Friday, January 2, 2009


A Post on a forum about pronunciations in the Hawaiian language that was very helpful:

Posted on: 12:24 am, January 10, 2008

Your interest is appreciated!

I am not an expert but I can give a few tips.

1) Somewhat as with Japanese, Hawaiian words are made up of lots of syllables pronounced discretely. The long words get much easier if you just take them one syllable at a time.

2) The marks you see, like the okina, which looks like a reversed comma, tell you where to put a stop and not to run the vowels together into a dipthong.

Take Kaua`i . It is not pronounce Ka-why, but rather has an "ee" on the end, like Hawai`i. A "lanai" is a porch but Lana`i is an island with an "ee" sound on the end just like Maui.

A`a lava is ah-ah. Honoka`a has a double ah sound at the end. Pe`e Pe`e Falls are not the pee-pee falls, but Pay-eh Pay-eh.

Ka`u the southernmost district does not rhyme with "lau" (ti plant or its leaf) or "hau" (a beach tree), but is Ka-u.

3) W's are used as a consonant and are pronounce V, as in German, when inside a word. Hawi is Ha-vee. Hawai`i too, is mispronounced most everywhere because the W does sound like V. However, "Hawaiian" is not a Hawaiian language word, but an English word, so it is not pronounced with a V sound. Unlike German, the W has its English sound when it starts a word. Waimea, Wailuku, Wailea, etc. all start with the W sound.

4) In English, it's common to end a syllable or a word with a consonant sound, but in Hawaiian sylabbles end in vowel sounds. A consonant is the BEGINNING of a syllable, not the end, and this can help you a lot.


Kona is not cone-a but Ko-nah

Hilo is not Heel-o but Hee-lo

Honolulu is not Hon-a-lu-lu but Ho-no-lu-lu

Kealakekua is not Ke-ala-cake-ua but Ke-a-la-ke-ku-a

Holualoa is not Hol-ua-loa but Ho-lu-a-lo-a

Goddess Pele is not Pale-eh but Peh-leh

Honu (sea turtles) are ho-nu, not hone-u

Puna is not Poon-ah but Poo-nah

Ohana is O-ha-na, not O-han-a

Ma-ha-lo, not Ma-hollow

A-lo-ha, not Al-o-ha

Ha-pu-na, not Hop-oon-a

See the key is not to stick the consonant on the end to complete the syllable as is so natural to us English speakers, but use the consonant to start the next part of the word. This still doesn't come easily to me.

The beach known as A-bay is

Anaeho`omalu is Ah-nai-ho-o-ma-lu

If you listen to island born speakers you will hear that "ho" is not pronounced like ho ho ho. Instead the lips are more pursed. The same with mu, not said as "moo" but with pursed lips. Both are said as short sounds, not drawn out.

I'm not a linguist who knows how to describe pronunciation in words, but then neither are you. If you turn on the local news and listen to the newscasters, you will get a feel for how they say place names.

People are very easy-going but will appreciate you trying.

Also, locals don't necessarily follow the rules like w sounds like v in a word; they don't seem to get that rule. Remember very few of the people here actually speak the Hawaiian language, so one person may be a purist and another just says it like the locals do.

For example, I live in Papa`ikou, but I have never heard a local pronounce it with the okina in it. They say Pa-pai-ko and I have heard the emphasis go on each of the syllables so there isn't even agreement. But it ought to be Pa-pa-ee-kou.

Have fun! Now you're ready to say humuhumunukunukuapua`a (triggerfish).


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