For the new visitor to Hawai`i (and even for many repeat visitors), pronouncing those l-o-n-g place names may seem daunting. It can make an intrepid traveler recoil from attempting all but the shortest of Hawai`ian words. Let me assure you that if you speak a Hawai`ian word with aloha and a smile, you’ll likely get a smile in return, and you may even make a new friend. Many a Hawai`ian has thanked me for throwing some words in their language. That said, here’s a quick guide to the basics of Hawai`ian pronunciation:
The Hawai`ian language consists of 5 vowels, 7 consonants and a glottal stop indicator (`). The vowels are:
- a: ah as in father
- e: ay as in may
- i: ee as in bee
- o: oh as in so
- u: oo as in spoon
The consonants are: h, k, l, m, n, p and w and are pronounced pretty much the same as in English. The only exception is that w is sometimes pronounced with a soft v sound. The `okina (`) indicates a glottal stop, which means that your breath stops briefly, as in the English oh-oh. A consonant is always followed by a vowel.
When to Stress
In most Hawai`ian words, the next-to-last syllable is stressed. ie.: a-LO-ha and ma-HA-lo.
Break it down
You’ll find it easier to pronounce long words and place names by taking them one syllable at a time. Even a ridiculously long word like humuhumunukunukuapua`a (the state fish) can be manageable if you just speak the syllables one by one.