The Hawaiian language (Hawaiian: ‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i) is an Austronesian language that takes its name from Hawai'i, the largest island in the tropical North Pacific archipelago where it developed. Hawaiian, along with English, is an official language of the State of Hawaii. King Kamehameha III established the first Hawaiian-language constitutions in 1839 and 1840.
For various reasons, the number of native speakers of Hawaiian gradually decreased during the period from the 1830s to the 1950s. Hawaiian was essentially displaced by English on six of the seven inhabited islands. As of 2000, native speakers of Hawaiian amount to under 0.1% of the statewide population. Linguists are worried about the fate of this and other endangered languages.
Nevertheless, from about 1949 to the present, there has been a gradual increase in attention to, and promotion of, the language. Public Hawaiian-language immersion pre-schools called Pūnana Leo were started in 1984; other immersion schools followed soon after. The first students to start in immersion pre-school have now graduated from college and many are fluent Hawaiian speakers.
A type of "local English" spoken in Hawaii is technically called "Hawaiian Creole English", abbreviated "HCE". It developed from pidgin English and is often called simply "pidgin" (or Hawaiian Pidgin). It should not be mistaken for the Hawaiian language.
The ISO language code for Hawaiian is
The initial "O" in the name is a reflection of the fact that unique identity is predicated in Hawaiian by using a copula form, o, immediately before a proper noun. Thus, in Hawaiian, the name of the island is expressed by saying O Hawaii, which means "[This] is Hawaii. Note that the Cook expedition also wrote "Otaheite" rather than "Tahiti.
The spelling "why" in the name reflects the [ʍ] pronunciation (a voiceless [w]) of wh in 18th century English. Why was pronounced [hwai]. The spelling "hee" or "ee" in the name represents the sounds [hi], [ʔi], or [i].
Putting the parts together, O-why-hee reflects [o-hwai-ʔi], a reasonable approximation of the native pronunciation, .
American missionaries bound for Hawaii used the phrases "Owhihe Language" and "Owhyhee language", in Boston prior to their departure in October 1819 and during their five-month voyage to Hawaii. They still used such phrases as late as February 1822. However, by July 1823, they had begun using the phrase "Hawaiian Language.
In Hawaiian, ōlelo Hawaii means "Hawaiian language", as adjectives follow nouns.
Hawaiian is a Polynesian member of the Austronesian language family. It is closely related to other Polynesian languages (e.g., Marquesan, Tahitian, Maori, Rapa Nui (the language of Easter Island), Samoan), and distantly related to Fijian and more distantly to Malay, Indonesian, Malagasy, and the indigenous languages of the Philippines (e.g., Pangasinan, Tagalog, Ilokano, Visayan) and Taiwan (e.g., Paiwan, Rukai, Thao, Babuza, Saaroa, Yami).
The Marquesans colonized the archipelago in roughly 300 AD followed by another wave of Tahitian immigrants around 1000 AD. Their languages, over time, became the Hawaiian language.
Continuing back in time, and back up the Austronesian family tree, the language was various stages of Proto-Polynesian. Going much further back in history, the language is that of the Philippine Islands. The linguistic evidence, with the methodologies of lexicostatistics and comparative reconstruction applied, takes the language back to Proto Austronesian, spoken in Taiwan (see next section). In recognizing the "Austric dispersal", states that Reid "firmly established" a genetic relationship between the Austronesian family and the Austroasiatic family, and that linguist Robert Blust proposed that the Austronesian people migrated from mainland China to Taiwan around 4000 BC.
Lexicostatistics is a way of quantifying an approximate evaluation of the degree to which any given languages are genetically related to one another.. It is mainly based on determining the number of cognates (genetically shared words) that the languages have in a fixed set of vocabulary items which are nearly universal among all languages. The so-called "basic vocabulary" (or Swadesh list) amounts to about 200 words, having meanings such as "eye", "hair", "blood", "water", and "and. The measurement of a genetic relationship is expressed as a percentage. For example, Hawaiian and English have 0 cognates in the 200-word list, so they are 0% genetically related. By contrast, Hawaiian and Tahitian have about 152 cognates in the list, so they are estimated as being 76% genetically related, according to the lexicostatistical method (152 ÷ 200 = 0.76).
The comparative method is a technique developed by linguists to determine whether or not two or more languages are genetically related, and if they are, the historical nature of the relationships. For a given meaning, the words of the languages are compared. Linguists observe:
In this method, the definition of "identical" is clear, but those of "similar" and "dissimilar" are based on phonological criteria which require professional training to fully understand, and which can vary in the contexts of different languages. Basically, a sound's phonetic manner and place of articulation, and its phonological features, are the main factors considered in investigating its status as "similar" or "dissimilar" to other sounds in a particular context. When linguists find in compared languages that compared words of the same or similar meaning contain sounds which correspond to one another, and find that these same sound correspondences recur regularly in most, or in many, of the comparable words of the languages, then the usual conclusion is that the languages are genetically related.
In both methods, it is very important to exclude loan words from the analysis.
The following table, Decimal Numbers, provides a limited data set for ten meanings. The Proto-Austronesian (PAN) forms are from . The asterisk (*) is used to show that these are hypothetical, reconstructed forms. The Tagalog forms are from , the Tongan from , and the Hawaiian from . In the table, the year date of the modern forms is rounded off to CE 2000 to emphasize the 6000-year time lapse since the PAN era.
|PAN, circa 4000 BCE|
|Tagalog, CE 2000|
|Ilokano (Ilocano), CE 2000|
|Kapampangan, CE 2000|
|Cebuano, CE 2000|
|Malay, CE 2000|
|Javanese, CE 2000|
|Malagasy, CE 2000|
|Māori, CE 2000|
|Tongan, CE 2000||-fulu|
|Hawaiian, CE 2000|
Note 1. For the number "10", the Tongan form in the table is part of the word /hoŋo-fulu/ ('ten'). The Hawaiian form is part of the word /ana-hulu/ ('ten days'), however the more common form used in counting and quantifying is /ʔumi/, a different root.
Application of the lexicostatistical method to the data in the table will show the four languages to be related to one another, with Tagalog having 100% cognacy with PAN, while Hawaiian and Tongan have 100% cognacy with each other, but 90% with Tagalog and PAN. This is because the forms for each number are cognates, except the Hawaiian and Tongan words for the number "1", which are cognate with each other, but not with Tagalog and PAN. When the full set of 200 meanings is used, the percentages will be much lower. For example, Elbert found Hawaiian and Tongan to have 49% (98 ÷ 200) shared cognacy. This points out the importance of data-set size for this method — less data, cruder result; more data, better result.
Application of the comparative method will show partly different genetic relationships. It will point out sound changes, such as:
This method will recognize sound change #1 as a shared innovation of Hawaiian and Tongan. It will also take the Hawaiian and Tongan cognates for "1" as another shared innovation. Due to these exclusively shared features, Hawaiian and Tongan are found to be more closely related to one another than either is to Tagalog or PAN.
The forms in the table show that the Austronesian vowels tend to be relatively stable, while the consonants are relatively volatile. It is also apparent that the Hawaiian words for "5" and "8" have remained essentially unchanged for 6000 years.
The increase in human travel to and from Hawaii during the 19th century was the means by which a number of diseases arrived, and potentially fatal ones, such as smallpox, influenza, and leprosy, killed large numbers of native speakers of Hawaiian. Meanwhile, native speakers of other languages, especially English, Chinese, Japanese, Portuguese, and Ilokano, continued to immigrate to Hawaii. As a result, the actual number, as well as the percentage, of native speakers of Hawaiian in the local population decreased sharply, and continued to fall.
As the status of Hawaiian dropped, the status of English in Hawaii rose. In 1885, the Prospectus of the Kamehameha Schools announced that "instruction will be given only in English language" (see published opinion of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Doe v. Kamehameha Schools, case no. 04-15044, page 8928, filed August 2nd 2005).
For a variety of reasons starting around 1900, the number of native speakers of Hawaiian diminished from 37,000 to 1,000; half of these remaining are now in their seventies or eighties (see Ethnologue report below for citations). There has been some controversy over the reasons for this decline.
One school of thought claims that the most important cause for the decline of the Hawaiian language was its voluntary abandonment by the majority of its native speakers. They wanted their own children to speak English, as a way to promote their success in a rapidly changing modern environment, so they refrained from using Hawaiian with their own children. The Hawaiian language schools disappeared as their enrollments dropped: parents preferred English language schools.
Another school of thought insists either that the government made the language illegal, or that schools punished the use of Hawaiian, or that general prejudice against Hawaiians (kanaka) discouraged the use of the language. (See "Banning" of Hawaiian below.)
A new dictionary was published in 1957, a new grammar in 1979, and new second-language textbooks in 1951, 1965, 1977, and 1989. Master's theses and doctoral dissertations on specific facets of Hawaiian appeared in 1951, 1975, 1976, and 1996.
According to Mary Kawena Pukui and Samuel Elbert in the definitive Dictionary, kaona (pronounced cow-na) is a "Hidden meaning, as in Hawaiian poetry; concealed reference, as to a person, thing, or place; words with double meanings that might bring good or bad fortune." Pukui lamented, “in spite of years of dedicated work, it is impossible to record any language completely. How true this seems for Hawaiian, with its rich and varied background, its many idioms heretofore undescribed, and its ingenious and sophisticated use of figurative language.” On page xiii of the 1986 Dictionary she warned: "Hawaiian has more words with multiple meanings than almost any other language. One wishing to name a child, a house, a T-shirt, or a painting, should be careful that the chosen name does not have a naughty or vulgar meaning. The name of a justly respectable children's school, Hana Hau'oli, means happy activity and suggests a missionary author, but among older Hawaiians it has another, less 'innocent' meaning that should not concern little children. A Honolulu street (and formerly the name of a hotel) is Hale Le'a 'joyous house', but le'a also means orgasm."
Understanding the kaona of the language requires a comprehensive knowledge of Hawaiian legends, history and cosmology.
The English Language shall be the medium and basis of instruction in all public and private schools, provided that where it is desired that another language shall be taught in addition to the English language, such instruction may be authorized by the Department, either by its rules, the curriculum of the school, or by direct order in any particular instance. Any schools that shall not conform to the provisions of this section shall not be recognized by the Department. [signed] June 8, 1896 Sanford B. Dole, President of the Republic of Hawaii
This law established English as the main medium of instruction for the government-recognized schools, but it did not ban or make illegal the Hawaiian language in other contexts. The law specifically provided for teaching languages "in addition to the English language". However, Hawaiian was not taught in any school, including Kamehameha Schools, and many children who spoke Hawaiian at school, including on the playground, were beaten with rulers or sticks by their teachers.
Hawaiian-language newspapers were published for over a hundred years, right through the period of the supposed ban. list fourteen Hawaiian newspapers. According to them, the newspapers entitled Ka Lama Hawaii and Ke Kumu Hawaii began publishing in 1834, and the one called Ka Hoku o Hawaii ceased publication in 1948. The longest run was that of Ka Nupepa Kuokoa: about 66 years, from 1861 to 1927.
Efforts to promote the language have increased in recent decades. Hawaiian-language "immersion" schools are now open to children whose families want to introduce Hawaiian language for future generations. The local NPR station features a short segment titled "Hawaiian word of the day" and a Hawaiian language news broadcast. Additionally, the Sunday editions of the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, one of Honolulu's two major newspapers, feature a brief article called Kauakukalahale written entirely in Hawaiian by teachers, students, and community members.
Today, on six of the seven permanently inhabited islands, Hawaiian is largely displaced by English, and the number of native speakers of Hawaiian is under 0.1% of the state-wide population. Native speakers of Hawaiian who live on the island named Niihau have remained fairly isolated and have continued to use Hawaiian almost exclusively.
Niihau is the only area in the world where Hawaiian is the first language and English is a foreign language. Because of many sufficiently marked variations, Niihau people, when visiting or living in Honolulu, substitute the Oahu dialect [sic] for their own — apparently easy to do — saying that otherwise people in Honolulu have trouble understanding them. Niihau people speak very rapidly; many vowels and entire syllables are dropped or whispered.
The island named Niihau, aka 'the Forbidden Island' to locals, off the southwest coast of Kauai, is the one island where Hawaiian is still spoken by the entire population as the language of daily life. Children are taught Hawaiian as a first language, and learn English at about age eight. Reasons for the persistence include:
Native speakers of Niihau Hawaiian have three distinct modes of speaking Hawaiian:
The last mode of speaking may be further restricted to a certain subset of Niihauans, and is rarely even overheard by non-Niihauans. In addition to being able to speak Hawaiian in different ways, most Niihauans can speak English too. states that "[v]ariations in Hawaiian dialects have not been systematically studied", and that "[t]he dialect of Niihau is the most aberrant and the one most in need of study". They recognized that Niihauans can speak Hawaiian in substantially different ways. Their statements are based in part on some specific observations made by . (See below, Processes, under Phonology.)
In 1826, the developers voted to eliminate some of the letters which represented functionally redundant allophones (called "interchangeable letters"), enabling the Hawaiian alphabet to approach the ideal state of one-symbol-one-sound, and thereby optimizing the ease with which people could teach and learn the reading and writing of Hawaiian. For example, instead of spelling one and the same word as pule, bule, pure, and bure (because of interchangeable p/b and l/r), the word is spelled only as pule.
However, hundreds of words were very rapidly borrowed into Hawaiian from English, Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Syrian, and Chaldean. Although these loan words were necessarily Hawaiianized, they often retained some of their "non-Hawaiian letters" in their published forms. For example, Brazil fully Hawaiianized is Palakila, but retaining "foreign letters" it is Barazila. Another example is Gibraltar, written as Kipalaleka or Gibaraleta. While [z] and [g] are not regarded as Hawaiian sounds, [b], [ɹ], and [t] were represented in the original alphabet, so the letters (b, r, and t) for the latter are not truly "non-Hawaiian" or "foreign", even though their post-1826 use in published matter generally marked words of foreign origin.
A modern Hawaiian name for the symbol (a letter) which represents the glottal stop is okina (oki 'cut' plus -na '-ing'). It was formerly known as uina ('snap'). It can be written as , with the Unicode hex value 02BB (decimal 699), which does not always have the correct appearance because it is not supported in some fonts/browsers. It is alternatively written as an opening single quote ‘ with the Unicode hex value 2018 (decimal 8216), which appears either as a left-leaning quote or a quote with greater thickness at the bottom than at the top. It can look like a very small "6" with the circle filled in black.
For examples of the okina, consider the Hawaiian words Hawaii and Oahu (simply Hawaii and Oahu in English orthography). In Hawaiian, these words can be pronounced [hʌˈwʌi.ʔi] and [oˈʔʌ.hu], and can be written with an okina where the glottal stop is pronounced.
As early as 1823, the missionaries made some limited use of the apostrophe to represent the glottal stop, but they did not make it a letter of the alphabet. In publishing the Hawaiian Bible, they used it to distinguish kou ('my') from kou ('your').. In 1864, W.D. Alexander published a grammar of Hawaiian in which he made it clear that the glottal stop (calling it "guttural break") is definitely a true consonant of the Hawaiian language. He wrote it using an apostrophe. In 1922, the Andrews-Parker dictionary of Hawaiian made limited use of the opening single quote symbol, called "reversed apostrophe" or "inverse comma", to represent the glottal stop. Subsequent dictionaries have preferred to use that symbol. Today, many native speakers of Hawaiian do not bother, in general, to write any symbol for the glottal stop. Its use is advocated mainly among students and teachers of Hawaiian as a second language, and among linguists.
As early as 1821, at least one of the missionaries, Hiram Bingham, was using macrons (and breves) in making handwritten transcriptions of Hawaiian vowels. The missionaries specifically requested their sponsor in Boston to send them some type (fonts) with accented vowel characters, including vowels with macrons, but the sponsor made only one response and sent the wrong font size (pica instead of small pica). Thus, they could not print ā, ē, ī, ō, nor ū (at the right size), even though they wanted to.
Hawaiian is known for having very few consonant phonemes — eight: . It is notable that Hawaiian has allophonic variation of [t] with [k], [w] with [v], and (in some dialects) [l] with [n]. The [t]–[k] variation is quite unusual among the world's languages, and is likely a product both of the small number of consonants in Hawaiian, and the recent shift of historical *t to modern [t]–[k], after historical *k had shifted to [ʔ]. In some dialects, /ʔ/ remains as [k] in some words. These variations are largely free, though there are conditioning factors. /l/ tends to [n] especially in words with both /l/ and /n/, such as in the island name Lānai ([ləˈnɐʔi]–[nəˈnɐʔi]), though this is not always the case: eleele or eneene "black". The [k] allophone is almost universal at the beginnings of words, whereas [t] is most common before the vowel /i/. [v] is also the norm after /i/ and /e/, whereas [w] is usual after /u/ and /o/. After /a/ and initially, however, [w] and [v] are in free variation.
Hawaiian has five short and five long vowels, plus diphthongs. The short vowels are , and the long vowels, if they are considered separate phonemes rather than simply sequences of like vowels, are . When stressed, short /e/ and /a/ tend to [ɛ] and [ɐ], while when unstressed they are [e] and [ə]. /e/ also tends to become [ɛ] next to /l/, /n/, and another [ɛ], as in Pele [pɛlɛ]. Some grammatical particles vary between short and long vowels. These include a and o "of", ma "at", na and no "for". Between a back vowel /o/ or /u/ and a following non-back vowel there is an epenthetic [w], which is generally not written. Between a front vowel /e/ or /i/ and a following non-front vowel there is an epenthetic [j] (a wye sound), which is never written.
|Ending with /u/||Ending with /i/||Ending with /o/||Ending with /e/|
|Starting with /i/||iu|
|Starting with /o/||ou||oi|
|Starting with /e/||eu||ei|
|Starting with /a/||au||ai||ao||ae|
The short-vowel diphthongs are . In all except perhaps /iu/, these are falling diphthongs. However, they are not as tightly bound as the diphthongs of English, and may be considered vowel sequences. (The second vowel in such sequences may receive the stress, but in such cases it is not counted as a diphthong.) In fast speech, /ai/ tends to [ei] and /au/ tends to [ou], conflating these diphthongs with /ei/ and /ou/.
There are only a limited number of vowels which may follow long vowels, and some authors treat these as diphthongs as well: .
|Ending with /u/||Ending with /i/||Ending with /o/||Ending with /e/|
|Starting with /o/||oːu|
|Starting with /e/||eːi|
|Starting with /a/||aːu||aːi||aːo||aːe|
Some example verb phrase patterns:
Nouns can be marked with articles:
ka and ke are singular definite articles. ke is used before words beginning with a-, e-, o- and k-, and with some words beginning - and p-. ka is used in all other cases. nā is the plural definite article.