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New Language Discovered on Mainland

Updated on January 7, 2015

Linguists have revealed that a unique sign language used in Hawaii has been documented in United States of America. The history of Hawaii sign language dates back to the 1800s and is not a dialect of American Sign Language. Formal announcement regarding the discovery of a new language is expected to give new dimension to language studies in America. The recently discovered Hawaiian language has a unique vocabulary and grammar which surprised many linguists. It is known that only about forty people are using this Hawaiian language and most of them are in their 80s or 90s. Sign language in Hawaii was on the verge of extinction and the new discovery points to the necessity of preserving the language and its roots intact.

A Language on the Verge of Extinction

“Everyone is aware of how Hawaiian language has been brought back from the brink of extinction. The unknown fact is that Hawaii is home to a highly endangered language that can't be found anywhere in the world”, opines a prominent linguist. Twenty-one speakers of Hawaiian language were interviewed for research on age old dialects. This includes 19 elder deaf people and two children of deaf parents. Researchers have performed a comparative analysis of Hawaiian and American sign languages. Major distinguishing factors between both include adjectives coming after nouns in the Hawaiian version. For example, the usage is "boy fat‟ in Hawaii sign language instead of "fat boy‟ in American Sign Language.

An Impetus to Language Studies

Comparative studies of languages indicate that only twenty percent of the words are similar in Hawaiian and American Sign Languages. Basic words for "father‟, and "mother‟ are entirely different in these two sign languages. It has now become clear that Hawaiian sign language is a separate language and was developed independently. It is to be noted that languages are considered dialects when they share more than eighty percent of words on the list. Languages are considered related if thirty to eighty percent of words have clear similarities. The academic world is now aware of Hawaii's sign language's unique characteristics and distinct features. Hawaiian language became a dominant sign language in the beginning of the 1950s.

Obvious Similarities with American Sign Language

Detailed statistics regarding most sign languages were unavailable previously, with the exception of ones like the Eyak sign language that was spoken in south central Alaska. A professor of Linguistic Studies in University of Hawaii remarks, “Sign language was used in Hawaii in the 19th century and is used by people of many ethnicities. It may be influenced by sign language used by Native Hawaiians and people who migrated to Hawaii.” Linguistic scholars are of the opinion that Spoken Hawaiian language doesn't have any correlation with Hawaiian sign language. Researchers are planning to publish text books and dictionaries in the Hawaiian language to keep it alive for future generations.


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