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by Frank Burgess

When people come to Hawai’i, especially for the first time, they notice that most of the locations, towns and street names are in a language they are unfamiliar with. It looks strange and sounds even stranger. But Hawaiian isn’t very difficult to pronounce once you know a few basic ideas and rules.

Hawaii Has Very Poor Signage for Towns, Beaches and Attractions; What Signs There Are Are n Hawaiian Words Which May Be Hard For The Visitor To Pronounce And Remember: Photo By Kilgore Trout

Hawaii Has Very Poor Signage for Towns, Beaches and Attractions; What Signs There Are Are n Hawaiian Words Which May Be Hard For The Visitor To Pronounce And Remember: Photo By Kilgore Trout

Alphabet: The Hawaiian alphabet has five vowels and seven consonants; a total of 12 letters altogether. Several vowels may be used in a row, but consonants are never placed together. Some words have no consonants at all and Hawaiian words always end with a vowel. There are many subtle nuances to the language as well, but for now let’s just hit the basics.

Vowels: The vowel sounds in Hawaiian are always pronounced the same and are similar to Spanish or Latin. This chart might visually help as we progress through the sounds using “b” at the beginning and “t” at the end of each vowel sound:

A…pronounced as a soft “u” as in but. (not “aw”)
E…pronounced as a soft “e” as in bet. (not “ay”)
I…pronounced as a hard “e” as in beet.
O…pronounced as a hard “o” as in boat.
U…pronounced as a hard “u” as in boot.

Even at Highway Speeds, The English on This Sign IS Easy To Read, Whereas The Visitor May Have Trouble Decoding The Hawaiian Language Words Quickly Quickly Enough to Turn: Photo By Japhy Ryder

Even at Highway Speeds, The English on This Sign Is Easy To Read, Whereas The Visitor May Have Trouble Decoding The Hawaiian Language Words Quickly Quickly Enough to Turn: Photo By Japhy Ryder

These are the most common vowel sounds. There are some exceptions, such as words with a macron. The macron extends the vowel sound to twice the normal value. (Not all road signs and maps include the macron.)

Ā = Bought…pronounced as “aw” and extends the sound.
Ē = Bet…and extends the sound.
Ī = Beet…and extends the sound.
Ō = Boat…and extends the sound.
Ū = Boot…and extends the sound.

Hokina: The hokina looks like a comma and is added to Hawaiian words to change the meaning or to replace consonants that have been dropped over time. It creates a glottal stop (a slight hesitation with an “uh”, like starting a new word). The hokina will always occur between vowels, especially the same vowel repeated (a’a, i’i, etc). Because of it’s significance, in 2004 the hokina was officially added as the 13th letter in the Hawaiian language.

As you explore Hawai’i, you can now begin to pronounce the words correctly.  Have fun and aloha.

For more information on traveling to Hawaii in general and visiting the Big Island in particular, please also see www.tourguidehawaii.com and www.tourguidehawaii.blogspot.com.

Copyright 2009 by Frank Burgess.

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One Comment

  1. My husband and I (The Weitnauers) have just arrived to the mainland on 10-2-10 from kona and to be quite frank I wish I’d found your web site sooner. You are so right on the money when describing the big Island. We visited the black beach as well as the valley on the Waip’io side. im only going to use one word but two meanings for both Places Breathtaking as in awesome view and as in Im out of shape haha but well worth actually We were dubed by one of the travel agencys on stopping at hilo inbetween our helicopter tour. The helicopter tour by Paradise (which was awesome by the way best money spent for sure, absolutely breath taken)Koji was our pilot Jordon as our instuc, they made the whole tour very cool so I have to give them both props anyway back to being duped by the travel agent she told us we would have 5 hours to go sight seeing in Hilo which by the way really means 3 1/2 and that it would be plenty of time to explore that side of the island. well unless u know that area its pretty hard to explore. Their arey poor homeless people everywhere which personally I don’t mind but the people who took the tour with us were very snooty (I just cant stand those kind of people)she just talked down about the place. she was right about some things but she made my visit to hilo not so great. The helicopter ride over the valley and volcano was just f_cking awesome sorry about the language just had to get my point across anyway While we were their they had alot of rain so the waterfalls were overflowing with enchanted beauty. It was and will be my most favored place to visit. Next time ill be more prepared by visiting your site. We have a couple of friends talked into going over to the big island instead of the more visited islands of HI. If u have any suggestions on where to eat please let me know, one thing me and my husband did not have good luck on was good food (Bubba gumps and Lulus are an exception the food there was great thanks so much for ur time. Lois


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