Language Lessons

For the first time in my life, phonics failed me. The rules are different when it comes to language here. We quickly found that even asking for directions was arduous because we had no grasp on how words worked. There are a lot of vowels. There are special symbols used. A slight deviation from correct pronunciation can change the meaning of words. Some quick-and-dirty language lessons were sorely needed. After listening to myself try to pronounce a word that consists of 90% vowels, I knew I sounded like an idiot.

Hawaii is the only state with three official languages - Hawaiian, Pidgin, and English. Pidgin is one I will most likely never speak, although an understanding will probably occur over time. As it's been explained, it would be quite rude of me to do so, not being Hawaiian myself. I certainly have no intention of causing offense in this area (or any area for that matter) and the act would paint me as an epic douche canoe. Hawaiian, on the other hand, is necessary. Fluency is a long way off, but we need to at least be have the ability to pronounce the words we see. Street names, for starters. If we're going to make this work, we've got to learn how the language works.

So, I've been reviewing the basics. I now know why it seems there are so many Hawaiian words predominately made up of vowels. There are only eight consonants and five vowels. One of the consonants is a symbol - the ' is called the 'Okina. The 'Okina is a brief pause called a glottal stop. The other seven consonants are H, K, L, M, N, P, W. The vowels are the same as in English - A, E, I, O, U. Last, but not least, is the macron, or stress symbol which looks like a dash over a vowel.

Those are the parts; now for the rules.

1. All consonants are pronounced the same as English, except sometimes W. The W will be pronounced differently depending on the letters that precede it. After a U or O, the W will sound like the English W. After I or E, it will be pronounced like the English V. After an A or at the beginning of a word, it's a toss up.

2. The vowel sounds themselves never change, but the presence of the macron indicates the sound should be drawn out. Here's the tricky part - the macron is often omitted, but the absence of the elongated sound can change the meaning of the word.

3. Hawaiian words will never end with a consonant, but may start with any letter. This includes the 'Okina (obviously).

4. Syllables will never be longer than one or two letters and must always end in a vowel.

Confused? Don't be. After some practice, these rules make the pronunciation of Hawaiian words much, much easier. Give it a go. Here's the word for the Hawaiian state fish - humuhumunukunuku'āpua'a.

Hmmm. Maybe some more practice first? See if this brief guide to the Hawaiian language helps.

This is what humuhumunukunuku'āpua'a should sound like:

hoo-moo-hoo-moo-noo-koo-noo-koo'aah-poo-ah'ah

Not as hard as you thought it would be, huh? Now if you find yourself needing directions in Hawaii, you will be able to correctly pronounce the location you're looking for and understand the help you will most certainly receive!