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
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
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