NEW SIGN LANGUAGE DISCOVERED.

New Hawaii language discovered by UH researchers:

“What we didn’t know until very recently is that Hawaiʻi is home to a second, highly endangered, language that is found nowhere else in the world,” said William O’Grady, a linguistics professor at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. … “Our information on Hawaii Sign Language goes back to 1800s, long before the influence of American Sign Language,” said Barbara Earth, an adjunct assistant professor at the Mānoa Department of Linguistics and one of the research team leaders.
Linda Lambrecht, an American Sign Language instructor at Kapiʻolani Community College, who was also a research team leader, inspired the study. HSL was the first language Lambrecht learned and she spoke it as child before ASL became the dominant sign language in the 1940s and 1950s. … This is the first time since the 1930s, that a previously unknown language, either spoken or signed, has been documented in the United States.

That page links to a press release with more information; anybody know what language was discovered in the ’30s?

Comments

  1. Looking forward to more info too!
    While we wait for a suitable expert to arrive, is it just me or is the title of the press release a bit odd? Why not “New Hawaiian language”? Even in headlinese I would be surprised to see “New France language” or “New China language”.

  2. The AP apparently did a much better job on this story: it identifies the last previously unknown language as Eyak (now extinct), and gives details about the low degree of sharing (only 20%) between ASL and HSL on the Swadesh list.
    As for the headline, “New Hawaiian language” would suggest to me either a new language related to Hawaiian, or a language of somewhere called “New Hawaii”.

  3. dearieme says:

    @John Cowan: such problems are readily resolved by suitable use of prepositions.

  4. Trond Engen says:

    Now I see only question marks in the 3D thread. I think it may be a failed instance of spams like the ones above. I seem to remember an attack of those the last time it happened too.

  5. Dearieme: Indeed. But not tersely.
    Trond: I’ve seen the question marks before in other threads, but I don’t see them in 3D now. I suspect you are right to suspect spam, which may be confusing browsers into misinterpreting the pages as being in a different character encoding. When Hat switches to a different platform, we’ll make sure his pages are rendered as UTF-8. (If he knows what’s good for him!)

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    It took but a few minutes with google books to turn up a “Compilation of narratives of explorations in Alaska” published by the federal gov’t in 1900 reprinting inter alia a report of an 1884 expedition to the Copper River Valley headed by Lt. W.R. Abercrombie of the Second Infantry. Abercrombie’s report recognizes (page 397 of the compilation under the heading “Ugalentsi”) that the Eyak speak a language of their own known by “competent philologists” to be related to Athabascan (although many of the modest number of Eyak-speakers at the time reportedly also spoke either Aleut or “Thinklet,” which I assume = Tlingit). So I’m curious as to what new discovery supposedly occurred in the 1930′s.

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    Sturtevant’s 1978 “Handbook of North American Indians: Language” claims without further elaboration that Eyak was somehow “rediscovered” circa 1930 after having been as it were mislaid by paleface scholars for several decades. I have no idea what this means. The people were there. They were close enough to the coast that they had to have at least some ongoing contact with the outside world. They spoke whatever they spoke. It sounds like what happened is that despite a number of early ethnographers from the 1840′s on describing the language as akin to Athabaskan, it got erroneously misclassified as a subset/variant/dialect of one of the Eskimo languages in some reasonably influential reference work published in the late 1870′s (but apparently not known to or relied on by Lt. Abercrombie, who seems to have been familiar with the earlier scholarship) and it wasn’t until the 1930′s that anyone with tenure did any further scholarly fieldwork and realized that what had become the standard classification was incorrect. But “rediscovery” in the sense of “correcting a prior error that had become embedded in the literature and realizing that the earlier scholarship we hadn’t bothered to go back to was right after all” isn’t quite the same as “discovery.” Come to think of it, I suppose Hawaiian Sign Language was likewise there all along in plain view.

  8. Trond Engen says:

    John C.: It disappeared when Hat cleaned the spam out of other threads, including this. I’ve seen that before too. I noticed that while the spam comments in other threads were of the type “languagehat.com: NEW SIGN LANGUAGE DISCOVERED”, in this thread the comments were “[url]:url” (or something vaguely like that), and in the 3D thread it was just a long line of question marks. So I think that this particular bot often mangles its code, resulting in wrong display of the comment, and occasionally so bad that the whole page is garbled.
    And I haven’t bothered to check any of this.

  9. dearieme says:

    John, “UH researchers discover new language in Hawaii” fits the bill and is one syllable shorter than the original headline.
    If you want the language at the front of the headline (on the assumption that your readers have an astonishingly short attention span) then “New language found in Hawaii by UH researchers” still saves a syllable and would wrongfoot no one. Or again: “Hawaii: new language found by …”. Et bloody cetera.

  10. People may still talk about the “Hawaiian” climate or geology or whatever, but in current usage in Hawai‘i, “Hawaiian” implies a relation to the Hawaiian language and ethnicity. For instance, the university now has a unit called the Hawai‘inuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge that focuses on knowledge transmitted via the Hawaiian language and culture, not just any knowledge peculiar to the State of Hawai‘i.
    The word “discovered” is also problematical, as it is in many other such social-science contexts. HSL has been known about for decades, most especially by the person who finally got others to recognize its distinctiveness from ASL. She had to be bilingual in both SLs to recognize how different the two are. Nonsigners would not recognize the differences, nor would signers only bilingual in ASL and English.
    Language documentationists these days are rediscovering many languages that have been noticed but then ignored before the advent of all our nifty new methods of recording and sharing them with a wider world.
    One such I heard about recently is the language of Cheju/Jeju island, which is as different from Seoul Korean as Portuguese is from Spanish, I’ve been told. It’s still spoken and written–using some archaic alphabetic characters like the so-called are-a ‘underneath a’, presumably similar to the /a/ that is now written on the righthand side of alphabetic combinations. But now it’s worth researching in greater depth by compiling and preserving corpora with our new digital technology. And it’s an interesting exotic attraction of Korea’s equivalent of Hawai‘i (or Japan’s Okinawa).

  11. She had to be bilingual in both SLs to recognize how different the two are. Nonsigners would not recognize the differences, nor would signers only bilingual in ASL and English.
    The last bit seems wrong. If you know only ASL and English, and someone is signing but you have no clue what they are saying, you certainly are going to realize that it’s another sign language, the same way that if I hear someone speaking in Tibetan, I won’t know it’s Tibetan but I certainly won’t think it’s English (or French or Russian, which I don’t know but can at least recognize when spoken).

  12. marie-lucie says:

    signers only bilingual in ASL and English.
    Perhaps those people are not fully bilingual: they are English speakers who learned ASL relatively late in life, as opposed to the woman in question (who is presumably Deaf), who first learned HSL and later ASL. At least that’s how I interpret the description. But there may be a good deal of overlap between the two kinds of SL, so that an outsider might not recognize the differences between them, or consider them very minor.

  13. John, There are many other sign languages people could have mistaken HSL for if they ever encountered it, which isn’t very likely because the population using it is small and rather isolated. People catching a glimpse of it might have assumed it was British SL, French SL, Japanese SL, or some other very different SL. How many times does one bother to stop and ask what language another person is speaking if it’s unrecognizable? In recent memory, I did that once in to Albanian-speaking restaurant workers in Cleveland, and once on a bus in Honolulu, but it’s not something I’ve done very often.
    Marie-Lucie, the differences seem pretty substantial. HSL and ASL had different origins and are not mere dialects of each other, at least as far as I have heard.

  14. Joel: There are many other sign languages people could have mistaken HSL for if they ever encountered it
    Yes, indeed. But you said that ASL-speakers wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between ASL and HSL, and that’s the claim I objected to. Hence my analogy with Tibetan; if I heard it spoken (not too improbable, there’s a Tibetan restaurant a few blocks from me), I would most likely guess that it was something less exotic, but I wouldn’t confuse it with English.
    m-l: But there may be a good deal of overlap between the two kinds of SL
    The AP article, as well as the UH video, make it clear that that is not so: there is only 20% overlap on the Swadesh list, and that’s probably in the more iconic signs.
    On Eyak: I read this long 2006 article by Michael Krauss on the history of Russian, German, and American encounters with the Eyak language. When the Russians ruled Alaska, they clearly thought of the Eyak as a distinct people, and by 1805 one Nikolai Rezanov had compiled a large Eyak wordlist as part of his septilingual dictionary of Russian, Aleut, Dena’ina (a Dene language), Eyak, Tlingit, and Kodiak and Chugach (two dialects of Alutiiq, a Yup’ik Eskimoan language). Unfortunately, the Eyak portion was not published until 1857 by an ethnic German living in St. Petersburg, where it was heard of by very few people outside Russia even though the Russian parts were now in German and the Eyak in Russian-to-German transcription, and so theoretically more accessible to Westerners. Crucially, Boas knew nothing of it; despite working on both Tlingit and Dene languages extensively, he never even mentions Eyak in his publications, and his student Frederica de Laguna ended up rediscovering it quite by accident.
    The Americans took over Alaska in 1867, and the first American to publish anything about Eyak was William Dall in 1870, who was convinced (despite the obvious counterevidence) that the Eyak once spoken in the west was a dialect of Tlingit, and the eastern variety a Dene language. Indeed, some of the few Eyak words he publishes are Tlingit, but how he could fail to notice that he was dealing with the same language in both cases, and one that looks nothing like the other Na-Dene languages he is explicitly comparing it with, is beyond me. So that’s how Eyak got forgotten: the Americans didn’t think the language existed, and the Russians, who knew better, no longer cared.
    By the 1910 Handbook of American Indians, the official story was that the Eyak were a group of Chugach who had shifted from Alutiiq to Tlingit. This wasn’t entirely false: the scrappy 19th-century evidence suggests that the Eyak spoke Tlingit in the streets (so to speak) and Eyak at home, like the Zhuang people of China today. Eventually Tlingit was replaced in this role by English, and all of the last six Eyak speakers were bilingual in English and did not speak Tlingit.
    (By the way, the usual English pronunciation of Tlingit turns out to be “clink-it”, and although the spelling tl suggests a lateral affricate, it’s in fact a lateral fricative in Tlingit itself. Whoda thunkit?)

  15. lateral fricative
    Is that like Mongolian /l/ (the Mongolian of Mongolia, not Inner Mongolia)?

  16. Rodger C says:

    @John Cowan: Do you mean west and east the other way around?

  17. marie-lucie says:

    lateral fricative
    Bathrobe, I don’t know Mongolian, but the lateral fricative is the sound written ll in Welsh. It is rare in Europe, but very common in indigenous languages of the Western fringe of North America.
    Most often, English speakers wrote it thl or lth, but people such as missionaries who wrote extensively in native languages frequently simplified these unwieldy trigraphs to digraphs, such as tl, hl or lt. The tl in Tlingit is probably such a simplified version of thl. It is also found in Kwakiutl (earlier written “Kwagiulth”; stress is on the first syllable), the name of one of the indigenous people of British Columbia. But English speakers tend to interpret the spelling tl as a sequence [t-l]. Similarly with lt: the language name written Quinault (which misleadingly suggests a French name) was actually pronounced “Kwinaayulth”.

  18. one Nikolai Rezanov had compiled a large Eyak wordlist as part of his septilingual dictionary
    As seen here a decade back!

  19. the usual English pronunciation of Tlingit turns out to be “clink-it”
    Merriam-Webster gives /tl/ first, with /kl/ as an alternate pronunciation.

  20. marie-lucie says:

    LH: What is M-W’s source? The English pronunciation depends on who is saying the word. Outsiders may say say tlingit but local English speakers say clinkit, since tl is not usual initially in English. But the native language pronunciation starts with a lateral fricative, and the ng is not as in English sing it but n-k. Native stress is on the second syllable.

  21. Rodger C: Probably. My grasp of the east/west (left/right) distinction is perilously close to zero. Krauss may well have the same problem: he talks about the “Yakutat end” and the “Copper River end” of Eyak territory, and I should have done the same.
    Hat: Yeah, spelling pronunciation is everywhere. Kids today! But I suspect most people who say /tl/ insert an epenthetic vowel somewhere. By the way, your link to Rezanov leaving his heart in San Francisco has rotted, so here’s a Wikipedia version.
    By the way, here’s the thundering title of Rezanov’s dictionary, as given in transliteration by Krauss: “Slovar’ unalaskinskago, kad’iakskago, kinaiskago, koliuzhskago, ugaliakhmutskago i chugatskago iazykov, po Rossiiskomu Alfavitu sobrannyi dvora EGO IMPERATORSKAGO VELICHESTVA dieistvitel’nym, Kamergerom, Sanktpeterburgskikh IMPERATORSKOI Akademii Nauk i vol’nago Ekonomicheskago obshchestva chlenom i kavalerom, Nikolaem Rezanovym, vo vremia puteshestviia ego po Aleutskoi griadie i Severo-Zapadnomu beregu Ameriki 1805go goda.” A fair copy ends instead after his name “v pol’zu v novoi Chasti sveta obitaiushchikh—1805 Godu. Na Severo-Zapadnom beregu Ameriki, v porte Novo-Arkhangel’skom.
    And in translation: “Dictionary of the Unalaska (Aleut), Kodiak, Kenai (Tanaina), Koliuzh (Tlingit), Ugaliakhmut (Eyak) and Chugats languages, collected in the Russian alphabet by the true Chamberlain of the court of HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY, cavalier and member of the Saint Petersburg IMPERIAL Academy of Sciences and Free Economic Society, Nikolai Rezanov, at the time of his voyage along the Aleutian archipelago and Northwest coast of America of 1805. [fair copy version:] for the use of the inhabitants of the new world. In 1805. On the Northwest coast of America, at Port New Archangel (Sitka).”

  22. What is M-W’s source?
    No idea, but it’s clearly (as JC says) a spelling pronunciation. I’m grateful to have your knowledgeable explanation, and I shall henceforth say “clinkit.”

  23. Bathrobe, m-l: Per Wikipedia, Mongolian /l/ is indeed a lateral fricative, typically voiced but sometimes devoiced. The Welsh and Tlingit version is always unvoiced.

  24. J.W. Brewer says:

    The lengthy Krauss article JC posted mentions quite briefly in passing the Abercrombie report I’d found via google books (and mentioned above) but imho mischaracterizes it – suggesting that Abercrombie shared Dall’s error when in fact Abercrombie as I read him correctly understood (via reference to unspecified “philologists” who were presumably not Dall) that Eyak was an independent language related to what we would call in modern terms the Na-Dene languages. So Krauss can’t help us figure out how Abercrombie got it right (could he read German? read Russian?). Nor can Krauss help us figure out why Boas apparently never took a look at Abercrombie despite himself being a scholar of both Eskimo and Pacifid Northwest languages and despite the 1900 volume reprinting Abercrombie being the sort of thing you’d think Columbia’s library would have had a copy of.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    Boas apparently never took a look at Abercrombie despite himself being a scholar of both Eskimo and Pacific Northwest languages
    Boas’ work is enormous and covers a wide range of languages and cultures. It is easy for others to say that he should have done/read/researched/noticed, etc this or that. Faced with a large number of languages with very different characteristics, he was concerned with breadth rather than depth, preparing the ground for others to do more specialized work.

  26. Something the Hattics might enjoy:
    “The Woman Without Answers”
    There was a woman from the town upriver from where the Willamette comes into the Columbia. She wasn’t so young any more, and she said to her husband, “I’d like to go east a while and see our son who’s staying there.” So she started out and went east for a long way but a short time, until she got to that island where her son was. He was doing fine there. After she saw him she saw a big, old, strange house there among all the other houses, and she said, “I’ve heard of this place.” So she went in and found a lot of people there having a meeting, talking together.
    Some of them knew her and said, “Come on in, Little Bear Woman! We’re playing a game here. We tell stories and then you have to answer what we said.” She said, “All right.” She was afraid of them; it was their territory, and some of them were really big people. So she said, “All right, I’ll try.” Then they began talking again, telling stories and telling stories about the stories, and Little Bear Woman got to feeling smaller and smaller. The ones that talked were almost all men, and they mostly talked about men, so that she wondered if there was a shortage of women in the eastern part of the country; but then she saw lots of women listening to the men talking.
    By then she was feeling a good deal like running away back west, but she was too old to run well, so she stayed. And besides, these people weren’t malevolent, they were generous people. So she sent her mind in the six directions and back to the center and invoked her Ancestors, especially those of the Boas Totem: “Please help me, Ancestors! I am a respondent and I don’t know what to respond.”
    Over there in Illo Tempore her Ancestors said: “Listen, that one’s in trouble again,” and they decided to send some people across to help her.
    The first one came — it was Claude Lévi-Strauss riding on a jaguar. And Claude Lévi-Strauss said, “Myths get thought, myth thinks itself, in humankind, unbeknownst to humankind…. And my own work gets thought in me, it thinks itself in me, without my knowledge.” The woman agreed with that. Then the Ancestors sent Mircea Eliade riding on the east wind, and he said, “In Myth the Cosmos is articulate: the world reveals itself as language.” She agreed with that, too. Then Lao Tzu came by riding on a dragon and laughed and said nothing at all, and the woman agreed with that, too. Then finally, Coyote came along, Coyote who made everything, even if maybe she didn’t make it quite the way she meant to or the way we’d like it, and she said, “What’s wrong?”
    Little Bear Woman said, “I said I’d respond, and I have no responses.”
    “So, what else is new?” says Coyote.
    Little Bear Woman thought, “She’s right. It happens all the time. The dream where I stand up to play the viola concerto, only as I stand up it occurs to me that I have never learned to play the viola. The voice in the silence of three in the morning that says inside my head, Why did you say that to the dean’s wife at dinner? The supermarket checkout where you open your bag to pay and your wallet isn’t in it. The child that asks you, But do the soldiers want to kill me? The jailed poet in a foreign country whose silence asks you continually, How long will you, who are able to speak, be silent? The Sphinx that asks you what goes on four and two and three legs in Greek and you don’t speak Greek so the Sphinx eats you. The labyrinth you can’t get out of because you aren’t the one with the sword and the thread, you aren’t the hero but only the monster, the animalhead, the dumb one who doesn’t have the answers.”
    “Happens all the time,” says Coyote. “That’s what myths do. They happen all the time. Presence of myth in contemporary life, and vice versa. You are a Myth who married a History, and you both have to make the best of it. Think yourself: articulate: be still. Each at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place. Have you seen any mice around this house?”
    “No,” the woman said. “I haven’t seen any mice.”
    So Coyote went along, and the Woman Without Answers and the others went along playing the game according to Coyote’s rules, by which you always get yourself into trouble.

  27. marie-lucie: (who is presumably Deaf)
    I noticed — and wondered about — the uppercase D in the university’s news release.
    This usage suggests that when writing about those who cannot see, one should uppercase the B in blind. What about the merely Hard of Hearing? The Diabetic? The Bald? The Incontinent? Pace Æthelred, the Unready?

  28. marie-lucie says:

    Oh,I thought at first that you meant that I was presumably deaf.
    According to what I can gather, a person who loses their hearing in old age may be deaf but is not Deaf: the Deaf are those who either were born deaf or became deaf at an early age, so that they cannot (or only with great difficulty) communicate with hearing people, rely on Sign Language and associate mostly with similar people, in the Deaf community.
    Others that you mention do not have the same communication problems which cuts them off from the majority, and that is what makes the difference.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    The Woman Without Answers
    Thanks JC!

  30. In addition, hearing people who were brought up by Deaf parents are also Deaf, at least to the extent that they identify with and participate in the Deaf community. It’s a (sub)culture rather than a medical status. Boyce Rensberger, the Washington Post (and former NYT) science reporter, is Deaf although hearing: when describing his interactions with Koko the gorilla, he said how strange it was to be talking with a member of another species in his native language. Per contra, my father was deaf in one ear and extremely hard of hearing in the other for most of his life (he lost his hearing in his twenties, and lived to be ninety), but he was never Deaf: English was his only language.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    Then Lao Tzu came by riding on a dragon and laughed and said nothing at all, and the woman agreed with that, too.

    So full of win!

  32. Full of win indeed.
    Here’s Le Guin’s commentary on the piece, written four or five years later:

    Invited to come to the Cooper Union for a New School conference, The Presence of Myth in Contemporary Life, I asked if instead of preparing a paper I could participate on a panel as a respondent. As the date of the conference (in October of 1984) drew near, impressive lists of speakers were issued; but I had received only one of the several papers to which I was supposed to respond, and that one was a short story, a kind of statement not ordinarily considered to need a response. I began to panic, and did what I generally do in a panic: I tried to make my situation make sense, to make it into a story — in the circumstances, inevitably, a myth. Among all the various presentations given during the three days of the conference, it is distinguished by being the only one not meant to be taken seriously. Nor will it be found in the handsome volume of the proceedings of the conference issued the following year, in which the subject of myth is approached from practically every direction except, perhaps, the direction Coyote comes from.

    Well, I imagine that the audience laughed when they heard the story, but if they didn’t take it seriously because of that, the more fools they. She calls them generous people, but not necessarily wise ones.
    And now a little bit of exegesis:
    The “town upriver” is Portland, Oregon, where the Le Guins have lived since 1958, which happens to be the year of my birth. I think of myself as a well-rooted individual, but that’s a deeper (personal) root than any I possess.
    The phrase “a long way but a short time” reflects something Le Guin says elsewhere about airplane travel, that what it really does is to abolish time.
    “Little Bear Woman” is of course what Ursula means (another personal connection: it was my mother’s middle name), which is why her fictional Central European country, about which she has written a book of short stories (plus two) and a novel (set in and before the Revolution of 1830), is called Orsinia. Unfortunately, she hasn’t been able to see what has happened there since the walls came down and the air was unlocked in 1989. Which worries her, and me too.

  33. Paul Ogden:
    Unræd really means something like ‘badly advised’ or ‘foolish’ rather than ‘unready’. Indeed, the OED records no use of unready in this sense except as the epithet of Æthelred II. The normal (though now archaic) word for this sense is redeless.
    Unready did however briefly mean ‘dressed in an unsuitable way’, which got into a stage direction from Henry VI Part I: “Enter … Bastard, Alanson, Reignier, halfe ready, and halfe vnready.” It also has the sense ‘hesitating, slow, unresponsive’ as in Mrs. Gaskell’s North and South: “‘Mr. Thornton, I believe!’ said Margaret, after a half-instant’s pause, during which his unready words would not come.”

  34. I habitually call him “Ethelred the Clueless.”

  35. John Cowan:
    I learned the meaning of “unready” when I copied the name of the king from the Wiki entry about him.
    One of the funniest sobriquets I’ve ever come across, though I can’t find it via Google, was in a long-ago Broom Hilda cartoon in reference to a certain king, Wud the Semi-Lucid. I don’t know about royalty, but the term sure fits lots of politicians . . .

Speak Your Mind

*