Friday, September 3, 2010

On the Beautiful Smooth Hawaiian Language.

The more I study the Hawaiian language, the more entranced by it I grow. It is both an elegant and a beautiful tongue. It uses an incredible economy of sounds -- there may exist languages with fewer sounds in the world, but none that I know of. It is sufficiently different from other languages I've studied to inflame my curiosity, yet simultaneously I recognize many tantalizing common linguistic threads running through it. Songs or chants in it often have a haunting beauty, and it lends even simple greetings a peculiar charm.

Hawaiian is interesting to me because, unlike other languages I've studied like Latin and Greek, its verbs do not decline or change at all. Mood, tense, and other things are handled by additional words in the sentence, somewhat similarly to English, but taken much further. Nouns, too, do not change to indicate their number. Like English, words can be used in various ways in different contexts. Some words can be used as nouns, verbs, and adjectives!

Edit: last night while writing this I couldn't think of an English example, but this morning I thought of one: "set". If you think of more, post them in the comments!

Like Arabic, Hawaiian also has no "to be" verb. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do it seems the most natural thing in the world to omit. It simplifies and shortens phrases, and makes the language much more concise than English in most cases.

I was a bit bored tonight, so I wrote a quick function in Python to randomly generate some short, simple Hawaiian phrases for me to practice translating. It generated some pretty funny phrases, such "this student of my chair", and "the uncle of my island". I had some ideas about writing a program to generate random phrases and eventually sentences for practice, so this was sort of a proof of concept. It's like really high-tech, random flashcards.

Well, I need to get some sleep now, so a hui hou!

1 comment:

  1. Yes, the Polynesians were one of the five (known of for sure, at least) cultures to independently develop agriculture, along side the peoples of the Fertile Crescent, China, Africa's Sahel, and parts of the Americas. So their civilization was able to produce a completely unique and sophisticated language. It is such a shame Hawaiian came so close to being wiped out.


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