Hawaii – Language

Panoramablick vom Meer auf Waikiki und Diamond Head

When you do business with the Hawaiian Islands you will most certainly communicate in English, but soon you will realize that Hawaiians are using words you won’t understand right away. For a very long time the Hawaiian language and culture have been suppressed and anything Hawaiian was looked at as something uneducated natives would use.

Today this has gratefully changed and Hawaiians can once again be proud of their very own history and culture. These days there are schools that teach in Hawaiian and the culture goes through a revival that is  not only in the purpose to entertain tourists.


The Hawaiian language originates in the Polynesian (southern Pacific Islands), but some letters have changed from island to island. The letter K for example was replaced by a Okina (‚). It is actually more of a sound that you create at the back of your throat. T became a K and R was transformed into L. The Hawaiian Alphabet needs only 12 letters plus the Okina. Currently there are only about 1.000 native speakers, but with funding from the authorities and thanks to Hawaiian schools this number will increase over the years. On Ni’ihau, the so called forbidden island, which is privately owned, language and culture are highly protected. One can set foot on this island only after receiving an invitation from the owners.

If you are a German native speaker , like me, it is relatively easy to learn the language, since you pronounce the words just as they are written. An E will always be pronounced as in better and an A as in large. Since this language existed for a long time only orally, the written language was created after the sounds. Some of the words tend to be very long and syllables are being repeated, so you will have to read some words several times aloud before you can pronounce them. The name of the state fish is a very good example for this: Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.


Small Dictionary

Following are a few words that will earn you some extra points when speaking to a native Hawaiian or that are being used in everyday English conversation. When you use those words, you will be taken for a Kama’aina (Native). A foreign visitor will be a Malihini or a Kanaka’e. The later word made it even into the German language, but here it’s meaning has been changed into something not too nice.

As a information for my readers I have to admit, that in some cases I have been peeking on http://www.pauker.at, where you can find a German-Hawaiian dictionary.

Digital StillCamera

Digital StillCamera

Aloha: this is not only the word to greet everybody, but it stands also for love, respect and friendship. The syllable Ha means breath and energy and therefore translates into the elixir of life.

The second most important word after Aloha is Mahalo. That means „Thank You“. With the addendum nui loa it will mean Thanks a lot.

If you are in need of the restroom girls will look for the sign Wahine and boys are looking for Kane.

Those of you who love to be outside will ask to be seated on the Lanai (balcony or terrace). A house is called Hale.

There is no left or right in Hawaiian. If you need to explain somebody how to get somewhere you will use Makai (towards the ocean) or Malama pono (towards the land side or the mountains).  The ocean is called Moana, the beach kahakai.

If you are in a hurry Wikiwiki will speed up things, but still in a rather relaxed way. 🙂

Digital StillCamera

Picture taken at the Aulani Resort

In a restaurant you will ask for Pupu when you want starters. You will then get a sample of several dishes. If you like the food it is ono (yummy). But instead of trying to order a  nâ palaoa me nâ mea hô’ono’ono i waena, I probably would rather stick with the good old sandwich. Way easier to pronounce. ( if you translate the above word by word it means: the bread with the delicious stuff in between).

Happy Birthday translates into Hau’oli la hanau, and Merry Xmas is Mele Kalikimaka.

So what was the name of the state fish again? Hope you found this post helpful.

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