Hawaiian language

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ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi
RegionHawaiʻi, concentrated on Niʻihau and Hawaiʻi
EthnicityNative Hawaiians
Native speakers
2,000 (1997)[1] to 24,000+  (2006–2008)[2]
Latin (Hawaiian alphabet)
Hawaiian Braille
Official status
Official language in
Hawaii Hawaiʻi
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2haw
ISO 639-3haw
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.
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ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi
RegionHawaiʻi, concentrated on Niʻihau and Hawaiʻi
EthnicityNative Hawaiians
Native speakers
2,000 (1997)[1] to 24,000+  (2006–2008)[2]
Latin (Hawaiian alphabet)
Hawaiian Braille
Official status
Official language in
Hawaii Hawaiʻi
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-2haw
ISO 639-3haw
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Hawaiian language (Hawaiian: ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi)[4] is a Polynesian language that takes its name from Hawaiʻi, the largest island in the tropical North Pacific archipelago where it developed. Hawaiian, along with English, is an official language of the state of Hawaii. King Kamehameha III established the first Hawaiian-language constitution in 1839 and 1840.

For various reasons, including Territorial legislation establishing English as the official language in schools, the number of native speakers of Hawaiian gradually decreased during the period from the 1830s to the 1950s. Hawaiian was essentially displaced by English on six of seven inhabited islands. In 2001, native speakers of Hawaiian amounted to under 0.1% of the statewide population. Linguists are worried about the fate of this and other endangered languages.[5][6]

Nevertheless, from circa 1949 to present day, there has been a gradual increase in attention to and promotion of the language. Public Hawaiian-language immersion preschools called Pūnana Leo were started in 1984; other immersion schools followed soon after. The first students to start in immersion preschool have now graduated from college and many are fluent Hawaiian speakers. The federal government acknowledged this development. For example the Hawaiian National Park Language Correction Act of 2000 changed the names of several national parks in Hawaiʻi observing the Hawaiian spelling.[7]

A pidgin or creole language spoken in Hawaiʻi is Hawaiian Pidgin (or Hawaii Creole English, HCE). It should not be mistaken for the Hawaiian language nor for a dialect of English.

The Hawaiian alphabet has 13 letters, five vowels (long and short) and eight consonants, one of them being a glottal stop (called ʻokina in Hawaiian).


The Hawaiian language takes its name from the largest island, Hawaii (Hawaiʻi in the Hawaiian language), in the tropical North Pacific archipelago where it developed, originally from a Polynesian language of the South Pacific, most likely Marquesan or Tahitian. The island name was first written in English in 1778 by British explorer James Cook and his crew members. They wrote it as "Owhyhee" or "Owhyee". Explorers Mortimer (1791) and Otto von Kotzebue (1821) used that spelling.[8]

The initial "O" in the name is a reflection of the fact that unique identity is predicated in Hawaiian by using a copula form, o, immediately before a proper noun.[9] Thus, in Hawaiian, the name of the island is expressed by saying O Hawaiʻi, which means "[This] is Hawaiʻi."[10] The Cook expedition also wrote "Otaheite" rather than "Tahiti."[11]

The spelling "why" in the name reflects the [hw] pronunciation of wh in 18th century English (still in active use in parts of the English-speaking world). Why was pronounced [hwai]. The spelling "hee" or "ee" in the name represents the sounds [hi], or [i].[12]

Putting the parts together, O-why-(h)ee reflects [o-hwai-i], a reasonable approximation of the native pronunciation, [o hɐwɐiʔi].

American missionaries bound for Hawaiʻi used the phrases "Owhihe Language" and "Owhyhee language" in Boston prior to their departure in October 1819 and during their five-month voyage to Hawai'i.[13] They still used such phrases as late as March 1822.[14] However, by July 1823, they had begun using the phrase "Hawaiian Language."[15]

In Hawaiian, ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi means "Hawaiian language", as adjectives follow nouns.[16]

Family and origin[edit]

Hawaiian is a Polynesian member of the Austronesian language family.[17] It is closely related to other Polynesian languages, such as Marquesan, Tahitian, Māori, Rapa Nui (the language of Easter Island), and less closely to Samoan and Tongan.

According to Schütz (1994), the Marquesans colonized the archipelago in roughly 300 AD[18] followed by later waves of immigration from the Society Islands and Samoa-Tonga. Their languages, over time, became the Hawaiian language within the Hawaiian Islands.[19] Kimura and Wilson (1983) also state, "Linguists agree that Hawaiian is closely related to Eastern Polynesian, with a particularly strong link in the Southern Marquesas, and a secondary link in Tahiti, which may be explained by voyaging between the Hawaiian and Society Islands."[20]

Methods of proving Hawaiian's family relationships[edit]

The genetic history of the Hawaiian language is demonstrated primarily through the application of lexicostatistics, which involves quantitative comparison of lexical cognates, and the comparative method.[21][22]

Lexicostatistics is a way of quantifying the degree to which any given languages are genetically related to one another.[23][24] It is mainly based on determining the number of cognates (genetically shared words) that the languages have in a fixed set of vocabulary items which are nearly universal among all languages.[23] The so-called "basic vocabulary" (or Swadesh list) amounts to about 200 words,[25] having meanings such as "eye", "hair", "blood", "water", and "and."[26] The measurement of a genetic relationship is expressed as a percentage.[23][27] For example, Hawaiian and English have 0 cognates in the 200-word list, so they are 0% genetically related. By contrast, Hawaiian and Tahitian have about 152 cognates in the list, so they are estimated as being 76% genetically related.[28]

The comparative method is a technique developed by linguists to determine if two or more languages are genetically related, and if they are, the historical nature of the relationships.[21][29] For a given meaning, the words of the languages are compared.[30] Linguists observe:[31]

  1. identical sounds,
  2. similar sounds, and
  3. dissimilar sounds, in corresponding positions in the words

In this method, the definition of "identical" is reasonably clear, but those of "similar" and "dissimilar" are based on phonological criteria which may require professional training to fully understand and which can vary in the contexts of different languages. Basically, a sound's manner and place of articulation, and its phonological features, are the main factors considered in investigating its status as "similar" or "dissimilar" to other sounds in a particular context. For example, /b/ and /m/ are both voiced labial sounds, but one is a stop and the other a nasal. When linguists find in compared languages that compared words of the same or similar meaning contain sounds which correspond to one another, and find that these same sound correspondences recur regularly in most, or in many, of the comparable words of the languages, then the usual conclusion is that the languages are genetically related.[32][33]

In both methods, it is very important to exclude adopted words from the analysis, if they can be determined.[34]

The following table, Decimal Numbers, provides a limited data set for ten meanings. The Proto-Austronesian (PAN) forms are from Li (2004:4). The asterisk (*) is used to show that these are hypothetical, reconstructed forms. The Tagalog forms are from Ramos (1971), the Tongan from Churchward (1959), and the Hawaiian from Pukui & Elbert (1986). In the table, the year date of the modern forms is rounded off to CE 2000 to emphasize the 6000-year time lapse since the PAN era.

Decimal numbers12345678910
PAN, circa 4000 BC*isa*DuSa*telu*Sepat*lima*enem*pitu*walu*Siwa*puluq
Māoritahiruatoruwhārimaonowhituwaruiwatekau (archaic: ngahuru)
Marquesane tahie 'uae to'ue fae 'imae onoe fitue va'ue iva'onohu'u

Note 1. For the number "10", the Tongan form in the table is part of the word /hoŋo-fulu/ ('ten'). The Hawaiian form is part of the word /ana-hulu/ ('ten days'), however the more common form used in counting and quantifying is /ʔumi/, a different root.

Application of the lexicostatistical method to the data in the table will show the four languages to be related to one another, with Tagalog having 100% cognacy with PAN, while Hawaiian and Tongan have 100% cognacy with each other, but 90% with Tagalog and PAN. This is because the forms for each number are cognates, except the Hawaiian and Tongan words for the number "1", which are cognate with each other, but not with Tagalog and PAN. When the full set of 200 meanings is used, the percentages will be much lower. For example, Elbert found Hawaiian and Tongan to have 49% (98 ÷ 200) shared cognacy.[35] This points out the importance of data-set size for this method – less data, cruder result; more data, better result.

Application of the comparative method will show partly different genetic relationships. It will point out sound changes,[36] such as:

  1. the loss of all PAN word-final consonants in Tongan and Hawaiian;
  2. lowering of PAN *u to Tagalog [o] in word-final syllables;
  3. retention of PAN *t in word-initial and word-medial position in Tagalog and Tongan, but shift to /k/ in Hawaiian;
  4. retention of PAN *p in Tagalog, but shift to /f/ in Tongan and /h/ in Hawaiian.

This method will recognize sound change #1 as a shared innovation of Hawaiian and Tongan. It will also take the Hawaiian and Tongan cognates for "1" as another shared innovation. Due to these exclusively shared features, Hawaiian and Tongan are found to be more closely related to one another than either is to Tagalog or PAN.

The forms in the table show that the Austronesian vowels tend to be relatively stable, while the consonants are relatively volatile. It is also apparent that the Hawaiian words for "3", "5" and "8" have remained essentially unchanged for 6000 years.


For Hawaiian language history before 1778, see Family and origin above.

First European Contact[edit]

In 1778, British explorer James Cook made the first reported European contact with Hawaiʻi, beginning a new phase in the development of Hawaiian. During the next forty years, the sounds of Spanish (1789), Russian (1804), French (1816), and German (1816) arrived in Hawaiʻi via other explorers and businessmen. Hawaiian began to be written for the first time, largely restricted to isolated names and words, and word lists collected by explorers and travelers.[37]

The early explorers and merchants who first brought European languages to the Hawaiʻian islands also took on a few native crew members who brought the Hawaiian language into new territory.[38] Although there were not enough of these Hawaiian-speaking explorers to establish any viable speech communities abroad, they still had a noticeable presence. One of them, a boy in his teens known as Obookiah (ʻŌpūkahaʻia), had a major impact on the future of the language. He sailed to New England, where he eventually became a student at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. He inspired New Englanders to support a Christian mission to Hawaiʻi, and provided information on the Hawaiian language to the American missionaries there prior to their departure for Hawaiʻi in 1819.[39]

Written Hawaiian[edit]

In 1820, Protestant missionaries from New England arrived in Hawaiʻi, inspired by the presence of several young Hawaiian men, especially Obookiah (ʻŌpūkahaʻia), at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. The missionaries began to learn the Hawaiian language so that they could form relationships with the locals and publish a Hawaiʻian Bible. To that end, they developed a successful alphabet for Hawaiian by 1826, taught Hawaiians to read and write the language, published various educational materials in Hawaiian, and eventually finished translating the Bible. Missionaries also influenced King Kamehameha III to establish the first Hawaiian-language constitutions in 1839 and 1840.[citation needed]

Adelbert von Chamisso might have consulted with a native speaker of Hawaiian in Berlin, Germany, before publishing his grammar of Hawaiian ("Über die Hawaiische Sprache") in 1837.[40] When Hawaiian King David Kalākaua took a trip around the world, he brought his native language with him. When his wife, Queen Kapiʻolani, and his sister, Princess (later Queen) Liliʻuokalani, took a trip across North America and on to the British Islands, in 1887, Liliʻuokalani's composition Aloha ʻOe was already a famous song in the U.S.[41]

Headline from May 16, 1834 issue of newspaper published by Lorrin Andrews and students at Lahainaluna School

In 1834, the first Hawaiian-language newspapers were published by missionaries working with locals. The missionaries also played a significant role in publishing a vocabulary (1836)[42] grammar (1854)[43] and dictionary (1865)[44] of Hawaiian. Literacy in Hawaiian was widespread among the local population, especially ethnic Hawaiians. Use of the language among the general population might have peaked around 1881. Even so, some people worried, as early as 1854, that the language was "soon destined to extinction."[45]

The increase in travel to and from Hawaiʻi during the 19th century introduced a number of fatal illnesses such as smallpox, influenza, and leprosy, which killed large numbers of native speakers of Hawaiian. Meanwhile, native speakers of other languages, especially English, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Ilokano, continued to immigrate to Hawaiʻi. As a result, the actual number, as well as the percentage, of native speakers of Hawaiian in the local population decreased sharply, and continued to fall throughout the nineteenth century.[citation needed]

As the status of Hawaiian dropped, the status of English in Hawaiʻi rose. In 1885, the Prospectus of the Kamehameha Schools announced that "instruction will be given only in English language" (see published opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Doe v. Kamehameha Schools, case no. 04-15044, page 8928, filed August 2, 2005). Around 1900, students began to be punished for speaking Hawaiʻian in schools,[46] and the number of native speakers of Hawaiian diminished from 37,000 at the turn of the twentieth century to 1,000 today; half of these remaining are now in their seventies or eighties (see Ethnologue report below for citations).

There has been some controversy over the reasons for this decline. One school of thought claims that the most important cause for the decline of the Hawaiian language was its voluntary abandonment by the majority of its native speakers. According to Mary Kawena Pukui, they wanted their own children to speak English, as a way to promote their success in a rapidly changing modern environment, so they refrained from using Hawaiian with their own children.[47] The Hawaiian language schools disappeared as their enrollments dropped: parents preferred English language schools. Another school of thought emphasizes the importance of other factors that discouraged the use of the language, such as the fact that the English language was made the only medium of instruction in all schools in 1896 and the fact that schools punished the use of Hawaiian (see "Banning" of Hawaiian below.) General prejudice against ethnic Hawaiians (kanaka) has also been blamed for the decline of the language.

A new dictionary was published in 1957, a new grammar in 1979, and new second-language textbooks in 1951, 1965, 1977, and 1989. Master's theses and doctoral dissertations on specific facets of Hawaiian appeared in 1951, 1975, 1976, and 1996.

Kaona or Hidden meaning[edit]

According to Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert in the definitive Dictionary, kaona (kao-na)[48] is a "Hidden meaning, as in Hawaiian poetry; concealed reference, as to a person, thing, or place; words with double meanings that might bring good or bad fortune." Pukui lamented, “in spite of years of dedicated work, it is impossible to record any language completely. How true this seems for Hawaiian, with its rich and varied background, its many idioms heretofore undescribed, and its ingenious and sophisticated use of figurative language.” On page xiii of the 1986 Dictionary she warned: "Hawaiian has more words with multiple meanings than almost any other language. One wishing to name a child, a house, a T-shirt, or a painting, should be careful that the chosen name does not have a naughty or vulgar meaning. The name of a justly respectable children's school, Hana Hauʻoli, means happy activity and suggests a missionary author, but among older Hawaiians it has another, less 'innocent' meaning that should not concern little children. A Honolulu street (and formerly the name of a hotel) is Hale Leʻa 'joyous house', but leʻa also means orgasm."

Understanding the kaona of the language requires a comprehensive knowledge of Hawaiian legends, history and cosmology.

"Banning" of Hawaiian[edit]

The law cited as banning the Hawaiian language is identified as Act 57, sec. 30 of the 1896 Laws of the Republic of Hawaiʻi:

The English Language shall be the medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools, provided that where it is desired that another language shall be taught in addition to the English language, such instruction may be authorized by the Department, either by its rules, the curriculum of the school, or by direct order in any particular instance. Any schools that shall not conform to the provisions of this section shall not be recognized by the Department. [signed] June 8, 1896 Sanford B. Dole, President of the Republic of Hawaiʻi

This law established English as the medium of instruction for the government-recognized schools both "public and private". While it did not ban or make illegal the Hawaiian language in other contexts, the implementation of it in the schools it had far reaching effects. Those who had been pushing for English only schools took this law as licence to extinguish the native language at the early education level. While the law stopped short of making Hawaiian illegal (which was still the dominant language spoken at the time), many children who spoke Hawaiian at school, including on the playground, were disciplined. This included corporal punishment and going to the home of the offending child to strongly advise them to stop speaking it in their home. Moreover, the law specifically provided for teaching languages "in addition to the English language," rendering Hawaiian the status of a foreign language, subject to approval by the Department. Hawaiian was not taught initially in any school, including the all-Hawaiian Kamehameha Schools. This is largely due to the fact that when these schools were founded, like Kamehameha Schools which was founded in 1887 (nine years before this law), Hawaiian was being spoken in the home. Once this law was enacted, individuals at these institutions took it upon themselves to take it a step further by enforcing a ban on Hawaiian language. Beginning in 1900, Mary Kawena Pukui, who was later the co-author of the Hawaiian–English Dictionary, was punished for speaking Hawaiian by being rapped on the forehead, allowed to eat only bread and water for lunch, and denied home visits on holidays.[49] Winona Beamer was expelled from Kamehameha Schools in 1937 for chanting Hawaiian.[50]

Hawaiian-language newspapers were published for over a hundred years, through the period of the suppression. Very few pro-Hawaiian papers made it through the period of the overthrow of the kingdom and the subsequent Act 57. Most papers that survived that period had a distinctly pro-U.S.Annexation perspective. Pukui & Elbert (1986:572) list fourteen Hawaiian newspapers. According to them, the newspapers entitled Ka Lama Hawaii and Ke Kumu Hawaii began publishing in 1834, and the one called Ka Hoku o Hawaii ceased publication in 1948. The longest run was that of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa: about 66 years, from 1861 to 1927.

1949 to present[edit]

In 1949, the legislature of the Territory of Hawaiʻi commissioned Mary Pukui and Samuel Elbert to write a new dictionary of Hawaiian, either revising the Andrews-Parker work, or starting from scratch.[51] Pukui and Elbert took a middle course, using what they could from the Andrews dictionary, but making certain improvements and additions that were more significant than a minor revision. The dictionary they produced, in 1957, introduced an era of gradual increase in attention to the language (and culture).

Efforts to promote the language have increased in recent decades. Hawaiian-language "immersion" schools are now open to children whose families want to introduce Hawaiian language for future generations.[52] The ʻAha Pūnana Leo’s Hawaiian language preschools in Hilo, Hawaii have received international recognition.[53] The local National Public Radio station features a short segment titled "Hawaiian word of the day" and a Hawaiian language news broadcast. Honolulu television station KGMB ran a weekly Hawaiian language program, ʻĀhaʻi ʻŌlelo Ola, as recently as 2010.[54] Additionally, the Sunday editions of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, the largest newspaper in Hawaii, features a brief article called Kauakukalahale written entirely in Hawaiian by teachers, students, and community members.

Today, on six of the seven permanently inhabited islands, Hawaiian has been largely displaced by English, and the number of native speakers of Hawaiian is under 0.1% of the state-wide population. Native speakers of Hawaiian who live on the island named Niʻihau have remained fairly isolated and have continued to use Hawaiian almost exclusively.[55]


Niihau is the only area in the world where Hawaiian is the first language and English is a foreign language. Because of many sufficiently marked variations, Niihau people, when visiting or living in Honolulu, substitute the Oahu dialect [sic] for their own – apparently easy to do – saying that otherwise people in Honolulu have trouble understanding them. Niihau people speak very rapidly; many vowels and entire syllables are dropped or whispered.[56]

The isolated island of Niihau, located off the southwest coast of Kauai, is the one island where Hawaiian is still spoken as the language of daily life.[55] Children are taught Hawaiian as a first language, and learn English at about age eight. Reasons for the language's predominance on this island include:

Native speakers of Niihau Hawaiian have three distinct modes of speaking Hawaiian:

  1. an imitation and adaptation to "standard" Hawaiian;
  2. a native Niihau dialect that is significantly different from "standard" Hawaiian, including extensive use of palatalization and truncation, and differences in diphthongization, vowel raising, and elision;
  3. a manner of speaking among themselves which is so different from "standard" Hawaiian that it is unintelligible to non-Niihau speakers of Hawaiian.

The last mode of speaking may be further restricted to a certain subset of Niihauans, and is rarely even overheard by non-Niihauans. In addition to being able to speak Hawaiian in different ways, most Niihauans can speak English as well.

Elbert & Pukui (1979:23) states that "[v]ariations in Hawaiian dialects have not been systematically studied", and that "[t]he dialect of Niihau is the most aberrant and the one most in need of study". They recognized that Niihauans can speak Hawaiian in substantially different ways. Their statements are based in part on some specific observations made by Newbrand (1951). (See below, Processes, under Phonology.)


Hawaiians had no written language prior to western contact, except for petroglyph symbols. The modern Hawaiian alphabet, ka pīʻāpā Hawaiʻi, is based on the Latin script. Hawaiian words end only[57] in vowels, and every consonant must be followed by a vowel. The Hawaiian alphabetical order has all of the vowels before the consonants,[58] as in the following chart.



This writing system was developed by American Protestant missionaries during 1820–1826.[59] It was the first thing they ever printed in Hawaiʻi, on January 7, 1822, and it originally included the consonants B, D, R, T, and V, in addition to the current ones (H, K, L, M, N, P, W), and it had F, G, S, Y and Z for "spelling foreign words". The initial printing also showed the five vowel letters (A, E, I, O, U) and seven of the short diphthongs (AE, AI, AO, AU, EI, EU, OU).[60]

In 1826, the developers voted to eliminate some of the letters which represented functionally redundant allophones (called "interchangeable letters"), enabling the Hawaiian alphabet to approach the ideal state of one-symbol-one-phoneme, and thereby optimizing the ease with which people could teach and learn the reading and writing of Hawaiian.[61] For example, instead of spelling one and the same word as pule, bule, pure, and bure (because of interchangeable p/b and l/r), the word is spelled only as pule.

However, hundreds of words were very rapidly borrowed into Hawaiian from English, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Syriac.[62][63][64] Although these loan words were necessarily Hawaiianized, they often retained some of their "non-Hawaiian letters" in their published forms. For example, Brazil fully Hawaiianized is Palakila, but retaining "foreign letters" it is Barazila.[65] Another example is Gibraltar, written as Kipalaleka or Gibaraleta.[66] While [z] and [ɡ] are not regarded as Hawaiian sounds, [b], [ɹ], and [t] were represented in the original alphabet, so the letters (b, r, and t) for the latter are not truly "non-Hawaiian" or "foreign", even though their post-1826 use in published matter generally marked words of foreign origin.

Glottal stop[edit]

Main article: ʻokina

ʻOkina (ʻoki 'cut' + -na '-ing') is the modern Hawaiian name for the symbol (a letter) that represents the glottal stop.[67] It was formerly known as ʻuʻina ('snap'[68][69]).

For examples of the ʻokina, consider the Hawaiian words Hawaiʻi and Oʻahu (often simply Hawaii and Oahu in English orthography). In Hawaiian, these words can be pronounced [hʌˈʋʌi.ʔi] and [oˈʔʌ.hu], and can be written with an ʻokina where the glottal stop is pronounced.[70][71]


As early as 1823, the missionaries made some limited use of the apostrophe to represent the glottal stop,[72] but they did not make it a letter of the alphabet. In publishing the Hawaiian Bible, they used it to distinguish koʻu ('my') from kou ('your').[73] In 1864, William DeWitt Alexander published a grammar of Hawaiian in which he made it clear that the glottal stop (calling it "guttural break") is definitely a true consonant of the Hawaiian language.[74] He wrote it using an apostrophe. In 1922, the Andrews-Parker dictionary of Hawaiian made limited use of the opening single quote symbol, called "reversed apostrophe" or "inverse comma", to represent the glottal stop.[75] Subsequent dictionaries have preferred to use that symbol. Today, many native speakers of Hawaiian do not bother, in general, to write any symbol for the glottal stop. Its use is advocated mainly among students and teachers of Hawaiian as a second language, and among linguists.[76]

Electronic encoding[edit]

The ʻokina is written in various ways for electronic uses:

Because many people who want to write the ʻokina are not familiar with these specific characters and/or do not have access to the appropriate fonts and input and display systems, it is sometimes written with more familiar and readily available characters:


A modern Hawaiian name for the macron symbol is kahakō (kaha 'mark' + 'long').[80] It was formerly known as mekona (Hawaiianization of macron). It can be written as a diacritical mark which looks like a hyphen or dash written above a vowel, i.e., ā ē ī ō ū, and Ā Ē Ī Ō Ū. It is used to show that the marked vowel is a "double", or "geminate", or "long" vowel, in phonemic terms.[81]

As early as 1821, at least one of the missionaries, Hiram Bingham, was using macrons (and breves) in making handwritten transcriptions of Hawaiian vowels.[82] The missionaries specifically requested their sponsor in Boston to send them some type (fonts) with accented vowel characters, including vowels with macrons, but the sponsor made only one response and sent the wrong font size (pica instead of small pica).[75] Thus, they could not print ā, ē, ī, ō, nor ū (at the right size), even though they wanted to.


Due to extensive allophony, Hawaiian has more than 13 phones. Although vowel length is phonemic, long vowels are not always pronounced as such,[81] even though under the rules for assigning stress in Hawaiian, a long vowel will always receive stress.[83][84]


Main article: Hawaiian phonology


Plosivept ~ kʔ
Fricative   h
Sonorantw ~ vl  

Hawaiian is known for having very few consonant phonemes – eight: /p, k ~ t, ʔ, h, m, n, l, w ~ v/. It is notable that Hawaiian has allophonic variation of [t] with [k],[85][86][87][88] [w] with [v],[89] and (in some dialects) [l] with [n].[90] The [t][k] variation is quite unusual among the world's languages, and is likely a product both of the small number of consonants in Hawaiian, and the recent shift of historical *t to modern [t][k], after historical *k had shifted to [ʔ]. In some dialects, /ʔ/ remains as [k] in some words. These variations are largely free, though there are conditioning factors. /l/ tends to [n] especially in words with both /l/ and /n/, such as in the island name Lānaʻi ([laːˈnɐʔi][naːˈnɐʔi]), though this is not always the case: ʻeleʻele or ʻeneʻene "black". The [k] allophone is almost universal at the beginnings of words, whereas [t] is most common before the vowel /i/. [v] is also the norm after /i/ and /e/, whereas [w] is usual after /u/ and /o/. After /a/ and initially, however, [w] and [v] are in free variation.[91]


Hawaiian has five short and five long vowels, plus diphthongs.


Midɛ ~ eo
Openɐ ~ ə

Hawaiian has five pure vowels. The short vowels are /u, i, o, e, a/, and the long vowels, if they are considered separate phonemes rather than simply sequences of like vowels, are /uː, iː, oː, eː, aː/. When stressed, short /e/ and /a/ tend to become [ɛ] and [ɐ], while when unstressed they are [e] and [ə]. /e/ also tends to become [ɛ] next to /l/, /n/, and another [ɛ], as in Pele [pɛlɛ]. Some grammatical particles vary between short and long vowels. These include a and o "of", ma "at", na and no "for". Between a back vowel /o/ or /u/ and a following non-back vowel (/a e i/), there is an epenthetic [w], which is generally not written. Between a front vowel /e/ or /i/ and a following non-front vowel (/a o u/), there is an epenthetic [j] (a y sound), which is never written.


Short diphthongs 
 Ending with /u/  Ending with /i/  Ending with /o/  Ending with /e/ 
 Starting with /i/ iu   
 Starting with /o/ ouoi  
 Starting with /e/ euei  
 Starting with /a/ auaiaoae

The short-vowel diphthongs are /iu, ou, oi, eu, ei, au, ai, ao, ae/. In all except perhaps /iu/, these are falling diphthongs. However, they are not as tightly bound as the diphthongs of English, and may be considered vowel sequences. (The second vowel in such sequences may receive the stress, but in such cases it is not counted as a diphthong.) In fast speech, /ai/ tends to [ei] and /au/ tends to [ou], conflating these diphthongs with /ei/ and /ou/.

There are only a limited number of vowels which may follow long vowels, and some authors treat these as diphthongs as well: /oːu, eːi, aːu, aːi, aːo, aːe/.

Long diphthongs 
 Ending with /u/  Ending with /i/  Ending with /o/  Ending with /e/ 
 Starting with /o/ oːu   
 Starting with /e/  eːi  
 Starting with /a/ aːuaːiaːoaːe


Hawaiian syllable structure is (C)V. All CV syllables occur except for ;[92] wu occurs only in two words borrowed from English.[93][94] As shown by Schütz,[62][95][96] Hawaiian word-stress is predictable in words of one to four syllables, but not in words of five or more syllables. Hawaiian phonological processes include palatalization and deletion of consonants, as well as raising, diphthongization, deletion, and compensatory lengthening of vowels.[86][97] Phonological reduction (or "decay") of consonant phonemes during the historical development of the language has resulted in the phonemic glottal stop.[98][99] Ultimate loss (deletion) of intervocalic consonant phonemes has resulted in Hawaiian long vowels and diphthongs.[99][100][101][102]


Main article: Hawaiian grammar

Hawaiian is an analytic language with verb–subject–object word order. While there is no use of inflection for verbs, in Hawaiian, like other Austronesian personal pronouns, declension is found in the differentiation between a- and o-class genitive case personal pronouns in order to indicate inalienable possession in a binary possessive class system. Also like many Austronesian languages, Hawaiian pronouns employ separate words for inclusive and exclusive we, and distinguish singular, dual, and plural. The grammatical function of verbs is marked by adjacent particles (short words) and their relative positions to indicate tense–aspect–mood.

Some examples verb phrase patterns:

Nouns can be marked with articles:

ka and ke are singular definite articles. ke is used before words beginning with a-, e-, o- and k-, and with some words beginning ʻ- and p-. ka is used in all other cases. is the plural definite article.

To show part of a group, the word kekahi is used. To show a bigger part, you would insert mau to pluralize the subject.


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lyovin (1997:258)
  2. ^ U.S. Census (2010)
  3. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Hawaiian". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  4. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of ʻōlelo". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. 
  5. ^ see e.g. (Hinton & Hale 2001)
  6. ^ The 1897 Petition Against the Annexation of Hawaii
  7. ^ Hawaiian National Park Language Correction Act of 2000 (S.939)
  8. ^ Schütz (1994:44, 459)
  9. ^ Carter (1996:144, 174)
  10. ^ Carter (1996:187–188)
  11. ^ Schütz (1994:41)
  12. ^ Schütz (1994:61–65)
  13. ^ Schütz (1994:304, 475)
  14. ^ Schütz (1994:108–109)
  15. ^ Schütz (1994:306)
  16. ^ Carter (1996:3 Figure 1)
  17. ^ Lyovin (1997:257–258)
  18. ^ Schütz (1994:334–336; 338 20n)
  19. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:35–36)
  20. ^ Kimura & Wilson (1983:185)
  21. ^ a b Lyovin (1997:1–12)
  22. ^ Schütz (1994:322–338)
  23. ^ a b c Lyovin (1997:8)
  24. ^ Schütz (1994:331)
  25. ^ Schütz (1994:332–333)
  26. ^ Lyovin (1997:3)
  27. ^ Schütz (1994:331–333)
  28. ^ Schütz (1994:333) citing Elbert
  29. ^ Schütz (1994:332–335)
  30. ^ Lyovin (1997:2–3)
  31. ^ Lyovin (1997:3, 11–12)
  32. ^ Lyovin (1997:2)
  33. ^ Schütz 1994:324–325
  34. ^ Lyovin (1997:3–5, 8, 10)
  35. ^ Schütz (1994:333)
  36. ^ Lyovin (1997:8–12)
  37. ^ Schütz (1994:31–40)
  38. ^ Schütz (1994:43–44)
  39. ^ Schütz (1994:85–97)
  40. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:2)
  41. ^ Carter (1996:7, 169) example 138, quoting McGuire
  42. ^ Andrews (1836)
  43. ^ Elbert (1954)
  44. ^ Andrews (1865)
  45. ^ quoted in Schütz (1994:269–270)
  46. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui, Nana i ke Kumu, Vol. 2, p. 61–62
  47. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui, Nana i ke Kumu, Vol. 2 p. 60–61
  48. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Hoyt Elbert (2003). "lookup of kaona". in Hawaiian Dictionary. Ulukau, the Hawaiian Electronic Library, University of Hawaii Press. 
  49. ^ Mary Kawena Pukui, Nana i ke Kumu, Vol. 2 p. 61–62
  50. ^ M. J. Harden, Voices of Wisdom: Hawaiian Elders Speak, p. 99
  51. ^ Schütz (1994:230)
  52. ^ Warner (1996)
  53. ^ "Hawaiian Language Preschools Garner International Recognition". Indian Country Today Media Network. 2004-05-30. Retrieved 2014-06-07. 
  54. ^ "Hawaiian News: ʻÂhaʻi ʻÔlelo Ola - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved May 12, 2012. 
  55. ^ a b Lyovin (1997:258)
  56. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:23)
  57. ^ Wight (2005:x)
  58. ^ Schütz (1994:217, 223)
  59. ^ Schütz (1994:98–133)
  60. ^ Schütz (1994:110) Plate 7.1
  61. ^ Schütz (1994:122–126; 173–174)
  62. ^ a b Lyovin (1997:259)
  63. ^ Schütz (1994:223)
  64. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:27, 31–32))
  65. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:406)
  66. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:450)
  67. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:257, 281, 451)
  68. ^ Schütz (1994:146)
  69. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:11)
  70. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:62, 275)
  71. ^ In English, the glottal stop is usually either omitted, or is replaced by a non-phonemic glide, resulting in [hʌˈwai.i] or [hʌˈwai.ji], and [oˈa.hu] or [oˈwa.hu]. Note that the latter two are essentially identical in sound.
  72. ^ Schütz (1994:143)
  73. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:11)
  74. ^ Schütz (1994:144–145)
  75. ^ a b Schütz (1994:139–141)
  76. ^ Schütz (1994:146–148)
  77. ^ "Hawaii County Real Property Tax Office". Retrieved 2009-03-03. "This site was designed to provide quick and easy access to real property tax assessment records and maps for properties located in the County of Hawaiʻi and related general information about real property tax procedures." 
  78. ^ "Hawaiian diacriticals". Retrieved 2009-03-03. "Over the last decade, there has been an attempt by many well-meaning locals (Hawaiian and non-Hawaiian) to use substitute characters when true diacriticals aren't available. ... This brings me to one of my pet peeves and the purpose of this post: misuse of the backtick (`) character. Many of the previously-mentioned well-intentioned folks mistakenly use a backtick to represent an ʻokina, and it drives me absolutely bonkers." 
  79. ^ "Laʻakea Community". Retrieved 2009-03-03. "Laʻakea Community formed in 2005 when a group of six people purchased Laʻakea Gardens." 
  80. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:109, 110, 156, 478)
  81. ^ a b Elbert & Pukui (1979:14–15)
  82. ^ Schütz (1994:139, 399)
  83. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:xvii–xviii)
  84. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:14, 20–21)
  85. ^ Schütz (1994:115)
  86. ^ a b Elbert & Pukui (1979:22–25)
  87. ^ Kinney (1956)
  88. ^ Newbrand (1951)
  89. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:12–13)
  90. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:25–26)
  91. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979)
  92. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986) see Hawaiian headwords.
  93. ^ Schütz (1994:29 4n)
  94. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:386)
  95. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:xvii-xviii)
  96. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:16–18)
  97. ^ Kinney (1956))
  98. ^ Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas, 1891 page 12, quoted in Schütz (1994:134)
  99. ^ a b Carter (1996:373)
  100. ^ Lyovin (1997:268)
  101. ^ Pukui & Elbert (1986:164, 167)
  102. ^ Elbert & Pukui (1979:107–108))


External links[edit]