Among the millions of American schoolchildren who show up for class every weekday, a few thousand of them in one state are greeted by their teachers this way:
"Aloha, kakahiaka. Pehea mai nei 'oe i keia la?" (Good morning. How are you today?)
Each will reply:
"Maika'i, Kumu." (Well, teacher.)
From then until their parents pick them up at the end of the afternoon, they will hear and speak nothing but Hawaiian.
Language revival success stories are as rare as blizzards on Waikiki Beach - the United Nations estimates that half of the world's current 6,000 languages will be extinct by the end of this century. But for each of the past 25 years, I've spent at least two weeks in Hawaii, and I have witnessed the gradual rebirth of the Hawaiian language, which was nearly extinct just three decades ago.
Shortly after the United States annexed Hawaii in 1893, territorial government (i.e., the sugar and pineapple interests) forbade the use of Hawaiian in all schools. Teachers were told that speaking Hawaiian with children would be grounds for firing. Children were harshly punished for speaking Hawaiian in school.
By 1983, a survey estimated that there were about 1,500 people in Hawaii, most of them on the isolated island of Niihau, who could speak Hawaiian fluently - and fewer than 50 of them were children.
That year, a group of Hawaiian-language scholars met to discuss the dismal state of the indigenous tongue. They decided to focus on children.
Using a "language-nest" model out of New Zealand, they started preschools on several islands. Using the native speakers from Niihau, they created an immersed environment for preschoolers and offered support to parents willing to learn the language themselves and use it at home.
Student by student, family by family, school by school, the language nests focused on Hawaiian sentences and fostered Hawaiian values. When the fledglings were ready for elementary school, the group lobbied for use of the language in elementary schools. When the elementary school graduates were ready for middle school, it lobbied for middle schools, and when the middle schoolers needed high schools, it demanded those, too.
The movement has snowballed.
When I was there last year, public announcements at the airports were English and Hawaiian. Today, thousands of children are exposed to the fluid, vowel-laden language in public and private schools, and everyone can access Hawaiian on the Internet, radio, and television.
There is a "Hawaiian word of the day" on the radio, Hawaiian-language programming on cable TV, and a Hawaiian column every week in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Governmental ceremonies routinely begin with a chant or prayer, with an ever-broadening choice of speakers who can deliver them in Hawaiian.
Hawaiian can be heard on high school football fields when quarterbacks call their snap counts, at Starbucks and McDonald's. Even Bank of Hawaii ATMs offer to dispense cash in Hawaiian.
They've established a Hawaiian Lexicon Committee. To a certain extent, the Hawaiian vocabulary froze in the 19th century, and so the committee brings native speakers together to figure out how to add to the language contemporary words and concepts (like snack, e-mail, and global warming).
To be sure, the Hawaiian language can hardly be called pervasive 30 years after it was rescued. Honolulu is not Montreal, bilingually speaking. While many Hawaiian residents have a passing knowledge of it, the experts guess that there are only about 10,000 people who speak it with total fluency.
The experts think that it will take two or three more generations to move it into the mainstream of life. But the process is underway and gathering steam - a remarkable achievement when you consider that the rest of the world is losing a language every two weeks.
Kenneth Hale, the great MIT linguistics professor, put it best: "When you lose a language, you lose a culture, intellectual wealth, a work of art. It's like dropping a bomb on the Louvre."