About ten years ago, Hawaii television stations stopped calling the University of Hawaii (Manoa)’s women’s volleyball team the Rainbow Wahines, calling it instead the Rainbow Wahine. The reasoning for this change was that wahines is not a word in Hawaiian, as there is no plural form for nouns. In this way did the Wahines become the Wahine (“Three of the Wahine will be out with injuries this weekend”), keikis become keiki (“Three hundred keiki showed up for Santa’s first appearance at the mall”), leis become lei (“Thousands of lei were donated to the cemetary”), and kupunas become kupuna.
In its effort to be more linguistically correct, however, the local journalistic community has made sentences awkward-sounding while forgetting one very important thing about itself: It’s communicating in ENGLISH. When reporters say that someone gave someone a lei, they are not speaking Hawaiian; they are speaking English. They may be using a Hawaiian word, but the rest of the report is in English, so they are speaking English. To deny the rules of English in order to satisfy the rules of Hawaiian in this case makes no sense, especially since the reporters aren’t bothering to restructure the rest of their sentences to satisfy Hawaiian grammar (you can change the articles in front of the nouns in order to indicate plurals, if I understand correctly).
We have to draw the line somewhere, and the line in current use seems to be not to change the form of the noun but also not to change any of the structure of the English grammar that surrounds it. This is a dumb, awkward, arbitrary rule, and I propose that the line should instead be at reasonably accurate pronunciation and that’s it. Leis would be fair game, as would lanais and wahines. The point is to be as clear as possible without being unreasonably offensive. I suggest that this would do it.