Google, Hawaiian and “Native American” Languages

I’ve received a lot of great feedback and compliments from people regarding the development of the Hawaiian language interface for Google. Mahalo to everyone who sent notes of congratulations for the accomplishment and recognition from the Governor’s office. I would like to address one element that came out in several stories, including the announcement by the Governer’s office, on this development. In these stories, it was stated that “Hawaiian has become the first native American language available through the “Google in Your Language” program”, or something similar.

Hawaiian is not a native American language, and in the press release that UH-Hilo sent out we never claimed it was. There was a short FAQ section at the end of the release that stated “The only other Polynesian language interfaces available are for Maori, the native language of Aotearoa (New Zealand) and Tongan. No translations have been completed in any native American language, though some are currently being translated.” The reason for the addition of this statement was to show how few indigenous and endangered languages have taken advantage of the GIYL program, and hopefully encourage advocates of those languages to look into providing Google in their languages.

A few of the newspaper stories that came out early on misconstrued this statement and stated that Hawaiian was a native American language. Though there is great diversity among the indigenous languages of North American, Hawaiian is not closely related to any of them. Many native Hawaiians object to being classified as native Americans for valid reasons. If my inclusion of that bit of information regarding NA and Polynesians contributed to the misunderstanding that led to Hawaiian being mistakenly identified in these stories as a native American language, I apologize.

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