“No American Sign Language [ASL]Lambrecht reminds them with his hands as the virtual class begins. “It’s Hawaiian Sign Language [HSL]”
More than 100 students have received the same reminder from Lambrecht. Since 2018, it has offered HSL classes to the public; For the first time in person on Zoom and since the COVID-19 pandemic started.
Lambrecht doesn’t just teach. She is fighting erasure, globalization and the cruelty of time to keep an endangered sign language – and with it, generations of history, heritage and knowledge alive.
But experts estimate the number of fluent HSL users to be in the single digits. Time is Running Out.
Race against time to save HSL
Lambrecht was born in Honolulu in 1944 to a family of Chinese laborers. She was exposed to HSL from birth through two older deaf brothers who had learned to sign from their deaf classmates.
It was rare at that time. Most deaf children were born to hearing parents and did not have access to any language until they started school, let alone HSL.
“Parents and professionals said sign language was ugly, and that if children knew sign language, they would never learn to speak,” Lambrecht says. “[But] I could probably hold on to a word or two.”
“they were hot” [white]. They saw our language and said: ‘What is that? I don’t understand your hint. this is wrong. no no no. I teach you ASL. no no no. You’re signing that it’s all wrong,” says Suzy-Jones, moving her hands vigorously and sharply. “We were constantly being criticized… you know, we’re kids. They are authority figures.”
Then his signature changes, and his hands slow down.
“It’s like they were trying to push us away.”
“My heart is broken.”
The findings began a three-year project to document the remnants of HSL led by Lambrecht and linguistics professor James “Woody” Woodward, who has spent the past 30 years studying and documenting sign language across Asia.
Woodward knows that the research project isn’t enough to keep HSL alive.
“It’s going to help linguists analyze the language, but it won’t help preserve the language, unless somehow more people get to learn it,” he says. “And way more people get to learn it when it’s used naturally in the home and people pick it up, or you teach it to kids as a second language a long time ago.”
Lena Hou agrees that preserving a language is a huge undertaking, especially for linguists who are not members of that language community. Professor of Linguistics at the University says, “It is very ambitious to think that one person, or a small group of people, can survive a hundred years of oppression or reverse a language change, thereby putting a language at risk in a short period of time.” Has been.” Santa Barbara, California.
Hou, who has worked on the documentation of sign language in Mexico, says: “Saving a language [with a three- to five-year grant]I don’t think it’s possible.”
It is also not easy to get more people to use language that has been forgotten – or erased – and associated with painful memories of being perceived as inferior.
As a child, Tsuji-Jones learned some HSL vocabulary from Coolie Kupuna (deaf senior) while playing volleyball near the deaf school. She says: “I noticed that sometimes Kupuna would be a little embarrassed, and they’d say, ‘Oh, I have to try using ASL, because HSL isn’t good. ASL is better.’”
82-year-old Kimio Nakamyo went to school with Lambrecht, and while she respects her friend’s work, she doesn’t think HSL is worth reviving.
“HSL is like broken English,” she says. “I think ASL is more appropriate and more along the lines of formal English.”
Emily Jo Noshes, a PhD candidate in linguistics at the University of Hawaii, says she has encountered this feeling frequently when interviewing HSL users. But it is a misconception that sign languages are tactile versions of spoken or written languages. HSL has no linguistic relation to Hawaiian, just as ASL and English are separate and distinct.
Noshes, who is the fourth generation deaf in her family, says she is disappointed, but not surprised, that many of those who are most vehemently opposed to preserving HSL are themselves former HSLs. Deaf users.
“There may be trauma associated with their memories of HSL use,” she says. “It can be hard for them. They may want to forget it.”
So, why continue?
“There’s always hope,” Woodward says. “It’s part of what linguists do.”
For Nikki Kepo’o, preserving HSL means much more than saving a language. It means protecting a cultural identity for her young child, Caleb Laikakua, 9, who was born severely deaf.
Kepo’o always wanted her two children to be connected to their native Hawaiian roots. When Caleb was born, his older sister was already enrolled in a Hawaiian language immersion school. Kepo’o also studied the language, and mother and daughter now speak Hawaiian at home.
“I’d like the same to happen for my son,” Capo says. “He’ll find out that he’s a Hawaiian and a deaf person, and there’s nothing wrong with either.”
Caleb is a student at HSDB, attending classes in ASL and English, where HSL was once taught from children to one another. Capo’o dreams of one day sending Caleb to an HSL immersion school. She is talking to a teacher at her daughter’s school who wants to develop an HSL immersion curriculum.
“But as generations get older, and as we have more American influence, I’m not sure how many deaf Hawaiians are actually available to make the materials we need to train our kids,” Capo says. . “Actually, it scares me a lot.”
Lambrecht also feels a sense of urgency. Due to the pandemic, she has not been able to make progress on her goal of bringing HSL classes to schools. But she hopes to do so next spring.
Meanwhile, she is filming herself telling children’s stories at HSL. She wants to record more stories – “not American stories; Hawaiian stories” – such as the legend of the goddess Maui, who used her magical fishhook to drag the islands of Hawaii from the sea.
Hawaii means everything to him, Lambrecht says. Its culture, community and ancestral knowledge are a core part of her identity, and an important part of what she wants to pass on to future generations through HSL, as her brothers did for her.
“I lived in America for about five years,” Lambrecht says. “After I came back, I cried and I cried… I got on my knees. I kissed the ground. I was at home.”
The Legend of the Demigod Maui
Video Producer/Editor: Corinne Chin
Video Producer / Photojournalist: Jeremy Moorhead
ASL interpreters: Jenny Blake and Erica Peary
Digital Design: Peter Robertson
Credit : www.cnn.com