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Hawaiian language

The Hawaiian language (Hawaiian: lelo Hawaii)[1] is a Polynesian language that takes its name from Hawaii, 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 the seven inhabited islands. As of 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.[2]

Nevertheless, from about 1949 to the present, there has been a gradual increase in attention to, and promotion of, the language. Public Hawaiian-language immersion preschools called P nana 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 Hawaii observing the Hawaiian spelling.[3]

A pidgin or creole language spoken in Hawaii 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 okina in Hawaiian).



The Hawaiian language takes its name from the largest island, Hawaii (Hawaii in the Hawaiian language), in the tropical North Pacific banana 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.[4]

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.[5] Thus, in Hawaiian, the name of the island is expressed by saying O Hawaii, which means "[This] is Hawaii."[6] The Cook expedition also wrote "Otaheite" rather than "Tahiti."[7]

The spelling "why" in the name reflects the pronunciation of wh in 18th century English (still in active use in parts of the Anglosphere). Why was pronounced . The spelling "hee" or "ee" in the name represents the sounds , or .[8]

Putting the parts together, O-why-hee reflects , a reasonable approximation of the native pronunciation, .

American missionaries bound for Hawaii 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.[9] They still used such phrases as late as march 1822.[10] However, by July 1823, they had begun using the phrase "Hawaiian Language."[11]

In Hawaiian, lelo Hawaii means "Hawaiian language", as adjectives follow nouns.[12]

Family and origin

Hawaiian is a Polynesian member of the Austronesian language family.[13] It is closely related to other Polynesian languages, such as Marquesan, Tahitian, M ori, Rapa Nui (the language of Easter Island), and less closely to Samoan, and Tongan.

According to Sch tz (1994), the Marquesans colonized the archipelago in roughly 300 AD[14] followed by later waves of immigration from the Society Islands and Samoa-Tonga. Their languages, over time, became the Hawaiian language.[15] 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."[16]

Methods of proving Hawaiian's family relationships

The genetic history of the Hawaiian language is demonstrated primarily through the application of lexicostatistics, and the comparative method.[17][18]

Lexicostatistics is a way of quantifying an approximate evaluation of the degree to which any given languages are genetically related to one another.[19][20] 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.[19] The so-called "basic vocabulary" (or Swadesh list) amounts to about 200 words,[21] having meanings such as "eye", "hair", "blood", "water", and "and."[22] The measurement of a genetic relationship is expressed as a percentage.[19][23] 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,[24] according to the lexicostatistical method.

The comparative method is a technique developed by linguists to determine whether or not two or more languages are genetically related, and if they are, the historical nature of the relationships.[17][25] For a given meaning, the words of the languages are compared.[26] Linguists observe:[27]

  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 require professional training to fully understand, and which can vary in the contexts of different languages. Basically, a sound's phonetic 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. 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.[28][29]

In both methods, it is very important to exclude loan words from the analysis.[30]

The following table, Decimal Numbers, provides a limited data set for ten meanings. The Proto-Austronesian (PAN) forms are from . The asterisk (*) is used to show that these are hypothetical, reconstructed forms. The Tagalog forms are from , the Tongan from , and the Hawaiian from . 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 Numbers 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
PAN, circa 4000 BC
  • isa
  • DuSa
  • telu
  • Sepat
  • lima
  • enem
  • pitu
  • walu
  • Siwa
  • puluq
Tagalog is dalaw tatl pat lim nim pit wal siy m sampu
Ilocano mays dua tall upp t lim inn m pit wal siam sangap lo
Cebuano us duh tul upat lim unom pit wal siy m napulu
Chamorro maisa/h cha hugua tulu fatfat lima gunum fiti gu lu sigua m not/fulu
Malay satu dua tiga empat lima enam tujuh lapan sembilan sepuluh
Javanese siji loro telu papat limo nem pitu wolu songo sepuluh
Tongan taha ua tolu f nima ono fitu valu hiva -fulu
Samoan tasi lua tolu f lima ono fitu valu iva sefulu
M ori tahi rua toru wh rima ono whitu waru iwa tekau (archaic: ngahuru)
Marquesan e tahi e 'ua e to'u e fa e 'ima e ono e fitu e va'u e iva 'onohu'u
Hawaiian kahi lua kolu h lima ono hiku walu iwa -'umi

Note 1. For the number "10", the Tongan form in the table is part of the word ('ten'). The Hawaiian form is part of the word ('ten days'), however the more common form used in counting and quantifying is , 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.[31] 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,[32] such as:

  1. the loss of all PAN word-final consonants in Tongan and Hawaiian;
  2. lowering of PAN to Tagalog in word-final syllables;
  3. retention of PAN in word-initial and word-medial position in Tagalog and Tongan, but shift to in Hawaiian;
  4. retention of PAN in Tagalog, but shift to in Tongan and 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 "5" and "8" have remained essentially unchanged for 6000 years.


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

1778 to 1820

In Hawaii

In 1778, British explorer James Cook made the first reported European discovery of Hawaii.That marked a new phase in the development and use of Hawaiian. During the next forty years, the sounds of Spanish (1789), Russian (1804), French (1816), and German (1816) arrived in Hawaii via other explorers and businessmen. Hawaiian began to take form as a written language, but largely restricted to isolated names and words, and word lists collected by explorers and travelers.[33]


The people responsible for "importing" those languages were also responsible for "exporting" the Hawaiian language into new territory, because there were some adventurous native speakers of Hawaiian who opted to do some exploring of their own by leaving Hawai'i and sailing off to "see the world" aboard the wooden ships of the Caucasian explorers.[34] Although there were not enough of these Hawaiian-speaking explorers (and apparently no females) to establish any viable speech communities abroad, nevertheless, there were a few here and there, in various parts of the world, who may be said to have spread the use of the language, at least a little bit. One of them, a male in his teens known as Obookiah ( p kahaia), 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 Hawaii, and provided information on the Hawaiian language to the American missionaries there prior to their departure for Hawaii in 1819.[35] Some adventurous native speakers of Hawaiian worked aboard American and/or European ships of that period, thereby expanding, albeit slightly, the geographical area in which Hawaiian could be spoken. However, no viable Hawaiian speech communities were ever established abroad.

Missionaries arrive and royals travel

In Hawaii

The arrival of American Protestant missionaries (from New England) in 1820 marked another new phase in the development of the Hawaiian language. Their evangelical mission had been inspired by the presence of several young Hawaiian males, especially Obookiah ( p kahaia), at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. The missionaries wanted to convert all Hawaiians to Christianity. In order to achieve that goal, they needed to learn the Hawaiian language so that they could publish a Hawaiian Bible, preach in Hawaiian, etc. 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.


Adelbert von Chamisso might have consulted with a native speaker of Hawaiian in Berlin, Germany, before publishing his grammar of Hawaiian (" ber die Hawaiische Sprache") in 1837.[36] When Hawaiian King David Kal kaua took a trip around the world, he brought his native language with him. When his wife, Queen Kapiolani, and his sister, Princess (later Queen) Liliuokalani, took a trip across North America and on to the British Islands, in 1887, Liliuokalani's composition Aloha Oe was already a famous song in the U.S.[37]

1834 to 1948

In Hawaii

Headline from May 16, 1834 issue of newspaper published by Lorrin Andrews and students at Lahainaluna SchoolThis is the 115-year period during which Hawaiian-language newspapers were published. Missionaries introduced newspaper publishing in Hawaiian and in English, and played a significant role in publishing a vocabulary (1836)[38] grammar (1854)[39] and dictionary (1865)[40] 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."[41] In spite of a huge decline in the use of Hawaiian, compared to the era of its peak, those fears have never been realized.

The increase in human travel to and from Hawaii during the 19th century was the means by which a number of diseases arrived, and potentially fatal ones, such as smallpox, influenza, and leprosy, 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 Hawaii. 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.

As the status of Hawaiian dropped, the status of English in Hawaii 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).

For a variety of reasons including punishment of Hawaiian children who spoke Hawaiian in school[42] starting around 1900, the number of native speakers of Hawaiian diminished from 37,000 to 1,000; 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.[43] 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 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

According to Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert in the definitive Dictionary, kaona (kao-na)[44] 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 Hauoli, 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 Lea 'joyous house', but lea also means orgasm."

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

"Banning" of Hawaiian

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

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 Hawaii

This law established English as the medium of instruction for the government-recognized schools, but it did not ban or make illegal the Hawaiian language in other contexts. The law specifically provided for teaching languages "in addition to the English language," rendering Hawaiian the status of a foreign language. However, Hawaiian was not taught initially in any school, including the all-Hawaiian Kamehameha Schools, and many children who spoke Hawaiian at school, including on the playground, were disciplined. 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.[45] Winona Beamer was expelled from Kamehameha Schools in 1937 for chanting Hawaiian.[46]

Hawaiian-language newspapers were published for over a hundred years, right through the period of the supposed ban. 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

In 1949, the legislature of the Territory of Hawaii commissioned Mary Pukui and Samuel Elbert to write a new dictionary of Hawaiian, either revising the Andrews-Parker work, or starting from scratch.[47] 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.[48] The local NPR 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, ha i lelo Ola, as recently as 2010.[49] Additionally, the Sunday editions of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, one of Honolulu's two major newspapers, feature 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 is 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 Niihau have remained fairly isolated and have continued to use Hawaiian almost exclusively.[50]

According to linguist Ghil'ad Zuckermann, "Hawaii is a fascinating case of both a severely endangered language (classical Hawaiian, fewer than 1,000 speakers) and a reclaimed language (neo-Hawaiian, approximately 3,000, still non-native, speakers). Hawaiian offers scholars a unique laboratory to explore the constraints of language revival. Genetically engineered neo-Hawaiian can indeed be systematically compared to the organically evolving classical Hawaiian, as the latter is still spoken by several hundred people, who are unfortunately not involved in the reclamation."[51]


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.[52]

The isolated island of Niihau, located off the southwest coast of Kauai, is the one island where Hawaiian is still spoken by the entire population as the language of daily life.[50] Children are taught Hawaiian as a first language, and learn English at about age eight. Reasons for the persistence include:

  • Niihau has been privately owned for over 100 years;
  • visiting by outsiders has been only rarely allowed;
  • the European-American owners/managers of the island have favored the Niihauans' continuation of their language;
  • and, most of all, because the Niihau speakers themselves have naturally maintained their own native language, even though they sometimes use English as a second language for school.

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 palatalizations and truncations, 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.

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 . (See below, Processes, under Phonology.)

Orthography (writing system)

Hawaiians had no written language prior to western contact, except for petroglyph symbols. The modern Hawaiian alphabet, ka p p Hawaii, is based on the Latin script. Hawaiian words end only[53] in vowels, and every consonant must be followed by a vowel. The Hawaiian alphabetical order has all of the vowels before the consonants,[54] as in the following chart.

Aa Ee Ii Oo Uu Hh Kk Ll Mm Nn Pp Ww


This writing system was developed by American Protestant missionaries during 1820 1826.[55] It was the first thing they ever printed in Hawaii, 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).[56]

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-sound, and thereby optimizing the ease with which people could teach and learn the reading and writing of Hawaiian.[57] 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.

  • Interchangeable B/P. B was dropped, P was kept.
  • Interchangeable L/R. R was dropped, L was kept.
  • Interchangeable K/T. T was dropped, K was kept.
  • Interchangeable V/W. V was dropped, W was kept.

However, hundreds of words were very rapidly borrowed into Hawaiian from English, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Syrian, and Chaldean.[58][59][60] 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.[61] Another example is Gibraltar, written as Kipalaleka or Gibaraleta.[62] While and are not regarded as Hawaiian sounds, , , and 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

A modern Hawaiian name for the symbol (a letter) which represents the glottal stop is okina (oki 'cut' + -na '-ing').[63] It was formerly known as uina ('snap'[64][65]).

For examples of the okina, consider the Hawaiian words Hawaii and Oahu (often simply Hawaii and Oahu in English orthography). In Hawaiian, these words can be pronounced and , and can be written with an okina where the glottal stop is pronounced.[66][67]


As early as 1823, the missionaries made some limited use of the apostrophe to represent the glottal stop,[68] but they did not make it a letter of the alphabet. In publishing the Hawaiian Bible, they used it to distinguish kou ('my') from kou ('your').[69] 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.[70] 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.[71] 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.[72]

Electronic encoding

The okina is written in various ways for electronic uses:

  • turned comma: , Unicode hex value 02BB (decimal 699). This does not always have the correct appearance because it is not supported in some fonts.
  • opening single quote, aka left single quotation mark: Unicode hex value 2018 (decimal 8216). In many fonts this character looks like either a left-leaning single quotation mark or a quotation mark thicker at the bottom than at the top. In more traditional serif fonts such as Times New Roman it can look like a very small "6" with the circle filled in black: .

Because many people who want to write the okina 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:

  • the ASCII apostrophe ', Unicode hex value 27 (decimal 39),[73] following the missionary tradition.
  • the ASCII grave accent (often called "backquote" or "backtick") `, Unicode hex value 60 (decimal 96)[74]
  • the right single quotation mark, or "curly apostrophe" , Unicode hex value 2019 (decimal 146)[75]


A modern Hawaiian name for the macron symbol is kahak (kaha 'mark' + k 'long').[76] 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., , and . It is used to show that the marked vowel is a "double", or "geminate", or "long" vowel, in phonemic terms.[77]

As early as 1821, at least one of the missionaries, Hiram Bingham, was using macrons (and breves) in making handwritten transcriptions of Hawaiian vowels.[78] 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).[71] Thus, they could not print , , , , nor (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,[77] even though under the rules for assigning stress in Hawaiian, a long vowel will always receive stress.[79][80]



!Labial Alveolar Velar Glottal

Hawaiian is known for having very few consonant phonemes  eight: . It is notable that Hawaiian has allophonic variation of with ,[81][82][83][84] with ,[85] and (in some dialects) with .[86] The 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 , after historical *k had shifted to . In some dialects, remains as in some words. These variations are largely free, though there are conditioning factors. tends to especially in words with both and , such as in the island name L nai ( ), though this is not always the case: eleele or eneene "black". The allophone is almost universal at the beginnings of words, whereas is most common before the vowel . is also the norm after and , whereas is usual after and . After and initially, however, and are in free variation.[87]


Hawaiian has five vowel qualities.


Hawaiian has five short and five long vowels, plus diphthongs. The short vowels are , and the long vowels, if they are considered separate phonemes rather than simply sequences of like vowels, are . When stressed, short /e/ and /a/ tend to become and , while when unstressed they are and . also tends to become next to , , and another , as in Pele . 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 or and a following non-back vowel (), there is an epenthetic , which is generally not written. Between a front vowel or and a following non-front vowel (), there is an epenthetic (a y sound), which is never written.


Short diphthongs 
!  Ending with    Ending with    Ending with    Ending with  
 Starting with        
 Starting with      
 Starting with      
 Starting with  

The short-vowel diphthongs are . In all except perhaps , 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, tends to and tends to , conflating these diphthongs with and .

There are only a limited number of vowels which may follow long vowels, and some authors treat these as diphthongs as well: .

Long diphthongs 
!  Ending with    Ending with    Ending with    Ending with  
 Starting with        
 Starting with        
 Starting with  


Hawaiian syllable structure is (C)V. All CV syllables occur except for w ;[88] wu occurs only in two words borrowed from English.[89][90] As shown by Sch tz,[58][91][92] 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.[82][93] Phonological reduction (or "decay") of consonant phonemes during the historical development of the language has resulted in the phonemic glottal stop.[94][95] Ultimate loss (deletion) of intervocalic consonant phonemes has resulted in Hawaiian long vowels and diphthongs.[95][96][97][98]


Hawaiian is an analytic language and a VSO language. 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 honu the turtle
  • n honu the turtles
  • ka hale the house
  • ke kanaka the person

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


  • kekahi pipi one of the cows
  • kekahi mau pipi some of the cows

See also



  • .
  • . Memoir 19 of the International Journal of American Linguistics.
  • .
  • .
  • .

External links

ar: bg: bar:Hawaiisch br:Hawaieg ca:Hawai cs:Havaj tina cy:Haw ieg da:Hawaiiansk (sprog) de:Hawaiische Sprache el: es:Idioma hawaiano eo:Havaja lingvo eu:Hawaiera fo:Hawaiianskt m l fr:Hawa en fy:Hawajaansk ga:Hav s gv:Hawaiish gl:Lingua hawaiana ko: haw: lelo Hawai i hr:Havajski jezik id:Bahasa Hawaii zu:IsiHawayi is:Hawai ska it:Lingua hawaiiana jv:Basa Hawaii kv: ku:Zuwani hawa yane (ziman hawaiy ) la:Lingua Havaiana lv:Havajie u valoda lt:Havajie i kalba lij:Lengua hawa ann-a li:Hawai aans hu:Hawaii nyelv mk: ms:Bahasa Hawaii nah:Hawaitlaht lli nl:Hawa aans nds-nl:Hawa aans ja: no:Hawaiisk nn:Hawaiisk oc:Hawaiian pnb: tpi:Tok Hawai nds:Hawaiiaansche Spraak pl:J zyk hawajski pt:L ngua havaiana ro:Limba hawaiian qu:Hawayi simi ru: sm:Gagana fa'a Hawai'i simple:Hawaiian language sk:Havaj ina sl:Havaj ina sr: fi:Havaijin kieli sv:Hawaiiska tl:Wikang Hawayano ta: tr:Hawaii dili uk: vi:Ti ng Hawaii zh:

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