Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, September 2, 2002

I mua! Macintosh 'speaks' Hawaiian

By Vicki Viotti
Advertiser Staff Writer

The Macintosh is speaking Hawai'i's mother tongue, and educators who champion its renaissance see this move as recognition of Hawaiian as one of the world's living languages.

Among the chief celebrants is Keola Donaghy, media and telecommunications director with the Hale Kuamo'o Hawaiian Language Center at the University of Hawai'i—Hilo. Donaghy helped lay the groundwork for the upgrade that's now part of the newest Macintosh operating system. It is the first time that a complete Hawaiian alphabet has been available on a widely used major computer operating system.

That system — known as OS 10.2 and shipped to computer stores last week — is the software that defines how a Macintosh computer runs. The change in this version of the software gives users the typefaces needed to write in Hawaiian.

Specifically, the operating system added an option to the computer's internal "keyboard" allowing users to type in the kahako and the 'okina, two characters essential to the Hawaiian written language as it is now taught.

The kahako is the little dash appearing over vowels (like the one over the final letter in kahako), a diacritical mark signifying a stressed vowel sound. The 'okina, or glottal stop, signals a halting of breath between vowel sounds; it is considered to be a consonant.

The Kuamo'o center has enjoyed a long supportive relationship with Apple Computers, Donaghy said; Hawaiian language immersion programs statewide use Macintosh computers almost exclusively. Some of the equipment used by Kuamo'o and its network for Hawaiian speakers called Leoki was donated by Apple.

But corporate technicians at first resisted Donaghy's persistent requests for a built-in Hawaiian language keyboard, similar to options that support the alphabets of other languages.

"We've been pushing them since '95," he said. "There wasn't any interest on their part, because they thought it would have been a considerable amount of work for them to do it."

Eventually, the company was convinced that the modifications were fairly minor, Donaghy said, and the Hawaiian keyboard was added to the latest system. It enables other programs to handle the language properly, too, he added. For example, the 'okina is treated like the final consonant in the language when programs alphabetize Hawaiian words. By contrast, the keyboards that Hawaiian programs now use alphabetize words incorrectly, or ignore the kahako and 'okina in spell-checking.

It will take a few years for the impact of the decision to be felt, Donaghy said, because most schools use computers that can't run the new operating system.

But it's a start, he said, and one educators hope to use in seeking similar upgrades in the more prevalent Windows systems.

"We want it so that people simply turn on a computer, they know it will have Hawaiian," he said. "For our kids, the biggest thing is to show them the language is still viable and living."