English and Hawaiian are Hawaii's two official languages.
Until the arrival of American missionaries in the early 1800s, the Hawaiian language was an oral tradition. These missionaries helped create a written form of the language. It consists of five vowels and seven consonants:
a, e, i, o. u, h, k, l, m. n, p, w, and ‘
a ah. as in far: hale
e - a as in way (wihtout the “i” glide): nene
i - ee, as in see: pali
o - oh, as in no (wihtout the “u” glide): taro
u - oo, as in moon: kapu
a - a, as in again: kapu
e - eh. as in get: hale
(the symbol “ ¨ ” stands for long vowels)
Consonants sound the same as English, but without aspiration afer k and p
Note: Sometimes the "W" is pronounced the same as "V"
Commonly used Hawaiian words and definitions:
ahupuaa - division of land stretching from mountains to sea
aina - land, earth
alii Hawaiian royalty
aloha - a fond greeting or farewell , the spirit of Kauai
a hui hou - until we meet again
aole - no
ewa - westward
halau - house for hula training; hula troupe
hale - house or building
hana work; bay
haole - foreigner, Caucasian
hapa - half, person of mixed ancestry
heiau - ancient Hawaiian religious temple
huhu - angry, agitated
hui - group organization
hula - uniquely Hawaiian form of dance, communication, often through stories
imu - underground pit oven used in luau
kahiko - traditional. old
Kohala - humpback whale
kahuna - priest, expert in a field
kai -ocean, ocean water
kalo, taro - a broad-leafed plant that produces starchy roots
kamaaina - local or long-time resident
kane - man
kapu - tax, forbidden
keiki - child; offspring
kipuka - oasis of undisturbed land within a lava field
koa - largest of native trees
kokua - help, cooperation
kona - leeward, leeward wind
koolau - windward side of island
kupuna - grandparent
lanai - porch veranda
lae - cape, point
lei - garland of flowers, leaves or shells
lolo - feeble minded
luakini - temple for human sacrifice
luau - feast
mahalo - thank you
mahimahi - dolfin,fish
makaainana - commoner
makahiki - celebration held annually with sports and religious festivities
makai - towards the ocean
malihini - newcomer visitor
mana - spiritual power
mauka - inland, towards the mountains
mauna - mountain
menehune - legendary -little people who inhabited islands before Polynesians
moku - island
moana - ocean, sea
moo - lizard, reptile, dragon, water spirit
muumuu - long and loose fitting dress
nani - beautiful
nene - rare native goose
ohana - family
ono - delicious
pahoehoe - smooth lava
pali - cliff. precipice
paniolo - cowboy
pohaku - stone, rock
poi - pounded taro root
puka - hole, shell
pupu - appetizer, snack
puu- hill, cinder cone
puuhonua - place of refuge
ukulele - stringed instrument, small guitar
wahine - woman
wikiwiki - quickly
Kä Nai'a Palapala A'o 'Ölelo Hawai'i -- Ha'awina 'ekahi
Nai'a's Learn Hawaiian Writings -- Lesson One: The Basics
This is a lot of information to cover at once, so take your time! It's crucial to have a strong foundation for any further study of the language.
Ka Pï'äpä -- The Alphabet
The Hawaiian alphabet is the shortest in the world, with only 13 letters. They are, in order:
a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, w, ' (the symbol “ ¨ ” stands for long vowels)
The names of the letters are pronounced: 'ä, 'ë, 'ï, 'ö, 'ü, hë, kë, lä, mü, nü, pï, wë, 'okina.
Vowels sometimes have macrons or ¨ in the internet (kahakö) to show that they are long (see below.)
For more on Ka Pï'äpä Hawai'i (the Hawaiian alphabet), see:
Leilani's Page, ka pï'äpä", Hawaiian Alphabet Song,
A note on special characters: There are special fonts that one can use which have characters with kahakö (macrons). Generally in plain ASCII text, e-mail &c, they are left out (though I've see a_, aa, a* and A, a~ and â used to represent my version, ä, at various times). In these lessons, I'm using ä, ë, ï, ö, ü, as they are easy to read both in the Hawaiian fonts, where they are the actual macron characters, and in Times New Roman and some other common fonts, where they look like umlauts.
Both ' and ` are used for the 'okina, depending on preference. The "real" 'okina looks like a backwards apostrophe, that is, pointing in the same direction as ` and curved. The Hawaiian fonts have a special character for the 'okina as well. Personally, I think it's unnecessary, as ' gets the point across perfectly well, is much more convenient and looks fine.
In older written texts sometimes the kahako and 'okina are left out.
Get Hawaiian Fonts for both Macintosh and Windows. (Kualono page)
Here's what Leilani has to say about the diacritical marks.
a is pronounced as in "father"
e is pronounced somewhere between in "met" and ey in "they"
i is pronounced as ee in "meet"
o is pronounced as in "sole".
u is pronounced as oo in "moon".
Long vowels (ä, ë, ï, ö, ü) are pronounced the same as their short counterparts only, quite sensibly, longer. For two beats instead of one, if you will. It is important to pronounce long vowels long, as this can make a difference between the meanings of two otherwise similar words.
h, l, m and n are pronounced as in English.
k, and p are pronounced as in English, but with less aspiration. Hold your hand in front of your mouth while pronouncing words like "poke" or "cap"--you should feel a little puff of air. Now try to pronounce the same words without the little puff of air (as the "p" in "spin" is usually pronounced). This will approximate the Hawaiian pronunciation.
w is pronounced somewhere in between our "v" and "w". (something like a voiced w) Don't worry about it overly, either sound is acceptable.
', the 'okina, represents a glottal stop. This sound often occurs in the middle of oh-oh (as in "oh-oh, I'm in trouble now!") in english. It can be difficult to hear in at the beginning of a word if said alone, though it is still important to remember when it occurs at the beginning of a word, as it can be clearly heard in the middle of a sentence.
Note: Sometimes "t" and "r" sounds are made in place of "k" and "l" sounds, respectively.. This is a common variation, and does not change the meaning of the words. "k" and "l" are almost always written, regardless of which pronunciation is used. The "k" and "l" sounds always go together and the "t" and "r" sounds always go together.
This is just a general guide; for more, see:
Leilani's Pronunciation page
Kualono's Pronunciation Page, with .au files
A page with .wav files of Hawaiian words
Another page with .wav files of Hawaiian words