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ʻOkinas and Kahakōs

Week 25, Episode 49

When all you have for the language is 12 letters, what would they be? Hawaiian included all 5 vowels —a, e, i, o, u—and 7 consonants that make this language specific—h, k, l, m, n, p, w (like the middle of the English alphabet, plus one of the consonants before it and one after).

Since the language has nothing to do with English (besides its script), it is going to sound differently. The vowels are pronounced the way Spanish speakers would, and the consonants, well, they are pretty much like the corresponding English ones. The letter w depending on its "neighbors" may be read as v (as in "very") or w (as in "word"). In foreign words, sounds t, s, d are often replaced with k, r with l, b with p.

The unique characteristic of the Hawaiian is the flipped comma— ʻ —placed in the upper left corner of a vowel. It is calledʻokina (ʻoki = "cut" + -na = "-ing"), or glottal stop, and indicates an interruption of a sound that prevents two vowels from coalescing.

This break is the essential part of the word. The using of the guttural break makes a different word, for example, aʻo means "to teach", while ao means "the world", ia means "he, she, it", while iʻa means "fish."

Another mark is kahakō (kaha = "mark" + = "long")—this dash over the ō. You will see it only over vowels for its purpose is to denote the vowels that are long, though in fast speech that wouldn't be so clear.

Usually, the accent is on the second to last syllable, but there will be words with an accent on the last one, too. Just keep in mind that the penultimate syllable is more likely to be stressed.

As for the grammar, it is not too complicated, but neither it is a super easy one. Hawaiian has 3 numbers—singular, plural, dual—and 9 declensions for nouns and pronouns through prepositions and some changes in the words.

There are definite (ka and ke) and indefinite (he) articles and also semi-definite articles: kahi ("some"), kekahi ("some, a certian one"), hookahi ("one, only one") and waihi. Plus, the plural forms. Yeah, a bit too much :)

Luckily, tenses are much easier. Let me show it to you on the example with the word for "to do"hana—used in a sentences with the pronoun "I"au:

Two more curious things:

  • the question word "When" has two forms: ahea for the future tense and inahea for the past,
  • posessive pronouns "his/her" have two forms kona (ona) and kana (ana), the last being more intimate form that denotes creation and authorship, whereas kona (ona) denotes simply possession:

Kana papaleher hat, i.e., a hat made by her.
Kona papaleher hat, either through gift or purchase.

I think it will take some time to get used to the logic of the Hawaiian language and short words with lots of meanings that can be used in a sentences as a noun, a verb, an adjective, or an adverb by the desire of the speaker/writer, but the sound of Hawaiian will definitely charm and intrigue you. 

And the word seduction begins! (in the next episode)

Ā hui hou! (Ah who-ee ho-oo) See you!

" Ke LIKE nei au :) I like! Put your likes too! "

Discover more about Hawaiian and other languages at

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