Chromebooks gain easier access to Hawaiian language characters

Dr. Keola Donaghy

Affordable and easy to manage in large numbers, Chromebook laptops have been immensely popular with schools and students. But the limited systems they run made it difficult to type Hawaiian words correctly.

Thanks to Keola Donaghy, an Assistant Professor at the University of Hawaii Maui College, there is now a Hawaiian language keyboard extension for users of the Chrome OS operating system. This will allow Hawaii students to easily type the kahakō – a macron character that appears over vowels in certain words and changes their meaning when used – and the ‘okina – a glottal stop.

Chromebooks are inexpensive, start quickly, and have long battery life. And they have become even more critical to schools, educators and students during the COVID-19 pandemic as classes from kindergarten through university graduate programs have gone online. An estimated 17 million Chrome OS devices were shipped in 2019, and 20 million are expected to be sold in 2020.

The absence of a Hawaiian keyboard that allows users to easily type the Hawaiian diacritical marks on Chrome OS devices has been lamented by teachers and students of Hawaiian medium education programs such as the Pūnana Leo Preschools and the Department of Education’s Papahana Kaiapuni Hawaii (Hawaiian Immersion Program), as well as by instructors and students of Hawaiian language at all levels.

“Given the rapid growth of Chrome OS devices at all levels of education in recent months, this kind of functionality has been desperately needed,” says Donaghy. “I’m hopeful we can convince Google to include this keyboard with all Chrome OS systems as Apple and Microsoft do, so that users won’t have to do this manual installation.”

For now, the Hawaiian Keyboard for Chrome OS is available for free in Google’s Chrome Store.

Instructions on the keyboard’s installation and activation can be found on Donaghy’s website.

Hawaiian has been supported in Macintosh OS since 2002, when Donaghy and colleagues at the University of Hawaii at Hilo worked with Apple programmers to include Hawaiian language support resources, including a keyboard, into Mac OS. That support was provided a few years later in iOS, the software that runs iPhone and iPads.

In 2010 they worked with programmers at Microsoft to include these same resources in Windows 10. These resources continue to be included with all computers and devices that operate using MacOS, iOS and Windows.

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