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Hawaiian Language

Ka 'Ôlelo Hawai'i is the Hawaiian phrase for the the language of the people of Hawai'i, which shares many similarities in pronunciation and meaning with other Polynesian languages and dialects.    

The Hawaiian alphabet, devised by Protestant missionaries in the 19th century, uses 12 letters (a, e, h, i, k, l, m, n, o, p, u, and w) plus two diacritical marks.  At times, one will see T in place of K; R in place of L; and B in place of P.  Examples:  kalo = taro and kapu = tabu.  

In English the diacritical marks are called a "glottal stop" and a "macron."  In Hawaiian, they are called 'okina and kahakô.  They are critical to both pronunciation and meaning.

The 'okina is a sound similar to what comes between uh and oh when we say "uh-oh!".  There is a hesitation or catch that separates the two sounds so they are not blended together.  The 'okina is only used between vowels or in front of a vowel at the beginning of a word, such as the word 'okina itself.  

The kahakô is a straight line over a vowel, similar to that used in English language dictionaries to represent a long vowel sound.  The long vowels in Hawaiian do not change as strongly as in English, rather the sound is elongated or lengthened -- ah becomes ahh, for example.  

The Internet has posed a challenge because true fonts cannot be read by most browsers.  On this site we use a   ^   (circumflex) for the "macron" or kahakô and a  '  is used to replace the "glottal stop" or 'okina.  If you will be reading documents online using true Hawaiian fonts, you can download them from here.

When Diacriticals are not used

It is not appropriate to use diacriticals when a Hawaiian word has been anglicized.   Hawaiian is a good example!  This is an English word and therefore Hawai`ian is INCORRECT.  The word for Native Hawaiian is Kanaka Maoli which does not need to be capitalized in normal usage.  Adding an s or 's also serves to anglicize the word because plurals and possessives are not handled this way in the Hawaiian language.   

Learning and Using the Language

The resources on the Web for learning and using the Hawaiian language seem to be expanding at an awesome rate. The very best source for keeping up with what's new is the Hawaiian Language Links page maintained by Sweet Lei.

There are several online dictionaries. Coconut Boyz Cyber Hawaiian Online Dictionary is the easiest to access and uses Pukui and Elbert as a reference, bringing 5,000 entries to your fingertips. The Hawaiian Language Center (Hale Kuamo`o) at the University of Hawai`i--Hilo also has a searchable online dictionary, Mamaka Kaiao, that is considered supplemental to the Pukui and Elbert reference.   Hawaiian fonts are needed and can be downloaded from the site.

The ability to include sound files online has greatly enhanced the learning aids for pronunciation found at Hawaiian language web sites. An excellent example is Native Tongue, Hawaiian Glossary where you can hear how the words should be pronounced by a native speaker, E. Kalani Flores. Additional pronunciation resources: Hawaiian Alphabet/Basic Vowel Sounds and Hawai`i `Ôlelo Hopuna: Hawaiian Pronunciation.

Hawaiian Pidgin | History | Search

Web Links

About the Language

Hawaiian Language Website - the best!

Hawaiian Dictionary

Your Name in Hawaiian 

Ernie's Learn to Speak a Little Hawaiian

�lelo No`eau Hawai`i (Proverbs of Hawai`i)


Kualono - the Hawaiian Language Center at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo.

Hawaiian Fonts  - Mac and Windows versions available for download.

Coconut Boyz Cyber Hawaiian Online Dictionary

Grammar and Numbers

Simple-minded Intro to `Ôlelo Hawai`i - Covers articles, possessives, pronouns, prepositions and numbers.

Hawaiian Language Newspapers - Digital project from the Hamilton Library at UH Manoa. 1800s and early 1900s.

Offline Resources 

Learn Hawaiian at Home - Text and cassette tapes can be ordered online.

Coconut Info Software Products - Electronic flash cards and interactive software for learning phrases.

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