The Hawaiian Language consists
of 13 letters: a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, w & ‘okina.
The ‘okina is that little backwards comma you see before the "o" in front of the word " ‘okina ." In English it's
called a glottal stop, and produces a break in the sound when
speaking. It can appear at the beginning of a word or sandwiched in
between two vowels. It is never placed next to a consonant. In
Hawaiian, it is actually considered a letter because it takes up a space
in the succession of a word, and the presence or absence of it can
dramatically change the meaning of a word. Here are some
ole = eyetooth; fang
‘ole = not, without, lacking; zero,
As in the name "Kalaniana‘ole", which
many of you here in Hawai‘i know as a street that you don't want
to get stuck on during traffic hour. But actually it is
named after one of the last Princes of the Hawaiian Kingdom.
His name means "the immeasurable heavens". If you
pronounce it without the necessary ‘okina, then you're calling
him an immeasurable tooth. How royal is that?
pio = captive, prisoner, victim, prey;
pi‘o = arch; bent, arched, curved; to arch,
of a rainbow
As in the name "Kapi‘olani". Many of
you just know it as a hospital here in Honolulu, but it was actually the
name of one of our Queens. Her name means "the heavenly arch."
It was a sign of her position, as arches and rainbows were associated with
royalty. Whenever anyone pronounces her name without the ‘okina, they
are calling her a heavenly prisoner... shame!
ulu = to grow
‘ulu = breadfruit
You know I just had to use this one as an
example! I can't even begin to say how many times I've introduced
myself or been introduced as "Ulu" and people say, "oh, breadfruit!"
Nope. Sorry. I'm not a breadfruit. People like me don't
grow on trees...
you can imagine, having only 13 letters in an alphabet would mean that
these examples are just a few out of literally thousands of words
that differ just by the placement of one, tiny little mark. That's
why I've decided that information on the Hawaiian Language was important
enough to dedicate a page on my site to. I try my best to always
pronounce Hawaiian words correctly, and hopefully now you will all
There is another grammatical
mark in the Hawaiian Language called a "kahakö." It is
written as a straight line over a vowel and is used to elongate the sound
of that vowel. Although it isn't considered as an actual letter, the
absence or presence of this can also change the meaning of a word.
But I won't go into that here because, frankly, I don't have the proper
fonts on my computer at the moment. :)
So that's it for your very,
very, very basic Hawaiian Language lesson. I hope you liked