“No American Signal Language [ASL],” Lambrecht reminds them together with her fingers, because the digital class begins. “That is Hawaii Signal Language [HSL].”
Greater than 100 college students have acquired the identical reminder from Lambrecht. Since 2018, she’s provided HSL courses to the general public; first in-person and, because the Covid-19 pandemic started, on Zoom.
Lambrecht is not simply educating. She’s preventing erasure, globalization and the cruelty of time to maintain an endangered signal language — and with it, generations of historical past, heritage and knowledge — alive.
However consultants estimate that fluent HSL customers quantity within the single digits. Time is working out.
The race towards time to save lots of HSL
Lambrecht was born profoundly deaf in 1944 to a household of Chinese language laborers in Honolulu. She was uncovered to HSL from start by means of two older deaf brothers, who had realized to signal from their deaf classmates.
This was uncommon on the time. Most deaf kids have been born to listening to mother and father and had no entry to any language, not to mention HSL, till they began faculty.
Lambrecht and her brothers attended what’s at the moment referred to as the Hawaii College for the Deaf and the Blind (HSDB). When it first opened in 1914
, it was named The College for the Defectives.
The college had adopted a educating type referred to as oralism, which aimed to “assimilate
” deaf individuals into wider society by suppressing signal language use. Kids might solely use HSL to speak with one another when lecturers’ backs have been turned — they have been anticipated to talk English and to lipread.
“Dad and mom and professionals mentioned that signal language was ugly, and that if youngsters knew signal language, they might by no means study to talk,” Lambrecht says. “[But] I might catch possibly one or two phrases.”
By the point Ami Tsuji-Jones enrolled on the deaf faculty within the Sixties, oralism was seen by critics as a failure
. Academics from the mainland have been now utilizing ASL as an alternative.
“They have been haole [white]. They noticed our language and mentioned: ‘What’s that? I do not perceive your signal. That is mistaken. No, no, no. Let me educate you ASL. No, no, no. You are signing that each one mistaken,'” Tsuji-Jones says, her fingers shifting emphatically and incisively. “We have been continuously being criticized … you realize, we are the kids. They’re the authority figures.”
Then her signing shifts, and her fingers decelerate.
“It is like they have been making an attempt to remove who we’re.”
“My coronary heart is damaged.”
There’s proof deaf Hawaiians had been speaking with a homegrown signal language for generations, predating the arrival of missionaries, sugar plantations and the People who would overthrow the Hawaiian Kingdom in 1893
However linguists did not formally doc the language until 2013
, when analysis by the College of Hawaii discovered HSL to be a language isolate: born and bred on the Hawaiian Islands with no exterior affect. Greater than 80 % of its vocabulary bears no similarity to ASL.
The findings launched a three-year challenge to doc what remained of HSL, led by Lambrecht and linguistics professor James “Woody” Woodward, who has spent the final 30 years learning and documenting signal languages all through Asia.
By 2016, the workforce had constructed a video archive and developed a manuscript for an introductory HSL handbook and dictionary
, that includes illustrations of Lambrecht demonstrating indicators. However then, time was up: their grant from the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme
had run its course.
Woodward is aware of the analysis challenge is not sufficient to maintain HSL alive.
“It may assist linguists analyze the language, however it’s not going to assist protect the language, until in some way extra individuals get to study it,” he says. “And the best way extra individuals get to study it’s when it is used naturally within the residence and other people decide it up, otherwise you educate it as a second language very early to kids.”
Lina Hou agrees that preserving a language is an enormous endeavor, particularly for linguists who will not be members of that language group. “It’s totally formidable to assume that one particular person, or a small group of individuals, might rescue 100 years of oppression or change the language shift that has led to language endangerment in a brief time period,” says the linguistics professor on the College of California, Santa Barbara.
Hou, who has labored on signal language documentation in Mexico, provides: “Saving a language [with a three- to five-year grant], I do not assume that is attainable.”
It is also not simple to get extra individuals to make use of a language that is been forgotten — or erased — and is related to traumatic reminiscences of being perceived as inferior.
As a toddler, Tsuji-Jones picked up some HSL vocabulary from kuli kupuna (deaf seniors) whereas they performed volleyball collectively close to the deaf faculty. She says: “I observed generally the kupuna can be somewhat embarrassed, and they’d say, ‘Oh, I’ve obtained to attempt to use ASL, as a result of HSL is just not good. ASL is healthier.'”
82-year-old Kimiyo Nakamiyo went to high school with Lambrecht, and whereas she respects her pal’s work, she does not assume HSL is value revitalizing.
“HSL is like damaged English,” she says. “I feel ASL is extra correct and extra alongside the strains of formalized English.”
Emily Jo Noschese, a PhD candidate in linguistics on the College of Hawaii, says she’s typically encountered this sentiment whereas interviewing HSL customers. However it’s a false impression that signal languages are tactile variations of spoken or written languages. HSL has no linguistic relationship to Hawaiian, simply as ASL and English are distinct and separate.
Noschese, who’s within the fourth era of her household to be born deaf, says she’s disenchanted, however not stunned, that lots of those that are most strongly against preserving HSL are deaf former HSL customers themselves.
“There may be trauma related to their reminiscences of HSL use,” she says. “It could be arduous for them. They might wish to neglect it.”
So, why keep on?
“There’s all the time hope,” Woodward says. “It is a part of what linguists do.”
For Nikki Kepo’o, preserving HSL means greater than saving a language. It means safeguarding a cultural id for her youthful baby Caleb La’aikeakua, 9, who was born severely deaf.
Kepo’o has all the time wished her two youngsters to be grounded of their native Hawaiian roots. When Caleb was born, his older sister was already enrolled in a Hawaiian language immersion faculty. Kepo’o studied the language, too, and mom and daughter now communicate Hawaiian at residence.
“I’d love for that to be the identical for my son,” Kepo’o says. “He’ll know that he’s a Hawaiian and a deaf particular person, and there is nothing mistaken with both one.”
Caleb is a scholar at HSDB, attending courses in ASL and English within the very areas that have been as soon as crammed with kids secretly educating one another HSL. Kepo’o goals of sending Caleb to an HSL immersion faculty someday. She’s been talking with a trainer at her daughter’s faculty who want to develop an HSL immersion curriculum.
“However because the generations become old, and as we now have extra of the American affect, I am not too positive what number of deaf Hawaiians truly can be found to create the supplies we have to practice our kids,” Kepo’o says. “It scares me lots, truly.”
Lambrecht feels the urgency, too. Due to the pandemic, she hasn’t been capable of make progress on her aim of getting HSL courses into faculties. However she hopes to take action subsequent spring.
Within the meantime, she’s been filming herself telling kids’s tales in HSL. She’d wish to file extra tales — “not American tales; Hawaiian tales” — just like the legend of the demigod Māui, who used his magical fishhook to tug up the islands of Hawaii from the ocean.
Hawaii means every little thing to her, Lambrecht says. Its tradition, communities and ancestral data type a core a part of her id, and an important piece of what she desires to go on to the approaching generations by means of HSL, simply as her brothers did for her.
“I lived within the U.S. for about 5 years,” Lambrecht says. “After I got here again, I cried and I cried … I obtained on my knees. I kissed the bottom. I used to be residence.”
The Legend of the Demigod Māui