Names in English are typically translated into the Hawaiian language on a phonetic basis. Each sound, called a phoneme, in the former language is given an approximate transcription into the latter, despite the fact that Hawaiian has only five vowels and eight consonants compared with the six vowels and 20 consonants of the English language. Additionally, Hawaiian word construction requires a vowel after every consonant.
The five vowels of the Hawaiian language consist of the letters A, E, I, O and U. Each of these can be expressed as a long or short phoneme or paired to form one of 15 diphthongs. Similarly, the language has eight consonant phonemes, represented as P, K, H, M, N, L and W, as well as a specialized character that refers to a glottal stop, called an "okina" in Hawaiian. The K sound of the language is similar to a T sound, covering a consonant glide from an alveolar to a velar plosive. Likewise, the similarity of the W allophone with a V sound indicates a range in the labial sonorant consonant.
Prior to the arrival of Western explorers in the late 18th century, the Hawaiian language had no written language outside of petroglyphic symbology. The spoken version is a closely related variation of Polynesian languages such as Tahitian and Maori.