducted in Hawaiian. A number of former and present University students learned to speak with some fluency at the University of Hawaii. It seems safe to assert that in the year 2000 the language will not be completely dead (make loa).

(4) Pages 364-5: A long quotation that apparently has the author's approval (although it is dated 1869) credits the missionaries and their literary efforts for taking the “natives” away from the surf and sand and the diet of raw fish, and teaching them to substitute clothes for nudity and marriage for sexual abandonment, and to act as judges, legislators, and local magistrates.

None of this is discussed in the article or has anything to do with the history of the orthography.

University of Hawaii.


I appreciate being informed of Professor Samuel Elbert's remarks regarding my article “The Historical Development of the Hawaiian Alphabet.” I have the keenest respect for Dr. Elbert's knowledge, research and contributions to Hawaiiana.

I agree with some of his criticism, although not all of it. For example, when less than 2 percent of the young generation have little or no facility in the use of the language then to me that language is all but non-existent and would certainly appear to be dying out.

However, I do appreciate the comments of Professor Elbert, and in many ways I feel flattered that he has made them known in response to my article.

University of Utah, Salt Lake City.