This tutorial outlines every major feature of Hawaiian as it has been described
in other works. It is not intended to establish fluency, rather, it gives
students requisite knowledge of pronunciation, basic vocabulary, and grammar to
stay buoyant in an intensive speaking or reading environment, such as having a
conversation with a Hawaiian speaking friend or relative, or reading books in
Hawaiian. I would like to express my appreciation to Dr. Paul de Lacy of
Rutgers University, Professor of Linguistics, Dr. 'Ōiwi Parker Jones, and
Dr. Katie Dragger, Professor of Linguistics at the University of Hawaii,
Mānoa for their support. Lessons 2-8 are still pending.
Not everyone who speaks Hawaiian today is ethnically Hawaiian, but this is
usually the case. Therefore, unlike major world languages like English, French
and Spanish - which are spoken by various peoples around the globe - Hawaiian is
considered "the language of Native Hawaiians". Native Hawaiians come from
Austronesia, which is in the Pacific
Ocean between Asia and Australia, and the Americas. There you'll find hundreds
of small islands, some of which are nations or confederated into nations, within
a few main territories.
Austronesia starts in
Southeast Asia with the
Malay Archipelago, encompassing places
like Singapore, East Malaysia, the Philippines and
Indonesia (from Latin: "Indian islands"),
which is where Java, Sumatra, Bali, and West Papua are located. Continuing
southwest we have Australasia, which
somewhat informally refers to Australia and surrounding islands like Tasmania
and New Zealand. Oceania consists of
islands to the northwest of Australia.
Oceania is trifurcated into i. Melanesia
(from Latin: "black islands") to the south which has places like Papua New
Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji, ii. Micronesia
(from Latin: "small islands") to the north which contains such islands as Palau,
Guam, and Nauru, and iii. Polynesia
(from Latin: "many islands"), or
the Polynesian Triangle, which is
comprised of notably Nauru, Tonga, Samoa, and Niue to the west, French Polynesia
(incl. Tahiti, the Marquesas), and Easter Island (Rapa Nui) to the east, the
Maori homeland of New Zealand (Aotearoa) to the very south, and the Hawaiian
archipelago to the very north, which was formerly called the Sandwich Islands.
Polynesia is culturally split into eastern versus western: whereas
Eastern Polynesia (which includes Hawaii)
is generally accustomed to smaller islands with the exception of New Zealand,
Western Polynesia has higher populations
and strong marital, judicial, and economic traditions.
People have been living in Melanesia and Australia for tens of thousands of
years, but Micronesia and Polynesia were settled only a few thousand years ago.
By observing zenith stars, fishing birds, ocean swells, changes in sea color,
and other signs, seafarers from aboriginal (pre-Chinese) Taiwan, voyaged
eastward by outrigger canoes bringing useful plants (banana, taro, coconut,
sugar cane etc.), a few animals (boar, red junglefowl, poi dog, black rat etc.)
and traces of their distinctive "Lapita" pottery on the islands they discovered.
Portions of them stayed in Melanesia, mixing with the dark skinned peoples
there, but future generations traveled upward to Micronesia and eastward to
Fiji, then to Samoa and Tonga, which became known as the
Cradle of Polynesia from which other
Polynesian islands were discovered.
All Polynesian languages are similar to one another, in fact at one time they
were thought to be dialects of a single language. Just like how related European
languages like English and Spanish have similar words for things (such as
'tortoise' and 'tortuga'), Polynesian languages have several cognates as well.
Hawaiian is most similar to Tahitian, Marquesan, and Maori, but it has cognates
in other Austronesian languages as far east as the Philippines and Malaysia.
Numbers 1-10 of these languages are very similar, in fact lima
(five) and walu (eight) are thought to be identical to
their proto-forms (as far back as these words can be traced), which are 6,000
Note that just because two islands are near each other does not necessarily mean
their languages are most similar. A number of factors made proximity a merely
semi-reliable means of guessing linguistic similarity. For one, certain islands
traded with each other. Also, the ancestors of a given island people could have
emigrated from one of several neighboring islands. For instance, Hawaiian shares
more in common with Maori than with Tongan despite the fact New Zealand is
nearly twice as far from Hawaii as Tonga. This is due to the fact people
ventured to New Zealand (circa 1,300 AD) and Hawaii (circa 400 AD) from eastern
Polynesia long after Tonga was already settled (circa 1,500 BC).
Sociolinguistic practices also warped certain languages at different points in
history. For instance, Tahitians once followed the practice of pi‘i
by forbidding words phonologically (sound-wise) or semantically (meaning-wise)
associated with a chief's name. Until that chief passed away, they would
substitute forbidden words with semantically approximate terms that might become
inveterate if the chief lived for a long time. For instance, in Tahitian
tū (Hawaiian: kū) originally meant to stand and
was the name of a god, but to stand became ti‘a during and
after the reign of chief Tūnui‘ē‘aiteatua
literally: Tū-great-road-to-the-god 'great Tū, road to the
It is now understood that the languages of Polynesia are not highly mutually
intelligible, just as Spanish and French speakers cannot understand each other
splendidly. In fact, Polynesian languages are growing even more distinct as time
passes. Different terms for foreign concepts and technology have been coined in
each, often borrowed from non-Austronesian languages of influence like English
(most islands), French (Vanuatu, New Caledonia, French Polynesia), Spanish
Easter Island, the Marianas, the Caroline Islands, Guam), German
(Papua New Guinea), Japanese (Guam, Nauru), Hindi (Fiji), etc. depending on the
history of world relations and business, colonization (especially during WWII),
immigration, and tourism.
The islands of Hawaii are at the northwesternmost tip of Polynesia,
consisting of The Big Island i.e. Hawai‘i (Hawaii),
followed by seven smaller, older (geologically speaking) islands to the east:
Maui (Maui), Kaho‘olawe (Kahoolawe),
Lāna‘i (Lanai), Moloka‘i (Molokai),
O‘ahu (Oahu), Kaua‘i (Kauai) and
Ni‘ihau (Niihau), not to mention numerous tiny, uninhabited
islands to the northwest. It is widely accepted that waves of high ranking
Tahitians (from Ra'iatea, Bora Bora and Huahine) stumbled upon Hawaii and
conquered the preexisting settlers about 1,000 years ago, who were probably
Marquesans from 1,000 years prior.
Dialectal differences between speakers from different islands amount to little
more than minor variations in pronunciation (e.g. Molokai/Lanai: lanalana
vs. elsewhere: nananana for spider), and a handful of variant
terms (e.g. Niihau/Kauai: piaia vs. Oahu: ‘ōhua manini
for a small manini fish). The most aberrant dialect has long since been
that of Niihau, which will be discussed later in the lesson.
Hawaiian speakers have adopted a plethora of terms from other languages
due to mass immigration from mainland America, Puerto Rico, Europe (Germany,
Portugal), Asia (Russia, China esp. Cantonese and Hakka speaking, Korea, Japan, the
Philippines esp. Ilokano speaking), and elsewhere in Oceania (esp. Samoa,
Tahiti, New Zealand), not to mention the fact military personnel of all
nationalities are often stationed there. Terms from Hebrew, Classical Greek, and
Latin were introduced by missionaries, and a few words from
Spanish (via Mexican cowboys), French (via Francophone Catholics or French traders)
entered the language. Hawaiian even has terms from Assyrian, Czeck, Ute, and
some believe the word for sweet potato, ‘uala
(elsewhere: kuamara), comes the Peruvian Quechuan i.e. Incan word
'kumar', and in fact the plant was imported from trade with pre-Columbian
Indians. Borrowing still goes on today, and the Hawaiian Lexicon Committee tries
to select the best Hawaiian terms for new things like computers and internet
terminology and cell phones. A lot of times bilingual Hawaiians will just use
English words while speaking Hawaiian instead of adopting them into their sound
system, e.g. ‘ekolu a‘u DVD.
(I have three DVDs), or they will refer to a new term via a nickname,
e.g. mokulele (airplane), from moku (ship) and
lele (to jump, fly) 'flying ship'.
Note that throughout history, Hawaiian speakers have introduced Hawaiian words
into several world languages as well, especially English (discussed in
Lesson 5: Possession). A few Hawaiian speakers got to travel
throughout the world to places like mainland America, England, and Germany, and
a couple Hawaiian words (maybe more) entered Chinook and Eskimo trade jargons as
Hawaiian adventurers sailed with a diverse crew that consisted of some Americans
Only about 2/3 of Hawaiians live in Hawaii today; many have exodused to the
escape the high cost of living on the islands. Outside of Hawaii, roughly half
of mainland Hawaiians reside in California, and most of the rest live in
adjacent states like Nevada and Washington. However, Hawaiian fluency in these
areas practically always vanishes with the second generation.
Hawaiian is not the only language associated with ethnic Hawaiians. Deaf
Hawaiians had their own form of sign language
(‘ōlelo kuhi lima, literally: hand-gesture language),
the remnants of which can be seen in modern Hawaiian Pidgin Sign Language (HPS),
which is distinct from American Sign Language. There was also kake, a
lingo consisting of garbled words and arcane jargon that was used by elite in
chanting. Today, more Hawaiians speak Hawaiian-Creole English a.k.a. Hawaiian
Pidgin than Hawaiian, which consists of a mixture of features from Hawaiian,
English and other tongues that became a bona fide language once children started
Originally, Hawaii was originally spelled 'Owhyee', 'Owhyhee' or 'Owhihe', and
pronounced "oh hwye ee"
[oʍaɪiː] which reflects the 18th Century British English
pronunciations of ‘O Hawai‘i (this is Hawaii); ‘o precedes proper nouns in the language.
The Hawaiian pronunciation of Hawaii is
"hah wye -ee" [həwɐiʔi]
(or "hah vye -ee" [həvɐiʔi]) where the dash
represents a glottal stop, just like the dash between 'uh' and 'oh' in the
interjection 'uh-oh!' The American English approximation of the Hawaiian
pronunciation is "hah wye ee" [həwaɪiː].
How one pronounces Hawaii and its islands today is a politically charged matter
for reasons that will not be discussed here, but SAIVUS takes a purely
linguistic approach to the issue. We treat 'Hawaii' as a loan word in English
from Hawaiian, in which the foreign sound (the glottal stop) is dropped; just as
‘Amelika (America) is a loan word in Hawaiian from English
in which the foreign sound (R) is substituted for a Hawaiian sound (l).
Thus, whereas Hawai‘i is used in Hawaiian text, 'Hawaii' is used in
No one knows for sure where the name Hawai‘i came from. Some
scholars speculated that Hawaii was originally called Hawaiki, which
means place of the gods. Hawaiians believed gods resided at places like
Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and Hawaiki could have changed to
Hawai‘i over time as in many words k changed to
‘. This etymology has been accepted by several English
dictionaries. Others point out the fact that elsewhere in Polynesia,
Hawai‘i (originally Sawaiki) refers to the underworld or
one's ancestral homeland, but don't carry the ball any further.
Another popular theory, particularly in academic circles, is that homesick
Samoans named Hawaii after Sava‘i - the largest island of Samoa -
meaning homeland, and as the sound systems of Hawaiian changed so did the
sounds that make up the word Sava‘i. There is evidence to suggest
Sava‘i could have changed to Hawai‘i as s in
words from other Polynesian languages are frequently pronounced with h in
Hawaiian. In fact, this theory accounts for a whole slew of other island names
like Havaiki (New Zealand), Havai‘i - a former name
for Ra‘iatea, (an island of Tahiti), and
‘Avaiki (Cook Islands).
Most other etymologies of Hawaii are obvious fabrications. Some claim Hawaii was
named after chief Hawai‘iloa, who was accredited in an old legend
for initially discovering the islands. However, the name Hawai‘iloa
was given to him by future Hawaiian speaking storytellers and no one knows what
his original name was, if he existed. One folk etymology tells that Hawaii is a compound of
hā (breath) wai (fresh water) and
‘ī, which is the tone of the supreme God, similar to "ohm" or
"aum" in Sanskrit. The problem with this theory is that while ha and
hā, and i and ‘ī, were written the same
until recently, they have always been different words and such a compound
spells Hāwai‘ī not Hawai‘i. Unlike other
claims, there is nothing to suggest the sounds of Hāwai‘ī
would change to Hawai‘i; linguists have studied how sounds change
in Polynesian languages quite extensively. A similar claim with no backing is
that Hawai‘i comes from hawa meaning homeland, and
ii (actually spelled ‘i‘i) meaning small. Yet,
hawa is not even a Hawaiian word and again, Hawa‘i‘i
is not the same as Hawai‘i.
In 1778, when Captain Cook landed on Hawaii, there were reportedly
400,000 Hawaiians, but contemporary scholars believe original estimators
overlooked inland populations and some of the coastlines (where there is
evidence of home sites and agriculture), and claim the actual figure was at
least over 800,000 (possibly over 1 million), all of whom were fluent speakers.
Hawaiian flourished in most of the 1800s, specifically after 1826 when the
alphabet was developed and the majority of speakers became literate. In the
decades to follow language description was published and there were over a dozen
Hawaiian language newspapers. Yet, after Captain Cook's crew and extensive
immigration from various countries introduced diseases like small pox,
influenza, leprosy, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis
(for which Native Hawaiians had no immunity since Hawaii was a quarantined
environment), the Native population was decimated to around 37,000 (roughly
1/20th the initial estimate).
English rose to dominance and Hawaiian was banned under punishment in public
schools. The Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown and both English and Hawaiian
speakers encouraged Hawaiian children to focus on mastering English only so they
would be more successful in Hawaii's new Western society, and less prone to
teasing and prejudice. The number of speakers then fell to about 1,000 in the
1900s, most of whom were very elderly, and it was predicted the language would
soon die. Yet, Hawaiian remained strong in traditional
kua‘āina (backwoods) communities and is the primary
language (secondary to English at age 8) of a few hundred people on the private,
"forbidden island" of Niihau, whose way of life has remained virtually
undisturbed for centuries.
Right around the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s there was a grassroots
Hawaiian Renaissance where traditional Hawaiian culture, music and dancing,
sports, medicine, cuisine, arts and crafts, and martial arts regained
popularity, and improved language resources were made. Not only that, factors
that lead to the destruction of Hawaiian were for the most part reversed. Today,
Hawaiian speakers are celebrated by society, and Hawaiian culture is seen as an
asset to diversity seeking colleges and employers rather than impetus for
discrimination. In fact,
The Kamehameha Schools - which
offer a 6 year program in Hawaiian - effectively reject applicants on the basis
they cannot prove any Hawaiian ancestry, due to their preference for Native
Hawaiian enrollees. The opposite of English-only language policy, language
immersion programs like
‘Aha Pūnana Leo
(language nest) and
(immersion school), have children take classes taught in Hawaiian by
native Hawaiian speaking staff all day for years. By the time students graduate
from these schools they are fluent enough to write Ph.D. dissertations in
Hawaiian, and often get accepted to prestigious universities. In fact, American
Indian tribes are starting to follow their example, just as Hawaiians
copied New Zealand's Kohanga Reo (language nest) model. Local
colleges like the University
of Hawaii, which is renowned for its linguistics department, offer Hawaiian
language curriculum (even online!), and other resources, and even offer
bachelor's (since the 1970s), master's (since 2002) and doctorate (since 2006)
degrees in Hawaiian. There has been a resurgence of small Hawaiian newspapers
and newsletters, television episodes, movies, radio shows, websites, blogs,
podcasts, and more books in Hawaiian than ever before, and there are also
more language teaching resources (textbooks, audiorecordings, software, etc.)
for Hawaiian than most American Indian languages. Due to all these advances,
the number of fluent Hawaiian speakers is actually on the rise.
Yet, Hawaiian is still an endangered language. In 2000, 140,652 people in the
United States Census claimed they are Native Hawaiian (and about twice that
number claimed they are part Native Hawaiian: 260,510), which is altogether less
than 1% of the total population of the United States. While a few thousand people
can speak or understand a little Hawaiian, the number of fluent, heritage
speakers is only around 2,000, which means less than 1.5% of Hawaiians speak
their language, and under .1% of the statewide population. Fortunately, about
50% of fluent speakers are young.
SAIVUS believes we can improve the health of the Hawaiian language by providing
a free online study course geared towards distance learners. Home study
courses are generally ineffective in increasing the number of speakers, yet,
many Hawaiians speak Pidgin (Hawaiian Creole English), which has roots in
Hawaiian and other Austronesian languages, meaning Hawaiian should be easier for
them to pick up; just as German would be easier for an English speaker to
acquire than Zulu. Also, many non-Hawaiian speaking Hawaiians have relatives
that speak Hawaiian they could practice with if only they knew the basics.
Hawaiian already has plenty of language learning resources, but many Hawaiians
work menial labor and have little time or money for formal classes or even
textbooks. Besides, we are striving to create a tutorial that is superior to
others by incorporating discussion of culture, and vamping linguistic
explanations with animations and games.
In general there are two ways in which languages are taught:
This method requires students to learn grammar rules, has them
memorize lists of words, and encourages them to translate texts. It works best
for the students interested in philology and linguistics, but will bore other
students. Once a student masters this formal approach, it becomes easier for
them to learn other languages rapidly. Contrary to popular belief, this method
was never intended to establish fluency. Rather, it equips students with enough
preliminary knowledge of the language to survive immersion or to produce
important makeshift translations.
This method teaches little to no grammar, and instead favors participation
and group work, and exposes the student to constant language use in the form of
audio stories, movies, games, etc. to mimic the way children learn language.
It works best for students who struggle with grammar, but other students find it
unpleasant and wasteful. In fact, one reason for why the immersion approach has
such a deceptively high success rate is because students who despise this method
simply don't enroll in language courses.
Unfortunately, language teachers usually promote one approach or the other,
under the belief only one strategy is effective, to help their careers or
reputations. In contrast, at SAIVUS we try to cater to the learning style of
every student by taking a hybrid approach: we mention grammar but also give
copious examples of language use. Unlike the textbook approach we do not find
drills effective, however, we find short quizzes, games and exercises highly
effective, and unlike immersion, we support translation practice (mostly
Hawaiian to English).
Native peoples tend to favor more natural ways of learning language, such as
focusing on teaching children or pairing youths with elders. These methods are
only feasible for large scale revitalization efforts rather than a distance
language maintenance program such as this one. However, SAIVUS makes an attempt
to teach culture along with language, a practice that is favored by most Native
communities, and one that is gaining popularity in academic circles. This
practice is controversial, but we avoid making direct connections between
language and culture. We merely juxtapose facts about culture to facts about
grammar, with the thinking it will keep the reader's interest from waning
since most people are more fascinated by culture than by language.
While we minimize technical jargon, we do give linguistic terms for the
concepts we discuss for those who would like to know, and are sure to explain
every term thoroughly for readers with a weak educational background. We find it
effective to relate grammatical features to English and other well known
languages, however, we strongly advise the reader to refrain from
conceptualizing Hawaiian grammar through the lens of other models. For instance,
we mention that he functions like a/an
(as in 'a pear', 'an apple' etc.) in English, but caution the
reader Hawaiians use he in ways English speakers do not use a/an.
Language is constantly changing, and we've made an effort to discuss differences
between past (grandparent's generation) and present (children's generation).
Each lesson usually consists of the following components:
introduce you to categories of words from certain parts of speech. Words are
more easily memorized when they are grouped by association. Note that these
associations follow indigenous taxonomy. For instance, although whales are
considered mammals in Western science, Hawaiians grouped them in the same
category as fish, i‘a. We also do our best to saturate definitions
with cultural tidbits, pieces of trivia and detailed word origins, believing it
will make the words more significant, more interesting and therefore easier to
retain. Rest assured however, strides are made to lead students away from
incorrect "folk" etymologies.
||Grammar Topics: introduce you to
various aspects of the language in the form of either function words, or phrase
constructions. The organization is such that simple topics are discussed before
the nitty-gritty and unlike the immersion approach, you are not overwhelmed by
simple and complex grammar rules all at once. We try to provide as many diagrams
and illustrations to compliment grammar topics as possible.
||Exercises (5-15 questions): are
sometimes featured at the end of a section to help the vocabulary list or
grammatical concept sink in.
||Printable Notes: are featured at the
end of the lesson to synopsize that lesson's overall content.
||Quiz (10 questions): are featured at
the end of the lesson and evaluate your comprehension of the material. One of
the nice things about learning Hawaiian online is that there is no pressure,
meaning you can learn at your own pace in your own free time. No grades are
issued, and the quizzes act as friendly means of self-assessment. If you get a
lot of questions wrong, don't think of it as receiving a poor grade, think of it
as learning additional facts.
We recommend you read at least one grammar topic within a lesson per day. By
steadily accumulating small doses of grammatical knowledge on a daily basis - in
the time it would take to read a newspaper article - you will eventually be able
to break down complex sentences. And, if you decide to quit prematurely at least
you'll walk away with some basic phrases under your belt.
We have done our best to make the greatest Hawaiian resource out there, and
although we cannot satisfy everyone, please send any suggestions for improvement
We'd love to hear them!
As this tutorial uses one language to discuss the very nature of language and
different languages, we've developed our own format at SAIVUS that facilitates
meta-discussion. It is very intuitive, yet still worth explaining.
Throughout this lesson Polynesian language text appears in bold, and English
translations of Polynesian language text are italicized. Headings and newly
introduced terminology appear in bold/italic text. Whereas single quotation
marks (' ') around text emphasize meaning, double quotation marks
(" ") denote sounds or pronunciation, in which syllables are buffered by
long spaces. Individual English sounds are capitalized. Underlining emphasizes
concepts. All of these practices are exhibited in the following paradigm. Hover
your curser over any portion of it to see why a given style was employed.
Hawaiian speakers substitute
in pronouncing English words;
(pronounced "keh leh poh nah") means
in Hawaiian, and derives from English 'telephone'
borrowing, which is when the speakers of one language import words from another language.
There are strong efforts in place to ensure Hawaiian is well equipped for the
digital age. To type Hawaiian in a word processing program, you can download a
Hawaiian font at
The University of Hawaii's
An alternative is to copy and paste special characters from this preface (refer
to the chart below). Depending on what word processing program you use,
and the version, characters might display improperly as boxes. Try converting
the text to MS Mincho font.
Alternatively, there are some creative substitutes for macrons, namely letters
with dashes after them (A- a-, E- e-, I- i-, O- o-, U- u-), colons after them
(A: a:, E: e:, I: i:, O: o:, U: u:), umlauts (Ä ä, Ë ë,
Ö ö, Ü ü), circumflexes
(Â â, Ê ê, Î î, Ô ô, Û û),
or double vowels (Aa aa, Ee ee, II ii, OO oo, UU uu),
but note that some words in Hawaiian are already written with double vowels. To
type vowels with circumflexes or umauts in Microsoft Word go to Tools and select
Customize, then hit the Keyboard... button at the bottom. Find the Categories
section and scroll down to Common Symbols. Then find the Common Symbols window
and scroll down. Single clicking a character in this menu will tell you what
keys need to be pressed in order for you to produce it. The default for umlauts
is usually Ctrl + : or Ctrl + Shift + ; then release your fingers and type a
vowel as you would normally. For circumflexes it is Ctrl + ^ or Ctrl + Shift + 6.
To generate vowels with macrons on your webpage, type the following hexadecimal
entities in the source code:
Ā / ā
Ā / ā
|Ē / ē
Ē / ē
|Ī / ī
Ī / ī
|Ō / ō
Ō / ō
|Ū / ū
Ū / ū