Pronunciation Guide

Hawaiian language is syllabary and, therefore, the pronunciation is fairly straightforward. In my experience, it is the length of a word that confuses and frightens most foreign speakers. So hang in there! Once you know how to pronounce the vowels and interpret the diacriticals, its easy (I promise).

Hawaiian has 5 vowels and 13 consonants
 A, E, I, O, U
ah, eh, ee, oh, oo
  • "Hawaiian I" is said just like "English E"
  • And remember that unlike English, the way you say the vowel will never change based on where it is in the word.  "Ke" at the beginning of a word is exactly the same at "ke" at the end.

H, K, L, M, N, P, W, and (ʻokina)

  • The W can be said like a /w/ or a /v/. When in doubt, just shoot for a sound that is somewhere in between the two. (Fun fact: the word Hawaiʻi actually uses the /v/ sound)
  • Hawaii, just like anywhere else has different dialects. For example, some islands pronounce the k more like /t/ than /k/. 
  • ʻOkina is a backwards apostrophe thing, which is called a "glottal stop" in English - its like a little pause between two vowels. For example: hoaaloha would just be said with a slightly longer /a/ sound, but haʻawina is said "ha-ah-wina" (with the /ah/ being pronounced twice)

Oh geez...just writing this, I suddenly understand why I got a B- in Linguisics

  • There is also a line over the top of vowels (a "macron"...seriously, does anyone even use these words in English?) called a kahakō. It means that vowel sound is lengthened and emphasized.

The good news is that for most Hawaiian words you will encounter (street signs, place names and newspapers) the ʻokina and kahakō are omitted. You are supposed to figure out what word they are using based on context.


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