Over the last few years, students at the campus have formed informal Marshallese-language study groups. Now the course has been designed to help students develop a deeper appreciation for Marshallese people, language, and culture.
Presenter: Geraldine Coutts
Speaker: Rachel Miller, University of Hawaii language teacher
MILLER: It's an official language course, it's been taught through the Indo-Pacific Languages and Literature department. It's not part of an actual say masters, two-year masters degree program, but it is an official course, students will get credit for it and it's part of a two-year larger four cycle of courses.
COUTTS: What's behind this interest in the Marshallese language, is it because the Marshallese population is growing itself in Honolulu?
MILLER: Yeah I think that's a big part of it. I think there's a couple of reasons, but the Marshallese population here is rapidly increasing, Marshallese and Chuukese are the two largest Micronesian immigrant groups here in Hawaii. So there's definitely an increased interest in the Marshallese community here just because it's gaining in numbers and in visibility to other members of the community here in Honolulu. There's other reasons too, I think there's an increasing number of students that are interested in researching about the Marshalls. For example that was why I was studying Marshallese when I was at UH.
COUTTS: Why a particular interest, is it because of the US connection and the Bravo bombings, what's the connection, why the interest?
MILLER: Yeah well there's certainly a very long history because of that from the Trust territory days through to the nuclear testing, through to now with the continued Compact of Free Association. UH has a long history of academic interaction with the Marshalls, there's a very long history of anthropologists studying the Marshalls based out of UH. So there's very much a precedent for it, it's been easy for students here to study the Marshalls because there's such a history of it at UH.
COUTTS: Now for the Marshall Islanders themselves, is this an easy unit for them to get because they'll be learning their own languages?
MILLER: Well it's not really offered for native speakers since its very beginning. I mean the first 101 class that's going to be offered starting next week is starting with the alphabet. So it's not really offered for native speakers just because they're so far beyond what the class will be about. However there is a small but increasing number of what are called heritage speakers, which are Marshallese people that are born here in Hawaii and don't grow up speaking their language, perhaps speaking primarily English. And this is a common group within immigrant communities. It's just sort of beginning for the Marshallese community because they're relatively new migrants to Hawaii. So we haven't gotten any heritage speakers interested in the course just because I'm not sure the community is quite at that point yet, I think most people living here still speak Marshallese as a first language. But I think that will be a possibility, especially in the future, that's probably going to be a growing number of people.
COUTTS: It's an introduction for students to the basic language and grammar. But it'll also include cultural context, information on family life, environment knowledge, histories, stories and legends. How much of it will be dedicated to culture?
MILLER: A pretty significant amount. I mean it is first and foremost a language course, but really a pretty significant percentage of the class will be about culture and history and family life and environment and geography, and we're really trying to make it a very well rounded class to really just increase knowledge of both the language and the people. Why Marshallese people are here, what is their history, what is the culture that's so visible and vibrant to people looking at the Marshallese community here. I think we think it would be important for people to learn about the values and practices of the Marshallese community.
COUTTS: Well how varied is the Marshallese culture, because I note that there will be specialist guest speakers to talk about music and food and films. Are there many Marshallese films?
MILLER: There's a small group of Marshallese films, certainly it's not as developed as say maybe the Polynesian film industry, but there's a couple and it's increasing. That's sort of the theme for a lot of Marshallese studies, possibly curriculum, there's a small amount of information out there but it's growing, because the interest is really increasing.