Wednesday March 28, 2007

Notes on Hawaii

The Wife and I spent last week in Maui.  (Capsule review: paradise, plus good restaurants.)  Over the course of our stay, several linguistically interesting things happened, and I figured I should post about them.  What else is a language blog for?

  • The distribution of the Hawaiian language is interesting.  On the one hand, it's not very widely spoken (with the only native speakers coming from Niihau), though it's pretty widely known because of recent efforts at revival, and of course it persists in most of the place names.  There seem to be three increasingly specific levels of orthography.  The first is the plain Latin alphabet, using only A, E, I, O, U, H, K, L, M, N, P, and W.  The second level adds the glottal stop, written ʻ, and seems to be in wide use these days—street signs pretty consistently have glottal stops in them, for example.  Note that the letter for the glottal stop looks like a left quote (though it's more complicated than that), and not an apostrophe or a right quote, which I'll bet makes writing Hawaiian in word processors with auto-curlyquotes really annoying.  Finally, the third and most phonemic level includes macrons to mark the long vowels.  So during our trip, we saw the name of the area we were staying spelled three ways: Kaanapali, Kaʻanapali, and Kāʻanapali.  Check out the Wikipedia entry for more information about the language.  (Did you know that the wiki in Wikipedia comes from the Hawaiian word meaning 'fast'.  It's true!)
  • The Hawaiian word kapu came up several times during our stay.  It's cognate with the word taboo, though the OED says the English word comes from Tongan and was popularized by the narratives of Captain Cook's voyages.  Several times we saw it used in signs on gates and doors meaning 'keep out' or 'no trespassing'.  More interestingly, at the (mandatory for tourists) luau we went to, I noticed that one of the dancers, all of whom had Hawaiian names, was introduced as Kapu.  This struck me odd thing to name your daughter—some kind strategy to dissuade potential sons-in-law, maybe?
  • One morning we ordered a room service breakfast, and the guy who delivered it spoke to me in a strange way.  Where I would have expected sir, he consistently said gentleman, and he wasn't referring to me, he was addressing me.  That is, he said things like, "Where would you like me to put the tray, gentleman?" and "Now, gentleman, if you would please sign here".  (These aren't exact quotes, but you get the idea.)  Is that form of address a feature of Hawaiian Pidgin?  Or was he trying to be extra-super-deferential by referring to me in the third person?  I resisted the urge to start quizzing him about it because I didn't want to make him self-conscious, but I made sure to tip him a little extra since I felt guilty about turning him into an object of study without his consent.
  • One night we saw a magic show that was lots of fun.  The magician was also an insult comic, and spent much of the show getting audience members to say dumb things and then criticizing them for it.  He sometimes used a clever way of eliciting these dumb statements: he'd ask an ambiguous question, then when the audience member took it one way, he'd say he meant it the other way.  One of the questions relied on a feature of his dialect, namely the pin-pen merger.  He handed an old silver dollar to a woman in front, and asked her, "Do you think you could [spɪn] that?"  When she clumsily tried to spin it on the table, he said, "No, no, I said do you think you could [spɪnd] that?"  Later in the show, in fact, I was confused when he referred to Idaho as "the [ʤɪm] state".  Huh?  I couldn't figure out which made less sense: the Jim State or the Gym State.  Then I remembered his pin-pen merger and realized he'd called it the Gem State.

[Now playing: "Ranking Full Stop" by The (English) Beat]

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Last summer I spent a week in Maui for a friend's wedding. I also noticed the inconsistency in the orthography everywhere. Fortunately my wife and friends were tolerant of my ling-geeky way of pointing it out to them all the time. I've settled on using an apostrophe for the 'okina because it is just so much easier.

Being a linguist helps in Hawai'i, I think. I made all my traveling companions make a decent attempt to pronounce things correctly--except for the long vowels, which they couldn't get the hang of on the fly. But I did make them put all the glottal stops in the right place. We also stayed in Kā'anapali, and went back and forth between Lahaina, where the wedding was--so many people (that is, tourists) said "luh-HAY-nuh", but I made our group stick to "lah-high-nah". It was easier, since most of our group was from Texas, when I told them to say all the vowels like they were Spanish. I think we were treated like tourists instead of like stupid clueless tourists as a result of our basic effort to not mangle the language.

Looks like you skipped the insanely early morning trip up Haleakalā (the volcano) to see the sun rise. Good choice. It was kinda cool, but way too early and much too cold.

I heard almost no Pidgin while we were there (but we stuck to the most touristy places for wedding-related reasons), and the only real Hawai'ian was at the mandatory lū'au. However, I picked up a book on Pidgin and several *in* Pidgin in the "Local Interest" section of the Borders near the airport--by the time we finished our flight home, I had a pretty good passive understanding of basic (written!) Pidgin.

Finally, we *also* went to Warren and Annabelle's magic show as part of the bachelor party. It was a highlight of the trip--even though we got repeatedly insulted for being a large group of men without our wives and girlfriends.

Posted by: Trey at Mar 28, 2007 6:42:59 AM

I've noticed something similar to the "gentleman" for "sir" variation in native Spanish speakers: they say "sorry" when they're trying to get your attention, or get by you in a crowd. It's easy to explain, of course, since they can both be given as a translation for "con su permiso" or "perdon", but there are definitely times when "sorry" sounds wrong.

Posted by: Erin at Mar 28, 2007 9:30:12 AM

My wife and I went to Hawai'i for our honeymoon, and the main linguistic lesson I remember is one in pragmatics. To wit, when we were in Lahaina and saw many booths and kiosks advertising that they could set you up with windsurfing outings, snorkeling, hiking, etc., I saw one or two of the booths with signs saying, "Not affiliated with timeshares!" I should have taken more notice of the Q-implicature to be drawn, but all I thought was, "What? Are you supposed to be?"

Posted by: Neal at Mar 28, 2007 8:24:42 PM

"luh-HAY-nuh", but I made our group stick to "lah-high-nah"

One of the places where writing the 'okina is a huge win is between two O's, as in the name of the small, uninhabited island off the coast of Maui. If you spell it Kahoolawe, you're likely to get people pronouncing it "kah-hoo-lah-way", but if you spell it Kaho'olawe they're more likely to get it right.

Looks like you skipped the insanely early morning trip up Haleakalā (the volcano) to see the sun rise. Good choice. It was kinda cool, but way too early and much too cold.

Yeah, we did. For me, early and cold is the exact opposite of what I'm looking for on vacation. I'm more interested in sleeping in and tanning, thanks. We also skipped the stargazing-on-Haleakalā adventure, but we did do the version of it on the roof of the Sheraton. Cool (16" computer-controlled telescope!), but sort of short. Besides us, the rest of our party was made up entirely of drunk college boys, which was pretty funny. At least one of them was actually asking reasonable, if slurred, questions.

"Not affiliated with timeshares!"

I was aware the whole time that people engaged in mysterious timeshare transactions of some sort were all around me, but I didn't bother them and they didn't bother me, so it was all good.

Posted by: The Tensor at Mar 28, 2007 10:30:51 PM

I can't answer with certainty about the odd use of "gentleman". I can say that I worked as a warehouseman on Oahu for a year in the early '80s and never heard that usage from any of the native* Hawaiians I worked with. Nor did I ever hear it at the beach, baseball games, or shopping.

* For clarification, I'm using "native" here to refer to people born and raised in Hawaii, without regard to ethnicity. It is entirely possible that this is a feature of the dialect of some community with which I had no, or limited, contact.

Posted by: Doug Sundseth at Mar 29, 2007 9:39:22 AM

Perhaps the "gentleman" gentleman was back-forming from "gentlemen" as a deferential plural. If "Where would you like me to put the tray, gentlemen?" is correct when addressing a group of men, it's logical that "Where would you like me to put the tray, gentleman?" would be correct when addressing just one. (Of course 'sirs' is just as valid for the plural, he just happened to de-inflect the wrong one).

Posted by: PurpleWyrm at Mar 30, 2007 6:19:25 PM

I live in Hawai‘i and have never heard the gentleman usage before, in Pidgin or otherwise. It is possible however that the person in question was an immigrant from the Phillipines, and hence may have picked up the practice there. I know nothing about Phillipine English, though.

As for the Kapu name, it’s not a relatively common name, but I’ve met people so named before, so it’s not unheard of. Using kapu as cognate with English “restricted”, “no trespassing”, or “authorized personnel only” is quite common here.

Over the years there have been a few different Hawaiian orthographies. The official form is that using both the kahakō (vowel length) and the ‘okina (glottal stop). The orthography without either is used in at least one form of the Bible, as well as by many native speakers. To native speakers the notation of glottal stops and vowel length is apparently unimportant because they can determine presence from context. However second language learners insist on the use of the complete form of the orthography because they can’t easily determine presence from context.

And yes, the “smart quotes” feature in word processors is annoying when writing Hawaiian. Many people simply ignore the quote direction, trusting that the reader will know what is meant.

Posted by: James Crippen at Mar 30, 2007 8:15:16 PM

Is "wiki" really Hawai'ian? I thought it was HPE.

Posted by: John Cowan at Jun 7, 2007 9:03:54 AM

"wiki" = "fast" as HPE . . from "quick(ly)", I assume? I hadn't heard that derivation before..

Posted by: Marcos at Jun 7, 2007 4:51:50 PM

I am not an expert on Hawaiian (and I unfortunately just returned yesterday a Hawaiian grammar I had checked out from the library), but the various online resources I can find say that wiki really is Hawaiian. For example, as the translation of English fast:

This dictionary has ʻĀwīwī, wikiwiki, wiki, māmā, holo, ʻino.
The Coconut Boyz Hawaiian Dictionary has Awiki, wikiwiki
This Hawaiian word list has wiki

It wouldn't surprise me if wiki is also a word in HPE (as this dictionary implies that it is), since it's a word in one of the source languages of HPE and, as you point out, sounds a lot like the equivalent word in another. The fact that it's reduplicated may seem to be evidence that it's from HPE, since pidgins and creoles often utilize reduplication, but so do the Austronesian languages, of which Hawaiian is an example.

Posted by: The Tensor at Jun 8, 2007 5:19:43 AM

Elbert & Pukui's Hawaiian Dictionary gives the following etymology for wiki:

(Probably PEP witi, although Easter Island viti may be a Tahitian loan.)
(see here, or search for "wiki" on the page linked above.

Posted by: Tim May at Jun 8, 2007 4:18:18 PM