The Hawaiian Spelling of Words 

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Just in case you're wondering...

Why is Hawaii spelled Hawai`i

It is the correct spelling in the Hawaiian language, one of the TWO official languages of Hawai`i.


English and Hawaiian shall be the official languages of Hawai`i, except that Hawaiian shall be required for public acts and transactions only as provided by law.

You will notice throughout this web site that the word "Hawai`i" has a mark between the two " i " letters. The mark is called an `okina, which indicates to the speaker that a break in the sound is to be taken, as in the exclamation, "Oh-oh!" 

In English, the `okina is called a glottal stop.  A glottal stop is the quick stopping of sound created when the flap of skin in the throat voicebox called the glottis closes the air flow so no sound passes through.

With the proper font, it looks like an upside-down apostrophe -- or a  "6" with the circle colored in.  


This mark is still not available on the Internet, so instead the mark, `, is used in its place.

  ` is the diacritical mark for the   `okina

(I do not use the upright mark:  as an `okina, as it is an apostrophe or an accent mark to indicate stressed syllables)

Incorrect spelling: Hawaii 
Correct spelling:  Hawai`i 

Incorrect pronunciation:  [hah wah' ee] or [hah' wai] or [hah wai' yah]
Correct pronunciation: [hah wai' ee] or [hah vai' ee]

The letter "w" in Hawai`i is correctly pronounced with a "w" sound or a "v" sound. 

>>  Common Mispronunciations of Hawaiian Words 

>>  Common Mispronunciations of Hawaiian Place Names 


If Hawai`i is spelled with an `okina, shouldn't the word Hawaiian also have one?  That is, shouldn't it be spelled: 

No. "Hawaiian" is an English word.  

Incorrect spelling: Hawai`ian
Correct spelling: Hawaiian

In the Hawaiian language, "Hawaiian" translates to:  Hawai`i.  

Examples: "Hawaiian things" is nā mea Hawai`i;   "the Hawaiian people" are ka po`e Hawai`i.  

In general, the word that describes (adjective) goes after the noun in Hawaiian, not ahead of it as in English. An exception is when indicating a number of something: the number goes first.

Two = `Elua
handsome = nohea
Hawaiians = Hawai`i

English: Two handsome Hawaiians 
Hawaiian:  `Elua Hawai`i nohea



Why is luau spelled lū`au?

It is the correct spelling in the Hawaiian language. It is pronounced [LOO au'].

The mark over the first "u" letter -- depicted here with ^  and called a kahakō in Hawaiian means to elongate  that "u" sound for two beats, instead of just one. 

Same goes for the word pīkake.  Correct: [PEE kah' keh] -- stretch out that "i" sound.  Incorrect: [pee kah' keh]

Lei Pīkake

Incorrect pronunciation: [pee kah' keh]
Correct pronunciation: [PEE kah' keh] -- stretch out that "i" sound

The `okina before the letter "a" in the word lū`au means "take a break in the sound".  

Graphic:  Courtesy of Old Lāhaina Lū`au


Incorrect pronunciation: [loo wow'] 
Correct pronunciation:  [LOO' au] 
-- stretch out that first syllable

Did you know the original Hawaiian word for a Hawaiian feast was `aha `aina?  The use of the word lū`au for this feast goes back to 1856, when it was so used by the Pacific Commercial Advertiser, a Honolulu newspaper.  

The word lū`au refers to the young kalo (taro) leaves that is always served in the two of the main dishes that are commonly served at these feasts called chicken lū`au and laulau.

Look at the shape of the leaf.  Not surprising that wide feet are referred as "lū`au feet."  Such feet has nothing to do with a feast, but everything to do with the broadness of the taro leaf.



Why are Hawaiian nouns NOT pluralized (made more than than one) by adding  an "s" at the end? 

In the Hawaiian language, making things plural is not done by adding an "s" after it, as in "one hula, two hulas".  Instead, "the hula" is ka hula and "the hula (more than one)"  is nā hula and, "a hula" is he hula and "more than one hula" is he mau hula.  

What makes a Hawaiian word plural comes before the noun, not after it as in English.  So when using Hawaiian words in English text, resist the temptation to add an "s" to make it plural.   

Incorrect pluralization: hulas, leis, mahalos, meles, keikis, kumus.  
Correct pluralization: hula, lei, mahalo, mele, keiki, kumu -- whether it is singular or plural.


One lei

A lei

This lei

Two lei

More than one lei

These lei

A million Hawaiian garlands is still a million lei.  This pluralization occurs in the English language as well.  Examples include: deer, moose or sheep.  One deer. Ten deer, One moose.  Many moose. One sheep.  A herd of sheep.


HHow many kumu?

One kumu

How many kumu?

Two kumu  


Got it?


What is the difference between kupuna and kūpuna

Kupuna, pronounced [koo poo' nah], refers to a single elder. 

Kūpuna, pronounced [KOO poo' nah] refers to more than one elder.  The difference is in the pronunciation.  The letter "u" in the plural form is elongated.  


One beautiful kupuna
[koo poo' nah]

A bevy of beautiful kūpuna
[KOO poo' nah]

Elongate that KOO sound.


This is not unlike English's "one man, two men,"  "a woman, bunch of women" or "child, children".  The plural takes on a different form.

Sometimes English is far more complicated with its exceptions than Hawaiian.  As examples: One ox.  Two oxen.  One goose.  Many geese.  Right?

So why is more than one mongoose referred to as mongooses and not mongeese?   How come it is scissors and not scissor?  Why is it trousers and not trouser?  

See, English mo' kapakahi (topsy-turvy) den Hawaiian!


Confused? `A`ole pilikia (No worry).  Sleep on it.

Before I studied Hawaiian, I thought momona meaning "fat" or "chubby" was a Japanese word.  Wrong! It's a Hawaiian word meaning "sweet," as in ripened (fat) fruit.

English: sweet papaya
Hawaiian: mīkana momona

I thought paliki meaning "fancy" was a Hawaiian word.  I couldn't find it in the Hawaiian Dictionary.  Why?  Because it is a Filipino word!

Gylene looking  pretty darn paliki!

I was shocked to learn that kaukau is not a Hawaiian word.  "Laulau is da kaukau at da lū`au," right?  But try finding kaukau in the Hawaiian Dictionary.  No steh!  It's pidgin.  Maybe from the Chinese word "chow," as in "chowchow."  Or from the Hawaiian word for table: pākaukau?

English: food
Pidgin: kaukau
Hawaiian: mea `ai


It's nevah too late to learn Hawaiian!  Hiki nō (Can do)!

~ Aunty D

>> More on Hawaiian spelling and pronunciation  
>> Hawaiian Language

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