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Hawaiian Language

Until the 1820's, Hawaiian was only a spoken language. In the 1820's the Calvinist missionaries from New England began to write down phonetically the Polynesian-based language. The Hawaiian language used only 12 letters. There are five vowels:

  • A (as in "ah")
  • E (as in "vein")
  • I (as in "see")
  • O (as in "no")
  • U (as in "do")

The seven consonants are H, K, L, M, N, P, and W. You may hear the "W" pronounced like a "V", this happens when the W is the second to the last letter of the word, but there are exceptions. Hawaii is not one of them.

Vowels may follow each other but consonants are always followed by a vowel, creating syllables with only two letters. Words never end in a consonant and because there is no "S" in the Hawaiian language, nouns are not pluralized.

Sometimes you will see a word spelled with an apostrophe(‘) between two vowels, as in Ali'i. This is called an "‘okina", the glottal stop, and creates an abrupt break in the word, such as "oh-oh".

The second to the last syllable is usually stressed. If there are only two syllables, the last one receives the emphasis.

Basic Hawaiian Words and Phrases

‘ae
yes
 
ali‘i
a Hawaiian chief or noble
 
A hui hou
Goodbye
 
akamai
smart
 
aloha
means both hello and goodbye, welcome or farewell, romantic love, affection, or best wishes
 
Aloha ahiahi
Good evening
 
Aloha au ia ‘oe
I love you
 
Aloha kakahiaka
Good morning
 
Aloha nui loa
much love, fondest regards
 
‘a‘ole
no
 
hale
house or building
 
hana
work
 
haole
Caucasian (originally meant foreigner)
 
Hau‘oli la hanau
Happy Birthday
 
Hau‘oli makahiki hou
Happy New Year
 
Heiau
temple, ancient worship ground
 
hele
go or walk around
 
hiamoe
to sleep
 
ho‘olohe
to listen
 
hui
a group, meeting, or society
 
hula
native Hawaiian dance
 
imu
underground oven
 
ipo
sweetheart, lover, girl- or boyfriend
 
ka‘a
car
 
kahuna
teacher or priest
 
kai
ocean
 
kama‘aina
native born, long-time island resident, local
 
kane
man
 
kapu
forbidden
 
kaukau
food
 
keiki
child
 
e komo mai
please come in, enter, welcome
 
kupuna
grandparent
 
kokua
help
 
lanai
porch or patio
 
lei
traditional garland of flowers or vines
 
lomi lomi
traditional Hawaiian massage
 
lua
toilet
 
lu'au
a Hawaiian feast featuring poi, imu-baked port, and other traditional foods
 
mahalo
thank you
 
 
makai
toward the sea
 
 
maikai
good - in response to "how are you?"
 
 
malihini
newcomer, visitor
 
mauka
toward the moutains, inland
 
mauna
mountain
 
mele
a Hawaiian chant or song
 
Mele Kalikimaka
Merry Christmas
 
menehune
a Hawaiian dwarf or elf
 
moana
ocean
 
nani
beautiful
 
‘ohana
family
 
 
‘olu‘olu
please
 
‘ono
delicious, delightful, the best
 
'okina opu
stomach
 
pali
cliff
 
paniolo
a Hawaiian cowboy
 
pau
finished
 
Pehea ‘oe?
How are you?
 
pono
excellent
 
pua
flower
 
puka
a hole of any size
 
pune‘e
bed
 
pupu
an appetizer, snack, hors d'oeuvres
 
pupule
crazy
 
tapa
traditional paper cloth made from beaten bark
 
tutu
grandmother
 
wahine
woman
 
wai
water
 
wiki
quickly, fast
 

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