The Hawaiian language is felt to be derived from an ancient Polynesian precursor language. Although spoken infrequently, except on the island of Ni’ihau, Hawaiian words are present everywhere and can be intimidating to visitors. Visitors to the islands and even long time residents often have difficulty pronouncing some of the street names and locations making it difficult to communicate.
For many of the words, including the names of most of the islands, two or more forms are considered acceptable. Additionally, even many of the local Hawaiians do not always correctly pronounce the words. As happens in all cultures, people tend to take shortcuts and slur over many words. Check out the pronunciations below as done by contributor Jessica Kaikaina. See more on the Hawaiian Words of Love page.
Hawaiians are very proud of their language and culture and tend to be very forgiving and welcoming of all outsiders. Anyone who shows an interest in learning the language and culture tends to be embraced. In general, if you speak a Hawaiian word with a smile and Aloha, it’s OK you can’t be wrong.
This website was started with the idea that visitors would like to hear the words spoken out loud. There are many Hawaiian language sites but I was only able to find one or two that actually gave examples where the words could be heard out loud. I do not profess to be an expert, by any means. What I hope to provide is a site that will enable visitors to, at least, get a close proximity to how each word should be pronounced. I offer this site from one who loves Hawaii, it’s culture, people, and language. Although I will never have Hawaiian blood, I am proud to be Kama’āina and a student of the language.
First, some basics of the Hawaiian language. The 5 vowels a,e,i,o and u as well as the 7 consonants h,k,l,m,n,p, and w make up the entire Hawaiian alphabet. In the Hawaiian language a consonant is always followed by a vowel which also means all Hawaiian words end in a vowel.
Names and words are more easily pronounced when they are broken down into single syllable chunks. Sometimes the letter W is pronounced the same as V as in the traditional pronunciation of Hawai’i which is phonetically pronounced huh-vi-ee rather than huh-why-ee. Both versions are considered acceptable.
a – ah, as in father: aloha
e – a, as in may: nene
i – ee, as in bee: honi
o – oh, as in so: mahalo
u – oo, as in spoon: kapu
In the Hawaiian language a symbol directly over a vowel called a kahakō indicates that the vowel sound is to be elongated. A apostrophe like symbol called an `okina indicates a quick break in the word, like in English when we say “oh-oh”. So, for the Hawaiian word ka‘a, which is the word for “car” it would be pronounced: “Kah-ah”
Essential Hawaiian Words:
Anyone who lives or plans to visit Hawaii should know the following words used frequently:
|Listen||Hawaiian Word||English Translation|
|Aloha||Love, affection, hello, goodbye|
|Aloha kākou||Aloha to all (including myself) Warmest welcome. Usually said to a group of people. Hawaiian Airlines uses this on all flights.|
|Aloha kāua||Aloha to you (singular) and me|
|Aloha nui loa||Very much love, fondest regards|
|Makai||Towards the sea; the ocean side.|
|Mauka||Towards the mountain; the side facing the mountain.|
|E Komo Mai||Welcome!|
|Pau Hana||Work is done|
|Hana hou||Encore, do it again. The name of Hawaiian Airlines magazine.|
|Aina||Land especially, Homeland|
|Kamaaina||One of the land". Native-born but also used as a long-term resident of Hawai'i."|
|Hale||House or home.|
|Haole||Literally, means a person without a country or of known beginning. Often used to identify a person of Caucasian ancestry but is incorrect (see * below).|
|Honu||A turtle–especially Hawaiian green sea turtle.|
|Kahuna||Expert, usually refers to a priest, minister, or person held in esteem.|
|Keiki||Child , children|
|Kuuipo||Sweetheart. Often used on jewelry–especially the Hawaiian bracelets worn by wahine.|
|Malama||To take care of, to tend. Mālama aina to care for the land"."|
|Kapu||Forbidden. Do not enter.|
|Kokua||Help, aid, provide assistance.|
|Lanai||Porch, patio, or balcony. Usually at the back of the house.|
|Lei||A necklace, usually, of flowers. Also, shells or kūkui nuts.|
|Luau||Hawaiian feast or party|
|Maikai||Excellent, goodness. Sack and Save grocery has a Maika'i discount card.|
|Ohana||Family, kin, relative|
|Ono||Good or tasty as in ‘ono grinds (food).|
|Poi||A paste made from Taro root. A mainstay of the traditional Hawaiian diet.|
|Pupu||Snacks or appetizers|
|Pupule||Crazy (especially referring to a mentally deranged person).|
|Uku||Fleas or head lice (as in ‘undesired’ little critters in your hair').|
|Wikiwiki||Speedy or fast. Honolulu Airport has a Wikiwiki shuttle.|
*The word “Haole” literally means a person without a country or of known beginning. It is frequently used nowadays to identify a person of Caucasian ancestry but is an incorrect usage. When Captain Cook (the first Caucasian) came to the islands, he could only identify four generations of his which offended the Hawaiian Chief as it was traditional for Hawaiian people to recite their entire ancestry when meeting someone new. The term haole was used to identify those persons who did not know their ancestry.