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Ph.D. program helps to preserve Hawaiian language

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HILO, Hawaii (AP) - The students in the University of Hawaii at Hilo's first Ph.D. program are working to revitalize the Hawaiian language and culture.

Five students are enrolled in the new program, which was established this fall for a doctor of philosophy degree in Hawaiian and indigenous language and culture revitalization.

It's the first doctorate in the United States in a Native language, according to the school.

Hiapo Perreira, who is

focusing on Hawaiian literature, has tried to spread his knowledge. Last May, he told high school seniors the tale of a boy transported to a far country by a supernatural coconut tree.

The story was meant to teach the students that they should also help others, just as Perreira plans to do with the aid of his doctorate.

Kauanoe Kamana, another doctoral candidate, is the principal of Nawahiokalaniopuu Hawaiian-language immersion school, Nawahi for short, which was founded in 1994.

Kamana's doctoral dissertation will be a practical guide to the lessons she and others have learned in running Nawahi.

''We're not an ivory tower Ph.D. We're a community service Ph.D.,'' said UH-Hilo Hawaiian professor Pila Wilson.

There are 15,000 people who can speak Hawaiian reasonably well, but only about 100 remaining elders who grew up speaking it, Wilson said.

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The goal is to make English the language of business and work, and Hawaiian the language of the home for Hawaiian families, Wilson said.

''The Hawaiian language is not going to live if you are below average when you speak,'' he said.

Strengthening Hawaiian has the broad value of strengthening Hawaiian families and strengthening the economy, because Hawaiian culture is a major reason when tourists come here, he said.

Only about 2 percent of Hawaii's children are in language-immersion programs.

New Zealand has similar

programs to promote the Maori language, but it's only used in the classrooms, not at home.

Katarina Edmonds, who is Maori working for the New Zealand Ministry of Education, wants to improve that by earning a doctorate in the revitalization aspect of the UH-Hilo program.

Another doctoral candidate is professor Jason Cabral, who is dedicating his studies to Hawaiian grammar to promote a high standard for the language.

Professor Larry Kimura grew up speaking Hawaiian; he had a significant hand in creating the Hawaiian-language program at UH-Hilo and was responsible recently for complete bilingualism in the exhibits at the Imiloa astronomy education center.

Now he's interested in Hawaiian poetry.

But like fellow professors Cabral and Perreira, he has lacked a doctorate. Now all three can earn those degrees.