Whether Hawaiian or not, learning the correct usage & pronunciation of Hawaiian words will deepen your understanding of the Hawaiian Culture, and broaden your appreciation for the peoples of our land. During your stay in Hawai`i you will be surrounded by the Hawaiian language, but you may not realize that just 20 years ago the native language of our Islands was teetering on the brink of extinction.
Beginning with the opening of the first Hawaiian-language pre-school on Kaua`i in 1984, there are now a dozen preschools and more than 20 Hawaiian-language immersion and public charter schools throughout Hawai`i, and Hawaiian is once again being spoken by many people of all ages.
You’ve surely already noticed that the names of the islands, cities, towns, streets, and many other establishments are almost exclusively Hawaiian words, so you may want to participate in the revival of the Hawaiian language by pronouncing it correctly and even learning a few simple words and phrases.
The Hawaiian language has 13 letters including five vowels and eight consonants. The vowels (a, e, i, o, u) are pronounced much as in Spanish, and the important thing to remember is that they are “clean” vowels they don’t glide into another vowel sound as is common in American English pronunciation.
a = ah
e = ay (be careful not to slide into an ee sound)
i = ee
o = oh
u = oo (as in moon)
Consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w, `) are generally pronounced much as in English, but you may wish to refine your pronunciation later if you decide to learn to speak Hawaiian. Take note, however, of the final two consonants: w and the ` okina ( `).
Visitors and residents alike are often confused about how to pronounce the Hawaiian “w.” Generally it is pronounced like the English “w,” but a soft “v” sound is commonly used in certain words such as the island name “Kaho`olawe” (Kaho`olaVe).
The final Hawaiian consonant, the ` okina ( `), indicates a glottal stop which means your breath stops briefly as between the two parts of the English term “oh-oh.”
One final element of Hawaiian spelling which is commonly seen in Hawaiian words today is the kahako which is a macron over a vowel and indicates only that the vowel sound is held longer; it does not change the quality of the sound, only the duration.
Finally, the accent in Hawaiian words is generally on the next to-the-last syllable. If the final vowel has a kahako over it, that will be the accented syllable.
a-LO-ha ma-HA-lo ka-ha-KO
Try out these pronunciation guidelines with the words and phrases (below) and whenever you encounter Hawaiian words during your visit.
Try out your pronunciation skills with the names of the Hawaiian islands spelled below with the ` okina and kahako. Hawai`i Maui Kaho`olawe Lana`i Moloka`i O`ahu Kaua`i Ni`ihau
Here are some additional words and phrases which you may hear during your visit to Hawai`i.
aloha: hello, good-bye, love
pehea `oe? how are you?
maika`i: fine, good
mahalo: thank you
kupuna: grandparent, elder
lu`au: Hawaiian feast
pupu: appetizer, hors d`oeuvre `
ma uka: toward the mountain
ma kai: toward the sea
a hui hou: until (we) meet again
Aloha a hui hou kakou! Farewell until we meet again!