Did You Know? Hawai ‘i

July 22, 2019

The Hawaiian Alphabet

Many people “know” that there are only 12 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet: vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and consonants (H, K, L, M, N, P, W); however, those letters only represent the sounds easily heard by English-speaking missionaries who first implemented the alphabet. The Hawaiian language also contains the ʻokina, which is treated as a consonant, and distinguishes between short and long vowels indicated by the macron or kahakō. These sounds are significant in Hawaiian and determine the meanings of words.

It is important to note that the ʻokina is a reverse apostrophe (i.e. a 6 rather than a 9) as an apostrophe represents a lack (i.e. a sound that has disappeared) while the ʻokina represents a presence (i.e. a letter formerly overlooked that has been restored). The sound is similar to one English speakers make in the middle of “uh-oh” and at the beginning of many words that begin with a vowel.

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