Fact 20 of 50 About Hawaii: The Hawaiian Alphabet

image Today’s fact about Hawaii focuses on the Hawaiian alphabet. This 12-letter alphabet has five vowels and only seven consonants.

For the most part, the consonants are pronounced the same way that they are sounded in English. The one exception is that the W is technically pronounced like the letter V is sounded in English. Though, visitors and locals will most often pronounce a W like a W is sounded in English. I’ll give you an example:  the proper pronunciation of Hawaii is “Hah-vah- ee”, but you’ll more commonly hear it pronounced  “Hah-wah-ee”.

To me, the challenge in attempting to properly pronounce Hawaiian words is to learn how to sound the vowels. I find them to be less intuitive, but the more I’ve practiced and memorized, the better I’m able to sound them correctly. Here’s how you pronounce Hawaiian vowels:

  • a sounds like ah as in aloha
  • e sounds like ay or eh as in say
  • i sounds like ee as in bee
  • o sounds like oh as in open
  • u sounds like oo as in boo.

Since this post is only covering the basics, see this useful guide for learning how to pronounce some commonly used Hawaiian words. As many times as I’ve been to Hawaii, I’m still learning!

  1. This derivation in the pronounciation of the “w” phoneme is really interesting, thanks very much for sharing this. I just started to teach myself Hawaiian, but here in Germany it’s really difficult because u wouldn’t find any teachers or tandem partners (nevermind actual classes). Unfortunately that means if u don’t understand something u can’t really just go ahead and ask somebody. Do u know why the Hawaiian written language uses the okina also before vowels? I can’t really find an answer on that as the pronounciation of all vowels starts with a glottal stop anyway. Is it possible that the okina simply indicates syllable/word stress in these cases? An extra indication of a glottal stop seems to make sense only before consonants. I’m really grateful for any help with that! Regards from Bielefeld in Germany, steph

    1. Aloha Steph from Germany,

      I am still learning the Hawaiian language, too.

      I’ll see if I can find the answer to your question when I go to the islands next month.

      In the meantime, I believe the okina also indicates the meaning of the word in addition to the glottal stop. For example:
      ono = the fish ono
      ‘ono = delicious

      Hope that helps!

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