Hawaiian Language Pronunciation Guide | Go Hawaii

Hawaiian Language

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The Hawaiian Language

The world’s indigenous languages are repositories for identity, cultural history, community traditions, and generational memory. A native people’s language is the key to unlocking unique systems of knowledge and understanding.
The Hawaiian language, 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i, came to our shores along with the first people to arrive from the ancestral homelands of Polynesia. The language evolved alongside the culture into the nuanced, multi-layered 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i we know today.
When the written language was introduced to the masses in the early 1800s, Hawai‘i residents – both Native Hawaiians and others who came to the islands – developed an insatiable appetite for reading and writing in 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i. Newspapers with news of Hawai‘i and the wonders of the world made their way to all corners of the kingdom, and literacy rates rivaled the most progressive nations in the world. The cosmopolitan citizenry of the Hawaiian kingdom conducted their lives in Hawaiian, the language of the land.
Following the overthrow of the Hawaiian kingdom in 1893, Hawaiian language use declined along with other Hawaiian cultural practices, lifestyles, and arts. Aiding in the decline was a law banning instruction in the language in Hawai‘i schools.
The Hawaiian cultural renaissance of the 1970s set the stage for the language’s return from the brink of extinction. Sparked by the realization that fewer than 50 children spoke the language in the early 1980s, a group of educators established preschools where children learned Hawaiian by interacting with native speaking elders. These schools proved successful, and today are the foundation of an educational system where students can go as far as a doctoral degree in the language.
Even with Hawaiian language returning to prominence in Hawai‘i – the only state in the US with two official languages – it is still classified as a critically endangered language by the United Nations.
You can be a part of the 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i revival. Start with the basic Hawaiian words and pronunciation tips below. When you arrive, use Hawaiian place names whenever possible. A growing number of businesses are incorporating 'Ōlelo Hawai‘i into their signage. When you arrive at your hotel, ask what Hawaiian language resources are available. And remember to greet the people you meet with a warm, genuine “aloha.”

Use the interactive Hawaiian Pronunciation Guide below to play audio clips and enjoy learning some of the most commonly used words and phrases of the Hawaiian language.

Note: We recognize the use of linguistic markings of the (modern) Hawaiian language including the ‘okina [‘] or glottal stop and the kahakō [ō] or macron (e.g., in place names of Hawai‘i such as Lāna‘i). We acknowledge that individual businesses listed on this site may not use the ‘okina or kahakō, but we recognize the importance of using these markings to preserve the indigenous language and culture of Hawai‘i and use them in all forms of communications.