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
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
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 ahhhh, for example.
The Internet has posed a challenge because true fonts cannot be read by most
browsers. On this site we use a ^ for the "macron" or kahakô and a
' is used to replace the "glottal stop" or
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
Hopuna: Hawaiian Pronunciation.
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