Hawaiian language, alphabet and pronunciation

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Hawaiian (ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi)

Hawaiian is an Austronesian language spoken by about 8,000 people on the Hawaiian islands. Hawaiian first appeared in writing in the early 19th century in a version of the Latin alphabet developed by missionaries, who started to visit the Hawaiian islands from 1820 onwards. Literacy among the Hawaiian people was widespread during the 19th century when Hawai'i was an independent kingdom. Dozens of Hawaiian language newspapers were published, together with Hawaiian translations of religious works and novels and Hawaiian transcriptions of traditional stories.

After Hawaii was annexed by the USA in 1899, the Hawaiian language was banned from schools and went into rapid decline. By the 1980s, there was only about 2,000 Hawaiian speakers, most of whom were elderly.

In 1978 Hawaiian was made an official language of Hawaii, along with English, and since then there has been a revival of interest in the language. There are now several schools where most subjects are taught through the medium of Hawaiian and Hawaiian classes are popular at all levels of education.

A a E e I i O o U u Ā ā Ē ē Ī ī Ō ō
'ā kō 'ē kō 'ī kō 'ō kō
Ū ū H h K k L l M m N n P p W w '
'ū kō wē/vē 'okina

Hawaiian pronunciation

Hawaiian pronunciation

Vowels can be long or short. Long vowels are usually written with a macron (ā, ē, ī, ō, ū), but if no macron is available, a circumflex (â, ê, î, ô, û) can be used instead.

The letter combination kiu is pronounced [ƫiu]

The letter W is pronounced [w] or [v] after a, [v] after i or e and [w] after o or u.

The Hawaiian language is quite unusual because when the original Polynesians came in their canoes, most of their consonants were washed overboard in a storm, and they arrived here with almost nothing but vowels. All the streets have names like Kal'ia'iou'amaa'aaa'eiou, and many street signs spontaneously generate new syllables during the night.
Dave Barry

Sample text in Hawaiian

Hānau kū'oko'a 'ia nā kānaka apau loa, a ua kau like ka hanohano a me nā pono kīvila ma luna o kākou pākahi. Ua ku'u mai ka no'ono'o pono a me ka 'ike pono ma luna o kākou, no laila, e aloha kākou kekahi i kekahi.

A recording of this text by Tamati Taylor


All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
(Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)

Information about Hawaiian | Hawaiian phrases | Hawaiian numbers | Tower of Babel in Hawaiian |


Information about the Hawaiian language

Online Haiwaiian lessons

iSpeak Hawaiian podcast

Hawaiian phrases

Website of the ʻōlelo Hawaiʻi Language Program at the University of Hawai'i at Hilo - includes Hawaiian language lessons and information, and on online dictionary

Ulukau - The Hawaiian Electronic library

Online Hawaiian dictionaries

Learning Hawaiian Alone (E ola mau ka 'O-lelo Hawai'i!) a blog in Hawaiian by 'Analū

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