Recounting Hawai’i Part 2: Culturally-situated language revitalization in action

In my previous blog post, I talked about the idea of culturally-situated language research, as presented by keynote speaker Lenore Grenoble. For the minute, allow me to skip the many other interesting talks and points made at ICLDC; let me take you to Hilo, located on the big island of Hawai’i, where ‘ōlelo Hawai’i (Hawaiian language) is full of vigor. On March 2nd we had the pleasure of touring Nāwahīokalani’ōpu’u campus, a Preschool-12th grade (P-12) school, where approximately 2,200 students are instructed completely in Hawaiian (see website for more info: We were greeted ceremoniously by all the students and teachers in the school; the greeting was a traditional chant, which granted us permission to enter the school and learn (about Hawaiian language and culture). This ceremony is performed daily by all the students, asking permission of their teachers to learn.

While touring the school I noticed that every part of the students’ education somehow connected to the Hawaiian way of life. For example, on campus there is a large garden; there are guava trees, banana tress, a pineapple grove, coffee shrubs…students learn about these trees, when the season to pick the fruit are, how to pick the fruit and take care of the trees.

A coffee shrub, one of the many fantastic trees growing in the school garden.

A coffee shrub, one of the many fantastic trees growing in the school garden.

They also learn to take care of pigs that are kept on the grounds. In addition, our guides, Malia and Kamaile, both in 10th grade, explained that every Friday the whole school goes outside to learn about their surroundings, whether on campus or at the beach, where students can study ecology, biology, geology, etc.

A pig, raised on the school grounds.

A pig, raised on the school grounds.

The idea is that students learn by doing, hands-on, through a medium that is culturally relevant to Hawai’i..all of this done in the language, of course. I found another example of this in the classroom; in the back of every classroom is a corner with photos of students’ parents, grandparents and other family members. Our guides explained that having photos of their kupuna (ancestors) helps students remember why they are there; why they are learning the language and that they want to make their family proud as they will one day represent them out in the world. It is a way to make connections to language, culture, ancestry. This is only a small part of a larger, holistic approach to Hawaiian education, which is described in this following video:

But here, again, the most striking thing to me was the fact that everything was culturally-situated. The success of the Hawaiian revitalization program is tied to the fact that the language is made relevant in everyday situations; it is normalized and connected to students both physically, emotionally and spiritually.

He mana ko ka ‘ōlelo = there is power in language
Left to Right: Carolyn, Kamaile, Malia and I after our guava harvest.

Left to Right: Carolyn, Kamaile, Malia and I after our guava harvest.

This entry was posted in Workshops and Conferences by Yuliya. Bookmark the permalink.

About Yuliya

Yuliya is a recent M.A. graduate of the Linguistics program at McGill. Her M.A. paper explored two types of noun incorporation in Mi'gmaq. She has previously done research on obviation in Mi'gmaq and helped develop LingSync in its early stages (in collaboration with iLanguage Lab). Yuliya received her BA in Linguistics from Concordia University in 2012.

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