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Hawaiian Language

Hawaiian Language and Alphabet
Hawaiian is an Austronesian language spoken by about 8,000 people on the Hawaiian islands. Hawaiian was not written down until missionaries developed a 12-letter alphabet. Islanders were discouraged from speaking Hawaiian in public so it survived primarily through music. Hawaiian is the official language of Hawaii, along with English, and is taught in schools.

There are only 12 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet: A, E, H, I, K, L, M, N, O, P, U and W. And 18 sounds a, e, i, o, u, ä, ë, ï, ö, ü, h, k, l, m, n, p, w, and w with a v sound.
During your trip to Hawaii, you might come across some of the following Hawaiian words. Learn more about this melodic language, Hawaii heritage, culture and traditions.

A
aina land, earth
a'a sharp lava
ali'i Hawaiian royalty
akamai smart, intelligent
aloha greeting to say hello or goodbye. Aloha can also mean love.

H
halau hula troupe
hale house or home
hana work, bay
haole foreigner, Caucasian
heiau ancient Hawaiian religious temple
hoku star
holoholo to walk or travel for fun
honu turtle
hula Hawaiian form of communication using dance
Humuhumunukunukuapua'a Hawaiian state fish

I
imu underground pit oven used for preparing the luau pig

K
kahiko traditional, old, ancient
kahuna Hawaiian priest
kama`aina native-Hawaiian or long-time resident
kanaka man, human
kane man
kapu forbidden, sacred
kupuna respected elder
kupunakane grandfather
kupunawahine grandmother
kau kau food
ku`uipo sweetheart

L
lanai porch, veranda
lani heavenly
laulau meat or fish wrapped in taro leaves and steamed in a ti leaf packet
lei garland of flowers, leaves, nuts, or shells
lua bathroom or toilet
luau feast

M
mahalo thank you
mahimahi dolphin fish
maika`i good
makahiki ancient Hawaiian celebration held annually with sports and religious festivities
makai towards the ocean
malihini newcomer, visitor
mauka towards the mountains
mauna mountain
mele song, sing
menehune mythical small people who are rumored to have inhabited the Hawaiian islands before Polynesians
mu’umu’u long and loose fitting dress

N & O
nai'a dolphin (the mammal)
nani beautiful, enjoyable
nene endangered Hawaii native goose
ono delicious
ohana family

P
pahoehoe smooth lava
pali cliff
paniolo cowboy
pau done, completed
poi pounded taro root
puka hole
pua flower
pupu appetizer, snack

U & W
ukulele stringed instrument, small guitar
wahine woman
wai fresh water
wikiwiki quick, fast

Hawaiian Dictionary

Hawaiian Electronic Library - Ulukau