Local Deaf community learns about newly-discovered language - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Local Deaf community learns about newly-discovered language

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WAIKIKI (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A recently-discovered language for the deaf in Hawaii was shared with the local Deaf community for the first time Sunday.

Researchers from the University of Hawaii shared their knowledge of Hawaii Sign Language, which recently became the first new language discovered in the United State since the 1930s. One of the researchers is Linda Lambrecht, an American Sign Language instructor at Kapiolani Community College who used the language as a child.

"Oh, I feel like jumping, I'm so ecstatic," she said about the recognition of the language. "All these years people said, 'That's just pidgin, that's pidgin language, pidgin sign.'"

But Hawaii Sign Language may in fact be older than American Sign Language, or ASL, which is familiar even to people who are not deaf.

"Hawaii is the last to become a state, which means that American Sign Language hadn't influenced Hawaii until much later. And in the past, they did have their own sign language," said Dr. Barbara Earth of the University of Hawaii at Manoa's linguistics department. 

That was echoed by fellow UH linguistics professor Dr. James Woodward, which said there is evidence of some kind of Hawaii sign language in the early 1800s. "American Sign Language was in its infancy then, because the first school for the deaf only began in 1817. By 1821, we have documentation that there were adults here in Hawaii using a sign language. So that's really exciting."

Researchers estimate there are probably no more than a hundred people who know Hawaii sign language. A handful of them were at the presentation at the Hawaii Center for the Deaf and the Blind in Waikiki.

The next steps include more research, along with the possibility of spreading the newly discovered language, similar to the renaissance of the spoken Hawaiian language.

"I do think if we do offer classes at Kapiolani Community College, at the school for the deaf here assuming people are willing, and at University of Hawaii Manoa, I think we'll have some very exciting things in the future here," said Woodward.

"It really is a language from Hawaii," said Lambrecht, "And I'm just so thrilled that we're all here today to recognize that."

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