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How to Read Hawaiian Language

Hawaiian Language

‘Ōlelo Hawai‘i, the Hawaiian language, originating from Polynesia, uses 13 letters: 5 vowels and 8 consonants, including the glottal stop called ‘okina. Prior to the arrival of missionaries in the early 19th century, the Hawaiian language was strictly communicated orally. Education was touted by the Europeans who settled on the Hawaiian Islands, however, and the native language was translated into the written word. Since then, the alphabet has undergone many changes in an effort to simplify the learning process of reading and writing the Hawaiian language.

During your stay, you’ll encounter words and place names that sometimes have an ‘okina or a macron, also known as a kahakō. With only 13 letters in the Hawaiian alphabet, these diacritics are important indications of sounds and will help distinguish between different words and places.


The glottal stop ‘okina is an official letter of the alphabet, and essential for proper pronunciation. For example, ko‘u (my) and kou (your) are completely different in meaning, but only the ‘okina (glottal stop) differentiates their spelling and sound. You might instinctively pronounce Hawai‘i as “ha-why,” when the correct pronunciation indicated by the ‘okina is “ha-why-ee.”


The kahakō, or macron, indicates an elongated vowel. For instance, you might instinctively pronounce Hālona (lookout) as “ha-LOH-nah,” but the kahakō indicates the more correct pronunciation: “haa-loh-nah.”

Some of the more common Hawaiian words you’ll hear during your vacation that are useful to know ahead of time, include the following:

A greeting that means love, hello and also goodbye

Thank you



A hui hou
Until we meet again

E komo mai




Hawai‘i residents


Reading and speaking Hawaiian is fun and you’ll be helping perpetuate the Hawaiian language. E Komo Mai! Welcome!

Read More about the Hawaiian Language

Hawaiian Names and Meanings
Hawaiian Names for Boys
Hawaiian Names for Girls



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