Language Basics

Hawaiian and English are the official languages of the Islands. However, Pidgin is a local dialect that is commonly spoken among the locals. Pidgin is derived from English, Hawaiian, Japanese, and several other Asian dialects. Common words include 'da kine' meaning 'the kind' and 'brah' meaning 'brother or friend.'

You’ll notice that many of the street signs, beaches, and town names are Hawaiian names, so having a basic understanding can help you navigate the islands. There are only 12 letters in the Hawaiian language, all five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) and seven consonants (h, k, l, m, n, p, w), which is probably why names repeat themselves so often. Example Like-Like Highway (pronounced Lee-Kee Lee-Kee not like like).

Letter Pronounced Example
A ah far
E ey bet
I ee see
O oh boat
U oo moon

Each vowel in a word is usually pronounced separately and each consonant has the same sound as in English. Once exception is W, which is pronounced like a V when preceded by an e or i. For example, Haleiwa is pronounce holly – Evuh.

You may also notice a single apostrophe inserted in odd places. This is actually an ‘okina and is considered a consonant. You can hear a great example of the ‘okina when you pronounce oh’oh. That half second pause between the oh’s is the ‘okina. In fact, Hawaii is actually spelled Hawai’i. Can you hear the ‘okina now?

Some common words to help you through your visit.

Aloha Hello, Goodbye, Welcome, Love
Mahalo Thank you
Aole No
Heiau Hawaiian temple
Kapu Sacred, forbidden, taboo
Kama’aina Local or current resident
Hono Harbor
Kane A man
Wahine Female or Woman
Moana The ocean
Makai Toward the sea
Mauka Towards the mountains
Malihini Newcomer to the Islands
Ohana Family or relative
Ono Delicious
Pupu Hors d’oeuvres or appetizers

If you are interested in learning Hawaiian before your vacation, or just for fun, consider subscribing to The Word Hawaiian, teaching one fun and relevant Hawaiian word per day!