Volume #1  
by Arleone Dibben-Young. InfoMaui

The Hawaiian Language

Brief history of the written Hawaiian language

Prior to the American missionary endeavor, which began in 1820, the Hawaiian language was spoken only. When the first company sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions arrived in Honolulu from Boston it quickly set to task the creation of a Hawaiian alphabet. In 1823 the first book in the Hawaiian language, a Bible, was printed. From this simple publication the spoken and printed Hawaiian language has grown to what it is today, including in it the latest high-technology terminology.

The Hawaiian Alphabet

Note: HTML format does not support the diacritical marks utilized in the Hawaiian language. Within this web site letters with a macron are underlined, and the glottal (normally appearing as an upside down and backwards comma) is substituted with an apostrophe.

The Hawaiian language contains only 12 letters and is the shortest alphabet in the world. The consonants are h, k, l, m, n, p, and w. The vowels are the same as those used in the English language - a, e, i, o, and u. In addition, each vowel may also be used with a diacritical mark called a kahako, a macron or dash placed above the letter. These vowels – a, e, i, o, u - are always stressed and pronounced somewhat longer than normal vowels.

Basic Hawaiian Pronunciation

In the Hawaiian language whole words are broken into syllables in the same manner that words are broken into syllables in the Japanese language. In addition, two diacritical marks, the glottal and the macron, identify when words are broken between syllables or when letters are stressed.

The glottal, called an 'okina, is the mark used to stress the first vowel in a word or to break syllables. One example of using the 'okina is 'ohelo, a native plant bearing red berries used to make a delicious jam. It is pronounced oh-hey-low.

The macron, called a kahako, is the mark causing stress or length of a vowel. A simple example of pronunciation is Manoa, the valley on O`ahu where the University of Hawai'i is located. Because the first a has a macron above it, the first syllable Ma is said stressed and is more prominent than the next two syllables no and a (pronounced ah), or Ma-no-ah.

Not only can the kahako and 'okina change the sound of a word, but its use can change the meaning. Pau, when spelled without any diacritical mark, means finished, ended, all done. When spelled with an 'okina, pa'u describes soot, smudge or ink powder. The same letters with a glottal and a macron over the u - pa'u - means moist or damp. And pa'u, with a macron over the a and u and when separated with a glottal, means skirt.

Primary vowel sounds

The Hawaiian language has numerous subtle variations in the basic vowel sounds, but these are the most common:

a = uh (when unstressed), or ah (when stressed with a macron)

e = eh (when not stressed), or ay (when stressed with a glottal)

i = ee

o = oh

u = oo

Advanced pronunciation

Hawaiian consonants are pronounced exactly the same as those in the English language, with the exception of the w. In general, when the w is the first letter of a word, or when the w follows the vowels o or u, a w sound is pronounced. When the w follows an e or i, the w is pronounced as one would say a v.

An example is Waikiki, pronounced Why-key-key, and Kewalo, a small boat basin near Honolulu International Airport, pronounced Kay-va-low.

Commonly used words or phrases

'a'a ah-ah rough lava

'aina ay-nah land

akamai ah-ka-my smart

ali'i ah-lee-ee chief

'A 'ole pilikia ah-oh-lay pea-lee-key-ah No problem or no trouble

Aloha ah-low-ha Hell-o or Farewell

Aloha kakou ah-low-ha ka-ko Hell-o, when said to more than one person

Aloha kakahiaka ah-low-ha ka-ka-hee-a-ka Good morning

Aloha 'auinala ah-low-ha ow-ee-na-la Good afternoon

Aloha ahiahi ah-low-ha ah-he-ah-he Good evening

hale ha-lay house

hana ha-nah work

Hana hou ha-na ho Do it again

Hau'oli La Hanau how-oh-lee la ha-now Happy Birthday

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou how-oh-lay ma-ka-he-key ho Happy New Year

Hele hay-lay Go ahead

Hele mai hay-lay my Come here

hui hu-ee club or group of people

kama'aina ka-ma-eye-nah long-time resident

kane ka-nay man

kapu ka-pu forbidden

keiki kay-key child

kokua ko-ku-ah to help or aid

Komo mai ko-mo my Come in

kumu coo-moo teacher

makai ma-kai towards the ocean

Mahalo ma-ha-low Thank you

Maika'i my-ka-ee Good

Malama pono ma-la-ma po-no Be careful

malihini ma-lee-he-nee newcomer

mana ma-nah spiritual power

mauka mau-ka towards the mountains

Mele Kalikimaka may-lay ka-lee-key-ma-ka Merry Christmas

pahoehoe paw-hoy-hoy smooth lava

pau pow finished

Pehea 'oe? Pay-hay-ah oy How are you?

puka pu-ka hole

wahine wah-he-nay woman

wikiwiki wee-key-wee-key hurry, quick

History of place names in Hawai'i

The lands throughout Hawai`i were divided in 1848 by King Kamehameha III. This action was called the Great Mahele and it subdivided each island. In general, these divisions, called an ahupua'a, extend from the uppermost ridge of each island to the sea, so when each island is looked upon from above, it is cut like a pie. These lands were awarded by the King to the Hawaiian Chiefs, laborers who had worked for members of the Royal Family, and some of the newly arrived foreigners.

Each ahupua`a contained all the necessary elements for subsistence living - fresh water for drinking and growing taro, grazing or farming lands, a place to build a house, and the ocean to gather fish from. As one travels around each island the place names are usually the names of each of these ahupua'a.


[ More Hawaiian Words | Nene O` Molokai ]