Hawaiian Language

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The Hawaiian language belongs to the Polynesian language family, and is estimated to be around 10 centuries old. It is related to various other Polynesian languages which has spread over the South Pacific Ocean with Hawaii. Polynesian is found at the northern most point in Hawaii, New Zealand to the southwest and Easter Island to the southeast. It is postulated  immigrants colonized the archipelago near 1000 AD. These original Hawaiians and their language over time, grew into the Hawaiian language we know today.

Understandiong the Hawaiian alphabet first is the key to learning the structure of the language. No written record old the language existed until in 1820, western missionaries began to develop and standardize a written version of the language. At the point 8 consonants, 5 vowels and several special symbols were established.

H – as in English
K – as in English
L – as in English
M – as in English
N – as in English
P – as in English
W – after I and e pronounced v
  • after u and o pronounced like w
  • at the start of a word or after a, pronounced like w or v
  • ‘ – ‘Okina – a glottal stop which will be covered shortly 
A – pronounced like the a in far
E – pronounced like the e in bet
I – pronounced like the ee in beet
O – pronounced like the o in sole
U – pronounced like the oo in boot

Special Symbols

The ‘Okina:
The ‘Okina looks similar to an apostrophe and is known as a glottal stop. The glottal stop is a brief break in a word and features a sound that really isn’t a consonant in English. It is hard to describe the sound as it is not made with the tongue or lips. This subtle sound comes from the vocal chords and the best reference to the sound in English is the sound made between the first oh and the second oh when you say “oh-oh”.

In the Hawaiian language, the ‘Okina is an official consonant. An ‘Okina will never be the last letter in a word, will appear in front of a vowel but never before a consonant.

The Kahak ?

In the Hawaiian language, the Kahak ? is a stress mark or “macron” that appears only over vowels. While the basic sound of the vowel is the same, the Kahak ? tells you to hold the sound slightly longer. The stress mark is helpful in correctly pronouncing the Hawaiian language. You have a much better chance of pronouncing Waik?k? correctly if you hold the i sounds which are stressed, longer.

While these symbols appear to have minor effects on the way a word is spoken, not including them can not only change the way the word sounds, but also it’s meaning. For example, the word “moa” (mo-ah) means chicken and the word “mo’a” (mo ah) means cooked.

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