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Laupahoehoe PointFor 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 alphabet

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.  smile