Interior Department updates Hawaiian language guidelines

Feb. 12—In recognition of Hawaiian Language Month, the U.S. Department of the Interior earlier this month announced new guidance on its use of the Hawaiian language.

In recognition of Hawaiian Language Month, the U.S. Department of the Interior earlier this month announced new guidance on its use of the Hawaiian language.

The announcement, coupled with a new departmental manual chapter that outlines the guidelines, accentuates the department's commitment to further integrate Indigenous knowledge and cultural practices into conservation stewardship, according to a news release.

"Prioritizing the preser ­vation of the Hawaiian language and culture and elevating Indigenous Knowledge is central to the Biden-Harris administration's work to meet the unique needs of the Native Hawaiian Community, " said Secretary Deb Haaland in a written statement. "As we deploy historic resources to Hawai 'i from President Biden's Investing in America agenda, the Interior Department is committed to ensuring our internal policies and communications use accurate language and data."

The new guidance will be applied toward the department's bureaus and offices that produce documentation addressing places, resources, actions or interests in Hawaii, or engage in communication with the Native Hawaiian community. The creation of the new guidance was prompted by virtual consultation sessions and public comment from the Native Hawaiian community in 2023, and developed in collaboration with Native Hawaiian language practitioners, instructors and advocates.

Hawaiian language was solely an oral language prior to having a written alphabet established in the 1820s. However, pronunciation of certain words can vary and alter a word's meaning, making diacritical markings in the written language particularly important for those whose primary language is not Hawaiian, according to the new department manual chapter.

For such people, diacritical markings including the kahako and the okina were added to the Hawaiian alphabet in the 1850s to signal the breaks and emphases in pronunciation.

While the new guidance designates the Hawaiian Dictionary (Pukui & Elbert 2003 ) as the department's baseline standard for the written Hawaiian language, it also acknowledges the language's ever-changing nature and recommends the consultation of various other authoritative sources when necessary. The new guidelines will be applied toward various identifications and references including flora and fauna, cultural sites, geographic place names and government units within the state, according to a news release.------Linsey Dower covers ethnic and cultural affairs and is a corps member of Report for America, a national service organization that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues and communities.------