Even though I have been a student of the Hawaiian language for many years, I am still constantly amazed by the beauty as well as the simplicity, and at the same time, complexity of the language. Though there are only 12 letters (a, e, i, o, u, h, k, l, m, n, p, w) and the okina (looks sort of like an apostrophe), there are a multitude of ways to express a single thought. Like I said, this can be simple or complex. Then there is kauna, the hidden meaning inside Hawaiian language, wherein it seems one is speaking about something obvious when one is actually talking about something completely different.

It would be impossible to give you an in-depth Hawaiian language lesson, but it's good to know a few words and how to pronounce them when you visit our island. You'll hear them everywhere. If you know Spanish it will help with vowel pronunciation. Remember that all letters are pronounced. The okina is similar to the glottal stop in the cockney pronunciation of "bottle" or the word "uh-oh". Words are never pluralized by adding "s" and they never end in a consonant. The letter "W" is sometimes pronounced like the letter "V", sometimes "W", and sometimes a combination of the two sounds. The pronunciations I've shown below are as close as I can get because there are subtleties too difficult to explain. But if you pronounce them like I have written them you'll be close enough. By the way, this is a legal language here and can be used in a court of law.

Common Words

aloha (ah-LO-ha). Hello and goodbye as well as love. Can be used to express sympathy, if more stress given to the first syllable. Do NOT say ah-LOOO-HAA. This is a tour director thing and very goofy.

'aina (EYE-nah). Food.

ahi (AH-hee). Tuna. Best eaten sashimi style (raw) with shoyu and wasabi.

hale (HAH-lay). House.

haole (HOW-leh). Originally, all foreigners. Now usually refers specifically to white people. Generally NOT a compliment.

haupia (how-PEE-ah). Hawaiian coconut dessert, sort of like a firm pudding.

hele (HEH-lay). Go. If combined with mai, hele mai, means come.

kahakai (kah-hah-KIE). The beach.

kahuna (kah-HOO-nah). Hawaiian priest. Christian priests or ministers are usually called kahu (KAH-hoo) or kahuna pule (kah-HOO-nah POO-leh). Pule is Hawaiian for prayer.

kalua (kah-LOO-ah). Hawaiian style of cooking where meat is placed in an imu (EE-moo), a fire pit, and buried until done.

kane (KAH-neh). A male, human or otherwise.

kapuna (kah-POO-nah). Older person, much revered. Not to be confused with kahuna.

keiki (KAY-kee). Child.

luau (loo-OW). Hawaiian feast, party. Also the leaf used to roll laulau.

laulau (LOW-low, rhymes with pow). Hawaiian dish made from meat, usually pork, and butterfish, rolled up in luau leaf (similar to spinach) and steamed.

lani (LAH-nee). Heaven or heavenly. Seen in many combination words and names.

mahimahi (mah-hee-MAH-hee). Dolphin, the fish, not a porpoise. Delicious.

mauka (MOW-kah, MOW rhymes with pow). Literally, toward the mountain. Used constantly when giving directions. Example: "My house is on the mauka side of Ali'i Drive."

makai (mah-KIE). Literally, toward the sea. Opposite of mauka.

mahalo (MAH-ha-lo). Thank you.

nani (NAH-nee). Beautiful. Another word seen in combinations and names.

ono (OH-noh). Delicious. Also the name of a local food fish which is also delicious.

ohana (oh-HAH-nah). Family, relation, kin.

pau (pow, with a bit more oo sound on the end). Finished. Done. Over with.

pau hana (pow HAH-nah). Literally, "work finished". Quitting time. Can also refer to what one imbibes at the local bar after a long day.

pua (POO-ah). Flower. Also seen in combination words and names.

pupu (POO-poo). Hawaiian appetizer, though the word certainly isn't.

puka (POO-kah). Any opening, like a door. Commonly used to refer to any sort of hole, though lua would be more appropriate in most cases.

ukulele (oo-koo-LEH-leh). Literally, jumping flea. Hawaiian music maker and not pronounced yoo-kah-lay-lee.

wahine (wah-HEE-neh). A female.

Common Phrases

A'ole pilikia (ah-O-lay pee-lee-KEE-ah). No problem.

aloha kakahiaka (ah-LO-hah kah-kah-heeAH-kah). Good morning.

aloha ahiahi (ah-LO-hah ah-hee-AH-hee). Good evening.

He mea iki (Hay MAY-ah EE-kee). Literally, it's a small thing. Don't mention it, you're welcome.

Mahalo nui loa (MAH-ha-lo NU-ee LO-ah). Thank you very much.

'O wai kou inoa? (O vie ko-wee-NO-ah). What's your name?

Piha ko'u opu! (PEE-hah KO-oo o-POO). I'm full! (literally, full my stomach)

Mele Kalikimaka (MEH-lay kah-LEE-kee-MAH-kah). Merry Christmas.

Hau'oli Makahiki Hou! (how-O-lee mah-kah-HEE-kee ho). Happy New Year!

Hau'oli La Hanau! (how-O-lee la HAH-now). Happy Birthday.

Hele mai i loko (HEH-lay my-ee LO-ko). Come inside.

E hele mai 'ai (ey HEH-lay my EYE). Come eat.

If you are interested in learning more about the Hawaiian language, here's a good place to start:
The Hawaiian Language Website




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